‘Bale’ dir. Al Mackay

Bale is the story of 3 young boys, 4 teenagers, the British countryside and the sparking of a chain
of events which leads uncontrollably to a terrifying outcome….

Year: 2009
Country: UK
Director: Al Mackay
Writer: Al Mackay
Producer: Andrew Ryder
Key Cast: Bradley Badder, Millen Gee and Ashley Vere

C8: For a debut short ‘Bale’ is really impressive – how did you get it funded and how pleased were you with the results?

AM: One of the key aims of ‘Bale’ was to make something that felt like a real movie, in order to achieve this there were a few factors that we wouldn’t compromise on, like shooting on film.  This sort of mentality cut out most of the entry level funding schemes like DV Shorts, so we had to raise the money our selves to get the film shot.  Full credit to Producer Andy Ryder for his faith in the project and making this happen, it involved a little cash from our own pockets, some from local businesses and some from friends and family.  I think we shot the bulk of it for less than 5k in the end, but we always knew we would need more to do the post, thankfully the film was good enough to get awarded completion funding from what was then the UK Film Council.

I am very self critical, so it’s hard to say how I felt about the end result at the time.  But looking back I think it was a great achievement for that stage in our career, and as a learning curve it was invaluable.

C8: It’s not the first film to explore the possibilities for violence or destruction that lie beneath our idea of the rural idyll (kids out playing, golden fields, glorious sunny days etc)– is this something you wanted to investigate?

AM: I wanted to make a timeless film and I wanted to make a film in a landscape that I was familiar with.  The field we shot the film in was a mile from the village I grew up in, so I suppose these were the starting points for ‘Bale’.  Thematically I was most interested in the idea that just a short walk from the village these boys are from, they can create their own world.  When it is invaded, the safety net provided by the real world or adult governed world is also removed and these teenagers are left to their own devices and govern their own moral standards.

C8: For us there’s a nice ambiguity as to what might actually have to Tom at the end – was that deliberate?

AM: Not really.  It was always my intention for Tom to survive and to look on at the others as they thought they had killed him.  But due to circumstances this was never a shot we could achieve.  I was under considerable pressure to kill Tom off, but held on to the original idea, but due to the missing key shot was forced to re imagine the ending into a more ambiguous one.

C8: What were the some of the key lessons you took away from making ‘Bale’ that fed into your later work?

AM: Great actors don’t need directing - Michael Socha (criminally under used talent in the UK Film industry).  Stick with your collaborators in the creative process and nurture these relationships.

C8: We’re guessing the straw burning was probably the most logistically challenging part of the production? How did you go about prepping for that?

AM: Ha ha, this is all linked to my answer to question 3.  I wont name names as I’m sure the incident was very embarrassing for the company involved, but in retrospect I think they added a lot to the production value of the film.  The burning stack was supposed to be a ‘controlled’ burn, with gas canisters, which I always thought would look ropey.   On Day 2 of filming, they did a ‘test burn’, while we were filming the car arriving in the bottom of the field. It was a very windy day, and the large gas lit flames blew back onto the stack and accidently set a few bales on fire.  After a failed attempt to drag the burning bales off, the whole thing turned black in about 30 seconds and proceeded to be engulfed in flames.  Massive credit to Liam Iandoli, the DOP I’ve used ever since.  As I ran up the field head in hands, hoping no one was burning to death, Liam rolled camera and filmed the actors running up the hill.  We then improvised the scene in front of the burning stack and the brilliant actors (all of whom were from the Television Workshop in Nottingham) were full of authentic shock and energy, performed brilliantly.  It did mean however we had to shoot the rest of the film with out the haystack and build a makeshift set, it also meant I had to re-write the ending. Absolute chaos, but I wouldn’t change it, as it gave the whole crew a kick up the arse and gave us some key imagery that we would never had had otherwise.

C8: As well as an exciting emerging director, you are have a lot of locations experience – do think all that time spent on set and around production was useful for preparing you for your own first shoot?

AM: With out doubt.  It was always my aim to work within the industry and use it as my version of film school.  I was fortunate enough to work on three great films before shooting Bale: ‘This Is England’, ‘Control’ and ‘Better Things’, each of which I found inspiring and useful for different reasons.  I learnt about the whole process, and how as a director you can use it differently to your advantage.  Watching a performance-driven director like Shane Meadows showed me the power of improvisation and the advantage of a fluid script, while watching someone like Duane Hopkins showed me how composition and film grammar can be used to create a powerful mood and atmosphere.

C8: And was it instrumental in building up your contacts network for the future?

AM: Yes. I’d say working in the industry and the contacts I’ve made has been the single most important tool to me as a film maker.  I met most of the actors I worked with in Bale while working on ‘This Is England’, I met the guys from Wellington Films on ‘Better Things’ who went on to exec ‘Bale’, and I met The guys at Steel Mill Pictures while working on ‘Cherry Tree Lane’, who produced my subsequent two shorts.  These relationships have made the difference sometimes, by providing experienced advice and a support network in an industry that is so hard to break into.

C8: How successful was Bale as a calling card for developing your directorial career? 

AM: It was crucial.  Getting completion funding was the key, as this brought us to the attention of the UK Film Council, and put the film on a slate which toured a number of great festivals including it’s premiere at Edinburgh.  Bale gave me the opportunity to gain funding for my subsequent two shorts, and it got seen by a lot of people.  So in regards to a calling card I think it was a success.

C8:  What, for you, is the essence of a good collaboration?

AM: A good collaboration is where each party learns something from the other and the end product is something that no one individual in the group could have created with out the others.

C8:  What’s next on the horizon for Al Mackay?

AM: I have a feature project called ‘Sleeping Dogs’ in development with Creative England and I am part of a team that are down to the last 8 of the IFEATURES2 Scheme.  Check it out here - http://ifeatures2.co.uk/the-den1.html