Luke Graham, son of former Kiwis captain Mark, is a Queensland-based filmmaker who is producing Broke, the redemptive story of a former rugby league great who has fallen on hard times because of a gambling addiction.
Graham based the film's main character, played by Steve Le Marquard, partly on his father, while also incorporating the tragic stories of other former players, such as Newcastle Knights star Owen Craigie, and current Parramatta Eels halfback Chris Sandow, whose lives and careers have been affected by gambling.
Graham, with friend and Broke director Heath Davis, wrote a script containing topical and timely themes which confront, not just league players, but people from all walks of life. Broke also examines how league players are affected by fame and fortune during their often short playing careers and how they deal with what can be a difficult transition into retirement and life after football.
"Both Heath and I came from rugby league families and backgrounds and played it our whole lives," Graham explains. "The idea was to have someone who falls from grace, goes through hard times and comes out good the other end.
"I've heard a lot of stories about these types of people and the journeys they had to go through mentally to get past rugby league to find who they are. They're born and bred to do one thing and it only lasts for a certain number of years and then what do you do? What do you do after that? That's the kind of question we like to pose and like to delve into."
Film from Mark's playing days is being included in the movie, and his collection of jerseys and newspaper clippings from throughout his career help give the film added authenticity.
The thriving industrial town of Gladstone provides the film's setting, and the story takes place in the 1980s.
"When we found the location I said 'let's do it on dad'. Dad's a hard worker, he likes getting out there and doing something and he's transitioned very easily into life afterwards because he was never interested in any limelight. He was just interested in playing footy and being the best he can.
"Dad is obviously a very well-structured human being and would never gamble but I really wanted to show my father, my family, on the big screen. To be able to base it on a player who was once one of the best of all time and then his fall from grace. That part of it, one of the best players of all time, is obviously based on dad and it's great to be able to do that."
As for the tragic side of the story, Craigie is working with the filmmakers and drawing on his own experiences to promote awareness of the project and encouraging education, within rugby league circles and beyond, about gambling addiction.
"This could be Owen Craigie's story. Look at Chris Sandow, he's a young man who it's happening to right as we speak and he's fighting his demons. It is a disease and you have to tread lightly around people. Owen is someone who has gone through the other end and he's happy to be here and help.
"For the first time in the history of the NRL, they've decided to stand by a film with an obviously important message for people. They're very supportive and we're going to be doing some educational videos and promotions around the film and the NRL."
Proud father Mark says his career as a part-time footballer left little time for outside or illicit distractions.
"We were all workers. Sunday we played footy and on Monday morning we got up and went to work and that afternoon we'd train. Tuesday we got up and did the same thing, Wednesday was a free day, Thursday we most probably trained. This was all after work. We did our family things on Saturday and mowed the lawns and then on Sunday we'd go and smash ourselves again," he said. "There were some guys that it's happened to but there's people in any line of sport that you could apply this to."
Luke hopes Broke will prompt people to consider the place gambling has in rugby league, and also Australian culture and society.
"It's the culture of the Australian man. What are you doing Saturday? You go to the TAB and you have some beers, you gamble with your mates and go to the pub. It goes hand in hand like having a cigarette with a beer. I certainly think Australia has an addiction to gambling, especially around rugby league."