Mental Illness Took An Interest in Me

Director Luke Eve on the backstory to his new film, I Met a Girl, the latest in a series of projects focused on mental health.

I’m interested in mental illness because mental illness is interested in me.

And it took me quite a while to realize that.

I grew up on a farm in western Sydney, Australia. Talking about your feelings wasn’t something you normally did then. Especially there. And especially as a guy.

So you buried those thoughts and feelings.

Not long after graduating high school, I did what many Australians do – headed overseas. I moved to London and backpacked around Europe.

For four years.

While traveling, I realized I loved photography. So, whenever I was home in London, I would trudge down to the nearest darkroom and develop my photos. Yep, it was the days of film. Watching ghostly images slowly surface from their watery graves was a revelation to me. I never stopped seeing the beauty of that process.

Four years later, I moved back to Australia and dived into a photography degree which then led to a film degree at the Australian Film Television and Radio School.

Upon graduating, I did the usual – music videos, commercials, and then some television. I was lucky to be a jobbing director. But I wanted something more.

Luke Eve scopes out a warehouse during a music video shoot. (Photo by Jasmine Lord.)

I headed again for overseas. This time it was Los Angeles.

But before I did, I teamed up with a couple of guys called Adam and Glen. Twins. I’d gone to film school with Adam, who was a producer and he wanted me to meet his writer brother Glen, thinking that we would connect. He was right.

We started working on a project together. Devastatingly, it stumbled at the last hurdle, but what was born out of that collaboration was another project that Glen had written many years earlier inspired by the terrible suicide of his closest friend whilst growing up. It not only shaped Glen as a writer, but as a person.

Glen’s story, the script, connected.

Mental illness was interested in me.

Perhaps Glen saw that.

Brothers Glen and Adam Dolman.

The project was called I Met A Girl, a very complex film that spanned genres and had multiple timelines. A mental health story about a young schizophrenic man told within the context of a funny, uplifting romantic drama.

Like I said, complex.

So that project, and that story and that interest bubbled away whilst I set up a new home in Los Angeles.

L.A. can be a pretty weird and alienating town. And I think, for the first time in quite a while, those thoughts and feelings I had buried at my childhood farm, surfaced.

Just like the submerged ghostly memories in my old darkroom.

Mental illness took an interest in me.

So, I took an interest in it.

New to L.A., I was keen to make a project. A short or a series. I opted for a web series. And I opted for something personal.

I chose depression. Because it chose me.

And after many years of failing to bury it, I thought it time to tackle it. But I wanted to take a comedic look at it, because that’s how I approach most things in my life. With humor.

Luke Eve during the filming of Low Life.

So I made a semi-autobiographical story about a guy with depression. It was called Low Life. I asked my friend and writer Adam Grossetti to write it. We raised a small amount of money through Kickstarter, everybody worked on it for free and weirdly it ended up becoming my most successful project to that point.

From Low Life, I learned something: making something personal means that it will most likely find an audience. That used to seem at odds to me. How could something so personal mean something to someone else?

But it makes perfect sense now – if you make something truthful and authentic then people will respond to that. Your truth often reflects other’s experiences.

The series travelled the world and we sold it in a bunch of territories. We then won a festival in France and I was in the right place at the right time. I was able to pitch an idea for a companion series, High Life.

Luke Eve on the set of High Life. (Photo by Zhenshi van der Klooster)

A story about a teenage girl who is bipolar. And I knew that I wanted Adam and Glen to make it with me. It would be a way for the three of us to forge a stronger working relationship and to test material that was similar to I Met A Girl.

Glen’s friend, who had taken his own life, was bipolar. And I’d had a friend who also had the illness. So, we got together, swapped stories, thought of scenarios, did a ton of research and poured it all into High Life.

I’d never created a film project before where the POV needed to be so absolute, so powerful and so dominant. We needed to be with Genevieve, our protagonist, whenever possible. And we needed to show cinematically the heightened senses that are consistent with bipolar disorder.

Even at the time of scripting, I had sound and color and texture notes scribbled all over my pages. I knew it needed to be visceral. We needed to feel everything Genevieve felt.

At the premiere screening in Sydney, a friend brought along someone who had suffered with mental illness many years previously. She later told me that our series made her physically ill … in a good way. Others wrote that it was the most authentic depiction of bipolar disorder they had ever seen. Those comments make me incredibly proud. Still do.

High Life won a bunch of awards and we sold it all around the world. But receiving that feedback and those personal messages from our audience was so much more rewarding.

So, the planets had finally aligned, 15 years after starting work as a director, to make my debut feature. We had a team, a track record and a beautiful script that people could now “see.”

Luke Eve with Lily Sullivan and Brenton Thwaites, the stars of I Met a Girl. (Picture by Maria Albiñana.)

I Met A Girl is now out in the U.S. on demand. It was meant to be in cinemas, but, you know, … COVID. I wish people could see it that way, because great attention to detail was applied to its palette and soundscape which allows the audience to get inside the head of Devon and to see the world the way he might.

Perhaps, considering the year we have all had, the film now takes on a whole different, potentially more profound meaning. The power of imagination, and love, and family have perhaps never been so important.

I’m just happy that audiences are now finally able to see the film. And I’m happy that those audiences are already writing to me and telling me that the portrayal of schizophrenia and mental illness in the movie, despite it being a rom com, is powerful and evocative. Some have said that they feel understood, represented.

I find that amazing. Touching.

I’m glad I took an interest in mental illness.


Featured image of Luke Eve with actor Brenton Thwaites on the set of I Met a Girl by David Dare Parker. All images courtesy of Luke Eve.

Luke Eve’s first feature film, I Met A Girl, starring Brenton Thwaites and Lily Sullivan, is out now on demand through Gravitas Ventures. Eve is a graduate of the Australian Film Television and Radio School. Soon after, he established his own production company, More Sauce, and went on to direct a number of short films including multi-award winner Cockroach, and Australian Summer, winner of Tropfest, the world’s largest short film festival. In 2014, Luke created, produced and directed the online series, Low Life: A Black Comedy About Depression, which went on to win over 25 major festival awards and was sold to Amazon Prime and CanalPlay. In 2017, he completed directing and producing the follow up series, High Life, which was executive produced by Stephen Fry and stars Odessa Young, with music by Sarah Blasko. The series won over 30 major awards, including the Web Series World Cup for 2017, and sold to BBC3, Channel 9, CanalPlay and Fullscreen. During this year’s pandemic Luke created, produced, directed and acted in one of the world’s first multi-national lockdown series, Cancelled. The series, produced in Australia, Spain and Argentina, launched on Facebook Watch and has had more than 2 million views. (Photo by Kathy Luu.)