Every police force in the country has those seasoned, experienced senior officers who have seen just about everything a career in uniform on the front line can serve up, from tackling abusive, crazed meth-heads to domestic violence and tragic homicides.
So when Canberra filmmaker Steve Cooke was racking his brain for just the right person to fit the small, but key role of a grizzled senior sergeant for his new independent feature film The Blacksmith, he knew he had the perfect candidate.
The only issue was that former ACT police Inspector Adrian Craft - or simply "Crafty" as he is known to his mates in the "job" - had never acted before.
So the amateur director took a punt.
"I could visualise exactly the person I needed for the role of the trooper sergeant for The Blacksmith," the director said.
"Some of these are intangibles; often it's the little things and mannerisms that those senior coppers who have been in the job on the front line for a long time acquire.
"I needed someone senior who had that natural air of authority, who physically carries himself confidently and knows instinctively when a suspect is being evasive or shifty.
"And importantly, given the period setting of the film, I needed [someone with] a great beard.
"Every time I visualised that role, I saw Crafty.
"So I just called him up and asked him up front if he would give it [the role] a crack.
"Lucky for us, he agreed. And I have to say: he nailed it."
Cold-calling former police colleagues as well as Canberra's budding actors keen to gain a name in the cinema industry were just a few of the many challenges for Cooke, whose first feature-length film will debut at the Dendy in Canberra on November 25.
Writing, directing and producing The Blacksmith has been a labour of love for Cooke, his son Caleb who helped with the script and was the sound recordist, his wife Nerida who "catered for big crews almost every day" and all the cast members who agreed to be involved.
In taking the big leap and booking the Civic cinema for the premiere, he says he's equally phlegmatic and "quietly shitting himself" as to how it will be received.
"I have no great expectations; basically I'm just a nobody independent Canberra filmmaker and everything on this project was done on a shoestring but with a lot of love and commitment by everyone involved," he said.
"We ended up with a fantastic and dedicated cast. These people were amazing. They made me look good.
"I think the story is a really interesting one but if a third of the people love it, a third don't care much either way and a third hate it, well, then that's okay."
The Blacksmith is Steve Cooke's first feature after his first 19-minute film, Letter from Bobeyan, was released in 2020, garnering considerable acclaim across the independent film community. It won 19 awards including an honorary mention at the Sanctuary International Film Festival in Queensland and best short international film at the Rocky Mountain International Film Festival in Colorado.
While the Australian bush landscapes, rich in birdlife and native animals and where Cooke loves to film, together with the unique story of the letter, did not resonate locally, it struck a far stronger chord with US audiences who, he said, "loved it".
Unfortunately the arrival of the COVID pandemic prohibited him from travelling across to the US to support his efforts, a consequence he now views with some regret.
"I love being out in the bush around Canberra and I'd bushwalked through Bobeyan valley many times and wondered about this lone stone chimney that was there and the story behind it," he said.
"So I did a bit of research and got in contact with Steve Bradshaw, who is a descendant of the Bradshaw family from the Bobeyan homestead.
"Steve provided me with a lot of insight into the hard lives of those original settlers and that really helped me piece the elements together."
He had struggled to find a narrative that would knit the Letter's components together when inspiration suddenly arrived while sitting in Canberra traffic on a hot, windy summer's day as he watched a scrap of paper swirling in the breeze.
This provided the trigger for his story of a young woman who stumbles across a handwritten letter from the late 1800s contained within an old tin box. The letter told the story of a tragedy that unfolded at the time and how it then connected the lives of two women, but 171 years apart.
Quietly spoken with a warm, empathic nature, Steve Cooke was a highly regarded and dedicated senior officer who quietly left the Australian Federal Police in 2017 after a lengthy battle with post-traumatic stress disorder.
He has never "gone public" on his condition but found solace in his filmmaking and story-telling.
His own lived experience also provided the raw basis for The Blacksmith.
"When I got PTSD, I was in denial. I considered moving away [from Canberra] but my love of filmmaking saved me; it gave me a purpose and allowed me to use those mechanisms in the brain which were over-reactive, which I put to use in writing and telling stories on film," he said.
The Blacksmith tells the story of a cop who has PTSD and is pensioned out of the police force. He and his wife, a hard-headed academic, move to the country.
The historic home they purchase just happens to have an old blacksmith's workshop and forge from the 1840s.
When the ex-cop decides to fire up the blacksmith's forge again, that action generates some strange developments from the long-forgotten past.
"I started reading about blacksmith's superstitions and I ended up finding a lot of stuff from the UK which gave me these trigger points for ideas," he said.
"When the central character Jess starts to have these strange dreams and visions, I have tried to keep the audience guessing as to whether this is his PTSD or is something else entirely happening."
Far from daunted by shooting The Blacksmith through a freezing Canberra winter and COVID lockdown exemptions, Canberra's newest-oldest independent filmmaker already has two more projects on the go for 2023.
These include the filming Stephen King's ghostly short story Dedications, and the Kelly gang's siege at Glenrowan.
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