He’s been the face of Forum 6 since 2007, but the colourful and star-studded journey that led Craig Lucas to the Wagga cinema’s top job began on the other side of the world more than 30 years ago.
Born and bred in Parramatta, Craig completed his trade as a diesel mechanic in Sydney and went on to study engineering before working as a manufacturing supervisor with a large mining company.
His life took an unexpected turn in the late 80s, when a world tour landed him in London where a mate introduced him to the cinema game. Two years later, he was running his own cinema at Ayr on the west coast of Scotland – and loving it.
Craig said it was never something he set out to do, but once he got into the industry, he was hooked.
“I loved it and have never really thought about getting back into mining or engineering,” he said.
“There’s something special about working in cinema – it just gets in your blood.”
Those first few years in Scotland were exciting times for Craig, who seated Princess Margaret at a movie premiere, lunched with Sir David Attenborough during a promotional event for the film Medicine Man starring Sean Connery, and he also met the original Darth Vader, bodybuilder David Prowse, who wandered in with his family to catch a show.
“When I was seating Princess Margaret at the Odeon in Edinburgh, she turned around and said, ‘Oh, you’re Australian’, and I went ‘Yes’,” he laughed. “I didn’t know what else to say.
“I can’t even remember what the film was, but it was in the early 90s.
“Sir Richard had lunch with all the Odeon managers in Scotland and, being the absolute gentleman that he is, he was going around the table meeting everyone and when he got to me, he also said, ‘Oh, an Australian’ … We really were the flavour of the month in the UK at that time.”
Craig recalled answering the phone while cashing up late one night when the Scots were “going nuts” and flocking to see the Braveheart blockbuster on the silver screen, only to hear the familiar voice of Sydney Triple M radio host Jonathan Coleman on the line.
“I think he called at random, expecting to get a red-hot Scotsman on the phone who would talk about killing the English in the streets, but instead he got a level-headed Australian, so it kind of backfired for him. It was really bizarre,” Craig said.
During his nine years in Scotland, Craig also ran a cinema in Aberdeen and met the love of his life, his wife Elaine. The couple moved back to Australia in 1999 and Craig worked at an independent cinema in Bathurst before relocating to Wagga and taking up the role as general manager at Forum 6 Cinemas in 2007.
Craig loves working in a “happy environment” where people just want to spend time together and enjoy themselves.
“Cinema is about that shared experience. Sitting there in front of a big screen, with big sound and an audience around you with no distractions,” he said.
“We’re social animals and we like to share experiences like that – as a collective – that’s what cinema is all about.”
He says, movie streaming has its place – just like video rentals and buying DVDs have over the years – but “cinema will be cinema, just like it has been for 100 years”.
“People will never tire of the big screen experience.”
Craig recalled some incredible moments at Forum 6, including the time brothers Shane and Clayton Jacobson wheeled in for the premiere of Brothers’ Nest in 2018. After breaking his ankle at the Monaco grand prix, Shane was literally wheeled off the tour bus into the cinema in a wheelchair for the event.
Craig said, by far one of the most memorable events at Forum 6 was the premiere of Backyard Ashes which was made in Wagga and released in 2013.
“It was huge. We had the big premiere here – it was brilliant,” he said. “I’ve been to royal premieres, even in the UK, but this was great fun.”
Being a Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) town, he said last year’s launch of Top Gun was massive, with four cinemas sold out to RAAF personnel. But he expects the latest hit, Barbie, to top it at the box office.
So, after more than 30 years in the game, does Craig have a favourite movie of all time? He said the original Dune film, that he saw at Valhalla Cinema in Sydney in the 1980s, was top of his list and he watched it on DVD a couple of times a year.
“I love the new Dune Part 1 that was released at the end of last year, but there’s just something about the original one. The special effects are rubbish compared to today’s standards, but the music was outstanding. I enjoy watching it again and again,” he said.
Forum 6 supports community organisations, sporting clubs and charity groups by hosting regular fundraising premieres, while Craig has been involved with many local organisations while raising his kids in Wagga, including netball, dance and athletics clubs.
When he’s not seating princesses, chatting to Star Wars characters or serving popcorn, Craig enjoys motorsports, and loves nothing more than watching the Formula One grand prix in Melbourne, or overseas, when he can.
After doing it tough during the COVID-19 lockdowns, he said patrons had flocked back to the big screen in droves, keen to get out with friends and family for that traditional cinema experience.
If you haven’t been to the movies for a while, why not head to Forum 6 Cinemas and check the latest box office hits. And, while you’re there, be sure to grab a homemade choc-top ice cream!