Macbeth on the Estate
MACBETH ON THE ESTATE (1996)
I went back to Ladyhood in Birmingham where I had made Shakespeare on the Estate to film Macbeth – still obsessed with finding a way of telling the real story about what I was seeing. Whole communities being criminalised or semi-criminalised where the alternatives were less than minimum wage jobs.
I adapted Shakespeare’s play and Duncan the King became the Don on the estate – don is out of fashion now but the term was borrowed from Don Corleone in the Godfather movies to indicate who the top man was. Not life imitating art but showing the complex relationship between the stories we tell about ourselves and what happens in real life. I really like sliding around in that liminal space between documentary and fiction. Anyway, it seemed to me that Macbeth was about men slugging it out over territory and power in places where the centre wasn’t holding. I cut the text down a bit, amalgamated some of the minor characters and set it on a council estate. The screenplay was brilliant (I still think) but the film had a stick up its arse and I regard it as a failure although I still meet people who watched it at school and enjoyed it, saying it brought Shakespeare to life for them.
Filming was a very unhappy experience. Alison the producer lost faith in me and in the film and first thing every morning before we started shooting she would shove a VHS at me with the rushes hissing, “Well that was untransmitable, see what you can do today.” I would then stagger miserably through the day trying to hide my devastation from the actors. She would stand in a corner glaring and shaking her head at everything I was doing. I often had to pull the focus puller out of the bathroom where she was crying after some put down and Graham Smith the cameraman got the same treatment. It must have been a horrible experience for Alison too. Obviously she thought I didn’t know what I was doing and I didn’t know how to deal with her. On the first day of filming I asked her to hold a child’s hand and she yelled, “I’m not your fucking runner, never ask me to do anything like that again.” I took a deep breath and carried on. I shouldn’t have done that. I wept too many tears and felt too sorry for myself. I was an idiot.
I did learn something – I should have fought my corner and walked out if the BBC had wanted to keep her rather than me. I no longer work with people who are nasty to me. It takes a while to learn that lesson. Never work with people only because you like them, or you feel sorry for them or they are your friends because if they are not good at their jobs you will end up resenting each other. Work with people who are good at what they do and good to work with – they don’t need to be your friends but they do need to be good colleagues. Filming is often brutal and shit always happens. It’s stressful enough without dealing with tantrums and bullying.
Managing up is a skill too – one I didn’t have then. I should have done better at reassuring and keeping her and the commissioners happy but I should also have dealt with that situation on the first day. People above you are insecure, their jobs depend on you doing a good job so you have to make them feel secure and then they will be less likely to give you a hard time.
Anyway it is almost a good film. I fucked up.