We sat down with Rene Pannevis, director of Raindance Film Festival 2016 Best UK Short nominee and winner of Best British Short at the British Independent Film Awards, Jacked.
Jacked was developed and written in less than a month after Pannevis came across Film London’s short film scheme London Calling, which provides funding, training and mentoring to up-and-coming London-based filmmakers. With just three weeks to go until the submissions deadline, he hastily put together the required materials, including the screenplay for Jacked, and sent them off.
As one of just 12 projects selected for the scheme, whittled down from 600 submissions, Pannevis together along with producer Jennifer Eriksson were awarded £4000 funding. The other half of the budget (the film’s total budget coming in at approx. £8000) came from a crowdfunding campaign. Free post-production services from Creativity Media, the company where Eriksson works, allowed them to create a film that looks and feels like it was made for double what it actually cost.
“I always wanted to make a film about car jacking,” says Pannevis when we ask how the idea for the project came about. “I grew up in the Netherlands and had some friends who used to steal cars. I vividly remember them getting really angry when they couldn’t steal this one particular car because of a steering wheel lock, so they just started destroying the car and stole the cassette tapes from inside.”
Pannevis returned to this memory when writing Jacked, adding an emotional dimension to the crime thriller narrative by putting a face, or in this case a voice, to the owner of the stolen car– and the invaluable stolen cassette tapes.
The emotional punch of the film comes from the content of cassette tapes found in the car by the two teenage car thieves. Initially objects of ridicule for both young men (played brilliantly by Thomas Turgoose and Charley Palmer Rothwell), once listened to the cassettes pose a moral dilemma that divides the pair in their task.
On the casting of This Is England alum Thomas Turgoose in the role of Waylen, Pannevis had a clear vision of the character played by Turgoose. “I had watched This Is England and was blown away by his performance. He was my number one and only choice for the role.”
Casting Director Charlotta Hansen encouraged Pannevis and Eriksson to pursue a big name for the role. They found Turgoose’s agent and sent the script over. “He loved it and signed on immediately. I said it was a Film London short so there wasn’t a lot of money available, and he was up for it” says Pannevis.”
A few weeks before shooting was due to start, the team learned, much to their surprise, that Turgoose, whose character was originally the driver of the stolen cars, didn’t have a driver’s license. Pannevis was determined for the driving to be real, opting against using a low loader or camera tracking vehicle for the driving scenes believing that it kills the realism.
The driving was swapped to the other character and the hunt was quickly on to cast the role of the second carjacker with someone with a driver’s license. Pannevis laughs “he just needed a driver’s license, if he could act, even better!”
Jacked is Pannevis’s first short film since leaving film school, having studied at Utrecht University in the Netherlands before going on to the prestigious Tisch School of Arts in New York. Does he believe that a formal education in film has helped him to develop as a filmmaker in ways that he couldn’t have had he gone it alone? “It’s very difficult to say, having gone down the film school route and not the other, but looking back at the films I made before film school, Jacked is a lot better in many ways. Not to compare in terms of production values, as this film has a higher budget than any I’ve made before, but in terms of storytelling and craft.”
“If you have a lot of money and you can make a lot of shorts, you can probably find your own way and learn on the go, but when you don’t have a lot of money the teaching becomes a lot more valuable.”
Alongside making his own films, Pannevis has also worked commercially, creating slick ads for big-name clients that include the likes of Heineken, Nike and Honda. Is there anything that he’s been able to take from these commercial projects and bring to his own filmmaking?
“To begin with, I was very anti-commercial. I remember an early project I worked on, I wanted to shoot handheld rather than use a tripod so it didn’t have that glossy, commercial feel. Looking back it’s still super commercial, but I was happy that I put my own stamp on it.”
“Commercials are hard because you’re dealing with the specifications of a client” he says, “but I think through making them I’ve become much more visually aware. In film school you learn a lot about performance and story, but working on commercials you really have to focus on the visuals, because that’s essentially all that commercials are, so every detail matters.”
Shortly after completing his studies at Tisch, Pannevis moved to London to pursue his filmmaking career. “London is the film capital of Europe. In Holland the film world is really small; I wanted to work in the global film market as opposed to the small Dutch market.”
Jacked is filmed and set in London and the Londoners amongst you will surely recognise the Bethnal Green gasholders featured in a couple of shots, whilst those with keener eye may spot Battersea Power Station (although notably not the famous chimneys.
“I did all the location scouting myself. Places like the gasholders, they’re so unique, I’ve never seen them anywhere else before in my life. I thought ‘I have to feature them.’”
“I think the story and theme of the film are universal – it could happen anywhere, but for me what was important was how London is captured. When you see these crime thrillers, London is usually portrayed as being dark and gritty, but that’s not the London I know. It was great to make this crime film with nice locations.”
Having had its national premiere at the BFI London Film Festival and international premiere at Berlin Film Festival before going on to screen at Milan, Brusssls, Leeds, Raindance, East End, Aesthetica, and Lille film festivals, Jacked is Pannevis’s first project to take him on the big international festival circuit. “Berlin was particularly special – I never thought I’d get such a great response for a short film.”
“It’s a busy time [at film festivals] with all the screenings and meetings by day and parties at night. And it’s great to meet distributors, filmmakers and audience members. In Berlin I was watching at least two films every day!”
Next up for Pannevis is a feature film, Looted, a crime thriller in the same vein as Jacked, set in the port town of Tilbury outside of London, scheduled to shoot in Summer 2017. “It’s an unrealistic story filmed as realistic as possible.” He will re-team with producer Jennifer Eriksson and Film London, who are supporting the project through their Microwave Scheme.
Watch the trailer for Jacked