Expat Filmmakers in Berlin – Aaron Lucas

For Aussie filmmaker Aaron Lucas, the decision to move to Berlin in June 2018 was very spontaneous – he didn’t know anyone here, didn’t speak German, but it still seemed like a great idea. Well, we’ve seen Free Therapy – his first short film made in Berlin – and we can’t agree more. For all we know, he should have come here sooner!   

Growing up, Aaron wanted to become the modern version of Steve Irwin or get “really buff” – as he says – and be a wrestler in the WWE. Luckily for us, his interest in worms and bugs had faded over time, and he didn’t flourish into the new John Cena. Instead, he did the Bachelor of Performance course at the University of Wollongong which is just a stone’s throw away from his hometown – Sydney.

What inspired you to pursue a career in the creative industry?

Aaron - I think I took the creative route after my dad died when I was in my last years of high school. At that time, I got really into my high school drama class as a kind of escape. From there, I went on to acting and then tried to direct a bit of theatre. But even before all of this, I would make short films with my childhood best friend whenever we had nothing else to do. Making little movies was a thing I continued to do for fun – and now I still do it for fun. You can maybe tell when you watch them because they are always so silly.

After university, I moved back to Sydney, got an agent and did a little bit of acting. That's how I met James Wright who is now the person I make my work with, my writing husband. When I was fresh out of university, we made a silly little web series on YouTube about two normal guys who live with a tragic actor – it's called Toby Or Not To Be. After university, I also acted in some theatre and some terrible commercials and directed some music videos. Basically, I was just dealing with the fact that I was about to launch into a career as an artist and what that means: being poor and having overly emotional friends.

How did the move to Berlin happen – and why?

Aaron - I had flights booked to just come here for a week after a holiday in Portugal with my family, but about a month before the flight, I decided to cancel my return flight and stay in Berlin. I honestly knew almost nothing about Berlin before I came here and told myself that I would just figure it out when I got here. I definitely wanted to make some friends and learn German. I've done one of those things.

My Opa was born in Berlin in 1927 and lived here till he was 12, and I wanted to make a short documentary film about his life here, so there was also that motivation. But it was mainly that I really wanted to get out of Australia and live overseas for a while, and I am so glad that I did. I didn't think too much about making other films here, but when I got here and had time on my hands, I got really restless and just wanted to make stuff again.

So you made Free Therapy.

Aaron - I had this idea of watching a director who is directing something that is clearly about his own life and the actors find out halfway through that it's about him but they are already too far into it to stop. So I sat down and wrote out the first draft of it in one sitting. Writing about a wanky director was very easy for me, not sure why... And of course, there is the meta-level of me being the director, who also just had a break-up and is directing this film. But it's not based on true events, I swear...

Casting was tricky because we wanted funny people from Australia or New Zealand or even from the UK but we just knew no one so we ended up going to an English-speaking stand-up comedy night where we saw Campbell Bews – who plays the director. It was the first time he'd ever done stand-up but he was really funny and fit the character really well. Also, we didn't have a lead female actress for a long time which was scary but my mate from university Alex Herlihy flew over from London and saved us.

The shoot was amazing. Everything was incredibly smooth. We had a lot of time for the actors to improvise and we still finished an hour early. We thought we must have missed something but we were just really good on timing somehow. Maybe I am becoming more German after all?

And what has navigating through Berlin’s film industry been like?

Aaron - I am still finding my way through the industry bit by bit. I have had lots of people advising me on small details here and there. My girlfriend Eloise Walker and I have been navigating it together. She is a director/producer also from Australia and produced my short film last year, so we are kind of going out and soaking information like a couple of little sponges and trying to help each other as much as possible. But I think I still have a long way to go.

I'd be lying if I didn't admit that sometimes it has been really hard and cold (in both senses) and made me cry and want to go home. But, on the whole, I've met so many crazily talented film people working in the industry and so many people who are doing their own work. It's amazing and I'm happy to just be a part of it. Berlin is quite a supportive place to be a filmmaker. It doesn't feel like a competition, there's more spirit of wanting to help each other out and make cool stuff. That's the impression that I get.

What else have you been working on since you came here?

Aaron - I've also been developing a short documentary called I'll Be Frank about my Opa's childhood years in Berlin as a young Jewish boy. It's based on his autobiography “Some Memories Of My Life”. When he was about 70 years old, he wrote out all of his memories for his family and friends. It was never published. We are taking the first 20 pages of this book and my cousin, also Frank's grandson, Jimmy Buckle is animating them. These animations will be put next to the real-time footage of the places from the stories as they are now, 80 years later, and my experiences of visiting them. We are hoping to begin filming later in the year and right now we're just focusing on applying for grants and raising money for it, fun!

I also have been writing a short film that I pitched at the Clermont-Ferrand International Short Film Festival earlier this year, and we have now optioned with a production company from Paris.

Does this mean that you are planning on staying in Berlin for a while?

Aaron - My dream is to be able to live between Sydney and Berlin forever. My siblings and I have just recently been approved for renaturalization through our Opa, making us German citizens. So I want to use that to try and live between here and Australia for as long as possible. Obviously, the best thing would be to summer jump and do Australia's summer and then Berlin's summer, never having winter again!

Do you have any tips for other Aussies who are considering a move to Berlin?

Aaron - Learn German, come in the summer, pack Milo (and bring me some).

Thank you, Aaron.

Behind the scenes images © Olivia Jensen
Other images © Aaron Lucas

You can find more information about Aaron’s film I’ll Be Frank on its crowdfunding campaign page here.


Watch the teaser for the short documentary I'll Be Frank:

Auste Serapinaite is a Lithuanian journalist and filmmaker. After moving to Berlin, she was absorbed by the city's film festival scene and currently moonlights as Co-Director of Down Under Berlin.