Witsie makes his mark in Hollywood

Five years after graduating from Wits University, Mark Middlewick, has made it to Hollywood with his latest short film, The Mascot. The film was produced by two time Oscar winner, Kevin Spacey and starred Adrien Brody, another Oscar winner. His previous film, Security, was also showcased in London and Seattle. Middlewick is a Johannesburg native, determined to create local content, despite having his foot in Hollywood’s door. 

At only 28, former Witsie and filmmaker Mark Middlewick has worked with some top names in the international movie industry including two Academy Award winners.
Middlewick, a graduate of the Wits School of Arts (WSOA) spoke to Wits Vuvuzela about his latest short film produced by Oscar winner Kevin Spacey and about his quick success in a tough industry.

Middlewick recently won the international Jameson First Shot Film competition. He received the news of the film’s shortlisting from Oscar winner Kevin Spacey, via a Skype call.

Middlewick said when Spacey appeared on screen, “It was so exciting but terrifying at the same time.”

The nine minute film, The Mascot, starred Adrien Brody, another Oscar winning actor, and told the story of a lonely man who lost his job as a passionate team mascot. Middlewick added that it was down to Brody to pick the winning script.

“There was an anxiety that Adrien wouldn’t go with me because I’m a nobody from South Africa and he’s won a fucking Oscar you know!”

Middlewick, who previously worked as a script reader in Los Angeles, entered the competition as a writing exercise and was told Brody would be cast as the main actor.

“He’s a method actor and I find that interesting,” Middlewick said. “From previous trips to the U.S., I was fascinated with the mascot culture, so I meshed together the character and a method actor,” he added.

His earlier film Security was showcased at the London International Film Festival (2013) and Seattle International Film Festival (2014). The film was nominated as Best Short Film at the South African Film & Television Awards (SAFTA). It also won Best Short Film at the Jozi Film Festival and Independent Mzansi Short Film Festival this year.


INTERNATIONAL SUCCESS: Former Witsie, Mark Middlewick, is a filmmaker and director. He recently won the Jameson First Shot Film competition, produced by two time Oscar winner, Kevin Spacey. Photo: Riante Naidoo.

Middlewick also worked with Nakhane Toure, a SAMA award winning musician, producing his music video, Fog, which was nominated as Most Beautiful Object in South Africa at the 2014 Design Indaba. The Johannesburg native said he is “pretty happy-go-lucky and expressive, but I’m not great with emotional expression, so film becomes a way of doing that.” He said the script of The Mascot represented his own fear of “getting what you loved ripped away from you.”

Middlewick, who described himself as “a super proud Witsie,” said he owes his critical thinking to his education at the institution. “Wits had a huge influence on me,” he said. Commenting on the difference between his education and that offered at another film school in South Africa, Middlewick said: “AFDA (Academy of Film and Dramatic Arts) is a complete waste of money, because they teach technical know-how and Wits teaches theory. Theory is huge, it’s everything,” he added.

Middlewick, has both an undergraduate and an honours degree in drama from Wits. He said he is still “very connected” to Wits and would love to return to lecture. “I miss discourse and an academic atmosphere,” he said.

Middlewick, said he intends to remain in South Africa despite his international success.

Middlewick, selected as one of this year’s Mail & Guardian’s 200 Young South Africans, is currently juggling a number of projects including a commercial and a feature film through the South African National Film & Video Foundation. He is also working on a personal feature film which still requires funding.

Despite his international success, Middlewick said he intends to remain in South Africa. “Even if a window opened, I don’t know if I’d want to jump through it because I want to make local content,” he said.