The man behind Australian sci-fi romp Occupation: Rainfall, in which aliens invade Sydney with explosive results, speaks to Carl Marsh about how it all came together.
I was trying to think back to the last time I saw any fantasy or sci-fi film solely written and directed by the same person. Typically, you would hear in the press about some conflict between writer and director, but you can’t argue with yourself…
Luke Sparke: Sometimes I do. I’d ask, “who the hell wrote this?” [laughs]
How hard was it to keep that vision, from what you wrote to the end product? Did you tinker with it as you were filming it, or stick to what you’d written initially?
No, I’d tinker with it all the time, and I’m super open about that. I write it as guidelines of what all the producers and financiers, and investors sign off on. But I’m very clear that if I can find something better, I will do something better. I stand around with the actors and we’d have lots of discussions, and if some of the actors feel something during the day I’d say “go with it”. I’ll do takes where I tell the actors to forget the script and think of something that feels right.
And then it’s me just filling as much as I can into the edit, and that’s where the real shape of the movie comes together. You can pull things out in the edit, put things together- it’s incredible what you can do. I love editing. It’s the most interesting part for me of the whole journey, to be honest.
How did you find the experience of working with green screen? It seems like there was a lot in the film.
This was my first film where I did a lot of green screen work, even though all my movies have had a certain amount of visual effects to them – we’re usually out on location, and we’d need to put a ship in the background, or a monster over there on the grass. But this is the first time I’ve had to make sets that were completely green screen, apart from a few little props here and there. It was exciting learning that world, and I think the challenges for me were just to learn and understand.
My brain likes to understand why something works and not just listen to what people are telling me about something. It’s incredible how much I learnt – it’s important in this day and age, with movies relying a lot on green screen work.
It was, unfortunately, just the voice. We had another actor do the stuff on set, and it was always my intention to get someone to do the voice – Jason was my first choice. By that stage, we already had a rough cut of the film, so he was able to watch the whole thing and go, “yep, this is great – this is a movie I want to be involved in”.
We had a 20-minute discussion that turned into two hours because I kept asking him about his career – Harry Potter and Armageddon. I’m just a big fanboy myself, so I just got that into the conversation; that was fun. He came into the studio in London, during the worst parts of the pandemic, and did the dialogue, so I was very grateful.
And with Ken, who’s a comedic legend, having him on set must have been a laugh – was it easy getting him to like the script?
It’s one of those stories where you know people that know people. My manager in the US knew his manager, got a script in front of him and then rang me to talk as he thought it would be fun. He came over – and when you have Ken on set, you just let the cameras roll. I have about 10 different takes of any scene with all other versions of how he played it differently. He just said to marry them together and find the funniest images, but there are so many takes of him just messing about. It’s hilarious! I didn’t put them on the Blu-ray deleted scenes, so maybe I’ll put them on YouTube or something.
Occupation: Rainfall is out in in cinemas and on digital platforms. Info: here
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