Luke Malone, CUJ ’13, is an Australian journalist based in New York City, and the producer of “Secrets of the Living Dolls,” a documentary that features men who dress up in elaborate latex female bodysuits.
Nick Sweeney, the film’s director, and Malone were introduced to the phenomenon known as “masking” six years ago when they stumbled across YouTube videos of a masker named Julie. Since then, they had been talking about the idea of working together on a project about this topic.
They started producing the documentary in late 2012, and “Secrets of the Living Dolls” premiered in January 2014 on the UK’s Channel 4, to an audience of 3.7 million viewers.
We spoke with Luke Malone about the production process and the lessons that he learned along the way.
Columbia Visuals: How did you find the subjects in the film?
Luke Malone: We got in touch with Kerry, the “unofficial matriarch” of the female-masking scene and he put us in touch with some other figure heads. At first they were very reluctant to take part in the documentary. They were scared of being misrepresented. But we worked with them every step of the way. Eventually they realized that we were legitimate and they decided to trust us. Once you get two people on board, more people start to fall into place.
CV: What did it take to get access?
LM: It all comes down to building trust. We showed them some of the previous work that we have done, and worked months and months with them before we started shooting. We did pre-interviews to get an idea of their stories and how they could be part of the documentary.
CV:What sparked your interest in this story?
LM: Our main question was why; we just wanted to know, “Why does a man wear these silicon masks?” It was a very good way to get into the story, because we realized that all these guys have different reasons.
CV: Talking about characters, what do you look for in a character?
LM: Someone that is able to tell his or her story in a narrative way. Somebody who tells his or her story in anecdotes. Someone who speaks in visuals terms.
CV: What was the hardest part of producing this documentary?
LM: The hardest part for me was making the leap from being a print reporter. I entered this project very familiar with how to bring out a good story, how to speak to people, how to gain the trust. But technically I don’t have the skills. I also had to learn how to not be such a selfish storyteller and how to collaborate with people in a very clear way. I’m super lucky that I was working with Nick.
CV: What is the key element of filmmaking?
LM: You have to surround yourself with a team that you trust. Communication is also key to a really smooth production. You have to be able to to constructively argue with them.
CV: Is there something that you wish you would’ve known?
LM: How important b-roll is. You think you have enough b-roll, but you never do. It seems like a really small thing but I cannot tell you how many times we got really close to running out.
CV: Any words of advice?
LM: So many of us have these stories in the back of our minds, but we just think we’re not old enough, not experienced enough, or it’s never the right time to do it. And I think that’s a mistake. You have to believe in yourself, your abilities and the things that you can do. You will learn or you will find somebody who will help you out.