Interview with director Leigh Mackenzie

Leigh Mackenzie is based in Melbourne, Australia, and has been working as a cinematographer for over 30 years. He started his career with award winning cinematographer Ian Baker, and been fortunate enough to work with many great international cinematographers on international hit films. When Covid 19 shut down the film & television industry, Leigh decided to make his first short film, in which he not only used his camera experience, but also drew on his times working with some of the best directors. He shot, directed and edited his first short film – Joel.

  • Was there a particular event or time that you recognized that filmmaking is your way of telling stories?

Having been around film sets for over 30 years, it was something that just came naturally.

  • Do you think it is essential to go to a film institute in order to become a successful filmmaker?


  • Is it harder to get started or to keep going? What was the particular thing that you had to conquer to do either?

It’s harder to keep going as a director I am relying on my documentary subject to keep the enthusiasm, be available, fit in with schedule, emotional availability. Also, without a budget I was working with what I could afford. And working around Covid lockdowns was an added pressure.

  • What was the most important lesson you had to learn that has had a positive effect on your film? How did that lesson happen?

I had to learn to be more flexible in what my original idea was, to what eventuated. With a documentary, you cannot script it. Sometimes you need to let go, if the moment doesn’t work. Originally I was not going to interview or have dialogue – it was going to be a visual piece…but I realized it needed dialogue to carry it.

  • How do you find or generate ideas for documentaries or is it a different process for every project?

Different process for every project, main aim is to find an interesting and entertaining story – and then adapt from there.

  • Can you describe your approach to writing treatments?

No, I don’t write treatments.

  • Do you ever use the camera yourself?

I used the camera for the film – I was the only cinematographer.

  • What do audiences want? And is it the filmmaker’s role to worry about that?

Audiences want to be entertained and informed. I found that people were intrigued about my subject and wanted to know more. And that is exactly what I wanted. It IS the filmmaker’s role to worry about what the audience wants, there is no point making a film that no one is interested in. We make for audiences.

  • What role have film festivals played in your life so far? Why are they necessary? How do you get the most out of them?

This is the first film festival I have had a film in. It is absolutely necessary to enter your film into festivals. They give your film a life. Film Freeway has made film festivals accessible and has now given Joel this incredible opportunity to be seen by audiences around the world. This is why we make films – is for audience. And film festivals are audience.

  • Do you believe that a filmmaker should be original and fresh or he/she should stick to classic but safe cinema style?

I find I have my own style, whether that be from other films or original, I don’t give that much thought. I do what I feel is best for my film, and what the topic/theme/subject requires to make the film sing.