Field Notes Interview #46: Luke Randall, Animator + Director
When the short film The Walrus was shared with us from its filmmaker, Luke Randall, a bizarre, yet captivating breeze swept through our studios. The film immediately captured everyone's attention over here. It wasn't just the unique nature of the film that enthralled us, it was in the pacing. Driven by the soundtrack from Marmoset Artist, Henry The Rabbit, the story unfolded at a natural speed and with subtlety -- something that's only learned through experience and maturity in the craft of storytelling.
Originally from Tasmania, Randall spent his first 20 years experimenting with different forms of storytelling. Now crossing to the other side of the pond and living in Los Angeles, he's firmly rooted as a filmmaker and animator for DreamWorks. We chatted with Luke about his creative process, tough decisions he's had to make as an artist, and how he's learned the element of restraint to tell compelling stories.
M: When did you know you wanted to be a filmmaker?
LR: I tried storytelling through lots of different mediums as kid and teenager; messing around with the home video camera, drawing comics and making animated flipbooks. I was pretty isolated and didn't really understand that making films was a thing that I could possibly do though and there were a lot of digressions along the way that I can only hope were at least character building. Now I'm very much focused on writing and directing.
M: What's your favorite moment of the filmmaking process?
LR: I enjoy all parts. On set is really adrenaline inducing but when there's no budget and you're wearing all the hats and calling on favors, it can be a bit of a circus. Editing is gratifying because you have all the footage and are no longer at the mercy of the conditions of the set. It's just man vs footage.
M: What do you think defines a filmmakers' voice?
LR: As a viewer, the thing that interests me is specificity- the antithesis of generic. Taste, experience and the ability to articulate and spin the best of them into a narrative is probably what it comes down to. If you don't specify each detail of the film, the decisions get made arbitrarily and that can lead to generic results.
The films I enjoy most are auteur films, ones where you could tell who wrote and directed after a couple of shots. They are more personal and more interesting to me. Those films don't always work but when they do, they are thrilling.
M: Tell us more about your process when filming The Walrus.
LR: I wrote, directed and photographed it myself using consumer gear so it was pretty DIY. I was lucky enough to have my good friend and fellow filmmaker Jordan Chesney acting as right hand man through out which made a huge difference as he has more experience and caught a lot of things. The Walrus himself was played by my talented friend Rodrigo Huerta and his girlfriend Samantha happened to be a make up artist. I was originally going to apply the walrus prosthetic myself which would have been a disaster, it took Sam -- who is a talented pro -- several hours to get him into the full walrus get up. I was extremely lucky to have their help.
The exterior stuff was shot guerrilla style which was also nerve-racking. Driving down the heavily policed Pacific Coast Highway in a convertible with a walrus at the wheel attracts attention.
M: What's the toughest decision you've had to make as a filmmaker?
LR: Probably just putting stuff out there. You have to make things to practice and get better, but filmmaking is an expensive and communal medium so it makes sense to put it out there and experience the response, good or bad, even if you are not entirely satisfied.
M: What role do you feel music has in film?
LR: I think it's critical. It can set the entire tone for a scene without a single word or action. Even if it's no music, that's a decision that can have a profound effect.
M: How do you feel music is misused in projects?
LR: There can be a tendency to want to jump right to the touching, emotional juicy part or high energy part in a film by just turning up the appropriate music. That can feel insincere if it's not earned by what comes before.
That's the hard part. I've made a lot of mistakes myself with music trying to work it out. Less is more is a lesson I've learnt the hard way.
M: When do you know that you have something ready to show the world?
LR: It's always different. I never really feel satisfied and tend to shelve things for a while. Once I'm well on the way with a new project and have some detachment, I'll put it out there.
M: What's coming up?
LR: I've got another film finished that is sitting on the shelf. I'll likely release once I've let it stew for a bit. At the moment most of my free time is focused on writing a feature length script.