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Making ‘The Panda’

The Panda is a short, superhero film created by Jack Wilson-Lee. The film was selected for Top Screen 2016 and went on to win a People’s Choice award.

Like many VCE Media students, Jack was faced with the arduous task of coming up with an idea for his film. For inspiration, he turned to a short film that he made in Year 8 which involved running around the streets of Brunswick dressed as a crime fighting panda. Year 12, it seemed, was a good opportunity to dust off his old ideas.

Considering how he would realise a more sophisticated film about a crime fighting panda, Jack looked to Hollywood films for a bit of inspiration. “We were studying two noir films for Media itself, Red Rock West and Drive,” he said. “They sort of influenced my choice of style. And I like Batman. The main things which I investigated were just things like cinematographic techniques and different shots which I liked and aesthetic looks.” He took inspiration from the gritty yet vibrant cinematography of The Dark Knight.

Pre-production was incredibly important for Jack who started the process by sketching key scenes from the film. He then moved onto writing the screenplay and completing a detailed shot list. Although he confesses that he can’t draw, Jack says that storyboarding was one of the most important steps in planning out his film. ” I like to plan that sort of thing so I know exactly what I’m doing and that I’ve got coverage of every single event that occurs,” he said.

Costume and production design was an incredibly important part of the production, giving the film a sense of drama and scope. Jack purchased inexpensive motorbike armour for The Panda’s costume and sought assistance from his mother to bring the costume to life. Not to be left out, his father also helped him to construct a number of props, including The Panda’s laser cutter which was constructed from a suction cup, piece of metal and a laser pointer from a $2 shop.

When making a short film, Jack stresses the importance of organisation, planning and seeking assistance from others. “I had lots of friends there to help out,” he said. “Most of the nights I would have someone with my shot list, with my script, people running chores for me along with the lighting crew and the actors and just general assistants. Then everyone also doubled in as extras which also helped out.” The planning documents that Jack completed for his production design plan helped him to communicate his vision clearly with his cast and crew.

Although Jack stresses the importance of planning, there were times when he was forced to improvise on set to complete the day’s shooting. “There was nothing too unexpected, we only went over schedule on one day which was the shot for the barber’s shop scene. So that was the only time I went off the shot list. I picked up the camera and went handheld, particularly at the point in my shot list where it said ‘go handheld’…so that was kind of convenient. So I just kept getting the actors to go through the scene and I’d circle around them and then I pieced that together in the edit. But that worked within the story because, at that stage The Panda was supposed to be losing control of his surroundings and what’s going on so it made sense for the camera to then lose precision and finesse.”

Jack regrets not capturing more audio when he was on location. Not focusing on sound during principal photography meant that he had to record sound effects and dialogue in post production which was a time consuming and difficult process.

When it came to finding a copyright free soundtrack, Jack turned to a friend who was studying music composition. “You listen to it without the soundtrack and certain elements they just don’t work. Then once you’ve got that sort of musical motif and you have little themes for characters, it really just helps sell the mood.”

“Focus on the script more than you think you need to. My ethos now is that everything you do is a translation of the script,” Jack said. “{eople will still want to watch it even if your production has pitfalls. ‘Cause, really, that’s what filmmaking is, it’s just all about telling a story.”