Pixar-inspired Bird Drone takes flight

Hannah Ngo, Clare Toonen and Radheya Jegatheva.

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Impressive Western Australian emerging filmmaking trio Clare Toonen, Hannah Ngo and Radheya Jegatheva have won $70,000 production funding to produce their Pixar-inspired short film, Bird Drone, thanks to Elevate+, a new iteration of Screenwest’s annual Elevate program.

Bird Drone is an innovative and heart-warming short film inspired by Pixar’s award-winning shorts and features no dialogue. An unconventional love story set on the WA coast, the film sees the love life of a lonely seagull take a turn when he forges a deep connection with a beautiful new creature – a human operated drone.

The film was devised and written by Toonen, an award-winning screenwriter with screenwriting credits including AACTA-nominated comedy series, KGB (2019), ATOM award-winning short film Rift (2018) and short film You, Me and Karen (2017) which won the Channel 9 Award for Excellence in Scriptwriting. Clare is also an experienced Producer’s Assistant who has spent three years working across development and production at Mad Kids and Galactic Baby. Bird Drone will be her debut animation.

Bird Drone is an ode to my love of Pixar and silent cinema. The film explores universal, human themes of unrequited love through the eyes of a non-human protagonist; relying on images and music rather than words to tell an emotional story about our yearning for connection. I’m excited to see our team of Western Australian creatives bring my script to life,” said Toonen.

Directing Bird Drone will be an exciting step for Jegatheva, whose previous animated shorts, iRony (2018) and The Quiet (2020) were self-funded. iRony was nominated for an AACTA, has won over 187 international awards and has screened on all seven continents including the Davis Research Station in Antarctica. iRony served as a cautionary tale about humanity’s overreliance on technology and social media, and Bird Drone will enable Jegatheva to expand on similar themes by telling the story of an animal unwittingly falling in love with the man-made device after it invades his natural habitat.

“I’m passionate about animation as an accessible storytelling medium, and the international success of my previous projects have proved that it can transcend language and cultural barriers. Elevate will allow me to expand my technical skills and oversee the creation of a compelling viewing experience that can be shared by anyone, regardless of age, race or location,” said Jegatheva.

Ngo is an up-and-coming WA producer whose acclaimed short drama Tribunal (2019) was commissioned by SBS on Demand and in 2020, her 6-part web series Iggy & Ace 5eva was selected for development funding through the Screen Australia and SBS Digital Originals initiative. Bird Drone will be produced under her brand-new production company, Lazy Susan.

Screenwest’s annual Elevate program has enabled past filmmakers to create projects which have become calling cards on a national and international level. In addition to $70,000 production funding, Elevate+ recipients will undertake a high-level script and project development period, gain access to specialised workshops and for the first time will also receive development funding for a long form project.

Toonen, Ngo and Jegatheva’s long form project will be the trio’s debut feature film, Requite, a sci-fi drama which centres around a desperate woman who, upon discovering her husband’s dementia has led to him falling love with someone else, pursues an experimental treatment in an attempt to restore their relationship.

Bird Drone is set to go into production in Perth in early 2021.

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