For the last several months I’ve been fortunate enough to tour the film festival circuit with my short CERTIFIED. Seeing films all around the country has reinforced my love of theatrical screenings. There is something so magical about being in a darkened room with a crowd of strangers, laughing, crying, and sharing an experience together. So having that experience with a film I made is an amazing feeling. It all started when CERTIFIED premiered at Cannes as a Finalist in the American Pavilion’s Emerging Directors Showcase. Since then it has screened at over a dozen festivals around the United States. It’s been a finalist at Hollyshorts and Dragon*Con. It won the Best Super Short prize at Shriekfest and recently screened at the Fancine Festival De Fantastico in Malaga, Spain. This January we took the Best Short award at the Idyllwild International Festival of Cinema.
So how did I choose to make CERTIFIED? Several years ago I set out to make my first “big” project after film school. I wasn’t sure what film I wanted to make, but since I would be investing a substantial about of time and money I wanted to be judicious about what I embarked on. There were two main questions I asked myself; what sort of stories did I want to tell? And what sort of stories could I afford to make?
I knew that I wanted to give audiences the sort of experiences my favorite movies gave me, but what was the best way to do that? I made lists of films I wished I could have made. Examining the list & my past works several things became clear. I loved science fiction, fantasy, and macabre tales of the human condition. I loved a twisted sense of humor with a wink at the audience.
I decided that “Genre Film” was the best place to explore these themes. It would allow me to have themes of questioning reality & supernatural elements. Plus, sci-fi and fantasy were my earliest cinema memories and my biggest influences. From “Calvin & Hobbes” to STAR WARS to THE X-FILES to “Narnia“- these were the things I grew up on. So it made sense to work in those genres. However, budgets on these sorts of films can be a problem. Often they are filled with specialized props, exotic locations, and complicated visual effects. Since I was funding the entire short on my own, there were real budget limitations to consider and thus, a defined limit on the story I could tell.
After developing a few ideas on my own, both of which would have been too expensive, a friend sent me a short story called “Open Window.” Upon reading it I sat in silence for a moment, pondering, then immediately read it again. There was something there. It had two people, one location, questions of reality, a bit of the undead, and no need for visual effects. My mind began racing about how to adapt it.
I had had extensive conversations with my producer Kimberley Browning about the sort of film I could afford to make. It needed have a limited cast, few to no visual effects, one or two locations, and it had to be shootable in ONE day. It was imperative that this project look like as close to a studio film as possible and that required hiring a professional crew. In addition to achieving a cinematic look, working with this level of crew would allow me to focus on my main responsibility – the actors. It was extremely important that I spend as much time and energy with the actors as possible. I’d made a fair number of short projects, but had yet to do anything with serious, professional actors. In order to advance as a filmmaker it was necessary to show that I could handle scenes with drama and get amazing performances from talent. All that taken into account meant I could only afford to shoot for one day.
After learning “Open Window” was in the public domain I sat down and wrote my adaptation, changing the location from a moor in 18th century England to a ranch in 1950’s Texas. We just need to find the location. Now, at the time, this sounded pretty easy. But, our budget required that we shoot within Los Angeles’ 30 mile “production zone.” To make a long story short, it took me over a YEAR of location scouting to find a place that would work. The property was a bit different than the script, so I quickly rewrote to change the location from Texas to West Virginia. But it was worth the wait, the house was almost exactly what I’d envisioned when writing the script. [more about the scouting processes here.]
Finding the right short film wasn’t an easy task, but it was worth the time and trouble. Regardless of how far CERTIFIED goes in the festival circuit, or how much it “does for my career” – it was a success. I was able to make a genre film that contains many of the themes and ideas that I find most compelling. I was able to work with amazing actors and a talented crew. And I made a film that represents the sorts of stories I want to tell. Not only that, but along the way I’ve made some great friends and traveled to new places. So when you’re at your next festival and see a short film that you love, don’t hesitate to ask the filmmaker “Why did you make that film?” I’m guessing they’ll have quite a story to tell.
At age 6 Luke broke his family’s tv. They didn’t get another one.
Instead he explored the woods, read encyclopedias, built things with LEGOs, and listened to NPR. His sense of humor was developed not from “Friends,” but “Calvin & Hobbes.”
After graduating Magna Cum Laude BA/Cinema from San Francisco State University in 2003, he moved to Los Angeles where he has pursued editing, writing & directing.
If he weren’t making films you’d find him doing something involving snowboarding, cooking or politics.