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John McKay: Behind the Scenes

Scottish-born John McKay is a feature film director and a father. His two worlds converged on the set of Crush, a women-focused film starring Andie MacDowell.

John McKay-Achieving Excellence Behind and Away from the CamerasMcKay wrote and directed the film, shot on location in London, the Cotswolds and Paris. The plot chronicles the lives of three women friends – all successful single women in their 40s – who meet once a week over gin, chocolate and cigarettes to compare their uninspiring love lives.

When Kate (Andie MacDowell) starts to date Jed (Kenny Doughty), a former student who is half her age, her friends (Janine, played by Imelda Staunton, and Molly, played by Anna Chancellor) hatch a plot to save her from herself. An unexpected pregnancy adds emotional complexity, as does the surprise ending.

John McKay-Achieving Excellence Behind and Away from the Cameras“Part of the trap the women are in is that they live somewhere very beautiful, but very dull,” McKay says. “I come from a small community in Scotland so I understand that life better than life in a city, even though I’ve lived in London for 15 years. A small community may be very supportive, but can also be extremely claustrophobic.”

Girl Talk Transformed
Inspired by events in his own life, McKay notes that it’s common for friends to become mutual support systems. “Listening to my wife talk to her girlfriend, I noticed that women told stories differently than men,” he says. “They were the butt of the jokes. They share the comic disaster of their lives. Men wouldn’t tell each other they were walking through the mall and their pants fell down.”

It is this ability to observe real life and translate it on screen that makes this Hollywood director something special. “It’s a script beautifully written by a man about women, which I always find interesting,” says Andie MacDowell. “I’ve had good luck with writer/directors (sex, lies and videotape; Green Card). Of course, John knows the material really well, and although he is precise about what he wants, he does respect actors and will listen to other ideas. At the same time, you feel safe because he is in charge; he’s the leader.”

Directing the Family
McKay is a leader at home, too. He and his wife, who is also a writer, are the parents of a 4-year-old son. McKay got a crash course in single parenting when his wife became ill (she has since recovered). “I had to look after them both and run the house; I had two sparrow mouths to feed,” he says. Since he had no more time to take off from work, McKay felt the pressure of finding a work/family balance. Discovering inspiration even in tough times, he “thought of a horror film about parenting, incorporating the male fear of fatherhood.”

John McKay-Achieving Excellence Behind and Away from the CamerasBut the end result has been a shift in priorities and a commitment to family first. “It’s redefined my notion of family and where family is, in a good way,” he says. “It’s challenged me to become more organized. You don’t become a feature film director by working 9 to 5. You get there by neglecting your home life. The challenge is to balance it all, and that’s the challenge for any father. I’ll overcome it … You have to strive to achieve excellence in all fields.”

Making it Work

McKay’s strategy to make it in the entertainment industry while keeping his family close is intelligent and innovative. While not making a movie, he spends as much time as possible with his wife and son “until the storm starts again.” The storm he is referring to is the schedule of a film director: up at 5 a.m., on the set at 7 a.m., work until 7 or 8 p.m., have a meeting until 10 p.m., then start all over again the next day.

However, his wife and son go to work with him as much as possible. “We see quite a bit of them on the set,” he says. “The workplace needs to be a human place.”

Unlike many movie crews, which consist of mostly men (McKay calls them the “guy army”), McKay’s crew consists of 50 percent women. Just as he brings his own child to the set, he allows other crew members to bring their kids to work as well. He even offers childcare as part of the package, although he finds that most actors prefer to make their own daycare arrangements.

John McKay-Achieving Excellence Behind and Away from the CamerasNext Direction
McKay is at work on his next film, a World War II comedy called Knickers that he wrote and will direct, also set in the U.K. “I’m a British filmmaker and a baby filmmaker. I’ll stick with what I know,” he says.

Already he is missing the close moments he shares with his family when not working. “I’m missing my son right now,” he says. “He is the best thing that ever happened to me.” And that’s why he will remain McKay’s main direction in life. “I can always try to make another movie, but I can’t do this son over again.”