Recently I spoke with Writer/Director Luke Sparke about the film, his career, and his plans for the future of the series.
How did you get into entertainment and what was your big break?
Every journey is different right? Mine starts with my family business around the time I was born, providing historic military uniforms and props to entertainment companies and historic theme parks out here, which then morphed into film work. So, I was already around this type of work all my life and when I was old enough, I got to work on film sets as well. A big moment was working on Spielberg’s ‘The Pacific’ HBO series for a year. Just being on a huge set like that and the connections you make is once in a lifetime opportunity. After a few more large films, I had a moment where I could work on my first feature film as a writer/Director or keep going down the same path I was on. So, I took that opportunity and started my directing career.
Where did the idea for Occupation arise?
I was in LA after my first film and had a bunch of different projects I was pitching. I was working out an idea in my head of how to do another low-budget type film that we could film cheap as well. So in a meeting, after the guys had passed in my larger projects, I just pitched the idea from my head about an Alien ground invasion and people fighting back like ‘Red Dawn’ and they went for it. I started writing it on the plane home.
The sequel is much bigger and bolder than the original in many ways how did this transition come about?
It is. I was confined to my own expectations on the first film, on what I thought we could achieve. I was adding more things in Occupation as it grew: Helicopters at the end, more scenes with Temuera once he came on board, more effects etc etc.
With Rainfall, I said from the beginning that I wanted to reinvent my world and write the whole story without limiting what I thought we could achieve or not – and we’ll figure it out later on how to do it. Which is what we did, And I nearly got everything I had imagined plus some things that I hadn’t thought of.
What were some of the biggest challenges you had with the film?
Just how big it was for a ‘indie’ film. How do we achieve all this? So we actually broke the filming weeks up over ‘blocks’. We shot out cast members and sets that made sense to be done in one go. Then would have months breaks and come back. Which causes all sorts of continuity issues both behind and in front of the camera. Issues with cast schedules and all that. It’s like a big puzzle that has to be put together after dropping it on the floor in a million pieces. My two producing partners, Carly and Carmel, had to handle a multitude of crises and do 4 or 5 different jobs just to get it across the line. Most HODs did as well and really put the hard yards in. We had to find the right crew to get this done, so had to jettison some and find members who are now invaluable to me.
How did you decide between practical and CGI effects for various shots?
I love practical effects, but I can see the pull the VFX as well. I went in wanting a lot of practical so we had Garry and Steve the Alien’s heads made, Fireballs, snow, alien suits etc all made. But as the filming went along and on, and on… it becomes clear a lot of the world and sets will need help with VFX. So, I think we had over 1,500 VFX shots in the end. Because we had such a small team, it’s really taught me a lot about both worlds and what I would do differently next time. And I think in this day and age a director should be across as much as he can be about these areas.
What can you tell us about the makeup work in the film?
The guys at MEG Effects in Sydney did a fantastic job on the two lead aliens. We got the cast down there early to make molds and then they took my ideas on the alien look and put their spin on it. Again, I wasn’t married to the first film’s designs as I was trying to reinvent the films as I went – looking at Rainfall as the first chapter in this story. It took hours in the mornings for the cast to get applied on then had to eat through straws and all that fun stuff. But once the masks were on, it was hard not to look at them as their character. Many times, I was calling Laurence (who plays Garry) Garry and looking into his big eyes instead of him as an actor!
What were some of your greatest memories from filming?
Working with the cast is always a blast. Getting to work with Ken Jeong and Daniel Gillies as new cast members was two different but unique experiences. Hanging with Temuera again was really fun and welcoming back the cast from the first one.
One of the greatest memories was probably the last day of filming, just knowing that we got it all done. It was the scene where Amelia and Commander Hayes fight it out. The whole crew was waiting to celebrate wrapping and, my 1st AD/Producer Alex and my DOP, Wade, were just filming as much as we could until wrap was called. Talk about adrenaline!
Can you tell us where you plan the series to go next?
I can say that sequels have been announced and we are actively getting them ready to go. When I wrote Rainfall, I wrote the whole story of how this Occupation of earth ends, for better or worse. So I’m glad I get to tell the rest of the story – which only gets bigger as it goes, but also stays with the characters on a human level. I keep going through these new scripts and trying to find a balance between the bombastic levels of Rainfall and the smaller character moments of Occupation. Not being a big studio and still very much an ‘indie’ series, there’s an opportunity that I can explore things outside the traditional tentpole films.
Between writing, directing, and producing, which is the greatest challenge for you and do you prefer one more than another?
Writing and producing are the biggest challenges for different reasons. You want the script to be the best it can be, and the Producing side is fighting for the smoothest production possible. Both are extremely tough. I love the directing part and collaborating with crew and cast to get their ideas. My favorite part is editing. It’s the final draft of the script and the film and there are so many ways you can cut it to create something you might not even known was there.
How has the roll out of the film been for you as it seems that it has been in some markets and streaming for a bit and now coming to others.
Yes, it’s been rolling out and finding an audience as it’s gone. It’s like the film that keeps on giving – which is great for me because we know people are watching it and finding it and hopefully are curious to see where the world goes.
What do you have coming up?
I have the sequels to this film, which seem to now be a priority – which itself is a testament to the reaction for Rainfall. Then a smaller thriller, a recently announced Dinosaur project, and a film based on the popular books ‘Weapons of choice’ – time travel back to WW2. So there’s a lot going on!