The 34th Battalion

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Wauchope residents will soon have the chance to be in the movies, albeit as an extra for the crowd scenes in a World War I feature film to be filmed later this year. The Producer and Director have decided to utilise Timbertown for the film book end of  ‘The ‘34th Battalion’. FOCUS had an informative chat with Ian and Luke Sparke…

Give us an insight into some of the projects you have worked on in the past?

Ian: I have actually just returned from New Zealand, where I worked on The Emperor, which was with Tommy Lee Jones and Matthew Fox; that was a US, New Zealand and Japanese production and will be released early next year.

I worked 11 months on the Pacific, got home for two days and went off to Wolverine, and there’s also Beneath Hill 60, where we picked up a coveted AFI nomination for best costume design. It was a very authentic design we did for that.

Luke:  Obviously being partners with Ian in Sparke Films, I have been doing basically the same films, but on different jobs. On Wolverine I was one of Hugh Jackmans military costumers, and on Pacific I was standby, so I was on set every day with the Directors, making sure the military costumes were correct. Since then, we have moved into Directing, MTV music clips for local artists in Queensland and short films, book launch trailers and other media related items, and now we are into this movie.

The big news is that you are producing and directing a feature film at Timbertown in Wauchope. Give us a synopsis of the film … 

Luke: The film is in a larger scope a story of our ANZACS on the western front, in a way that hasn’t been seen before. It’s a full story, a story of the overall battles and what they faced and thought on a day to day basis. On a personal story, it’s about three friends who join up from Wauchope – in the script it is actually Wauchope – and they travel with them throughout the campaign.

The story is about how they can get back to their loved ones and how war can change someone … how the soldiers didn’t want to change, but they did, because war just does that to everyone.

Through our framing device of the film, we have the real diaries of the guys, and we use their voice overs of the diaries to tell people what they thought, instead of us doing it retrospective of what we thought the war was. That would be it in a nutshell.

Ian:  It has been 20 years, especially the last 6 years, of really heavy writing, where we got the character parts right. We removed as many clichés as we could; it was really hard, because we are trying to tell a good story. Once we got the diaries, once we started to tell the story, it became much easier.

We worked our clichés out by having things like, “They have gone off for adventure” – out; these guys didn’t do that. They were the last division formed; they were formed in Australia from the recruiting marches, within geographical areas.

The motto of these guys was “Get over there, get the job done and get home as soon as we can”. They didn’t join up until after Gallipoli, so they had a much different attitude – and it was an attitude that we wanted to look at.

These blokes thought about it. To me, they were very brave men. They had already seen the death rates on Gallipoli, they knew that war wasn’t going to be a picnic, and they still went in there. They go through some of the worst battles that you can think of – especially the Battle of Passchendaele on the 12th October 1917.

Luke: In terms of the film industry, we wanted to make sure that it wasn’t just another historic drama that nobody really wants to go and see. I think that the combination of our writing, the old and the young with Ian and myself, has brought a lot to the movie.

I always try to write about what I would like to go and see in a movie, so without trying to glorify war, it is a roller coaster ride in the cinema of what these guys went through … the ups and downs. It is a very exciting movie to attract the younger demographic audience.

Ian: So basically we wanted to stay away from a historic drama, but it had to be an action film set in amongst a historic context. It is very historically correct; we aren’t going action film and forgetting about the historic aspect. This film is very correct; it has been fully researched – we have had over a 100 reads.

We have book ended the story; it starts with Wauchope and finishes with Wauchope – the rest is the soldiers’ journey. So you are with them when they go overseas, when they go to France, and when they are walking along the trenches – you are in there with them.

Why did you choose Wauchope for the film?

Ian:  Wauchope was chosen because we are who we are. I grew up just out of Maitland, where the Battalion was actually formed. I came up here as the main actor and historian at Timbertown some 15 years ago; I had quite a successful go at Timbertown before heading to the Gold Coast, and I wanted to give a bit back.

You both have had pretty good careers so far, but this is your first feature film. How hard was it to take the plunge; did you have to get funding?  

Ian: All huge things to talk about for sure. The basic thing would be that we didn’t go in there full of ourselves; we let other people have a go at producing at first. When we took over as Producers, we knew what we wanted to do. It was very quick then.

Once we took over, people knew our name, knew we are very upfront and very honest in the way that we do things; we care about what we do, and the film industry knows that. We needed to push it though.

Once we started talking to distributors, I was in New Zealand and Luke was here. I might be up at 2am doing this because of the time differences. Within 2 or 3 months of taking over producing, we had funding. We then had the start of the distribution, which has now turned into a world wide distribution – which is amazing.

Luke:  What is amazing is that the distribution is from America, and a lot of Australian films find it hard to break into the American market with a completed film. Our film has gotten there based on the script – very encouraging.

In terms of financing, I think our back work has made our financiers comfortable, and it is such an interesting script.

How many crew are there? Tell us the logisitics involved:

Luke: Obviously because our studios are on the Gold Coast, we will be bringing down all up 1,000 cast and crew; 300 or so extras who will be based at Timbertown, then there are the actors – it is a fair dinkum big film.

The whole shoot will take 12 weeks, but at Timbertown it is only 2 weeks, and the rest is in our studios on the Gold Coast. Timbertown is being used as the book end of the film. We are bringing down the crew and calling on locals as extras.

Hopefully locals will want to be extras. Our Casting Director, who has directed many films on the Gold Coast, like Scooby Doo and Ghost Ship, will be holding auditions to find some local talent to be involved.

We have told our production crew to spend as much as they can down here, the timber and labour to build the sets at Timbertown, which we will be leaving for the park’s benefit – anything we can do to help the local community with our spend, we will.

Thanks Ian and Luke. We wish you well with the film.

Interview by Jay Beaumont – transcribed by Chrissy Jones.

This story was published in issue 79 Greater Port Macquarie Focus
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