Douglas Mackinnon
Todd Williamson

Having directed all six episodes of a comedic tale about just barely avoiding the Apocalypse, Mackinnon discusses the challenges involved in shooting and editing a cast led by Michael Sheen and David Tennant, as well as adding animation and VFX.

According to Douglas Mackinnon, executive producer and director of the new Amazon limited series, Good Omens, the recent success in adapting the best-selling book penned in the late 1980’s by Neil Gaiman (now screenwriter of the series) and Terry Pratchett, was long overdue. He points out that “a survey done by the BBC a few years ago of the 100 most loved books in the English language included Good Omens, but as Neil Gaiman noted to me, it was the only book on the list that had not, at that time, made it into television or film.”

Not for lack of trying, however. In a recent conversation with Studio for the Podcasts from the Front Line series, Mackinnon says various people, including director Terry Gilliam, had been trying to make Good Omens work as a feature film for literally decades. However, “Terry Gilliam told me at our premiere that it was a relief for him to see it on the screen at last. He said he had tried to make it into a two-hour movie, but could never get it off the ground. He said that was because he was trying to abridge it. But it’s not a book that can be abridged. It can’t be shortened. So the six-hour version we’ve made gets in all the story that’s there and all the complicated little avenues that Neil and Terry Pratchett wrote all those years ago.”

What changed, Mackinnon suggests, was filmmakers could finally adapt the book into a broadcast format packaged as a streaming limited series but really, in his view, “a six-hour movie,” because of “the scale that Amazon money gave us, and the technology catching up with CG. So somebody like me doing top-end television can actually tackle a story and subject like this.”

Audio-only version:

The series, mostly a faithful adaptation of the book, tells the comedic story of an unlikely supernatural duo — an angel (Michael Sheen) and a demon (David Tennant) who team up to oppose their respective “home offices” in heaven and hell in bringing about Armageddon. However, the whole thing goes awry from the get-go when Tennant’s character, the distracted, not-really-so-bad demon Crowley, accidentally misplaces the Antichrist in a small town in England.

The show was shot using Arri Alexa SXT and Mini cameras in the 2.35 aspect ratio, using a range of Leica lenses “because we wanted sharpness and consistency and also needed cameras that could survive in the depth of winter in the UK — and also the depth of the summer in a sandstorm in South Africa, where we also filmed,” Mackinnon explains. “Also, the Alexa [was a good choice] because we had nearly 1,200 CGI shots. It gave us very good green-screen keys for VFX, and it’s got really flexible color rendering, which helped us in the grade at [UK-based facility Molinare with colorist Gareth Spensley].”

To hear Mackinnon’s complete discussion of his adventure shooting Good Omens, watch the video above or download the audio version.

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