Man to Man: Interview with Producer James Mackay

As its run at the ICA cinema draws to an end, with a final two screenings on 20 and 27 June.

ICA Cinema

20 Jun 2013

As its run at the ICA cinema draws to an end, with a final two screenings on 20 and 27 June, legendary producer James Mackay discusses the background to Man to Man and why it took so long to be seen in cinemas.

What were your initial thoughts, on seeing the play Man to Man?

James Mackay: I was up in Edinburgh with [Derek Jarman’s 1990 film] The Garden, and Tilda was performing in Man to Man at the Traverse. I went to the first performance and straight away felt that this was really exciting – such an interesting piece. It was very abstract, in a way - it’s 24 verses, not a standard play. Like the films I’d produced, it didn’t have a conventional narrative. It’s also timeless – it might be set during the WW2 but there are lots of elements that apply to different times.

Why did Tilda Swinton and yourself want to adapt it into a film?

I think Tilda was very excited about the play and performing it, but it's a hugely physically demanding piece. She performed it for over a week and then it transferred straight away to the main theatre at the Royal Court for another two or three weeks. That was basically as much as she could sustain. So the logical thing was to make a film. It's preceded by films like Swimming To Cambodia (Spalding Grey/Jonathan Demme) so we knew that one-person films could work.

How did you go about finding a director?

We did talk to a few other people but within two or three days we'd settled on John Maybury. We decided, before we’d even spoken to him, and that was it! We were making it up as we went along.

What were the key concerns in adapting Man to Man for the screen?

The performance was exciting so we didn't want to get away from that. We made a decision to film in the square format because we thought that would contain the performance, and keep a focus on Tilda. On stage there was a static set where Tilda would change clothes during the performance, but the film obviously reinterprets each episode in a different way. This was all storyboarded by John [Maybury]. He spent a couple of weeks rehearsing with Tilda and then built the storyboard.

How did you get funding?

We took Man to Man to the BFI and Channel 4, and Channel 4 kept humming and hawing about it. I bumped into Linda Miles, who used to be the Director of the Edinburgh Film Festival. She was now making things at the BBC, and she gave a note to George Faber. There was no hesitation. The BBC would do things in those days without contracts - they were much more trusting. Channel 4 wouldn't trust you. The BBC started in a position of trust, which is really important. Then the BFI reneged on their part of the agreement. It was already a tiny budget – only £180,000. The BBC were contributing £120,000 and we had to complete on that, which meant we couldn't pay for the transfer to 35mm and lost the holdback. So that's why it went to festivals and was then shown on television. However, it did very well in terms of press. The Daily Mail had it on their TV page, and it seemed to go down well with audiences at the Edinburgh Film Festival and in San Francisco.

See Man to Man at the ICA from 31 May - 27 June 2013.

This article is posted in: Blog, Film, Interviews