September 6, 2013 - Comments Off on Mark Donne : The Score

This week we were lucky enough to chat with journalist and filmmaker, Mark Donne, whose latest feature ‘The UK Gold’, narrated by The Wire’s Dominic West and scored by Radiohead’s Thom Yorke and Massive Attack’s Robert Del Naja, recently won best Documentary at The East End Film Festival.

We had a bit of a chat about the centre of the universe, tax havens and how to go about working with ridiculously talented talent.

Hey Mark, cheers for talking with us. From declining docks to the corrupt city, this is your second documentary unearthing the true East End. What fascinates you so much about this part of the country?

Well strictly speaking the second feature (The UK Gold) is about the square mile specifically, and the secretive financial empire operated from there. The real cord between those films is Empire. In terms of the first film (The Rime of the Modern Mariner) how that landscape and those people looked, flowed and lived through Empire and its pack down, and in the second, how that Empire faked its own death in terms of its on-going impact on the world’s and Britain’s poorest people.

But guilty: I’m pretty fixated with East London; to me it’s the centre of the universe, quite seriously. Cook discovered the astral passage of Venus from there; Kubrick walked the Commercial Rd endlessly; Dickens and Wilde depicted its illustrious, perilous hinterlands; its once thriving, now symbolic life-blood - the maritime alleyway to the seas and the globe that is the Thames - just replete with history and vivid sensation. Crucially, it’s a colossus of astounding, spellbinding, magical, evil, beautiful stories, every bit as layered as its cobbles, concretes and cements.

City animation
Did you find making such a hard-hitting documentary exploring the negatives of the City even more powerful when doing so at the same time as London was on an Olympics high?

It was surreal in that the two things were happening simultaneously. The patriotic glory of the Olympics was playing out right next to the endless front pages about financial chicanery and corporate tax dodging. Often the FTSE 100 monoliths glorying in the sanitisation of sponsoring the games were the same identities we’d be looking at who were shovelling money owed in tax out of the country into tax havens (which themselves proudly fly the union jack), and by extension were making this country and more desperate African countries much poorer. So it was nauseating at times, but at other times – like when the City of London literally had a street paved with gold during the Jubilee – you’d just have to sit down on the kerb with your equipment and laugh hard, or you’d go a bit mad.

How did getting Dominic West in to do the voiceover come about? Was this a subject that he had a particular interest in?

Dom was just the perfect fit. We wanted a voice that was strong, rich in diction and sounded quintessentially British. We knew via a member of our team that in a social and political sense he is someone who reads and cares deeply about the world around him, so we asked and he was keen. It was such a pleasure working with him, a first rate actor and a lovely fella.
William in City

With Thom Yorke (Radiohead), Robert Del Naja (Massive Attack) and Guy Garvey (Elbow) scoring The UK Gold and Anthony Rossomando (Dirty Pretty Things) composing the music for your previous film, Rime of the Modern Mariner, do you think music plays an important part of getting young people interested in more serious topics?

Yeah I do. I think it can help convoluted or densely political themes and issues travel a bit, it can entertain and shape the audience experience, and why shouldn’t it? Because at the heart of those two films you have great stories, troubling, sad, perplexing and infuriating real life stories, but they’re still great stories, and great stories deserve beautiful music.

What’s the next project in the pipeline?

Two new films, both non-political actually, but immersive and fascinating. Also, in collaboration with my creative “left brain” the Director of Photography Joe Morris (with whom I make everything; he’s the best in the country) I’m currently developing a new artist film installation with a soundscape that will show in a London gallery. There’ll be a beautiful book to go with it too.

Victorian Map
Finally, do you have any advice or tips for aspiring documentary filmmakers?

Where to start? Try and strike the right balance between your own creativity/vision and the documentaries you watch on television or in cinema. Of course be influenced - there is so much amazing stuff around at the moment – but don’t be burdened. The greatest thing for me about documentary is that it is just so in flux in terms of styles, subjects and approaches. Ideas and techniques constantly supersede themselves, that’s just grand, to feel a transgressive current, but ride it, don’t dive it; you can so easily lose your oxygen.

Also, the instant someone influential tells you “the public won’t watch it” you know for certain that you’re onto something; that’s your explosion, your genesis. The pace, breadth and volatility of the methods and indeed the stories and characters film-makers are now landing on is too much for industry executives to comprehend, so they routinely get it wrong - often dramatically so - in terms of Oscars and BAFTA’s subsequently being thrown at an idea that was considered too “esoteric” for the viewer.

Feel out your vision, know it intimately, keep listening to it, revising its delivery, but standfast to it and be disciplined and open minded about what it is you can see that perhaps others can’t, but that you urgently need them to. Unpick that.

Lastly, get the right team. I couldn’t have made either of my features without the skill, devotion and bloody minded brilliance of the people I’ve worked with. All film is a team concern, but because documentary is so hard to get funded and seen, you need eyes as fervent as your own from the outset to convey that first vision. But whatever, whatever: make that film.

Follow Mark on Twitter @donne_mark and the keep up to date with the film by following @theukgold

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