Black Sea – Interview with director Kevin Macdonald

MaymayKevinMacdonaldMaymay, our resident autistic film critic, was very fortunate to take part in an interview with Kevin Macdonald, the director of Black Sea. He is extremely funny and very generous with his time. It was a true pleasure to speak with him.

Kevin Macdonald was born on October 28, 1967 in Glasgow, Scotland. He is a director and producer, known for The Last King of Scotland (2006), State of Play (2009) and Touching the Void (2003).

What drew you to the script?

Well, I had the idea long before the script. In 2000, there was a Russian Navy Sub, the Kursk, that had an accident. The explosion and sinking of the submarine, there were people trapped and died because the government was more concerned about keeping its secrets than saving the sailors. All I could think was how horrifying…and it could be a movie. I wanted to make a movie without the military, more like Treasure of the Sierra Madre. I gave all my ideas to the writer, Dennis Kelly.

You did much of the filming on an actual submarine. Are you claustrophobic? 

No, I’m not claustrophobic, but I’ve also never been under deep sea. The submarine is kind of like a spaceship. There is something both terrifying and amazing. The sub we used had a crew of 85 and only 12 bunks. There were planks all over for them to sleep. It’s very tight quarters. There is also a smell. Diesel. There is also the smell of everyone.  Water is used for the diesel engines first, crew second. But the over powering smell of diesel is everywhere. That smell just sticks with you. Jude Law spent five days on a nuclear submarine. He slept in the bunks with everyone, and was most surprised by the exercise bike right next to the missiles.

Are you planning a sequel?

(laughed for a minute) No…but, I did have a thought of Jude Law and a shark…What type of movie is this? It’s not a typical submarine movie.

This is sort of a caper movie where the caper doesn’t come off. There is also the horror of being stuck at the bottom of the ocean.

Is there anyone in the cast you feel we should keep our eye on?

Obviously Jude Law is a huge actor, but we get to see something new. He becomes a character actor and you see him like never before. No one in this cast was fussy or annoying. This was a cast of amazing characters who were a real joy. The Russian actors are well known actors in Russia. They don’t typically do international films because they hate being typecasted as the Russian bad guy. When they read the script and saw the Brits were equally bad, they agreed. It is true that Russians like their vodka.

Where was the movie filmed?

Pinewood Studios. We did most of the film at Pinewood using a tank 8 meters deep. We lowered some of the set into the tank. We did use some CGI, but also used some old ways. Do you know how you get the water to look murky with seaweed? Broccoli. We floated cut up broccoli in the tank. I don’t know why it works, but it does. We also spent six weeks on the sub. Two weeks were shot underwater. In all, about 1/3 of the movie was shot on the sub.

Is there any historical significance, or is the movie purely fictional?

Yes. Both. Shortly before World War II broke out, enemies Nazi Germany and Soviet Russia signed the German-Soviet Nonaggression Pact. Hitler forced the pact, and then attacked anyway. We took what was true and made it fiction.

Why did you make Jude Law Scottish?

Well, I’m Scottish. (we all laughed for a moment) I wanted to make him someone completely different, to become someone else. We changed his appearance, he lowered his voice, and we researched different Scottish dialects. We settled on a rare, unusual accent.

Did you run into any issues while filming?

Yes. The Crimea crisis. Putin invaded, made things a bit dangerous. Studio wouldn’t allow us to continue getting the shots we wanted due to safety issues.