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Hollywood producer Jason Lust on his Highland love affair

Film producer Jason Lust, whose credits include Academy Award-winning Guillermo Del Toro's Pinocchio and The Walking Dead, reveals why jetting over from Hollywood to mentor students in the Highlands is so important to him

Hollywood producer Jason Lust at the  Inverness UHI Campus. Image: Sandy McCook.
Hollywood producer Jason Lust at the Inverness UHI Campus. Image: Sandy McCook.

Hollywood film producer Jason Lust talks to Jacqueline Wake Young about his mentorship work with students that brings him to the Highlands and Islands and offers a glimpse into what it’s like to work in Tinsel Town.

He lives in the Hollywood Hills but Jason Lust’s heart is in the Scottish Highlands as he continues his work as mentor to students aiming for a career in the creative industries.

“This is the most meaningful part of life, in my view, when you can help others reach their respective goals, and when those goals align with your own it’s even more meaningful,” said Jason, who now travels to the Highlands regularly.

FutureCreative initiative

Jason is involved in a unique programme for creative industry students at the University of the Highlands and Islands in a region that has provided inspiration for the Harry Potter films, Skyfall and more.

The FutureCreative initiative is a partnership between the university and the XpoNorth Digital programme from Highlands and Islands Enterprise.

Hollywood producer Jason Lust at the Inverness UHI Campus. Image: Sandy McCook.

He said: “I want to be a part of helping this community advance this cause with the skills I’ve developed and honed over time.”

“There are so many opportunities to explore and be excited about. I’m genuinely excited to pull up the hood with some of the collaborators I’m working with and see what needs tuning up and enhancing!”

A New Yorker born and raised, Jason now lives in Laurel Canyon, West Hollywood – home to writers, artists, musicians and movie stars down the years, from Joni Mitchell to Jack Nicolson.

“I first visited the Highlands prior to the pandemic,” he said. “It was truly one of the most spirited encounters I’ve had with a new culture and place.

“I was inspired and wanted to return as soon as I left, so I am delighted to be back.

Guillermo del Toro’s Pinocchio, for which Jason Lust was executive producer, won the Oscar for Best Animated Feature. Image: Netflix.

He said the film and television industry is his “third career and the one I’ve loved the most”.

“I’m very passionate about storytelling in film and other media. It means the world to me to communicate with other people and to try to make art that is universally appreciated.

Lost to Hollywood

“I produced my first feature film called The Waiting Game (Will Arnette’s first feature leading role) in 1999 while I was doing a Master’s degree with a focus on Film Theory at NYU.

“Then I decided to do a Master’s degree at USC in producing while finishing my second feature film, Cement, with Jeffrey Wright and Chris Penn.

“After these experiences, I was forever lost to Hollywood, and from then on was focussed on fulfilling my dream of working in the industry.”

The Waiting Game “was intense making it and after we did I just wanted to do it again”.

Jacobite steam train crossing the Glenfinnan Viaduct provided inspiration for the Hogwarts Express scenes. Image: Shutterstock.

“While I was completing my Masters at USC we made a short film graduation project called Blue Haven in 2000.

“It was a gay themed love story set in the skateboarding backdrop of Southern California Blue Haven pools. We wound up selling this to HBO for a lot of money for a short film, which was a great result too.”

Academy Award-winning film

Jason was executive producer of the Academy Award-winning film Guillermo Del Toro’s Pinocchio and has been involved with Ron Howard’s first animated movie, The Shrinking Of Treehorn.

He is co-founder of Circle of Confusion, a management and production company whose credits include acclaimed series Work In Progress and The Walking Dead.

Jeffrey Dean Morgan on the film set of The Walking Dead: Dead City, in New York City. Image: Steve Sands/NewYorkNewswire/Bauer-Griffin/Shutterstock

Listing his career highlights he said: “Securing the initial financing for and later launching Pinnochio and then the film winning the Academy Award for Best Animated Feature was very rewarding.

“I’m really proud of Whip It, Drew Barrymore’s directorial debut, which I also launched with the screenwriter.

“I’m also super proud of Alexander and the Terrible Horrible No Good Very Bad Day. Despite the film needing Steve Carell and Jennifer Aniston to get greenlit, the young lead boy was the star.”

“I also am involved in an animated film currently called The Immortal, which I’m calling a fable for our times which has an anti-Ukranian war theme.”

Jason Lust joins others at the launch in Inverness of the FutureCreative initiative in October last year. Image: Sandy McCook / DC Thomson.

‘Build your unique vision’

Jason said he hopes to give his students “the confidence to build their own voices in unique and diverse ways and to pursue them with conviction and focus”.

His advice is: “Always value your voice and listen carefully to others. Then build your own unique vision from a composite of experience gained from digging through the earth and life for nuggets of wisdom and enlightened stories.”

He said Hollywood is “intense, challenging and exciting” and unforgettable moments include: “Seeing Louis Malle’s last movie, Vanya On 42nd Street, with John Guare, Andre Gregory, Louis Malle and a few others in a small screening room in NYC.

“It was a group of friends gathering to see and give notes to their friend and it was so nonchalant that it was incredibly reassuring and humbling to me as a fly in the room.”

Glen Etive provided the atmospheric landscape for James Bond film Skyfall. Image: Shutterstock.

So, has Jason met a lot of famous people?

“Yes, too many to reflect, on but a Hollywood movie star is always exciting to meet. There’s generally a good reason why they’re a star and it’s always interesting to dispel one’s perception of a star if given that opportunity.

“Also, the star thing always needs to be kept in serious check in my opinion.”

And what are his own plans and dreams for the future?

“Take it all in my stride and day by day and keep pushing that ball up the hill like Sisyphus and make some more great films if time and life permits. My producing instinct won’t accept no for an answer.”