18th BFI Future Film Festival, 2024
"BFI Future Film Festival gave me not only introductions to some amazing peers and filmmakers whose work I adore and still follow, but also connections to professionals in the industry."
Lonely seagull Sammy is unlucky in love - all the birds around him seem to be sharing their foraged snacks, pairing up and leaving him behind. When he encounters an elegant (and interested!) drone, Sammy finally believes he’s found the relationship he’s been looking for. But their sun drenched romance is threatened when the drone begins to runs out of battery life and fly back to its human controller. Putting his life at risk to save his new love, Sammy is forced to grapple with the reality of a potential future with a partner that may never return his feelings.
Hi Radheya, thank you for talking to TNC. How does it feel to be coming back to BFI Future Film Festival with your latest short, an animation, Bird Drone?
Thank you for the opportunity. It’s an amazing feeling to be back! Especially since it’s been a few years now since I’ve had an animated film in the BFI Future Film Festival, one of the reasons being that the creation of this film took a few years itself. So I’m very honoured and glad to be back again.
Pacing the Pool won Best Short Documentary at the BFI FFF 2023, what did winning this award mean to you?
I was really proud of our incredible team who made it possible - it was a big moment for us to have a local Perth documentary win this award all the way over in the UK, and especially at the BFI FFF. It meant so much to me, especially since a live action documentary is out of my comfort zone on a number of levels given my animation background. I feel like it definitely carved out potential paths in the factual space, which I am keen on exploring further.
Will there be any nerves ahead of your return to the festival or are you just excited and eager for your screening?
I think there will be nerves for sure, you never know how the audience will react and you just hope that the reception will be positive, and that the viewer will connect emotionally with your characters and story. But I’m also equally excited and eager, when I was making the film I was really hoping that we’d be selected for BFI FFF, and so I’m really happy to be able to share my latest work with a festival that has provided so much amazing support over the years.
How important are festivals like Future Film Festival in creating a platform for short films and emerging filmmakers?
Hugely important! BFI Future Film Festival gave me not only introductions to some amazing peers and filmmakers whose work I adore and still follow, but also connections to professionals in the industry. Being able to see people’s work from around the world, and reaching people in a different continent with your film is a hugely rewarding aspect of film festivals.
What more can be done on a local/national level in the UK to offer short films more visibility to audiences outside of the festivals circuit?
As an Australian I’m not super familiar with the film industry in the UK, and perhaps this is more of a general statement, but one thing I’d love to see is for short film to be implemented more on streaming services - there are a few shorts I’ve found, but I’d love to see more of them up there, and a separate category dedicated to shorts for people to watch (and it was based by region, they could also feature shorts made by local filmmakers). Easier said than done, but I think that would increase visibility for sure.
Can you tell me how Bird Drone came about, what inspired you to make a short animation?
Our writer Clare Toonen came up with the concept of a seagull falling in love with a drone several years back, when she was observing a drone being flown at a Western Australian beach. Years later, our producer Hannah Ngo reached out to me with the film at a very early stage and I fell in love with it and came on board. As someone who grew up watching wordless Pixar shorts, the idea of directing a film about two very different characters with no real dialogue was very appealing, and animation is such a great medium for that. I did often think about what it would look like as a live action film, and how difficult it would be to wrangle real seagulls. Part of the ‘challenge’ was to make the viewer feel a connection to a seagull, a bird that many people find loud/vile/annoying. Animation allowed us to make our hero seagull more emotive, ‘cuter’, more appealing, while also stealing chips and staying true to their nature.
What were the biggest challenges you faced bringing Bird Drone to the big screen?
The biggest challenge was actually getting it animated - initially I wasn't actually planning on doing the production side of animation, and I thought I would be overseeing it from a directorial role. For some time we shopped around to see which studios would be able to do the animation side of things, but for a number of reasons, we ended up realising that I would be doing it all. In the end it was for the best, as I learnt a great deal, which made it a really worthwhile experience.
"Write down any ideas that you have, no matter how small. Start writing screenplays and drawing up thumbnail storyboards."
When making a film like Bird Drone, what are some of the lessons you’re able to take away from the filmmaking process that will help you on your future projects?
Part of the benefit of me doing the animation was getting my head around new skills and software - this film really got me into learning about Blender and the 3D animation pipeline. It’s been really useful already as I’ve been applying what I’ve learned on my projects since then, which has been leaning into a mixture of a 2D and 3D animation workflow. I also learned about time management - the film took so much longer than it was supposed to, and was by far the longest time I’ve ever worked on a film. Now that I’ve been through that process I’m much more mindful of being time-efficient.
Is there anything you would have done differently on this film?
If I could do it differently I would probably try and find a way to do it in half the time. But other than that I can’t complain - at each step of the process I had the privilege of collaborating with some truly wonderful people who are masters at their craft, and there isn’t any part of that that I would change.
Have you always had a passion for film and animation?
For sure! For as long as I can remember I’d been captivated by film and animation, and when I was in school that shifted to an interest in wanting to make it. I recently remembered that my brother and I would spend hours in this animation software where you essentially are animating stick figures, and we’d create these elaborate action scenes where they’d be jumping around and fighting each other (similar to what my brother and I did in real life anyway). This is speaking from nostalgia, and if I managed to find those files I’m sure they wouldn’t be as impressive as I remember. But I realised it was the beginning of my interest in creating animations.
What is it about film and animation that makes it the perfect medium for exploring educational and social development?
By using animation it’s easier to visualise concepts and create interesting imagery to communicate your intended message to the viewer. You can take something quite abstract and transform it into something visual, and you have complete control over the appeal and charm of what we’re seeing on the screen - so it can be far more engaging to watch.
Since your debut short film what would you say has been the biggest changes in your filmmaking approach?
Bird Drone was the first major animated film of mine that I didn’t compose the music for. I was nervous at first about how that would work giving that duty to someone else, and it ended up being the best decision - Wil Hughes, our composer, was a dream to work with. His score fit the film so perfectly and I was so, so pleased with the process and the outcome. Similarly, working with our sound designer Keith Thomas was amazing, he absolutely delivered and I love the soundscape he created. It’s definitely made me so much more comfortable with collaborating with composers/sound designers, which I’m continuing to do on my current project and it’s a great feeling. One of my favourite little moments was finding out that there’s a ‘seagull’ technique on the cello which we used in the film, in one scene we transition from real seagull squawks to only cello sounds for the gulls!
Who are some of the filmmakers that have/do inspire you?
My answer to this question always grows longer each year as I watch more films. As an Australian filmmaker and a huge horror fan, I think RackaRacka (Danny & Michael Philippou) are really inspiring - coming from their YouTube background and using their knowledge and skills to then create Talk To Me, which was easily my favourite horror film of last year. I’d love to make a feature-length horror film one day.
As for animated shorts, I watched the short animated film Ice Merchants by João Gonzalez last year and I was blown away by every aspect of it, it’s phenomenal. He’s an inspiration for sure. I’m also a huge fan of Adrien Merigeau and his film Genius Loci. I've watched it countless times and I’m still in awe of the skill and the beauty of it all.
What does Bird Drone say about you as a filmmaker and the stories you want to tell in the future?
I’m certainly a dreamer, and I can get infatuated with the things I love (such as filmmaking), and I think that does reflect in our seagull character, but also how the narrative actually shifted as we were making it - it became more hopeful, more uplifting. I’m glad that it turned out that way, on a positive note, because my upcoming short film that I’m working on is a fantasy/horror short animation about my mental health struggles in the last few years. Right now I’m also developing an animated feature film that has aspects of what I was trying to capture in Bird Drone, something bittersweet, heartfelt and moving.
Do you have any tips or advice you would offer anyone wanting to get into filmmaking?
If you’re interested in live-action, use your phone to start recording short films, and practising film language. If you’re interested in animation, start by watching tutorials and learning how to use software - if your educational institution has the Adobe suite available, make the most of it. Otherwise, there’s free 2D and 3D animation software to start using, such as Blender, and there’s a wealth of knowledge available for you. Write down any ideas that you have, no matter how small. Start writing screenplays and drawing up thumbnail storyboards. There’s a lot of information available out there, so delve into what you’re interested in and make the most of it.
And finally, what message would you like audiences to take away from Bird Drone?
This was something that we grappled with for quite a while, even long into production, when we were trying to zero in on the theme and what we were trying to say. It actually ended up changing the original ending of the short. Because it’s a film about unrequited love, and if I wanted to speak from my experience, I realised that there had to be an element of moving on, but still trying to capture that bittersweet feeling. It’s about not committing yourself to someone who will never love you back, letting go of situations and relationships that don’t serve you. It’s about the matters that don’t work out and how they can actually lead to bigger and better things. I also think there’s messaging that will become more relevant as AI grows, especially in terms of real human relationships and connections. It’s quite a fitting metaphor, I think.