Interview: Ben C. Lucas, writer/director of Wasted on the Young

Interview: Ben C. Lucas, writer/director of Wasted on the Young. By Simon Miraudo. 

Controversial new Aussie film Wasted on the Young is many things: teen drama, revenge fantasy, parallel universe parable about the dangers of gossip through social media. Sure to spark conversations across the country when it arrives in cinemas, Ben C. Lucas‘ film debut is – most of all – ballsy. I spoke to Lucas following the pic’s debut in Perth (where the film was shot) about his inspirations, the steps he took to score his first feature and his apprehensions about depicting teen violence on screen.

SM: Were there any films you saw growing up that inspired you to become a filmmaker?

BCL: I kind of give credit to my dad actually. He’s not a filmmaker but he’s a huge film buff, and we had a bunch of filmmakers that were family friends. So it was never a mystery to me as a kid. I guess some people would consider it annoying, that whenever we watched movies together he would sit there and tell me how it was made and how it all went together. We used to make little 8mm films; like animations and stuff. So that’s kind of where, not the passion but the understanding of it came from, and it developed into a passion. 

SM: So you never had to do that thing where you would “break” it to your parents that you wanted to be a writer or director?

BCL: They were just ridiculously supportive. Look, my dad is the king of doing your own thing. He quit his job when he was 23 and said he was never going to work another job he didn’t want to do, and he never has. So, there was no disappointment. Concern, but that’s not the same thing. 

SM: Loving concern.

BCL: Yeah, that’s right. 

SM: Can you tell me about the steps taken between that age and essentially getting your first feature?

BCL: I actually put filmmaking out of reach. I was really into like history, stories and mythology – nerd stuff basically – that usually came from films or books or comic books or whatever. Computer games. I was really into that stuff, and I made the mistake of thinking therefore I should become a history teacher. I don’t know how I joined those dots. So I started studying an arts degree, looking at history, and then I moved to archaeology and I got really bored, so I started philosophy and just threw a bunch of mixed things into the bag and came out with a pretty crappy degree in nothing in particular. That turned into writing; I was always writing stuff anyway, I did some game design and some freelance writing, and that went quite well for a while. That turned into screenwriting and I think it was in my early-to-mid 20s, I started making friends with people who were talking about the film career they were going to build, and suddenly it occurred to me, ‘Oh, it’s something I can do; it’s not out of reach at all’. This kind of clicked, and suddenly it was the only thing I wanted to do. Since then I’ve never taken another day job; I just got really focused on that. I worked crew – I said yes to anything; paid, unpaid, whatever – I wanted to kind of experience it all, work in every department. Just started converting bit by bit into relationships; into better jobs. Always writing in the background and kind of getting things ticking over. Then I started directing shorts, music videos, a few corporates [docos], TV half-hour stuff here and there, and then feature. 

SM: Kind of works out like an avalanche, doesn’t it?

BCL: Yeah (laughs). 

SM: I understand Aidan (O’Bryan, producer) brought you the germ of the film; the original idea of the film.

BCL: Four years ago. 

SM: I’m wondering what that original pitch was. Were there any kind of elements that are different to what we have now?

BCL: I was developing other stuff that I thought were going to be my first film. Or, one of them was going to be my first film, because you can only have one first film. I had one in particular that had won an award, as a script, and it was all looking really promising, I had shopped it overseas and people wanted to get behind it. Then the writer’s strike happened; I was told to keep my head down or I’d get blacklisted because I wasn’t a guild member; “Stay out of it, because you don’t want to be a queue jumper”. So I honestly just had some free time. I wrote an email to some producer friends and said: “I need a job.” And Aidan called me up within seconds of me sending it, and said, “I’ve got a little bit of money, so if you’re interested in a writing gig we’ll talk about it”. And I was, so it went from there. His concept was a very different film, to be honest. It was a lot more of a … horror? I’m not really sure what the genre would be. It was still a thriller but with a higher body count; it was more of a straight up … it wasn’t at all political, and it wasn’t a fable. I’m a big fan of films that are fables; a parable for something bigger. So I took his idea and tried to give it that basically. 

SM: I guess the political element of it comes in with the school shootings. They’re not technically school shootings …

BCL: Yeah, it’s the revenge fantasy. It’s not specifically school shootings. Because the school shootings, without giving away spoilers, remains a dream in this. It’s amazing, the people you talk too. “Oh yeah, I’ve had that dream”. They just have the trouble acting it out. 

SM: But when you have that idea in the screenplay, even as a dream, were there any roadblocks getting that off the ground?

BCL: On the production side, to their credit, everyone was really supportive and protective of the creative side of it. Screen West were the first body in, and they wouldn’t have backed us if they weren’t willing already to. That didn’t stop people from being concerned. There were a few conversations like, “I wonder if you could tone that down a little here or there”. It was certainly … there was a first version, and it was the version I never wanted to direct, it was just something I wrote, which was a lot more soft-porn and violence basically. I just kind of had to give it some more sophistication. 

SM: Were you personally apprehensive? Did you have those niggling moments of self doubt about depicting teen violence?

BCL: Every day. And I still do. It’s just that we’re neurotic breeds; it comes with the territory. The most terrifying thing was probably Toronto [International Film Festival], where we had a really, really big screening, and I had completely forgotten that school shootings are a reality; that there was a nerve that could be touched there in north America showing this film. We’re about to show it in Texas [South by Southwest] in two weeks, so that’s going to be fun. I just sat in the audience and went, “Uh oh; someone could react quite badly to this”. But no. Thankfully, we did our job, which was to show it as a fantasy not as a reality, and to use it as a parable not as a direct reference to any particular tragedy. It’s less about “Aren’t kids horrible and isn’t society broken because they’re taking guns to school!”; it’s more about, at the slightly more conceptual side of it, which is, “I feel oppressed and want to rebel in some way; and want to violently exact revenge on the people who made me feel bad”. And ultimately, like I said ‘no spoilers’, it doesn’t work out that way; he knows it’s the wrong thing to do, so there’s a more intellectualised moral outcome in terms of actually getting revenge. 

SM: That ‘intellectualised moral outcome’ reminded me of two films, and I’m not sure if they were influences or not, but they were Alexandra’s Project …

BCL: I haven’t seen that one. 

SM: O.K., and Oldboy, the South Korean film.

BCL: That’s one of my favourite films. 

SM: Oh good. I wrote my thesis on it so I have a soft spot for it too.

BCL: Really?! My actual favourite film is Sympathy for Lady Vengeance; I just think it’s impeccable, but Oldboy is definitely up there 

SM: So that’s definitely an inspiration, but were there any other revenge films, or teen films, that were on your mind?

BCL: Cinema in general, obviously. My favourite films have nothing to do with this territory, like, I’m actually a big fan of Labyrinth. 

SM: A far more conceptual fantasy

BCL: Right! And just really classic old films; I love westerns. And I love old war movies, and I love singing in the rain. Dr Strangelove is a favourite. So there’s not like a common element amongst any of those except for they’re just good cinema. As far as this film is concerned, I did look at a lot of gangster films, a lot of Sydney Lumet – Before The Devil Knows Your Dead was a big influence; Oldboy certainly, I think that is unmistakable. Really, Aronofsky is a huge inspiration for me; I think he’s an amazing director. Danny Boyle as well; not for any one specific reason, just a general inspiration as opposed to influence – it’s hard to pick the difference between the two. 

SM: I think you can see that in the visual style of the film. The whole film looks great. What was the shooting schedule?

BCL: 29 days to shoot it. We had two cameras for 10 of those 29 days. 

SM: And I know this is kind of like asking a woman her age, but can you share the budget?

BCL: I can’t. 

SM: You can’t.

BCL: Not only can I not, I don’t think I would anyway. I don’t think audiences care. You shouldn’t get the “good on you for trying” award because there’s a cinematic standard, and you either deliver it or you don’t. If you can’t afford it, then adjust your approach. But we didn’t have … any money (laughs). 

SM: What are you working on next? I know this is just sort of the start of things for Wasted on the Young, but what have you got lined up next?

BCL: I’m doing a lot of writing. I’ve written two screenplays since this finished; one was backed by Screen West, the other by Screen Australia, which is amazing. That’s keeping me in noodles. Then I’m kind of attached to a few other projects that are floating around as well; developing with some other writers. I’ve got a few rounds in the chamber, I’m just not sure which one is going to go first. Definitely a good number of them could shoot here [Perth], but there’s a co-production in China that’s looking pretty promising. 

Wasted on the Young arrives in cinemas March 3, 2011. Check out our review here.

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