Director interview: Craig McKenna – ‘It was the most satisfying feeling to pull it off. I would gladly do it again and again.’


At Cinema Perspective, it is vital to not only provide the latest news and reviews from the mainstream and the indie but to remember how important locally-made films are, whether they are shorts or feature length. Edinburgh-based filmmaker Craig McKenna has been working tirelessly on his new short film ‘When The Tide Comes In’ and is building an online presence for the project through social media updates and teaser trailers. You can find more information on the Border Raid Films Facebook page but before that, he has agreed to answer a few questions about his latest film and the process involved…

Firstly, we’ve seen the teasers but can you give us a short overview of ‘When The Tide Comes In’ and how the idea for it was formed initially?
“When The Tide Comes In” is the story of two adopted brothers Aubrey and Gedys who have to overcome their differences to fulfil their father’s dying wish. It is set in rural Scotland in 1936, and deals with family ties, loyalty and conflicts of the heart, when the right thing to do is sometimes the most painful.
The film stars Donald Morgan, Cameron Forbes, Gordon A. McKenna and Alia E. Torrie.
Initially, the idea came to me while driving – I know, that sounds dangerous! I seem to get a lot of ideas on long stretches of road whilst listening to classical music. I remember it being a 50 mile drive so I had plenty time to allow the idea to ferment.
It must have been around November 2013, a competition came up looking for submissions of 5-minute shorts on the topic of “Family Business” and I started developing the idea to the brief. I really wanted to do something ethereal, and moving, far removed from the mainstream. So I wrote about two sons staying with their dying father until the end. But 5 minutes just didn’t feel right – it needed more room to breathe. I made the decision not to enter the competition, and instead further develop this idea into something more complete. Two weeks later, the first draft of “When The Tide Comes In” was ready.’
How did the experience of making the film differ from previous films you have been involved in?
‘There are definitely that moment after writing a script when you stop and think, “how the hell am I going to shoot this?!”. This was one of those. In terms of filmmaking, “When The Tide Comes In” is certainly the most ambitious production to date.
The first big change was that from the start I wanted this to be a period film. With that in mind, you approach things very differently, because you have to consider the audience buying into the time and setting. It’s great because you can be so articulate in creating the world your story and characters exist in. The research and referencing was the biggest undertaking and really enjoyable.
Being period accurate was vital, because if you settle for less, I kinda think you end up with a half-assed film. My partner Alia (in addition to her performance) has a fantastic eye for detail, history and a flare for colour, so when I asked her to oversee Costume, I already knew how shrewd she would be and not settle for anything less. To be working with her like this really raised my game as Designer, and in turn it brought out the best in each other. I really felt we were just very on top of the films subtext, tone and its authenticity.
Working with DoP Alan C. McLaughlin was a real education for me too, primarily because he got me to start looking at things in terms of ‘movements ‘ rather than shots. It really opened up possibilities. With this in mind, we chose to used a Prosup Jib pretty exclusively so that we had the flexibility to shoot those movements. It was a totally fresh approach to me.
However, Perhaps the most ambitious part of the film’s was the second block of filming. There was so much hanging on the final scene’s emotional conclusion, which involved a boat and a particularly choppy Irish Sea. (Uh-huh..raised eyebrows) There were just so many variables to consider, it was pretty insane. Then we found out that due to changing weather we were really only going to get one day to shoot those scenes ….
But it was just the most satisfying feeling of achievement to pull it off. I would gladly do it again and again.’


I can see that you had an extensive crew working on the film. Do you view filmmaking as the development of the director’s singular vision or is it very much a collaborative process? Or is it a bit of both?
‘You know, that’s a very difficult question. Personally I think it comes down to the individual director. There are those who seem to have every decision made in their head before they get anyone else involved, everything is predetermined and filmmaking becomes a process of carrying out a series of commands. I know that is an extreme, but it does exist. It’s not really my way. Having a definitive vision is a real strength but I also like to think of myself as being open to trying out new things and exploring possibilities. Start with the script and work from there. The people you bring into the production process are such a great resource and good people can bring so much to the table.
For this film, I certainly felt that being open to ideas and making informed decisions was far more rewarding. While the final decisions were down to me, it was the discussions with cast, the considerations of costume design and the possibilities of cinematography etc. that really brought the film together. I don’t think I could ever regard this film as only one man’s triumph.’
Now that you’ve honed your skills in short filmmaking, are there plans in the pipeline to venture to feature length?
‘Oh, I would very much love to. There are many stories I’d love to develop. The important decision is whether to go long-form with them, and how to do them justice. But yes, there are plans in progress. Fingers crossed.’
From your social media updates, I notice that your father features as one of the actors in the film? How did this come about and what was it like directing a member of your family?
‘Yes that’s quite right. My Dad plays Morley the father of Aubrey and Gedys. In many ways he is perhaps the most pivotal character of the film.
When I think about it, it was really my Dad, who got me interested in storytelling and film as a child, and I think he would have loved to pursue a career in the arts himself. For Morley, Dad had always been a consideration for the part, but I wasn’t sure how he would feel about it if cast. I remember that during the auditions there was strong interest in the roles of Aubrey and Gedys, but there were only a couple for Morley. It was a very uncertain time, but after chatting about it with colleagues I started seeing my Dad more and more playing the part.
Since the last film, I’d really given a lot of thought into directing performance. It’s important to understand that actors, like all of us, work and learn differently. Some work with description, others with imagery or music. My Dad currently works as a home carer. When we read the script together, he seemed to think through the scenes and character by referencing it to real people and life situations he had witnessed, particularly about the sick and elderly. It helped him visualise it and explore it in his own way.
Sadly, he couldn’t make the rehearsals, so he and I didn’t get much time to really go through performance until the first morning of the shoot. I was dead nervous, I can tell you! When the camera started to roll, Dad’s performance started with this “death rattle”…and it completely took us all by surprise.
Lastly, thank you for your time, and best of luck with the film!
My pleasure, thank you for having me.
See the trailer:

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