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Parker Mackensie's Brave New Box Office
By Jalie Zembe
Photography Robbie Fimmano

Published Oct 6, 2020

For Parker Mackensie, becoming a director was never in the books. Growing up in New York City, he started where every actor does, on Broadway. He learned patience, a little improv, and how to tap dance (no, really), but the biggest lesson came in the form of learning when to evolve. What was originally supposed to be a career building him up to be film's next action star, turned instead into the creative outlets that have let Mackensie tap into what he truly knows how to do best: tell phenomenal stories.

At 36, Mackensie has pioneered a brand new frontier. No stranger to the big world of making movies, Mackensie had a heavy hand into some of the business behind his latest release, the highly anticipated espionage-esque thriller Tenet. After closed meetings, secretive trailers, and tight-lipped actor contracts, Tenet raised interest in global audiences just as the world was shutting down. Despite this, Mackensie has braved the new world of blockbuster film among an atmosphere of uncertainty and scarcity, and somehow he doesn't regret it.


JALIE ZEMBE: Where are you?

PARKER MACKENSIE: I'm still in New York, but getting ready to move into a new home.

ZEMBE: Congrats on the new home!

MACKENSIE: Thank you!

ZEMBE: I'm in New York as well. The city seems to be split as far as activity goes, don't you think?

MACKENSIE: It is. I'm a little less posh and little more beyond the tracks, if you know what I mean. I think the people who are working and living their lives are doing the best they can with that and staying safe. The other side seem to be a little pissed that they can't have caviar in a chandelier adorned restaurant in public right now. [Laughs]

ZEMBE: I can feel that vibe sometimes. Like a buzzing eagerness in the air.

MACKENSIE: Buzzing eagerness, I like that. That's New York City in a nutshell.

ZEMBE: So, what kind of theatrical inspirations do you draw from your home city?

MACKENSIE: Almost all of my allegorical themes so far have been based around something that I saw or experienced in New York. Don't let me get into all of that or I'll talk your ear off for years, but I think about ways I can inject the issues of this city into my work when it calls for it, when it's a viable and cohesive idea. I love this city. I hope it loves me. I'll never live anywhere other than Brooklyn and I'll never get rid of my accent-- I mean for roles I will, but at least not when I'm speaking with people. New York is a beautifully diverse city and its diversity is what makes it thrive.

ZEMBE: Tenet has a rather diverse feel, and an international one, too. What was it like working on some of those locations?

MACKENSIE: We had a lot of help. I always feel out of my element in a new location until I'm on set or on the actual spot where we will shoot. I work with scouts directly because I have one of those minds that can really visualize things in 3D even when I haven't seen it. I guess I could have been an architect. [laughs]. So usually, I know how a shot can work or be setup before I've seen the spot. But seeing it finally, in person, makes it all that much more real, of course. You have to be really careful, too, when you're working in these different places -- not, not at all because of the places, but because of us. We have to be sure we're not disturbing things too much and being respectful of these spaces and cities where real people still have to work and live.

ZEMBE: Did anything not go as planned on this film?

MACKENSIE: [laughs] You mean other than...

ZEMBE: Right! Other than the BIG thing.

MACKENSIE: Thankfully, we had a lot of smooth shooting situations. I think it was more me who would get nervous. For instance, we shut down Pärnu Highway in Estonia for what felt like a really long time. I kept feeling the crunch, like I needed to hurry, but you can't really hurry a car chase scene, and that scene was pivotal. I asked a lot of this cast, as well. A lot of people had to learn some talents that haven't really been seen in cinema before, and they nailed it. I think I was worried I was asking too much, and they all constantly reminded me that they can handle anything.

ZEMBE: That car scene was really fun to watch, too! There seem to be little details sprinkled everywhere.

MACKENSIE: My hope was that nothing happened by chance or suddenly. Everything is constantly happening from beginning to end. If the plot mentioned something, it was already in motion before it was actually said out loud, somewhere, in mise en scene or in the details surrounding these characters. Somewhere, it can be found!

ZEMBE: Were you nervous about an international release?

MACKENSIE: Maybe not for the same reasons as the studio, but yes. I didn't want to wake up the next morning and read that a packed theater got everybody sick. I hate to keep saying we got lucky, but it's just the truth. None of us have any control over any of this, and it just so happened that we released as kind of the guinea pigs. I hate to say it like that, because I think that implies that we wanted to experiment on movie audiences, when we didn't. I wanted as safe as possible, you know, as safe as people could be, regardless of what happened numbers wise, not even thinking about money or budgets. This is a big film, like the size of it: the scale of these scenes and shots and performances. So I'm grateful people got to see it on a big screen.

ZEMBE: How do you feel about people who say that Tenet was supposed to become the "savior of cinema".

MACKENSIE: I think that's fucking ridiculous, to be honest. [laughs] Someone said that? Who said that?

ZEMBE: [laughs] It caught on somewhere and you know how it goes after that! I didn't say it though, I swear! I think the general idea was that this would save the industry, but now that we see theaters moving in a different direction, it seems perception has changed as well. How do you feel about that?

MACKENSIE: Jesus Christ. One film cannot save the entire movie theater industry and it especially isn't going to be my film that would do it. All I can really do is what I feel drawn to do, which is tell a fascinating story and make something as great as I possibly can. Entertainment is an experience. That experience isn't going to change next month or the month after that. If theaters close, good. They should always do what is best. I never set out to make a statement about the film industry or create a revival of movie goers. I just wanted people to enjoy their moments they had in front of this film, and I hope they did. I think they did.

ZEMBE: What did you learn throughout the experience of releasing this film during this time?

MACKENSIE: To trust myself and my vision. To rely on that and to focus on that, over anything else. To enjoy the opportunity of bringing an exciting world to movie fans, instead of worrying about other things that don't matter as much.

ZEMBE: How are you feeling about the future of the film industry now?

MACKENSIE: Hopeful and excited. We're chameleons. The entire world is finding ways to make things better, not just in the realm of entertainment. We're trying to be better people, better communities. And those same people and communities are the reflection of the art that we make as filmmakers. As a collective, I'm excited to see where we all go next.