Above the Line with Tom Luse: Light from the Dead
By Oz Online | Published on July 13, 2017

There is a light in this man, Tom Luse, who shines among the darkest of narratives. Light, grace, and more than a little magic.

Tom Luse (center) may not have Andrew Lincoln’s rugged appeal, but he can make even a zombie smile. Photo credit: Gene Page/AMC

He will laugh when he reads this. Because Tom Luse assigns magic to those around him. He can name the names of men and women 47 years in his past who gifted him with this or that opportunity, taught him this or that wondrous lesson. Luse assigns credit to anyone other than himself. He seems unaware that he, like Robert McCammon’s hero in Boy’s Life, was born knowing magic and never, ever, lost that bright-eyed boy’s gift.

Even to the cognoscenti, “Tom Luse” may not be the first name that staggers to mind on the thermonuclear force that is The Walking Dead. Actors, walkers, brilliant aesthetics and wrenching despair–the sheer emotional freight of

the show doesn’t push the question: “How does all this come together?” How has The Walking Dead become the number one drama on television for 18-49-year-olds not just today, but for the past five years? That’s television history, per the researchers at AMC, dear hearts.

Even following season seven, when the series’ live-plus-same day average ratings posted its lowest since 2012, the

show stood head and shoulders over every entertainment show on television on broadcast as well as cable, per Variety. So much for the question of who sits on the Iron Throne.

Luse is an executive producer for The Walking Dead. He was the company’s first freelance hire as its line producer, but there was no production department to manage when he came aboard. He was literally Sheriff Rick Grimes clip-clopping alone into the haunted streets of Atlanta when he signed with the television company side of The Walking Dead project’s original group of legendary film and television writer/producer/directors: Frank Darabont and Gale Anne Hurd.

Andrew Lincoln (as Rick Grimes) is one of the most familiar faces in America today. Even with Zombies on screen, he commands attention. Photo credit: Gene Page/AMC

At that time, Darabont’s credits included The Shawshank Redemption, The Green Mile, and The Mist. Hurd’s included all three Terminator films, Aliens, and The Abyss. For such luminaries to seek out Luse to set up their operation speaks volumes about him that he won’t say about himself.

“Gale Anne and Frank were already working together at the time, and then they hired me,” said Luse. “Before we even shot the pilot, they ended up negotiating a budget and schedule for the first six episodes. We thought to ourselves, ‘this is great. We have six episodes!’ Not one of us ever dreamed the show would be the success it has been. The standard thinking was that a genre TV show would be the kiss of death.”

Luse was by no means new to the worlds of film and television production in Georgia or anywhere else by the time he met with Darabont and Hurd in late 2009. His filmography as a producer, production manager, or executive producer dates back to 1995 with titles such as Blue River, Remember the Titans, Jeepers Creepers 1&2, One Tree Hill, The Joneses, and The Collection.

But in a very real sense, Luse’s film career began years before that, here in Atlanta, on paths of learning he carved out with the help of friends. Most of those friends are still his friends. And like Luse, most of those friends would come to be known as legends—even giants—in the Atlanta film community. But at the time, it was mostly a lot of hard work and fun. You know: just like it is now.

There Are Schools. And There Are Teachers.

Though Luse isn’t Georgia-born, he’s Georgia-bred. But he’s of an age that he predated Georgia’s film school programs, much less its awareness of film as a career path. After spending a few years post-college working with disabled children, he headed to Georgia State University planning on a master’s in psychology.

“Growing up in Atlanta in the 60s and 70s, we never really thought we’d have actual real filmmaking to do,” he

pointed out. “I’d made a couple of home-movie type things, but never seriously thought about filmmaking until I went back to graduate school.”

That’s when he met Kay Beck. Beck was launching GSU’s film program with just a handful of courses and a few

curious students.

GSU’s embryonic film program is where Luse met lensman Lee Blasingame (then on GSU’s staff), and independent filmmaker Gary Moss (in GSU’s Educational Media Department). Luse also soon met independent filmmaker Bill VanDerKloot through Image Film and Video (founded in 1977 with Moss and later to become the Atlanta Film Society.)

Luse and Blasingame partnered to become the official videographers for the Atlanta Hawks games. With fellow GSU

students Gary Anderson and Kelly Mills, Luse produced videos for the still-famous “Love Shacking” B-52s from Athens. “We each gained a lot of experience from those side ventures,” says Luse.

Indeed: Lee Blasingame became one of the most respected camera assistants in the business. His credits include

Dances with Wolves, Crash, and Captain America: Civil War. Moss earned a 1988 Oscar nomination for the documentary Gullah Tales. Bill VanDerKloot heads his own film company and counts a Peabody among his hundreds of awards.