Mark Middlewick is a South African filmmaker who recently returned from Los Angeles where his Jameson First Shot-winning short film starring Adrien Brody was premiered at Paramount Pictures. His film ‘The Mascot’ tells the heart-breaking tale of a man, Adam, whose identity is intertwined with that of his long-standing second job; riling up basketball fans as the Pittsburgh Pandas’ mascot, Patrick. When he hears he is being replaced by a mascot with more ‘athletic range’, a forlorn Adam (dressed as Patrick) confronts his replacement in the locker room.
Mark’s dedication to the visual story, as well as the one that plays out before us through the characters, is apparent in each beautifully composed scene. We asked Mark about the origins of his initial concept, what it was like working with the immensely talented Adrien Brody, and if ‘The Mascot’ is a good indicator of the films we can expect from him going forward. On his return flight from the States home to Johannesburg he answered our questions.
Where did your initial idea for The Mascot come from?
I watched all the previous films and took note of the type of stuff coming out of the Jameson First Shot program. I then set out to create something that would conceptually appeal to them but would subvert what had gone before and represent who I am as a filmmaker.
The idea itself came out of hearing about Adrien’s process. He’s a method actor who submerges himself into each role, and The Mascot concept became a perfect parallel to that.
What’s interesting is that even though the idea sounded like a comedy, the plot inadvertently, like much of my work, became about loneliness and loss.
What made it a story you wanted to write and bring to life?
It scared me. On the surface it sounded ‘quirky’ (I despise that word), and I challenged myself to make a film that never delivered on the audience’s preconceptions.
What was it like working with Adrien Brody? How much did he bring to the character, and how much was direction from you?
Adrien is an utter professional. As soon as you call action he’s completely present. He was more than willing to do numerous takes. On a couple occasions I was confident we had what we needed, and he’d ask for an extra take if he felt he had a little more left in the tank.
Prior to shooting we’d had a long chat about the character and we both had similar ideas about who he was. As a result we never argued about intention but I’d occasionally have to steer him in a certain direction or ask him to ‘turn the volume down’ if I thought we were overstating something.
I imagine the two days of filming go by so quickly, were you able to stand back and appreciate the experience while in the thick of it?
I don’t know. I still don’t think I’ve taken the time to stand back and appreciate the experience. As much as it was a once in a lifetime type of experience, when you’re on set it’s still work and it just so happens that Adrien Brody is on the other side of the lens.
Shooting in just two days must feel somewhat frantic. Was this the case? What is the mood on set?
I think any shoot is somewhat frantic. You’re always racing time no matter the size of the production. Two days was obviously very limiting, but it forces you to be very decisive about what you want. The crew knew the drill and had been part of the previous films to come out of the program, so they were all plugged in and made my life very easy.
What was the pre-production experience like for you being in South Africa while things were being set up in the States?
It obviously isn’t ideal, especially with the time difference, but you make it work. They’d send me hundreds of reference images for wardrobe, production design, props, and locations and I’d pencil my favourites, then when I arrived in LA I made my final picks.
Funnily enough not being in LA had its blessings, as it gave me a chance to reflect on options before immediately giving feedback. Whereas often when you’re in the room a production team can coerce you into making a choice that suits them.
Are you happy with the outcome?
As happy as you can be about something you’ve made, because I don’t think you can truly be content with something you’ve created. However, my partner (Tarryn) has the best taste out of anyone I know, so if she likes it then I know I’ve done a half decent job.
Would you say The Mascot is a good example of the work you want to make?
I think tonally it’s a good example of the type of long form stuff I want to make, which is naturalistic, quiet and minimalist. However my future work won’t have as big a conceptual hook as something like The Mascot and will most certainly be set in South Africa.
What is something people entering the next competition should know?
Stop doubting yourself and just enter. Even if you don’t get in the parameters of the competition, it’s an excellent opportunity to hone your craft.