MJ DelaneyUpon entering into a room playing Christmas songs on a loop to interview debut director M.J. Delaney ahead of her farcical comedy Powder Room, it’s fair to say her appearance was somewhat surprising, as a stylish and glamorous young woman, who comes across more as a star of the screen, rather than the creative force behind it.

Perhaps it’s because we associate the craft typically with older, more well-versed figures, with the impression that in order to get the financial backing to be trusted with a feature film, you need to have been around the block a fair few times. However this opportunist 26-year-old represents a new breed of filmmakers, as an innovator of the ‘YouTube generation’ – of young, self-taught directors who are taking their cyber-space skill set, and bringing it to life on the big screen, enforcing an inspiring, do-it-yourself approach to filmmaking.

“I’m one of the first of a generation that can be self-taught and not have gone to film school to have to some huge funding behind you,” she said. “You can shoot on a digital SLR and it’s broadcast quality. You’ve got editing software at home, then you’ve got YouTube so you’ve got an audience.”

Delaney made a name for herself parodying Jay Z and Alicia Keys’ hit single Empire State of Mind with her Newport rendition (you must have seen it), but she admits she never saw it as a potential stepping stone into a directorial career. “We thought it would be a laugh to make it and our friends would like it, and then maybe friends of friends might like it. But we never anticipated the response that it got, and the huge benefit it did to my career.”

It’s a fascinating subject matter and opens up discussions about the future of cinema, and just how big a part new media can play, and how important a role social media can have in film. Delaney believes her success could lead to many other young filmmakers following suit, embracing the ever-changing industry. “Just ten years ago, in order to get a reel together you’d need somebody to really back you. You’d need an editing facility, really expensive cameras that aren’t the kind you just have around the house… I’m very fortunate that I’m at the beginning of a generation of filmmaker that can teach themselves,” she continued. “My little nieces, from the age of 10, film and edit music videos on their laptops and they’re really good. There’s definitely other ways to come at it now.”

So to Delaney’s feature film, Powder Room – based on Rachel Hirons’ stage play When Women Wee, tells the story of a group of twentysomething women, who experience a comedy of errors, with the endearing Sam (played the inherently likeable Sheridan Smith), at the heart of the ongoing drama that ensues, with the vast majority of proceedings taking place in the ladies toilets at a grotty, London nightclub. It’s a crude and vulgar piece of cinema, and one that can be appreciated by men and women alike – and the director draws comparisons to the triumphant Bridesmaids, in that regard.

“Bridesmaids was instrumental in proving that comedy about women, starring women, could be found funny by men. Which sounds ridiculous, but a lot of people still ask whether this film will alienate a male audience, and I don’t think the director of The Hangover probably got asked if his film would alienate a female audience.”

What certainly helps carry the humour in this film, is the talented Smith, shining in the lead role – and Delaney admits she never thought she’d be lucky enough to have her on board. “I couldn’t have been happier. Se’s incredible, obviously. We never would have thought we could get Sheridan for this, so we lucked out hugely. But my worry with Sam before we’d got to the point of casting, is that she does a lot of morally dubious things over the course of the evening. A lot of her behaviour is quite questionable, especially towards her friends. I was worried we would lose the audience from being on side, but Sheridan has such an essential likeability in that you just fall in love with her. So the second I knew we had her, that worry just evaporated. She will never lose an audience.”

Perhaps another reason why this film, though predominantly aimed a female audience, manages to strike a chord with anybody watching, is that it sums up nights out in general, pinpointing experiences we can all share and then proceed to shake our head at in a shameful sense of recognition, provoking Delaney to recount one of her most memorable nights out.

“I got mugged once outside a bar in Soho,” she announced. “I went back to my mum’s house, and I couldn’t get a taxi so got in a rickshaw, which I never usually do, and was sobbing in the back, in the rain, the entire way home. It was utterly ridiculous. When I got there I had to wake her up in the middle of the night because I had no keys or anything, and the bloody rickshaw man totally ripped me off. He charged me like £50 for a ten minute ride. That one was fairly memorable.”

It’s this charmingly miserable evening that the film manages to convey so well, finding humour in the trials and tribulations we all face, also exploring the fun, spontaneous aspects, in a film that just seems to sum up a night on the town. So much so, that Delaney has since been finding elements of the film in her everyday life, meeting real people that bear some rather coincidental similarities to her on-screen characters.

“One of the first nights out I went on after the film, I met a singing toilet attendant. By the end of the night all the girls in the toilet were singing along with her and I thought it was so funny, like life imitating art. I remember towards the end of the night, off my face, going up to her and being like ‘I just made a film about a toilet attendant who sings’ and in true style to the film she was like, ‘yeah whatever’ and just looked at me like she couldn’t give a shit.”

It’s this natural enthusiasm and affability to Delaney that is bound to set her in good stead for the rest of her career, and though she feels like she almost stumbled into this industry by mistake, this is now where she wants to stay. “I’m so young and I’ve been doing it for such a short amount of time that you just learn so much from every job and I would never have expected this time last year to be here doing this right now, so I don’t really make plans and it’s thankfully worked out really nicely so far, so hopefully it will continue to take me to some strange and unexpected new places.”

“I had no idea what I wanted to do at all, I was very fortunate that I managed to stumble across it and find out I loved it, and I still love it. If I could just do this job forever that would make me happy.”

Powder Room is released nationwide on December 6, and you can read our review here – and check out our interview with leading stars Sheridan Smith and Jaime Winstone here.