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Interview: Luke Moran - Boys of Abu Ghraib

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Luke Moran is a quadruple threat to the Hollywood film industry. Having just released the feature film ‘Boys of Abu Ghraib’ where he takes the reigns of Writer, Director, Producer and main Actor, for his first time feature, the film brings it all!

The story centers around the soldiers and detainees in the detention centre in Abu Ghraib. With the films focus mainly on the life of Jack Farmer, we see screen time being shared with high caliber actors such as Sean Astin, Scott Patterson from the TV hit show ‘Gilmore Girls’ & Omid Abtahi (Argo, Brothers).

Jack is a newly deployed soldier to the area, Abu Ghraib, who leaves his family and fiance´ Peyton, played by the lovely Sara Paxton, to fight for his country. Amidst the turmoil of the distance, he faces other challenges he never saw coming. Against the will of his fellow members, he secretly befriends an Iraqi detainee.

The film style and story line of this film are gripping and Luke Moran, alongside Blood Diamond Producer Edward Zwyck, bring so much quality to this intensely scripted movie. Over the phone, Luke discusses the challenges faced during the shoot, working alongside actors such as Sean Astin and what the future holds for the rising star.

How did the idea for the ‘Boys of Abu Ghraib’ come about?

I actually studied the subject matter in college and I believe I wrote a term paper on it. It's something that really stuck with me. I had studied it from a political point of view and when I was thinking about doing a movie, it was something that I was really fascinated in. How does something like this happen? But I wanted to study it from a human perspective. How does a human go into Abu Ghraib with good intentions, like the character of Jack and come out of the other end capable of doing some of these things. The film speaks of more than just the scandal that went down but I wanted to explain what happened by using this fictional character.

Now in the film you share the roles of director, producer, writer & main actor. Which of these roles came first in your film career and which role did you enjoy the most?

I began acting and quickly realized how difficult it is to break in and started thinking about film making as an avenue to create more opportunities for me. So I began writing and learning that craft and really fell in love with it. Watching directors work, I knew at some point I was going to want to do that. Ultimately it came sooner than I expected with this project but, acting and directing are my two favorites.

You’re working alongside some long standing American actors such as Sean Astin, Scott Patterson & Sara Paxton. How did you feel when it came time to direct such great talent?

It kind of varies from situation to situation depending on how well I knew them and how much of an opportunity we had to hang out beforehand. I'm not going to lie, I was a little bit nervous when I started directing Sean. Luckily everyone was really sweet, especially Sean. He was so easy to work with and so kind that it made it really easy and the experience he brought to it just elevated everything. With Sara, my character was planning to marry this girl (Peyton) so we definitely needed to have a connection and we made a point of hanging out a few times.

What were the hardest challenges you faced during the making of this war film?

I would say from a directing point of view, when I had those five others guys in my squad and I had to act and direct 5 guys and worry about the crew at the same time, it was a little bit overwhelming. At the end of a take, I would quickly go to my note pad and write everything down because I didn't want to forget to give each person the direction that I wanted to work on. That's just a really tough balancing act.

The film follows the lives of both American soldiers and prisoners there. How did you research the roles for them to be played out so well?

I do have some friends who have military families yet most of my research was from people I hadn't known. It began with books and first hand accounts of what soldiers went through and documentaries were great to see visuals of what the prison was like. Ultimately, the best research came once I had that foundation and began talking to soldiers who had actually been at Abu Ghraib. We had a military advisor who had served over there, and I remember when I first showed him the script and it was the most nerve wracking day of my life because I'm messing with people's actual experiences. He totally loved it and thought we had really nailed a lot of important aspects, so it then ended up being the best day of my life.

There’s a scene where your main character, Jack Farmer, uncovers a truth and he struggles with the reality, it’s a really strong scene… How did you and Omid go about working on this scene?

It was only the second day of the shoot. We shot my coverage in the morning. I remember Omid coming up to me at lunch saying 'Wow, you really set the bar high'. He came right back and totally nailed it. He's an incredible actor, working with him was one of the best parts of the movie. Every single take he does is like flawless, he's just there every single second.

For all the upcoming filmmakers and actors out there wanting to create their first feature film, what word of advice can you give them?

I would say the thing that set me apart and allowed me to do it was tons of hard work. Determine your goal and just do whatever it takes. Especially at the low budget level, how much are you willing to put in to get it made. Obviously the skill and stuff has a part to do with it but I felt with my lack of experience, I was able to make up for it with hard work.

If you could work with anyone in the industry on an upcoming feature, director, actor… who would you choose and why?

I'll give you two answers. Had I not had the opportunity to have worked with him, I would probably have said Edward Zwyck. He did amazing movies like Blood Diamond and The Last Samurai. He was kind of like a mentor for me. I got really really lucky to have the opportunity to work with him. Outside of that, I'd probably say Martin Scorsese. Working with him would be amazing!

After taking on such a challenge with this film, what do you have lined up for your future film career?

I'm currently writing a project that has to do with the violence on the Arizona Mexico border. I recently visited the area, met with some ranchers and the border patrol and it's very unsafe for the people there because of the drug mules. I remember climbing up on the fence and the ranchers pointing out a cartel building on the other side of the fence and the Mexican military with automatic weapons just driving right by me. I'm sort of fascinated with that so I'm piecing a story together.

'Boys of Abu Ghraib' was the Winner of the Audience Award for Narrative at the Gasparilla International Film Festival this year. It's now available to buy so if realistic war stories are your thing, or if you're just after a quality film from an upcoming talented all round film maker, then this is the movie for you.

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