Australian director Luke Sparke is a busy guy. After making a splash with his first feature film, the Aboriginal monster movie, Red Billabong, Sparke’s newest film, Occupation, is garnering international attention. Biff Bam Pop’s Jeffery X Martin spoke to Sparke about his latest movie, the classic films that inspire him, and what lies ahead for him and his creations.
BBP: Occupation has the feel and the scope of a summer blockbuster, but it also has a lot of heart, and considerable time is spent building the characters and developing the connections between them. And yet, this a movie with extensive usage of visual effects. Tell me how you strike that balance between effective story telling and shit blowing up.
Luke Sparke: I love blowing shit up. It’s my favorite thing to do. You’re exactly right; everything you said there was correct. We went into the film knowing the budget knowing that we had, obviously, was probably the amount of money they spent on Independence Day 2‘s catering bill. We had that to make the whole film. Obviously, straight away we had to think about how we were going to achieve it, how we were going to keep it exciting, and the pacing. We knew what we wanted to do, but I knew we were going to have to lean on some of the characters to get us through. And that’s how I came up with the idea of an eclectic group of people. In that way, if you’re following one character through the movie, people come out and say, “Oh, that character’s so boring. I can’t believe it.” It’s funny coming out of advanced screenings and hearing people say, “Oh, I love that character,” or, “I love that character,” it’s giving people at least someone to follow, and it opens up the net a bit wider. I knew that was one way we were going to get through this movie was to really come open and have different characters with different backgrounds. I did everything to make it work, and that’s something that I strived to do with the cast every day, to weave in those moments amongst all the mayhem.
BBP: You’ve been involved in the production of a lot of military stories. Yesterday is History, The Pacific. Did you first conceive of Occupation as a science fiction movie or a war movie?
Luke Sparke: It’s funny, I’ve had that question a lot today. I think it’s because war movies, and history itself, is in my DNA. I think it’s because I’ve spent so much time on productions that are history-based, I feel like bringing that sense to a science-fiction sort of scene was something that interested me rather than having computer analysts or having presidents hop into fighter jets. We’re just a bit more grounded in things that happened in the past. History has a way of repeating itself, anyway. I do want it grounded like a war movie and it’s great that people are mentioning that. It’s something we literally talked about the first day of pre-production.
BBP: Yeah, not everybody is out to see Blinky Bill 2, so well done with that. Attentive viewers will pick up little nods to other movies, everything from Predator to Red Dawn, and that’s part of the fun. What movies did you watch as a young human that made you want to do this for a living?
Luke Sparke: Okay, well, that would be Predator and Red Dawn. Look, I grew up in the 1980s. It was a great time to be alive and for movies. Obviously, I grew up with the full cliché. Back to the Future, Aliens, Star Wars. I was in the really right time. It was kind of like the time when young people in 1977 saw Star Wars for the first time. Jurassic Park and Independence Day was my time for that. Walking out of Jurassic Park, walking out of Independence Day really left a mark on me. All those sort of Cameron, Spielberg, Lucas films throughout the Eighties and Nineties; I think they’re some of the best movies ever made.
BBP: I’m old enough that I saw Star Wars the first weekend it was out.
Luke Sparke: Ah, you’re one of those guys. I missed it by a couple years. I was like one year old or so when my parents took me to see Return of the Jedi. Can’t remember it.
BBP: This is the second time you’ve cast Dan Ewing and Ben Chisholm together in a film. Are you working towards putting together your own ensemble of performers, people you work consistently well with, like say John Carpenter did?
Luke Sparke: To be honest, I knew I was going to use Dan in this movie at some point, but I was trying to get somebody else to be the lead, and I put it out there. But he came back, and he’s a huge fan of the same movies I am, like Predator, and we speak the same language. He came back and pitched the idea of how he would take the character in one direction. What I had in the script was much more of a Captain America. So, yeah, he was the one who was up. Could I use him in the future? Yeah, I would kind of like to help the actors who were there for me at the beginning, of course. For sure.
BBP: The sequel for Occupation has already been announced. Lots of directions you could go with this. Is it too early to drop any hints?
Luke Sparke: Probably a little bit too early. We start full pre-production next week. But look, I will say it takes place a year or a while after the first movie. I did that for a number of reasons. It is a continuation, but obviously I can’t give any spoilers people could see for who comes back or who survives, but it is a new continuation. I found it interesting because setting it a year later…well, we see a movie like War of the Worlds or Independence Day where it’s always the initial invasion. How are we going to fight back? How are we going to stop them? What’s the invasion about? But this next movie, being a year or two after the invasion, it’s like, this is the life now. This is the world. What’s next? That interests me enough. To be honest, there wasn’t even going to be a sequel. It was going to be a one and done. And it wasn’t until I was editing the film that I thought, “Oh, there’s something here, there’s something here that could be really interesting.” That sparked the whole sequel and now, I’ve had people come to me, American TV networks asking potentially to do spinoff TV shows and blah, blah, blah. So, yeah. It’s like a whole franchise now.
BBP: Well, you’ve essentially made The Great Australian Alien Invasion Film, whether you meant to or not. One more question: when will the Bunyip return?
Luke Sparke: The Bunyip? From Red Billabong?
BBP: It says at the end he’ll return.
Luke Sparke: Look, I’m actually working on a script right now for that while doing everything else. But I’m probably going to go back in time a bit, make it a prequel or semi-prequel. I think there was so much to do with the Bunyip that I didn’t get to do in that movie that I want to go back and take another crack. It’s kind of been clawing at me for a while. So I want to go back and probably do a prequel, set some time in the past, and have it be sort of an Indiana Jones rip-roaring adventure film.
Read our review of Occupation here. Occupation hits North American theaters and VOD July 20, 2018.