Middlesex University BA Film students’ award-winning short film ‘Potty the Plant’ explores what the world of an office-bound plant might be like. And it leaves the competition in the growing world of student film-making green with envy.
Forget ‘Little Weed’ (those of you who are old enough to remember, that is): this plant inhabits a much darker world. Set in Little Boo Boo’s Children’s Hospital, the main character is one Dr Acula (responsible for blood tests!) and Potty lives in his office.
The film began by winning in the Royal Television Society (London region) student awards in the Comedy & Entertainment category. Then other triumphs followed, including a Special Jury Award at the Learning on Screen Awards 2018. The film has also been nominated for a Royal Television Society Student Award and has been selected to compete in the Durham Film Festival.
It’s a dark comedy musical produced by Taliah Lamont and directed by Aeddan Sussex, alongside other current students from Middlesex University. Fellow student Baden Burns composed the music and also plays – and sings – Potty.
Senior Lecturer David Heinemann explains how the BA Film course prepares students for working in the industry.
“We encourage our students to work on every aspect of film, starting with screenwriting. They produce a short script and then workshop it. When we evaluate the scripts we are looking for originality and also achievability – it’s got to be a workable project. That’s followed by a producing and directing module and the scripts go into a pool for consideration. The writers used to be able to direct their own scripts but now we’ve changed this so that there is more objectivity, and it’s more like industry practice.”
Scripts are chosen from the pool and then produced as shorts. Students are encouraged to seek finance for their projects via crowdfunding and other means, and only allowed to contribute £250 of their own money to the making of their films. They work to a budget and use professional actors for most of the parts.
‘Potty’ was set in a hospital but the medical rooms of Middlesex made a cheaper substitute than using locations.
Director Aeddan comments: “I’m surprised they actually let us go ahead with the film, to be honest! We all knew how ambitious the project was going to be, and so me and Baden spent two straight days writing all the music and lyrics before we submitted the script, to assure ourselves that we would be able to do it. The whole process was a lot of fun, from pre to post production. We were very grateful for all the facilities that the university offered, which as David said, definitely helped us minimise the cost for sets and locations. This was the kind of film that you’d never get to do anywhere else, so I’m glad we took the opportunity to do it!”
Developing business sense and making industry connections are regarded as extremely important at Middlesex.
“We’re keen on encouraging entrepreneurship – this is part of the course – and students have work placements as well,” explains David. “They make connections and build up contacts in the industry and this can be invaluable when they graduate.”
David knows only too well the value of copyright and protecting one’s own intellectual property. He has his own production company and a film they made was stolen by a bogus company in Lithuania and uploaded to YouTube, where it went viral – but all the credit (and financial gains) were of no benefit to the real rightsholders. The film was removed eventually but not until it had had over a million views.
“Intellectual property rights are important and we try to ensure that students realise that their work has monetary value. They need to protect it if they want to make a living out of it,” David points out.
He uses the ERA licence to show extracts from TV programmes and films and says that there is a wealth of material available. “We use clips to show the range of different styles and techniques – in acting, for example, or camera work – and there is a huge amount of resource there for us. We can also recommend that students watch specific programmes themselves and look out for certain aspects, or critique these.”
‘Potty’ looks set to garner more awards for its budding film-makers and now has a burgeoning fanbase rooting for it!