Alumni Q&A: Luke Walker (Grad Dip Doco, 2005)
Independent filmmaker Luke Walker recently released Lasseter’s Bones, nominated for Best Documentary at the Film Critics Circle of Australia Awards 2013. In this Q&A he talks about his life and inspiration as a filmmaker (as well as his former life as a soap actor).
What do you do for a living? Describe a typical day at work.
There’s no such thing as a typical day because the job changes according to what stage of the filmmaking process you are at. Initially it’s all about research, which is obviously a lot of reading and talking to people. Then it’s all about developing relationships and gaining access; working out story structure and how you’re going to tell the story visually by actually pointing the camera at things.
After sitting in a dark room for months on end chopping up your footage, trying to work out what on earth you were thinking back when you decided this ‘story’ had a ‘structure’, After that it’s all about ‘post’ which means endlessly watching your film while people make it look and sound nicer than you ever realised it could. Once that’s finished you can move on to selling the damn thing, talking endlessly about it and trying to persuade people to come and see it.
So, there’s no typical day, it’s a very different job as the film is being made. That’s the thing about being a filmmaker, you’re involved every step of the way. It’s fun because your job changes and that keeps things interesting. It’s also frustrating, because you’re stuck with the same film for however many years it takes you to get the thing finished.
Why did you decide to pursue a career in film?
I fled the UK after leaving the daytime soap Crossroads where I played Bradley Clarke, the gay handyman at the Crossroads Motel. I had the first gay kiss on British daytime television, but aside from this, very little of consequence was achieved during my acting career.
After I left the soap I found that no-one particularly wanted to employ a washed up soap actor. So, I fled to the other side of the world where no one had ever seen the show and started again.
I continued acting for a while whilst also studying documentary filmmaking at the VCA, but in the end found the world of doco far more rewarding. I can’t think of a more stimulating existence than to spend the rest of my life picking things that fascinate me and having an excuse to go and find out about them.
What do you enjoy most about your job?
What I love about documentary filmmaking is how the camera is a passport to any world you care to choose. I’m a naturally curious person. When I was a kid if someone told me a suspicious story I’d infuriate them by repeatedly questioning their source until we’d established the validity of their claims (for example, when my brother told me that a crazy lord had built tunnels underneath Liverpool, then filled the tunnels with bears just so he could hunt them…this actually tuned out to be half true, there were tunnels, but alas, no bears…).
Tell me about your first career break?
My first documentary film was Beyond Our Ken, a doco about a group that had been described in the press as a cult. It was great subject matter with a great character at its centre. I was fortunate to find this story straight out of the VCA, but the school had given me the tools to tell the story and so I just got stuck straight in and made a feature. The film went on to get nominated for two AFIs, an FCCA and played around the world.
What inspired you in your search for the true story of Harold Lasseter?
The most obvious thing was the appeal of finding buried gold! But then it became all about solving the infuriating riddles that Lasseter left behind. Lasseter’s story is irresistible to us because it is an unfulfilled narrative; it doesn’t end the way it’s supposed to, and so we are compelled to complete it properly.
This story violates our preferred illusion of the world as a place where great adventures are had and ‘everything happens for a reason’. And so, when stories end this way we find ways to correct the narrative. This is how legends are created, by a collective, gradual tinkering with stories that defy our preferred subconscious rhythm of being. Bit by bit, person by person, the story is added to and evolves until it becomes impossible to see the truth through a fog of gossip and rumour.
I attempt to cut through ‘the fog’ in this film, and probably in the process only end up becoming a part of.
How did your VCA experience help you succeed in your chosen field?
The VCA gave me all the tools I needed to go on and become an independent filmmaker. But the most important thing the college gave me was the confidence that I could do whatever I wanted in my newly chosen field. I left the VCA supremely confident and went straight in to making feature length films. The VCA gave me that, and a supportive group of friends who have now become my filmmaking peers.
What advice would you give to students who want to pursue a career in film?
Stick together. You form a network of filmmaking friends at the VCA and you can go on to nurture and support each other as you develop your first projects. All the people who helped me make my first two films (Beyond Our Ken and Lasseter’s Bones) were people I met at the VCA.
What are your plans over the next few years?
Make some more feature docs… and to try to pick a topic that’s NOT crazy this time.
To find out more about Luke and his filmmaking go to: www.scribblefilms.com.au
A version of this article originally appeared on Channel, the Faculty’s previous publishing platform.