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MJ Delaney: Film Director

MJ Delaney, 26, is a freelance film director. She lives with her boyfriend Leo and housemate Aneesa in Camden, London

When my alarm goes off at 4.30am for a shoot, it’s really tough to get out of bed. Lots of the filming I do takes place outdoors, so I usually put on a deeply unattractive outfit of thermal underwear, three pairs of socks, boots, fleece and a massive Penfield coat, which at least cinches in at the waist. As a director I spend a lot of time standing around, so I learned the policeman’s trick of rocking on the balls of my feet to keep my circulation going.

The locations of shoots vary – one week I’ll be in Mali, Africa filming a campaign for the children’s charity, Plan, and the next I’ll be in a studio directing a comedy music video about Boris Johnson called Boris Gaga for the BBC. When I arrive on set, I head straight to the catering truck for a cup of tea and bowl of porridge, or a full English if we’ve been on location for a few days and I’m feeling tired.

During filming it’s my job to act as the middleman – I work with the director of photography to check that the lighting is right and the art department to ensure the cameras work with the set.

I got my big break with the viral music video Newport State Of Mind, which was a parody of Jay-Z’s Empire State Of Mind set in the Welsh town instead of New York. My boyfriend Leo and I came up with the concept and wrote the lyrics with our friend Tom Williams. It took us a day to film, cost £100 and at first we just sent it to a few friends. It soon spiralled out of control though – Example, Stephen Fry and Lily Allen tweeted it, it appeared on ITV News At Ten and became a massive hit on YouTube. The buzz around the video totally changed my life – my advice to anyone trying to break into the industry is if you believe in something, just make it.

On set, lunchtimes vary – the producer has a full schedule that we’re supposed to stick to but issues inevitably arise, such as technical hitches. Ideas for films can come from anywhere – Leo and I are both massive Justin Bieber fans and were inspired by a blog called Lesbians Who Look Like Justin Bieber to create the Biebershop Quartet film for the BBC. Production companies also ask me to develop visual treatments for existing concepts. Roughcut TV wanted me to make a spoof about the trend for young, rich people holding festivals on their parents’ estates.

The first advertising campaign that I shot was for the supermarket chain Aldi, featuring real people talking about products they love, such as a gin-swilling granny, to highlight the price difference between leading brand and Aldi’s products. Aldi took a punt on me as a new director. Casting is crucial – I wanted it to feel authentic so we travelled the country doing street castings. The campaign was so successful that eight commercials turned into 34 and counting, and we won best campaign at the Creative Circle 2012 awards.

At first we just sent the film to a few friends, but Stephen Fry tweeted it and it became a hit

Shoots are supposed to wrap by 8.30pm but sometimes don’t finish until midnight; the producer often orders pizzas to keep us happy. If it’s the last day of filming I go out with the crew for drinks but if I’m in the middle of a shoot I go home to relax in a hot bath. If Leo is still awake he cooks me something delicious – he’s half Japanese and makes amazing soboro don with minced pork, egg and rice before I go to bed.

When I’m not shooting, I spend my days in Soho flitting between edit suites, castings and wardrobe reviews. I’m so passionate about what I do that I work most weekends – I’ve only had one off this year – but the upside is that I have the odd afternoon free. I’ve started going to the cinema by myself; something I never used to do. I’m a sucker for New York indie films and I love everything by Wes Anderson, who wrote and directed The Royal Tenenbaums. I recently signed to the agency that represent him in the US, which makes me feel all warm and fuzzy.”

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