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Destiny seems to be heavy on the mind of Mark Fergus, seasoned screenwriter and first-time director, debuting with an upcoming film called “First Snow.”
With an Oscar nomination for the screenplay of “Children of Men” and the announcement of several major writing deals, including Marvel Entertainment’s upcoming “Iron Man,” it might seem as though Fergus and writing partner Hawk Ostby are walking a predetermined path to cinematic success. But Fergus cautions against such delusions of grandeur.
“The vast majority of the forces that define our destiny are completely out of our control,” says Fergus in an in-person interview with The Crimson. His cool demeanor, whimsical digressions, and unassuming nature suggest that he truly believes in the controlling forces of destiny—for good or ill.
IT IS YOUR DESTINY
“First Snow” is a movie about fate and the inevitable consequence of one’s decisions. The main character, Jimmy (Guy Pearce, of “Memento” fame), is haunted by the grim predictions of a roadside fortune teller who warns that his life is safe only until “the first snow.”
At first a quick-talking and overconfident salesman, Jimmy grows paranoid and introspective, fearing that someone or something from his past is out to get him.
“This is a story about somebody who suddenly wakes up one day and looks at the world entirely differently, and starts to feel like their life is closing in on them,” Fergus says.
Fergus defines the film in very personal terms, linking themes of the movie to his own life and philosophical outlook.
“I think about [destiny] all the time, but I don’t really have any sure answers about it,” he says. “I feel like there’s omens all around when you’re looking for them.”
TRUE TO LIFE
Fergus muses over existential issues, and literary influences abound. He considers screenwriting a matter of simply putting a new spin on the classics.
“I think stories are not created, they’re kind of discovered,” he says. “They’re already in the earth and we’re just sort of pulling them out.”
Fitting with this claim, he cites Sophocles’ “Oedipus Rex” as the most direct literary influence for “First Snow,” specifically its theme of human nature as a repetitive and predictable manifestation of fate.
“Everything that’s going on right now…it’s like a cliché. It’s been done over and over,” he says.
Fergus also references his deep connection to New Mexico, where the film was shot and where he lived for a time, as inspiration for the screenplay.
His deep green eyes glow as he says, “I get pangs of nostalgia thinking about New Mexico.”
Everything about “First Snow” appears to be connected to Fergus’ own life in some way. Yet, he is quick to direct praise for the film away from himself.
Referring to his cast and crew as family, Fergus’ fondness for collaboration is immediately obvious.
“As long as you’re open to listen to everybody, you’re constantly getting fed and it’s propelling you forward.” He is very receptive to his audience as well: “I love the fact that people don’t respond to it the same way, or like it the same, or hate it the same.”
While Fergus is open to suggestion, he puts more energy into bridging the gap between wide-open collaboration and the narrow-minded decisiveness typical of a Hollywood director.
Though he allows an actor to experiment with his script and test audiences to tweak some aspect of the film, he is the head honcho when it comes to the overall outcome of his work.“If you know what you want it to be, everyone feels confident,” he says.
Still, the first-time director encountered some of his biggest challenges in post-production. “[In editing] there’s a million people telling you a million different things and if you start compromising all over the place, the movie will guaranteed suck.”
Destiny, it seems, cannot always take control of situations, especially in film production. Straying from his initial air of modesty, Fergus says, “[Sometimes] the best thing to do is be totally single-minded...It’s only when you start to get wishy-washy do [the producers] sort of feel like, ‘Ah, he doesn’t know what he’s doing. I smell blood!’ And that’s when it can get really ugly for a director.”
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