The opening shots are like something out of a Western. A seemingly endless sky. A row of lopsided power lines. Saltbush. On the soundtrack, the wind whistles across the plain, while a sombre, sonorous voiceover intones:
"My father once told us that water didn't always burn. That you could drink it as it was falling. But that was long before his time, before the earth took its last breath and, with it, began to die."
A hand enters the frame, holding a glass bottle, which it fills with dirty water from a pond. Well, not a hand, exactly. A paw. A big, black, furry paw. As the voiceover continues -- "They say the sky collapsed not long after, and that is when the chaos began" -- we cut to an extreme wide shot. A huge panda, wearing human clothes and walking upright, makes his way across the landscape, his cooking utensils hanging from his knapsack and clanging slightly in the breeze.
"For 15 years, I have concealed myself from the worst of this world. Soon, it will discover me again."
This is our introduction to Arcayus, the hero of Wastelander Panda (@wastelandrpanda), a post-apocalyptic adventure series that started life as a joke between friends, grew into a three-minute teaser and a trilogy of short films, and has now been picked up by the ABC as a six-part series to be released exclusively on iView later this year. It's a project that wouldn't exist without social media, hinting at new and exciting paths for Australian filmmakers -- especially emerging ones -- to follow.

"Wastelander Pandais the story of Arcayus, the last mutant panda in the Wasteland, who is searching for his brother's killer with the young girl Rose, who his brother raised," the project's director, Victoria Cocks (@VictoriaCocks1), told Crikey. "It came out a joke that co-creator Marcus McKenzie and I came up with at uni. At the time I had been playing Fallout 3 for months and wanted to write a story set in a world inspired by the depth, detail and sheer scale of that universe. "We wrote and joked about it for a while. The concept gradually become more serious -- and a lot darker -- and we realised that we really loved it and wanted to see it on screen." "Vic initially wanted to make a TV series," the project's producer, Kirsty Stark (@kirstysan), said. "She approached me with the idea, and I told her I wasn't the right person. At the time, I was a camera assistant and cinematographer. I had never produced before ... But I loved the idea and she had nobody else, so I agreed to help her find the money and make a low-budget pilot. I said that after that I would hand it over to someone who actually knew what they were doing. Almost three years later, I'm still here." The low-budget pilot never happened. "We figured out how much it would cost to make it the way we wanted to and changed our minds," Stark said. "We considered what was achievable on our available budget and with our level of experience and decided to make a three-minute prologue or trailer, which we intended to show to potential investors as an indication of what we were capable." The team entered the three-minute trailer in the Optus One80Project, which awards filmmakers $180,000 to produce a one-hour television pilot, but didn't make the top 10. They decided to release the video online instead. "We hoped it would spread and that people would see it, but we didn't have a strategy to make that happen," Stark said. "We just put it on Facebook and Twitter and hoped for the best. "Then we happened to go over to our friend Ella Macintyre's place and she started asking us which blogs we had sent it to and how we were going to get the word out there. We had done none of that. She came up with a list of websites we needed to send it to, and within 24 hours we had 10,000 views. Two days after that, we had 100,000. We were on the front page of BuzzFeed, a Vimeo Staff Pick, and featured on a lot of other websites as well." Macintyre, who runs the Wastelander Panda Twitter feed, has been the project's producer of marketing and distribution ever since. "The entire reason this project has continued is thanks to social media and the internet," Cocks said. "Without the internet, we would never have found our audience." That audience has proved to be fiercely committed. When Cocks and Stark ran a Pozible campaign to finance three new episodes -- "Isaac & Rose", " Arcayus & Rose" and " Arcayus & Akira"; all three were released last year -- they made more than $25,000. They launched those episodes at the 2013 SXSW Film Conference in Austin, Texas, after fans voted in droves for them to do so. The series' Twitter feed, Facebook page and blog have been used to cast episodes, find shooting locations and to source props and costumes. "We're lucky to have a really loyal group of supporters who are keen to see the project get made and to continue further," Stark said. The success of the social media campaign also helped to legitimise the project in the eyes of government funding agencies.