Say What? Gary Mackay


Production Designer Gary Mackay has recently finished work as Supervising Art Director on the second season of Netflix’s Marco Polo, which will air from 1 July. He also worked on the show’s first season and, in between those seasons, was Production Designer for the first season of ANZ co-production 800 Words.

You did Lord of the Rings fairly early in your career. What did you take away from it?
Once you end up working on that scale, it can become all about managing people, money and schedules. But it is important to remain constantly engaged in the script and storytelling, however small or large your part is. That is where we all fell in love with what we do, and where the motivation to keep going under strain comes from.

What still surprises or excites you when you go on to a new job?
People, always the people. Every job in NZ and overseas has allowed me to make new friends in the industry, to listen and learn from their years of experience and generosity. Every single job there is a new technique to learn, or to share.

The international crew on Marco Polo were always asking and interested in both visiting and or working New Zealand. Many of them have already been here. There is a very romantic view of our life here, which they have got though the films they know and the Kiwi crews they have met.

You’ve done a fair amount of work overseas during your career. What have you seen that you’ve brought back here?
Adaptability – the way crews everywhere work to their strengths and create their own construction techniques depending on the local supplies.

In Malaysia they’re very competent with steel, so many sets end up braced and supported in steel first. In Hungary, for the same set they’d use lightweight local 6”x1” pine boards for framing up huge tall flattage units – no steel at all. Both work well. Being so remote we’ve always had to adapt and invent here in NZ. It’s a great strength and it’s reassuring to find that same adaptability in other places on the planet.

Marco Polo

Standby Props Craig Wilson (left) and Standby Art Director Mike Becroft on a village set for Marco Polo

How did you find the Pinewood Iskandar set-up for Marco Polo?
We had a full-time crew of nearly 750 people from 40 nations. There were 60 Kiwi crew, spread across near every department. After the NZ industry annus horribilus of 2013, it really was a great relief to be able to make calls to crew offering a 9-10 month project. Tim Coddington was one of the producers. He really pulled some stunning Kiwi crew into the job.

The facility in Malaysia is something we only dream of having here in NZ. Five shiny new BIG purpose-built stages. Each one has a water tank recessed into the stage floor, and real overhead full grids for rigging, LX and SPFX access.

Outside there’s a huge outdoor shallow tank & greenscreen for boat work, a deep dive tank for underwater work… backlots, workshops, huge office areas. It’s a small town really.

This kind of facility would help Auckland to get projects of real scale coming in regularly. In countries we compete with, like Malaysia, Hungary & Canada, these facilities have been supported and partly-funded by local or central government. They acknowledge both the screen industry up-skilling and tourism growth they receive from this infrastructure.