Ian and Luke Sparke (photo by Focus Magazine).
This article first appeared in IF Magazine Issue #150
Since very young, I have been interested in military history, Australian history and uniforms. This may sound strange, but the whole militaria collection started when I was about six years-old. My first item can be traced back till then. Now we have around 80,000 items. Our production becomes more sophisticated and we continuously research and collect more.
The first professional job we got was in the 1993 ceremony for the coming back of the unknown soldier of the Australian Army. They brought one of our soldiers back from France and reburied him here after a memorial. It was my task to ensure all the war uniforms were correctly worn. I designed, manufactured and made them. After that, we started to get more and more professional jobs. At the same time I kept researching and working on history, including the modern-day military in Afghanistan and Iraq.
Then we moved into more professional and feature films such as The Great Raid, which I consider really important to me. We kept building our repertoire and our knowledge of how production works. And when we worked on The Pacific and Beneath Hill 60, where we were heads of the department, we realised how we wanted to work. We cared about the production, tried to work out what was the best way to do it and cared about the people involved. We have worked on around 80 films so far.
The first time Luke joined me professionally was The Great Raid. He came in as an assistant, following me into the webbing department. I’ve got five sons but I have never forced any of my boys into the business – it is up to them. Luke is my eldest son. We’ve got a good rapport while we worked. We cover each other and take care of each other now.
I started writing The 34th Battalion about 20 years ago. Luke came in about 13 to 15 years ago. That was really good because we had a young person and an elder person. With the young one and the old one writing, researching and thinking about things together, we thought we would come up with an interesting story.
Luke and I worked so well together that there are a number of people who didn’t even know we were father and son. Luke didn’t call me “dad” but “Sparke” or “Ian” or whatever.
I was in the Army Reserve for almost 20 years as a part-time soldier. I think it is our honor to work to inspire in people what soldiers are like. The First World War generation was an amazing generation. The 34th Battalion certainly conveys a passion about those people. We want to bring that to the screen. We do not want it to be a boring historical piece. We want it to be something that younger people want to go and see, particularly those between 18 to 35 years-old. I guess people call them the ‘Gaming Generation’. We have to be able to generate interest in them. Therefore we have to make sure our writing is good enough to make it interesting.
In doing so, we are trying to do something to further the Australian film industry. We want to give something back.
Obviously growing up with Ian means that I grew up with all the collections. He was in the army back to the ‘80s. When he went to teach children about ANZAC Day I would be around, so I grew up in that environment.
During school, I actually did not have any idea of what I would be doing. It was not until we moved to Queensland, being in a company, that I started to learn the different costumes and get a little involved.
The Great Raid was the first feature film that I worked on. I was not allowed to join the production until I turned 18 so I had to wait for two weeks until I was officially employed. So my eighteenth birthday was my first day in motion pictures.
I have done a number of different things during the course of working with Ian. In The Pacific mini-series, I was one of the on-set stand-bys. I spent nine months working with the American crew, which was a great experience. And in Beneath Hill 60, when Ian was the costume designer, I was the stand-by again and helped with the design. I also worked as the assistant military advisor, making sure that the historical facts in the film were correct. From year 2000, I started directing short films of my own and won a few awards in the short film festivals. Nearly all of them are historical military.
Working with Ian, working in any family business I would say, obviously has its ups and downs. But it is more positive than negative. You get to build a relationship that you can’t have with anyone else because it is a family relationship. And you get to know each other’s strength and weakness and brainstorm all the time.
For young filmmakers, I would say if you are quite young and have the ability to be on a film set, just go with it. Make sure you gain all the experience and work on short films. As we all know that Australian production is a little bit come-and-go and thick-and-thin. You really have to grab your opportunity when you can.
For more information on The 34th Battalion, visit: http://the34thbattalionmovie.com