A few weeks after her sixteenth birthday, Shiona Penrake directed her first short film, The Paintbrush, which has elicited astonishment and praise in equal measure from everyone who has seen it. Many have even confessed to shedding a tear.
Crawford Anderson-Dillon, producer of The Heist, says, “I just watched Shiona’s film. It blew me away. What an achievement! It’s not just a good short for a young kid, it’s actually a good short film in its own right.”
Simon Young at Shorts International says of The Paintbrush: “I loved it. I thought it was simple but very effective and with a positive message too. I see far too many short films, which don’t know where they’re going. But I thought this was excellent and I’d love to buy it for our TV channel, Shorts TV.”
At just under eight minutes, The Paintbrush tells the story of a lonely young boy who, upon finding an old paintbrush in his back garden, comes up with an imaginative way of restoring contact with his absent father – a paternal theme that has connections with the production. “I couldn’t have made The Paintbrush without my dad’s help,” Penrake says. “In fact, the deal was I had to come up with a story that would feature my actor brother Jay in the lead role.”
Penrake got into movies from a very early age. Her father, author and director Nicholas Penrake, remembers her being an unusual baby in that even at just six weeks old she would watch an entire movie all the way through without ever losing interest. One day, her father came home to find her watching The Shining – reading from his script of the movie and acting out the parts. She was four. It wasn’t just Penrake’s passion for movies that was striking. She could remember not just the films’ plots in detail, but even the shots. Her father began to think she had the makings of a natural editor, so at the ripe old age of seven he got her some editing lessons. She learnt fast. In the summer of 2012, she cut two of her father’s short films. He was so impressed with her work that he promised to produce a short film for her to direct.
Penrake says she began her story thinking about a boy who lives in a black and white world because he’s missing something. “Then, when he gets the thing he’s missing, his world fills with colour and he feels complete.”
As with any film shoot, more than half the job lies in preparation. Her father was rigorous in training her how to plan her shots and how best to work with actors.
He also brought in director of photography Andrew Fleming, who instantly understood what she was trying to achieve with the film. “He gave me some great ideas for camera shots and he wasn’t ever pushy like my dad!” she says. As the shoot got going, her confidence grew and at times she even found herself reminding her father and Andrew of the shots they needed. Her father also suggested a piece she’d composed on the piano for the signature tune, with Penrake then working alongside composer Christopher Barnett to develop it for the rest of the film.
This summer, Penrake and her father are producing a new script called New Pair of Shoes, which they will direct as a combo, again with Penrake’s twelve year-old brother Jay in the lead role.
You can watch The Paintbrush on https://shootingpeople.org/watch/118564/the-paintbrush