I had the opportunity to chat with filmmaker Fiona MacKenzie to discuss her recent movie, Tell Me I Love You. Beyond chatting about this LGBTQ rom-com, we also discussed some of her other work and a few other fun things. Thank you to Fiona MacKenzie for being such an open interview subject.
Could you tell our readers a little about yourself?
Hi Katherine, nice to meet you. I had a little bit of an unusual path to becoming a filmmaker. I first studied economics and international relations, and thought I was headed for the foreign service but then did a major pivot, and ended up going into journalism. Print journalism led to TV journalism, which eventually led to working for film and TV producers, then at Hollywood studios. It was while I was working in development at a studio that I started writing seriously, (at night and on weekends) and a few things got optioned. At a certain point I finally had the confidence to go out on my own as independent filmmaker. So I guess you could say TV journalism was my Film School and Boot Camp, all rolled into one. I shot journalistic pieces under some very challenging circumstances – foreign countries, war torn situations, high conflict regions. But eventually that path, with all its combinations and experiences, led me to being a full time writer/director/producer. So here we are!
How would you describe Tell Me I Love Me?
I like to say Tell Me I Love You is a romantic comedy with a modern beat, meaning it has a message wrapped up within what is a mostly traditional genre, but with quite few twists and turns, both LGBTQ and other. It’s a celebration of modern, non traditional families of all shapes and sizes. It’s also a bit of love letter to Los Angeles, and to the music community in general. I wanted to shine a bit more love and light on songwriters and musicians all over the world. I’ve seen firsthand how hard they struggle to get their music out there and heard. The music industry is tough, and very hard on “artistic souls.” Hopefully these artists won’t lose the faith during the process and will keep writing and performing. We all need music in our lives. Especially now!
What inspired the movie?
I was living in NYC, working as a music and cultural journalist among other types of journalism. During that time, I covered all kinds of bands, some very famous and others just getting their break. At all levels, I loved the camaraderie I saw between musicians. How they formed little families between their bands and roadies. Many of the musicians I spent time with were in multiple bands, just to make ends meet- so they in effect had “multiple” families. They played sessions during the day and gigs at night, and toured whenever they could. The characters in Tell Me I Love You aren’t based on any one person, but rather are an amalgamation of the personalities of people I met – huge artists, talented musicians, dance/EDM producers, star vocalists, as well as newcomers to the music industry…it was all during those years.
What makes this film a must watch within today’s social, cultural and political context?
I think we’re all struggling to find our place in this modern, and hopefully soon to be Post Pandemic world. People are reaching out and reconnecting with friends and family they haven’t seen in years, on line, via Zoom, with virtual happy hours and get togethers etc. I think people are feeling, more than ever, the value of community of friends and of family – however you define that. These clusters of people who are there to help support you on your journey through life. We all need each other for this very reason, we really can’t achieve much, solo. We all need some sort of a collective. This film is a comedy and fairly light hearted, but it definitely is also meant to celebrate a non traditional type of family. Ally, Ben, and Melanie, function as a family, live together, raise a dog etc, and are there for each other in every way. That’s pretty much a family, the way I see it.
Which of the three band mates do you most relate to?
Well as unusual as it might seem, I currently relate most closely to Ben, as both of my parents (like his) have now passed away and the majority of my family lives in England and Scotland. So I rarely get to see the people society defines as “my family” and instead have created all kinds of other support groups here in the US that are my chosen family. And that feels good.
Could you also describe Beautiful Lover and your work on that film?
Beautiful Lover is one of my passion projects and touches upon an issue that needs to be talked about and opened up; the discrimination that people of various religions and “Faiths” suffer for being LGBTQ. It’s now being developed as a series, but started out as a feature and was an Outfest Lab script finalist.We have some incredible cast from Succession and Homeland already attached and are putting together a list of directors we’d like to work with. The story of Beautiful Lover is set partially in the London fashion world, partially in the Middle East, and partially in the US.
While it’s an extremely intense, nail biting thriller, it has an emotional impact that I think will resonate with anyone who cares deeply about human rights and changes that need to take place. I’ll be refocusing on Beautiful Lover again now that Tell Me I Love You is launched, and I’m excited about getting back into it and some of my other projects too.
How important is LGBTQ representation in your work?
As a former journalist, human rights have always been a huge part of my work and my focus. While having made a lot of positive strides in recent years, the LGBTQ community is still the target of a great deal of discrimination. I like to write about complex issues and situations that we all know exist, and then try to turn them around from every perspective and see what various characters involved might do. For example, within Beautiful Lover I’m also trying to create empathy for the characters that are doing some of the most heinous things. They are on their own journey and need to be woken up to their behavior. Some of the behavior is just so ingrained, it’s very hard for them to even see them selves as “bad.” Movies and television shows can have a strong impact as they allow us all to drop into worlds we might know very little about. For example, I learned so much about the Trans community (a community I know very little about) by watching Transparent. That show really allowed me to understand some of the issues within that community from a much deeper level.
What is the one question you wish reporters would ask you but never do?
That’s a good one. Well sometimes I wish they would ask who are some of my favorite filmmakers, alive or deceased, and also authors and artists. For me there have been so many artists of all walks of life, who have left a huge impact on my soul. I might also like to be asked who I would love to collaborate with, (actors, producers, activists). For example I would love Cara Delevingne to have an interest in Beautiful Lover, as it’s an LGBT thriller, set in the London fashion world. I think she would be amazing!
Where can our readers keep up with you?
I would love your readers to keep in touch! They can follow me on my instagram at Fiona_Mackenzie9 and also at my website ascentmedia.co. If they sign up on the Contact page, we’ll be sending out a monthly newsletter with information on some of my new projects, casting updates, festival news, collaboration opportunities and other info.