Panda Bear It – Evan Kidd Delivers a Surreal Slice of Life in his Latest Film
Indie Film Junction | October 8, 2020
Indie Film Junction | October 8, 2020
Evan Kidd just released Panda Bear It, his second feature. Find out how the movie got made and how Evan adapted to the ever-evolving indie film landscape to release the film in the midst of a pandemic. The movie is now available on Amazon Prime Video.
IFJ: Congratulations on the release of Panda Bear It! Can you tell us what it’s about?
EK: Thank you! Talk about a year to be releasing a film, especially one as surreal as Panda Bear It. However I am looking forward to finally getting this story out there in the world. It’s a universal story about one rapper’s grief and the impact it has on his creative process and the relationship with his family. Oh yeah. And there is a literal panda bear in a mascot costume named Panda that comes to visit him.
IFJ: What inspired the idea for the film?
EK: I have been wanting to do something a little bit surreal for a while now. I found the idea of a slice of life movie with a side of surrealism interesting. Insert a giant panda in a mascot costume that only our main character can see and we have Panda Bear It. The lead in Panda Bear It is portrayed by Kamus Leoardo. A hip-hop artist from Durham, North Carolina where we shot a good portion of Panda Bear It. I have shot a fair number of music videos in the Durham, Raleigh, and greater Triangle area of NC where there is a strong hip-hop scene. That’s how we met. I wanted to capture a bit of that creative scene and process of making music into the movie which is why Kamus was the perfect choice for the lead role. He also wrote an original song showcased in the film called “You’re Not Alone” and combining his musical talents with acting was the perfect blend to make the character version of Kamus come to life from elements of real life Kamus Leonardo. This is also his acting debut and in playing a slightly fictional version of himself there wasn’t a lot to change in terms of acting. Just finding moments.
IFJ: What was the production schedule? How many days did you shoot for and over what period of time?
EK: The entire film was shot in seven days spread out across a few different weekends at the end of October and early November 2019, of last fall. Around everyone’s working schedules for their jobs. We worked long days as one does in indie film, but we had so much fun the whole process went so fast. Fall was also the season in which I needed the cinematic backdrop and look for the film. The main character is metaphorically shedding his leaves so to speak and growing into a new form as a person. The changing colors of the leaves truly added so much to this subtle message in the film’s background. I don’t think we could have shot this film during any other season here in North Carolina.
IFJ: What equipment did you use?
EK: I was the cinematographer for the film out of necessity and purchased a Black Magic Pocket 4K Cinema Camera for the shoot. I loved the small form factor it brought to the table for me while both shooting and directing. I didn’t want to get lost in the equipment and miss out on precious time with my actors on set. Other than that everything else was pretty bare bones, a few cheap soft box lights we got off Amazon, a boom microphone, and a ton of Duct Tape and pizza. Oh and of course the mascot costume for the character of Panda. That proved pretty useful.
IFJ: What was the film’s budget?
EK: Our budget was $500.
IFJ: Did production logistics require any major changes to the script?
EK: On set we had Panda deliver her lines out loud for some takes even though in the final cut they were edited out and replaced with subtitles. That was a stylistic choice as Kamus is the only character in the film that could see or hear Panda. I liked how the audience had to read Panda’s communication in their head like a book… placing you in the headspace of Kamus as the one hearing her voice in their head in their own reading voice if that makes sense. Production went pretty smoothly aside from keeping that in mind as we filmed. We almost got all out gear rained on after our first day of production when a freak thunderstorm rolled up out of the blue. Luckily we managed to wrap in time and run everything indoors before the worst of the storm!
IFJ: What was the casting process like?
EK: I love working with naturalistic performances that artists outside of the acting world can portray. Kamus told me time and time again how much he connected with the script due to similar events that occured in his life where he told me a lot of the performance simply wasn’t acting. It was reliving similar experiences and moments. Several other cast members also were cast this way but we did also have the pleasure to work with incredible classically trained actors for many of our supporting roles. I think being able to direct a cast that connects, delivers the message from the script, but also isn’t afraid to put their own spin on things too is what one can only hope for. We got that in this film. I was fortunate to have a great cast!
IFJ: What is something you learned making Panda Bear It that you wish you knew going into production?
EK: More than anything I wish I knew that it was okay to do something wild and surreal like this years earlier. Panda Bear It is of course pretty grounded in reality for the most part, but even just the subtle character of Panda popping up throughout the film in a literal mascot costume. It’s just hilarious. And sad at times too. Depends on the context of the scene honestly. It opened up so many emotional acting possibilities by allowing the sense of play to return that sometimes goes away the further established you get as a director. It was nice to experiment with the tone at times on the project and it is something I would love to experiment with further in the future.
IFJ: You wrote, directed, and edited Panda Bear It. Which job do you like the most and why?
EK: Directing. I love the experience of being on set, touching the camera, working with props, talking with your actors and creating a world that wasn’t there until everybody showed up. Writing and editing are actually strangely similar, almost echoes of one another. You are alone and really charting a course doing both. Plenty of time to think, tweak things, erase the thing you tweaked, and do it several thousand times over until you are satisfied enough to call it. You don’t really get that luxury on set when directing, not as many chances to overthink. I love the spontaneity of being on set, however it is made a little sweeter knowing you planned it out to the max when writing to allow that bit of spontaneity, and then get a chance to filter things even further in editing sometime in the future. It all works together quite nicely when you think about it that way.
IFJ: What was the biggest challenge you faced during post-production, and how did you overcome it?
EK: Post production actually felt like the easiest part in some ways because there was not a deadline on my end. Benefits to making your own film haha. Editing was wrapping up around the time lockdowns started across the country so it actually gave me more than enough time to really play with the edit since there was nothing else anyone could do for most of this past spring. (Existential dread aside.) Honestly Covid-19 threw the biggest wrench into the marketing of this project which I always call the fourth phase of production after post. We obviously had to pivot a lot in terms of a lack of film festival offerings, and doing a VOD release on our own without being able to do live screenings or actually meet our supporters. I still hope to watch this movie with a live audience one day once it is safe to do so. I miss that. But we got creative with it however and for that I am very proud despite the challenges.
IFJ: What was your festival/marketing/distribution strategy?
EK: With our release strategy turned on its head this year due to Covid, social media and our online distribution for the project are more vital than ever as they are the only way for folks to experience Panda Bear It. We did a run with the 2020 Charlotte Film Festival as an official selection, and it was entirely virtual. It showed the option of really embracing online as that is all us indie filmmakers have right now. We just did a short run season on my podcast Convincing Creatives where we talked to the cast and crew of Panda Bear It during each episode of the show. I think it proved to be a great way to connect with everyone and celebrate the release of the film by talking about how we got it done. The types of conversations we would have with an audience at a film festival Q&A just put into podcast form. I actually think it’s fantastic because more people can experience the behind the scenes of our production that way and feel a connection to the people who made this movie.
IFJ: How did you get into filmmaking?
EK: I always loved watching a creative process unfold. As a child it was playing with the family VHS camera until I ran out of tape. Eventually short stories I wrote in class turned into scripts I would make with my friends and siblings growing up. Fast forward into my early 20’s and I graduated college with a degree in film. North Carolina is home for me, and it’s also where I work and shoot the majority of my works in the filmmaking world. I love making things here because it’s just different. Low budgets, hard work, but some of the most passionate people in the smaller but budding film and creative scenes around the state. I have shot two features, several shorts, and a documentary featurette here and haven’t really looked back!
IFJ: How did Son of Clowns (your first feature) and your documentary work inform the choices you made on Panda Bear It?
EK: Son of Clowns taught me more than I would have the time to type on here. However I do think the simple act of saying yes on that production opened the door in the best possible way to my cinematic journey outside of the Hollywood system. I even put the whole film out on YouTube for free to hopefully inspire others to try and make a movie for the masses with next to nothing. Don’t overthink it. If you care about your script enough to even be reading this… you have what you need to at least make an attempt. Then send it to me… I wanna watch it!
Fear wasn’t a thing after that. At least when I knew that I could shoot anything with my own camera, mic, and a small crew of friends. (Plus some pizza.) The options opened up to do it again and again. Consistent work time and time again without expecting a Hollywood agent to rescue you. I’m not going to say it’s the secret to making a huge successful living this way. But if your goal is to shed light where none currently shines and tell stories others haven’t or couldn’t this is the way. You have to take the time to meet people who care about this type of storytelling outside of the major studio system. And you must be upfront with them. I hate when indie films promise Hollywood levels of success to their cast, crew, investors, etc. It isn’t realistic. When I make movies I always tell the couple of folks who help me make it a reality that we are collaborating on a story, writing it as we go in a sense with our collective contributions, and anything else is just gravy. But for now let’s tell the story in the best possible way and make something worth watching.
IFJ: What’s next for you?
EK: Promoting Panda Bear It for the foreseeable future no doubt. Have you heard of the movie haha? Tell a friend! Or two. All that aside I am writing a few new scripts that I hope to shoot once the world settles down a bit! Perhaps 2021! And dabbling in some serious quarantine pepper gardening.
IFJ: Where can people find you online to stay up to date on your movies?
EK: I am on Twitter and Instagram as @MrEvanKidd. Additionally all of my features and my TV show can be streamed on Amazon Prime Video as well as other works over on my YouTube channel. My website http://rocksetproductions.com is the best central hub for all my indie filmmaking adventures. Hope to see some of you over there! Got a few other films you can add to your watch lists.