What was the project?
This is a Superhero Parody Action short film. It was my Major Creative Project for my filmmaking degree. A Major Creative Project is essentially a final big unit that serves as an opportunity to showcase everything you’ve learnt throughout your studies. And that was certainly how I saw Uni Man.
What’s the story about?
Our hero, Henry, begins his tertiary life at an evil and oppressive Ventillis university. From day one he feels trapped and attacked. After making a new friend Nova, and learning more about the horrors students go through, Henry creates a superhero persona and fights back against Chancellor Vernon and his evil plans.
What’s the theme/message?
I wanted to explore telling my own superhero origin story in a world divided by factional warfare. I wanted to explore creativity vs automation and freedom vs oppression. The film itself starts darker and drowned out and becomes brighter and more colourful as the protagonist transforms into Uni Man. This tonal shift illustrates the change once creativity is allowed to run free.
I set the story within a university because it was very relevant to me as a student. I wanted to explore the ideas of why university is so important as a creative institution due to the freedoms it provides as opposed to the limitations of high school. I also wanted to emphasise why this freedom matters and what it might be like if that was taken away. This is why Ventillis universitys feel so much like a super strict High School and Falmer seems closer to what universities are today.
All the themes I explore are relevant beyond the university setting and in the real world. Not just the real world of 2017, but long before it and all the way up to today. We’re constantly fighting against being controlled by those who wish to force their restrictive agendas on us and dictate how we live our lives. But as expressed in the film, we can’t let those types walk over us. We have to stand our ground. Not just for ourselves, but for everyone.
How did we make the film?
There’s so much I could dive into here, so I’ll try keep it brief and just talk about the interesting parts…
I love the Sci-Fi/Action genres and wanted that to be front and centre for my final project. But a student film faces some limitations ($$$). To counter those limitations, I decided to go for a bit of a superhero parody so anything that felt cheap or out of place could be written off as part of the joke.
I wanted to utilise motion graphics as this was an area I excelled at and is a core part of the Sci-Fi genre. To be fair though, I may have bitten off more than I could chew as my DOP had to help with some of the work, for which I’m immensely grateful. The majority of Visual FX elements in Uni Man built on work I had done previously. Some notable links include the Energy Canes evolving from my Lightsaber FX in KNN and the laser-firing triangles being inspired by those in Don’t Do Drugs.
I’d learnt a lot about the importance of finding the right team to back a creative project. I went with a leaner team that I had on The Agent Killer, but one that was very skilled and dedicated to the project. This along with a very talented group of actors help make what I would consider the best film I’ve ever worked on. One I still look back on proudly to this day, and one I will likely never surpass having taken a step back from filmmaking.
I also learnt a lot about planning and how you can never do too much of it. I wanted to do everything I could before we actually shot this film to try and eliminate the issues I’d run into in the past. The First AD and I did an in-depth script breakdown, location scout and shot list. As a team, we didn’t do a drawn storyboard, but rather we did a photo and video storyboard instead. This was incredibly useful to the DOP on the day as they watched and used the video storyboards to plan their shots.
We also put a lot of work into the production design. As I said, we were going for a bit of a parody, so some things like the Energy Canes and the superhero costume didn’t need to be top notch. But things still needed to fit the vibe. Uni Man’s blasters, all the character outfits, the sets… It all needed to feel believable in the world we were presenting. And everywhere on campus needed an overbearing Ventillis vibe. From the computer interfaces to Vernon’s office.
All in all, we really upped our game. And none of it would have been possible without the hard work of our Production Designer. I was particularly impressed with the setup for Henry’s workspace during the montage when he develops the tech to become Uni Man.
We shot Uni Man in 7 shooting sessions and 3 reshoot/pickup sessions over the course of about 4 weeks. It was a mammoth undertaking but the planning really helped us stay the course and we only went overtime during one of the shoot: the montage scene. This was somewhat expected though as we went into it with less of a plan and more of a ‘see where the journey takes us’. And I don’t regret taking that approach.
That isn’t to say everything went swimmingly despite all that planning. As you just read, we had reshoot/pickup sessions. A lot of these were just small bits we missed. But one major hiccup I’ll talk about is the balcony scene with Henry and Nova.
The balcony scene’s first shoot faced issues with sound from the road and screen direction. But we couldn’t reshoot it normally due to conflicting schedules with the actors. So we filmed both actors separately using a green/blue screen and then pieced it all together. Then to eliminate the car noise, they dubbed over their lines. Some might disagree, but I’d argue it’s pretty seamless without actually knowing what’s been done.
Behind the scenes
All hands were on-deck to get as many behind the scenes snaps on our phones throughout our shoots.
You can view the gallery of Behind The Scenes images on this page.
What did this project teach me about screenwriting?
Given this was my final uni project, Uni Man was a chance to tell a story I wanted. More than that, it was also a chance to showcase everything I’d learned. But it had to be incorporated organically into the screenplay and story, otherwise it might feel forced.
After experimenting with the darker Thriller genre in Agent Killer, I wanted to go back to my roots of being more comical. But I also wanted to keep things a bit more serious in the stakes and narrative beats too. With Marvel heading for its peak, I was inspired to tap into the superhero genre. A genre I definitely enjoy and feel inspired by.
Uni Man was an exercise in trying to tick all the important storytelling beat boxes within a small timeframe. It was the first time I felt I was truly able to balance ambition, budget and time in a way that was manageable – something I learnt from all the film projects that had come before.
The biggest lesson I got was from working with 4 very talented actors. We did things right with this film. We went through auditions, did rehearsals, blocked out the scenes in advance… Doing all this led to a lot of interesting conversations about motivations and dialogue.
Not only did I learn a lot about what actors need from a script, but also what happens naturally when the script gets into their hands. There’s no way to cover all your bases during the writing process. Feedback and thoughts from actors will always be invaluable to shaping and improving the narrative and characters. Not only that, there will always be impulsive changes or accidental discoveries that will make everything better in more ways than you could imagine.
Taking this lesson on board, I always strive to work my hardest on the screenplays I write for Nash and Highton Heroes, knowing they’ll never get made. But I also accept that perfection is unattainable when it’s just you (or kinda ever really). You need input from others. The actual production process will change things even moreso. But knowing that’s all unlikely for my screenplays, I’m able to write much more freely. And that’s what makes it fun.