LAUREN SIMPSON AND THE RISE OF LUNACRAFT PRODUCTIONS
Jacob Richardson | 1/07/2017
Speak with Lunacraft Productions founder and wunderkind producer Lauren Simpson long enough, and she’ll invariably use the term “young and hungry”. A further safe bet is that, when she does commandeer the phrase, she’ll be referring to the incredible young team of creatives that her, and her partners Richard de Carvahlo and Carol Jovicic, have assembled at their boutique production house in Sydney. It’s a testament to her nature, then, that the applicability of the words to her own career will seem entirely foreign to her.
A still from the Where The Jackal Sleeps episode of The Witness Articles.
Lunacraft Productions was born in the hallways of movie magazine FilmInk, where Lauren was Sales Account Expo Manager. She and FilmInk art director, Richard de Carvahlo, hit it off, and her respect for the man is resoundingly apparent. As she describes it, “he desperately wanted to be a director, and he has this incredible vision, as you would know if you’ve seen any FilmInk Magazine from when he was Art Director; he has a very distinct style.” Their love of film, and their own unique sensibilities (they bonded over Marvel superheroes) led them, along with Richard’s wife Carol Jovicic, to start up their own production company.
Usually, a little homemade company like this one would start small. Not so for Lunacraft Productions. Whether it’s talking about her new project, The Witness Articles, her team’s entry into the Dolby Sound Challenge in 2015 or her work as event and marketing manager at Event Cinemas George Street in Sydney, Lauren makes one thing abundantly clear; “Richard and I don’t do anything small, it’s both our benefit and our detriment.” This is certainly true of their early work, as they were thrust into the spotlight producing videos for popular (9 million subscribers) YouTube content creator Rooster Teeth, at their annual convention. You can still see the impact of their amazing work there, where they produced live action recreations of classic and modern video games; from Space Invaders to The Last of Us.
One of the best things about Lauren is her wealth of advice, and despite her unabashed status as a dreamer, she remains a pragmatist. She tells me about the realities of filmmaking, particularly as a start-up in Australia, and hammers home the need to take the “bread and butter” of young filmmakers work; commercials. While their creative freedom and storytelling capability may have been limited in these early videos, she attests to their incredible benefit in allowing Lunacraft Productions to not only set up the nitty gritty of a production company (she lists off a daunting series of administrative challenges, from volunteer forms to *gasp* public liability insurance), but also to build one’s network. The people she met through Lunacraft’s experience with Rooster Teeth not only gave them more work, but also introduced them to a wide network of creatives, many of whom have become friends and colleagues.
She tells me about Lunacraft’s entry into the Dolby Sound Challenge; a competition that focuses on the use of sound design in a short, and restricts the entries to no more than 90 seconds in length. Describing it as a “daunting” process, Lauren skims past her teams tremendous success, rattling their progress off like an uninteresting shopping list (even though it’s anything but); shortlisted entrant, selected in the top 3, the opportunity to have their short mixed in a sound firm in Melbourne in Dolby Atmos, the news that the Lunacraft team won the competition, a flight to LA to spend a week in Hollywood at the Dolby Laboratory. It’s here she pauses; and it’s clear why she’s sped through her team’s magnificent achievements. Because whereas the quality of her short is barely discussed, she enthuses about the prospect of working in a studio where Jon Favreau has just wrapped The Jungle Book the week before, or where Spielberg has mixed some of his films. And that’s the best thing about Lauren; the utter joy with which she approaches filmmaking. Just getting the chance to put together something, to take it from page to screen and to have people see it - you can tell that’s why she got into this industry.
It’s one of the reasons she’s so passionate about her newest project, The Witness Articles. A high-concept horror web series, in the vein of the Universal monster movies of old, The Witness Articles has been making a statement online over the past few months, and keeps getting better. Lauren got in touch with us after she produced (and her business partner Richard directed) Episode 4 in the series, Where The Jackal Sleeps. It follows Boston-based journalist Ethan Sommers, as he investigates the terrifying witness accounts of individuals who have experienced paranormal encounters and survived. This particular episode harkens back to 1920’s Egypt, as British entrepreneur
Lauren Simpson, Lunacraft Producer
Michael Bristol and his wife Katherine lead a small excavation crew into the Egyptian desert, only to uncover a mysterious ancient tablet within a deep catacomb that inflicts sinister effects on the health and sanity of the entire crew.
“The thing with the Witness Articles in particularly was that there was no funding. Literally, everything that you see from the entire series is out of our own pocket.” It’s a remarkable feat, then, that this 25 minute episode (the longest in Erik Magnussen’s series so far) is so picturesque. It’s fascinating to hear Lauren talk about the challenges of bringing the project together, and creating a vast Saharan Desert in Northern NSW. She talks about the Director’s desire to get wide sweeping shots devoid of people in Cronulla (an impossibility), a $2000 a day charge to use the Stockton sand dunes (“But we include port-a-loos” they told her), and the creative team’s epic trek up the NSW coastline to find a beach that would actually work. Even then, once barren dunes had been discovered, they were surrounded by forest - a challenge Richard took on in post-production as he rotoscoped and matte painted his way to a gloriously realistic final product. She even reveals that the whole cast and crew had to trek 30 minutes along a beach to get to the shoot location, because cars couldn’t get there.
It’s here, as well, she opens up about the quality of the creative team behind Lunacraft. Lauren talks about the creative talent in the production with such awe and respect, it’s hard not to get enthused right alongside her. “Our lead actress, Rebecca Louise, who plays Catherine, has never acted before; ever. Phenomenal. Absolutely mind-blowing. She had all of us in tears on set.” Her real-life partner played her partner in the episode, and Lauren argues that this made their relationship on screen even more realistic. In fact, the only actor they sourced through a traditional casting agency was their monster itself, Anubis - an incredible portrayal by Maurice Webb. Even then, she noted, they coveted him for his composing skills. It’s a trait not uncommon within Lunacraft productions, where people aren’t afraid to pull on many hats at once, all with the communal goal of getting great footage in front of people’s eyes.
Director Richard de Carvalho and star Rebecca Louise on set of The Witness Articles: Where The Jackal Sleeps.
Excitingly, Lunacraft is only just getting started. I’ve caught Lauren two days before she jets off to the US for more work with Rooster Teeth. She mentions that, while she’s there, she has a series of meetings lined up with Executive Producers and Financiers. I ask her what the company is working on next, and she tells me that they are putting together a huge slate of ready-to-go material; great scripts that are going to make great movies and TV shows. “ Especially in this industry,” she says, “you’ve got to focus on getting stuff made rather than how much money you’re going to make.” Lunacraft seems uniquely poised to make a big splash in the near future. With a team of amazing creatives, and Lauren as their incredible producer, the company is going from stride to stride.
“I’m incredibly lucky to have people that I work with like Richard, like Carrol, Eric, Ryan, Jess, and these amazing young, hungry people that work all together. It’s really, really nice, and I recommend finding good quality people.” There it is again, that phrase. Young and hungry. And once again, Lauren too humble to include herself on that list. But it’s there; it’s there in her work, and in the most recent episode of The Witness Articles; in every painstaking brush stroke, every sweeping shot of a barren Saharan desert. So instead of asking why she isn’t on that list, I settled on asking what she’s looking forward to most about her trip overseas. Needless to say, for a lover of movies like Lauren, the answer wasn’t surprising; “I’m gonna ride the Hogwarts Express, watch out world!”
The fourth episode of The Witness Articles, ‘Where The Jackal Sleeps’, can be viewed below. It is the first episode in the series co-produced with Lunacraft Productions. The next episode, The Man with the Hat, was released June 30.