Robert Luketic isn’t exactly the poster boy of a Hollywood mentor.
HE'S been making movies for nearly 13 years, and despite enjoying a breakout hit with his first Hollywood studio movie, Legally Blonde, Robert Luketic has tried valiantly to stay true to his personal art form with a commercial incline.
Maybe he should be allowed that indulgence. After all, he graduated to the big league with his first movie – and has maintained a relatively stable resume to date.
He has a mixed bag of credits – Win A Date With Tad Hamilton, Monster-In-Law, 21, The Ugly Truth, Killers, and last year’s Paranoia.
Now that he has had a few certified hit movies, Luketic has reason to think big. But that doesn’t stop the director-producer-writer from thinking small.
Maybe he does have some wisdom to share.
“Don’t get me wrong. I love commercial success, and I certainly love making money. I think, however, one must stick to one’s personal convictions and not sell out for the sake of commercial success,” Luketic says.
The director, who was in Penang recently as one of the judges for the South-East Asia edition of Tropfest, is a big fan and supporter of short films.
“Making short films changed my life, and it was how I was discovered,” he reveals. “Tropfest for me represents the opportunity for the next generation of filmmakers, regardless of which discipline – movies, documentaries, television shows, commercials – they choose to be involved in. Also, the energy of the audience is very stimulating. Tropfest is different from any other film festival in the world.”
There’s usually a momentous turning point in everyone’s life when a shot of inspiration spurs a career path. For Luketic, that moment of truth happened when he literally fell off a horse.
“I was riding through the swamp when a rattlesnake bit my horse, and I fell off and fractured by leg,” recalls the 40-year-old boyish looking Australian native.
He was holed up in bed for almost two years. He couldn’t go out to play with other kids, so his father bought him a Super 8mm camera – and he started shooting.
“My parents thought that I could be creative and expend my energy in other ways if I couldn’t play sports. I grew up watching a healthy diet of classic Italian movies – everyone from Vittorio De Sica, Federico Fellini, to Luchino Visconti – because my mother, who grew up in an Italian family, had a love for movies. That was the real connection.”
By the time Luketic was in his mid-teens, his career as a filmmaker was already starting to take shape. His first short film, Death Through A Child’s Eyes, had an unusual twist about a young boy’s perception of how the journey would be. The short film won the Best Film award at the Atom Film Festival.
Perhaps inspired by this win, Luketic went on to study at the prestigious Victorian College of Arts – School of Film and Television.
For his graduation project, he directed a short film, Titsiana Booberini, a musical comedy that won awards and earned rave reviews at film festivals where it was screen, including the Sundance Film Festival. It also won the Best Film award at the Aspen Shortsfest.
“All the praise and acclaim, but no cigar,” scoffs Luketic. “There were no job offers, and I had debts to pay. I ended up working for the Australian Film Commission answering phones.”
When he finally came to the realisation that he would have to go to Hollywood to make his mark, he took some bold measures. He fired his agent, and signed on with Madonna’s agent. That move led to Legally Blonde.
“Living and working in Hollywood demands a delicate balance,” Luketic suggests. “What disturbs and fascinates me about Hollywood is that you’re just one movie away from feast or famine. I love making movies my way, but I also have a financial obligation to the movie’s money suits.
Despite his measured success, Luketic still mourns the loss of mid-level movies.
“Some of this year’s critically acclaimed movies like Nebraska and Philomena will not go wide because of their limited appeal,” he says. “But then, look at what’s happening in television. There are brilliant shows like Breaking Bad and Homeland, and snob-appeal ground-breaking mini-serials and made-for TV movies that are winning awards and reaching out to the masses.”
For Luketic, making a movie is a marathon, waking up at 5am, getting two hours of sleep, and attending to 100 calls before 9am. It’s one of the reasons why he isn’t an assembly-line director.
“I usually take two to three years off between movies to relax, re-connect with people, and enjoy all that life has to offer.”
Relaxation for Luketic is flying his Ambracer Phenom 100 to near and faraway places. He also cooks, mostly Asian dishes, which explains why he loves coming to Asia. (He’s visited Kuala Lumpur a few times and Penang once before this year’s Tropfest.)
For a relatively newcomer, Luketic has succeeded in working with some of the world’s biggest box-office movie stars – from Jane Fonda, Kevin Spacey, Reese Witherspoon to Harrison Ford. Luck or persistence?
“I always manage my expectations,” he offers. “I believe in the collaborative process. Actors must be free to express themselves. I have a particular vision before production starts on a movie. Sometimes, things change and I have to make adjustments. That’s why I never watch my movies after they’re completed. My vision versus the end product is not always the same.”
Luketic’s not complaining, though. He’s been linked to several dream projects, none of which have been green-lit as yet. During the interview, Luketic – very timidly – let slip that he’s close to signing on to direct a big-budget movie.
“It’ll be wonderful to work in the mainstream and still be somewhat subversive. I’m really interested in combining those extremes. My real goal is to make movies that enlighten the human condition. We may come from different places and cultures, but we’re all really the same.”
Luketic may not be a household name yet, but give him time. He’s already starting to stamp his footprints on the way to global success with a solid thump. And to think it all started with a Super 8mm camera!