I joined a children’s choir just after my 3rd birthday. That was in Yugoslavia, Zagreb, in 1983. Choir defined me as a person. I’ve learned early on we are all individuals with different needs, wants and perception, so listening is often more important than talking. We’d rehearse twice a week and occasionally perform on Sunday morning Kid’s show on Channel 1 broadcasted live from the studio at Zagreb TV. The studio lights were insanely bright and enchanting. Built sets, colourful gels, bubble machines, giant cameras on wheels, heaps of grown ups, discipline, and us kids were all needed to create those few minutes of a TV programme. The Whole is greater than the sum of its parts. I knew I wanted to be an entertainer, and I saw the beauty in the collective, not in soloing.
By mid teens, I was in a few TVCs, had a supporting role in a feature film, acted in couple of theatre plays, but started feeling uncomfortable being recognised on the streets. Rather than escaping that world, I removed myself from the spotlight, and joined the crew “behind the scenes”. I spent my 20s mostly in theatre, making music and sound design, experimenting with 3D mapping and projections, filming and editing my friends’ gigs and creating short videos for VJing. I was lucky to own a firewire HDV camera, Final Cut Express and a laptop powerful enough to deal with the footage. VJing was a passion giving me a chance to perform my own artwork without too much exposure. I was VJing for 3 bands I liked, and realised that clip making part of the process was my favourite. I wanted to edit more. I approached the team that was producing a weekly music show about demo bands, and I got the gig. It felt like playing music and Lego at the same time, but it was an unpaid job and if I wanted to edit more, I would need to find paid work before I quit the day job.
Same year I was introduced to Željko Senečić who needed an editor to re-cut a film about Yugoslav sculptor Dušan Džamonja. It was edited in Final Cut 6 so it was a rather easy task once I found a common tongue with a director who was larger than life and 47 years older than me. Senečić had degrees in Painting from the Zagreb Academy of Fine Arts and Scenography from the Zagreb Academy of Drama Arts and he was a production designer, film director, screenwriter, playwright and way more. I on the other hand was a choir singer, had some college in Mathematics and earned money at a telephone company.
Luckily we understood each other, became good friends and in the next 6 years we made another 8 documentaries, mostly about painters and one TV drama. He supported my idea of quitting my job and turning freelance editor and theatre video/sound designer. Not the wisest thing to do during the Great Recession, but it worked out fine. It made me a happier person. I was editing art exhibition pieces for various artists and took occasional TV jobs and had time for theatre, choirs and my bands.
Coming as a tourist to New Zealand in 2014 was a big change. I’ve met a woman here and we wanted to explore what would living together be like. I stayed taking my chances of starting fresh. No friends, no choirs, no theatre group to belong to. I’ve taken “the long way home” approach. I didn’t know anyone in the industry yet, so I figured I’d crew for a while. Because for me, it is the people, it is the people, it is the people…
I took on everything I felt comfortable with – running, locations and unit assisting, agency/client/talent driving, ADing, DITing… I met a bunch of extraordinary people on sets, in rental and production companies who gave me greater insight into Aotearoa. When I felt the time was right, I put my hand up as an edit assist. And without forcing it I have slowly settled back into the editing chair.
Of course, I still do theatre, sing and perform, occasionally even in the editing suite.
About Luka Turjak
Luka is an experienced editor and assistant editor originally from Yugoslavia, and now based in Auckland. In the last few years, he has edited feature films In Passing and Spring Interlude, as well as documentaries, short films and music videos.
How I Got Started in the Industry is a guest blog series from the Directors and Editors Guild of Aotearoa New Zealand (DEGANZ). Our members reflect on how they made their way into assistant editing, editing, and directing—with no two stories the same. They offer advice for those starting out.