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Film lets us show the big emotions and engage the audience, the writer/director of Wasted On The Young, Ben C. Lucas tells Andrew L. Urban.

Film is the greatest artform, says one of Australia’s newest feature film directors, Ben C. Lucas, “because it is the best format for the big emotions and allows us to transport an audience.” Lucas himself feels a little transported (from his home in Perth) as we sit on the 22nd floor of a Sydney hotel where he is doing interviews to promote his directorial debut, Wasted On The Young. 

For almost 10 years he had been driving the project, from a simple idea through his new vision for the screenplay to the shoot and the finished film. “And now I feel like a passenger, with someone else doing the driving, namely our distributors.”

"a low budget teen slasher movie"

Wasted On The Young started life as an idea for a low budget teen slasher movie, and Lucas was commissioned by the producers to write the screenplay from the idea by Aidan O’Bryan. “I was perfectly happy to be a writer for hire on a teenage revenge movie,” he says, “but when they offered it to me to direct, that was a different thing.”

Lucas, who began making 8mm stop motion films as a child (with help from his dad), asked to re-write it and producer O’Bryan and fellow producer Janelle Landers agreed. “They committed to me and the team.”

The film is set in an elite high school; step brothers Zack (Alex Russell) the action man and Darren (Oliver Ackland) occupy opposite ends of the school’s social hierarchy. At one of Zack’s parties Xandrie (Adelaide Clemens), the only person with whom studious Darren ever connected, is drugged, assaulted and left for dead. When Xandrie doesn’t show up at school Darren tries to find out what happened but no-one knows, says or does anything. 

When Xandrie finally does return to school it sets off a chain reaction with fatal results as Xandrie realises that nothing will be achieved by taking revenge. Darren decides that if he doesn’t do something then no-one will. Darren’s plan plays out at another one of Zack’s parties and soon the brothers have their lives at the mercy of popular opinion.

"the digital world"

Lucas records in his notes that “A major component of the film, even from the earliest idea stage, was the digital world. Texting and social networking are ubiquitous in the lives of young people and so were a very deliberate element in the script, and ultimately major considerations for the shoot and the edit. The roles played by text messages, websites, cell phones and surveillance cameras allow the characters and the audience a privileged insight into the full goings on of the story and offer creative opportunities in the storytelling.

“There was an expectation that the film, with its depiction of violent, hedonistic teenagers fuelled by drugs and alcohol and impervious to the influence of adults, would attract controversy. 

The film was realised to explore the potential outcomes of a potent combination of real world factors: the fact that young people today have less adult influence in their lives; increasingly available, potentially anonymous technological tools; and the under-developed moral and ethical framework that exists in young people as they mature through their teenage lives with a mix of exploration and risk-taking behaviour. 

“Though these are real world situations, the film was always envisaged as a morality tale, a parable about justice, and the team very particularly chose to make a film that was hyper-real. By doing so creating a film where the underlying themes have even more impact than the action and the story is told in a context that constantly suggests ‘this is not your world, but this is very like your world’.”

Those big emotions that Lucas likes to portray on screen fed his creative juices. While he was writing about teenagers and their high school hierarchy, at the back of his mind were references from the Greek tragedies and fables. 

"moral choices"

“I love fables and legends,” he explains, “and the big classic dramas which teach us about moral choices.” He had his fill of those while studying literature, art and philosophy for his BA degree. “History and mythology are different,” he says. “History is largely inaccurate, while mythology is emotional honesty … it’s written by poets.”

But Lucas is modest about his writing skills. “I am neither old enough nor wise enough to call myself a writer … a storyteller perhaps. I think I’m a decent film director, though.”

When young Lucas would sit next to his dad and talk about where to place the microphone for their modest films, he never imagined he would ever become a filmmaker. “That was an unobtainable fantasy. Up till my 20s I thought that.” He eventually started his adult storytelling experience as a games designer.

“Writing is painful and difficult,” he adds. “But I love filmmaking exactly because it’s such a collaborative exercise and making Wasted On The Young is a great example of everyone contributing tremendously, in every department.”

Nervously, Lucas showed the film to his mum and dad; “they both liked it, beyond the proud parents bit … they appreciated it,” he says with a smile.

Published first in the Sun-Herald
Published March 6, 2011

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