In the summer of 2019 I received a call from Ben Pryke, head of film studies at West Suffolk College, asking if I would be interested in directing another short film. Whilst making another short was not my plan, I was persuaded to take a look as it was part of a program run by WSC designed to bring students and industry together, something I believe we need more of. Additionally, the source material is based on a true story, which always interests me. Mother of two, Jodie Rowlandson, wrote a heartbreaking account of her child’s illness. Whilst Jodie’s testimony sadly isn’t unique, a single line describing their consultant read; “as far as I'm concerned, he is God”. It really caught my attention and this simple line was the inception for the story of Maximus. Brits are extremely fortunate to have access to universal health care, but every now and then something prompts a reality check for just how grateful we should be. The idea that we have buildings full of ‘gods’, possessing powers that can mean the difference between life or death, all free at the point of use, should make us stop and count our blessings. Those ‘gods’ are of course doctors and therefore human, a fact often overlooked. Maximus tips the hat to one of the hardest professions on the planet and reminds us how extremely lucky we are to have our health service. I think the initial draw was definitely the idea of this collaboration with the students at West Suffolk College. When Ben Pryke first called me about the program it seemed like a no brainer. The idea that we could somehow make a difference to the students’ future careers was definitely a massive positive. The actual idea for the film, this true story about a family whose lives were turned upside down, brought forward a topic I have wanted to explore for a while now. Thousands of children fight illness and disease everyday, worldwide. To be able to tell a story that puts that immense fight and struggle into a context that children and adults alike can understand and relate to is something that makes me very proud. What were the biggest challenges you faced in geYng the film made? Covid-19. Short and simple, this was the biggest difficulty we, like everyone else this year, faced. Production on this project was hard enough but then, overnight, suddenly we weren’t able to hold meetings, go on location scouts or have set builds and costume workshops. This made it very challenging but with the help of Zoom, we muddled through. Once we got the go ahead from the government that we were able to film again, we were in a strong position. However, the national uncertainty and nervousness that this pandemic brought about created its own problems. 5 days before the shoot our primary battlefield location (and crew accommodation) said they were not comfortable with us coming. Having come so far and operated under unprecedented conditions, to have this thrown at us was nearly the end of all we had worked for. Fortunately, our production team are not so easily put off. We had a new location and accommodation for 50 people within hours. We were not dead yet. How did the student element and participation evolve over the course of the production? I think it fair to say that when the project was initially put forward to the students, it felt a lot like standard schoolwork. They very quickly realised that this was a huge opportunity for them to gain real, onset experience with proper professionals with decades worth of experience between them. Once that initial realisation happened, they rose to the challenge. The split on set between student and professional crew was nearly 50/50. However, as one crew member remarked agerwards, it was hard to tell the distinction between student and professional. This is a real testament to how far the students have come since we began in January. Students worked closely with numerous departments; they worked as sound and camera trainees, assistant directors, costume standby’s and makeup artists. We had performing arts students running around as our monsters, one art student who created our beast’s claws singlehandedly. The makeup team were some of the most professional crew I have ever worked with. All this, from one 6th form college in Bury St Edmunds. Just goes to show that age is just a number. How was the shoot itself and how did you cope working under the cloud of Covid-19? The shoot itself was exceptionally long and hard work. This will come as no surprise to anyone. However, over the course of the 9 day shoot, through nothing short of sheer brilliance, our crew and cast made it one of the most enjoyable and rewarding experiences of my life. Many crew members, whilst experienced, had to contend with issues and problems they had not encountered before and they conducted themselves with the upmost professionalism and ingenuity. I can only thank each and every one of them, for all of it.
Right off the back of his critically acclaimed and multi award-winning short film Sylvia, Richard Prendergast's passion, drive and vision for this story and for the art of filmmaking has resulted in another emotive and echanting short film. Highly ambitious and packed full of references to your favourite films, Maximus was made with great focus and dedication from Richard and the team. Produced in collaboration with West Suffolk College, it also offered an incredible, invluable hands on educational experience for many students.