EXCLUSIVE: David Mackenzie has heard the people.
Coming away from the opening night TIFF premiere of his Netflix epic Outlaw King, the filmmaker has cut 20 minutes from the movie before its Oct. 17 debut at the London Film Festival, spurred by the Toronto audience response.
A passion project for the Hell or High Water Scottish-director, Outlaw King tells the story about Scottish King Robert the Bruce (played by Chris Pine reteaming with Mackenzie post HOHW), William Wallace’s successor (of Braveheart fame), who went from being the wealthiest man in the Highlands to being a murderer to being made King to being an outlaw to slowly winning back the crown. The pic takes place during the course of a riveting period of Bruce’s life between 1304 to 1307 whereby he squared off with Edward I, the English sovereign, and unified a splintered Scotland.
After being in post-production since January, Mackenzie, in an effort to get the pic out in the fall film festival season, rushed the pic to TIFF, literally delivering a wet cut on Sept. 4, two days before the pic’s opening night at Roy Thomson Hall. Critics weren’t kind to Outlaw King out of TIFF largely taking issue with the pic’s 137-minute pace especially as it headed toward its explosive climactic battle scene.
Mackenzie didn’t need to read those reviews to know what the overall response was to Outlaw King.
“I could feel what the audience was like in the theater,” says the filmmaker about their discomfort. “I’m sensitive to the way they felt.”
In regards to re-cutting Outlaw King, which streams on Netflix and has a qualifying awards theatrical run on Nov. 9, Mackenzie says: “It was entirely my decision.”
The day after the TIFF premiere, Mackenzie along with one of the pic’s producers Gillian Berrie, notified the Netflix production exec on the film, Sarah Bowen, they were taking Outlaw King back to the editing bay. “Three days (after the festival) later I was back editing,” says Mackenzie.
So that audiences, specifically those who already watched the film, can see it with fresh eyes, Mackenzie is keeping mum in regards to what he specifically cut other than to say that there were “some complete sequences that I felt weren’t helping the story move along” in the first act and early part of the third act. Some minor characters fell by the wayside, but none of which played a significant part in the feature. The end result is a cut at around 117 minutes which the director feels moves the movie along. “The play-ability is better now and the access to the characters,” says Mackenzie.
One small part of the movie — 12 frames — which is remaining fully intact is Pine’s full frontal nudity scene which the glossy media had a heyday with following Outlaw King‘s premiere.
“I can’t understand why people get worked about that,” says Mackenzie, “I made ten films and most of them had male frontal nudity; it’s a bathing scene and people do tend to get out of the bath without clothes.”
Squeezing Robert the Bruce’s life into a theatrical narrative had its challenges; the script co-written by Mark Bomback, Bathsheba Doran, David Harrower, James MacInnes, and Mackenzie. The filmmaker shot the pic from the end of August through November last year using three to four cameras. His initial cut of the film was around four hours. “I’m sure if I had the appetite, I could do a three-part mini-series as there’s lots of characters, lots of history, but the name of the game is to make an entertaining narrative-driven film with great performances; you have to whittle down, it’s a hard game especially when there’s so much history to put in,” says the director.
Mackenzie’s western Hell or High Water didn’t undergo any changes after making a splash at Cannes in 2016. “But if changes were needed, I would have certainly done them if I felt things were not quite working. The thing about that film is that we finished it three months before Cannes and there was time for the dust to settle. With Outlaw King we didn’t have time to settle as we wanted to get into the fall festivals,” says the filmmaker. Hell or High Water from CBS/Lionsgate went on to be nominated for three Golden Globes (drama, Jeff Bridges supporting actor and Taylor Sheridan’s screenplay) as well as four Oscars noms (best picture, editing, Bridges in supporting and screenplay).
A film being re-cut following a major global film festival premiere isn’t uncommon and such platforms are often used for testing. Quentin Tarantino’s Inglourious Basterds made its world premiere at Cannes in 2009 with the director adding one sequence he shot prior to its August theatrical release. After Sheridan’s Wind River made a world premiere at Sundance in January 2017, he trimmed four minutes from it prior to Cannes last year and won Best Director in Un Certain Regard for his final version with the pic becoming one of the highest grossing prestige film releases with $33.8M stateside.
Says Mackenzie about the new cut of Outlaw King: “It’s worth another look, and I encourage critics who saw it and didn’t connect with it to see it again. It has a different sense since it’s under two hours, but it’s still very much an epic.”