Douglas Mackinnon – award-winning director | Balancing Act

Douglas is an award-winning film and TV director. You’ll recognise his name if you’re a Doctor Who fan: he’s directed eight episodes since 2008, a highlight being Listen, which Slate called, “the best episode in years”

His skills behind the lens won him a Scottish BAFTA for The Abominable Bride (the Sherlock Christmas special), with the episode then going on to win an Emmy for Best TV Movie.

I was so excited to be able to ask him about his career, staying creative and the best advice he’s ever received.

Douglas MacKinnon with Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman

Tell me a bit about what you do.
I direct television drama. I’ve directed Sherlock, Doctor Who and Line of Duty. In recent years I’ve directed shows that are more on the American side of the business – Knightfall for A&E/History, Dirk Gently for BBC America/Netflix and currently Good Omens, which is a BBC Studios production for Amazon Prime.

How did you first get into filmmaking? Was it always something you wanted to do?
I did photography as an activity in school on the Isle of Skye, where I’m from. Then I got a Youth Opportunity Scheme placement with a photographer in Inverness. From there I went to stills photography college in Glasgow, then the National Film and Television School in Beaconsfield. So things evolved for me.

What makes the job of director so appealing for you?
You’re always busy! And if you’re lucky you get to work with amazing people on both sides of the camera.

Jenna Coleman with the Tardis

Filmmakers often have to balance creativity with a more business-focused mindset. Do you stick to just the creative side, or do you balance both?
They travel together, they have to. In the last few years I’ve also been Executive Producer on most shows I do, so that carries business responsibilities as well.

What do you do if you’re struggling to feel creative?
Keep going. Struggling is the best part! That is when you are creating.

As a director, do you like to take inspiration from other works, or do you prefer creating your own, original ideas?
My favourite reaction to anything I do is, “I haven’t seen that before”. But inevitably those moments are born out your life experiences of other works from all areas of life, and life itself.

Director Douglas MacKinnon

What have been your favourite moments of your career?
The Sherlock episode I directed winning an Emmy, and my teenage son telling me the same episode was, “Not bad.”

Do you have any changes you’d like to see happen in the film industry in the near future?
Women have to take their rightful place on both sides of the camera. I’m looking forward to seeing and hearing what that looks like. It is not enough to want change though, everyone has to change things. So for instance on Good Omens we’ve had four directors who are women shadowing the production. Small steps lead to big changes.

What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever been given about working in film?
There are two types of people in the world, people who talk about making films, and people who make films.

Douglas MacKinnon and Mark Gatiss on set for Sherlock

Balancing Act is a series of interviews with exciting creatives. Huge thanks to Douglas for taking part!

Credits to BBC and respective owners for images


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