Robert Luketic, ac­ci­den­tal di­rec­tor

Robert Luketic isn’t ex­actly the poster boy of a Hol­ly­wood men­tor.

The Star Malaysia - Star2 - - FRONT PAGE - By CHRISTIE LEO en­ter­tain­ment@thes­tar.com.my

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-yearold 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 big­bud­get 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!

Luketic’s big break came when he was tasked to di­rect reese Wither­spoon in the com­edy Le­gal­lyblonde.

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