People with Passion: filmmaker Luke Peterson

People with Passion: Luke Peterson, filmmaker

Interview September 20, 2010

Click here for HIPSTERS movie teaser

Luke Peterson, 2009 (photo by Mike Mirza)

In 2009, lithe, lanky, mustachioed, pony-tailed filmmaker Luke Peterson began work on “Hipsters,” a full-length documentary that explores hipster culture and attempts to nail down an answer to that elusive question: “What is a hipster?”

After growing up in the Bay Area and attending high school in the Chicago suburbs, Peterson attended film school at Flashpoint Academy (now Tribeca Flashpoint Academy) before moving his operations to Los Angeles. We conducted this interview on Skype, Chicago to L.A….

In 2008 at North Park University, I was exposed to hipsters. That was the year that I really experienced Wicker Park and Bucktown. My fashion started changing. The music I listened to started changing. It’s a Swedish program, because North Park was basically founded by Swedes and Swedish-Americans.

These Swedes would come over for a one-semester exchange program, and they were just the hippest, coolest people you would ever imagine. They all come in wearing black skinny jeans with black Converse, Cheap Monday jacket, every color v-neck. Just the coolest-looking people ever. They even listen to hipper music than us, because they were on top of it with the internet. They have really good talent, like Peter Bjorn and John. They’re just like the one culture that I could pick out, even over French, that I feel sets trends. BDG is Swedish, Cheap Monday is Swedish, H&M is Swedish, Wesc is Swedish. H&M is like a Swedish Gap, you know? I mean, a Gap for hipsters, know what I mean?

What were you wearing at this point, and what were you listening to? Because I’ve only known Hipster Luke.

Pre-hipster Luke, 2007, senior in high school. ("I can supply a really funny picture of me... my jeans didn’t fit tight... they were looser...")

A lot of my style was inspired by [hip-hop] growing up. I have a bunch of basketball jerseys. I’ve got the long shorts. I’ve got Golden State tees. I’ve got Chicago Bulls tees. I’ve always been into fitted caps. Hip-hop style was an easy way to merge into hipster style, because hipster uses things from hip-hop style. Like, Nike SB’s are still tight if you’re a hipster, and New Era fitted caps are still tight too. And if you just grow a mustache, throw on some skinny jeans and start wearing v-necks (smiles), it’s like a hybrid-fashion. I really drew to that. Because I’m not the kind of guy who should be wearing hip-hop-type clothes. I never really overdid it, but it was kind of a nice in between –

Why do you say that you’re not that person?

Because I’m skinny. (Laughs.) Skinny jeans look good on these skinny legs. And I’m a tall, lanky guy, and tall tees don’t look good on me.

I went to North Park and met all of these Swedes. I met this one guy Erik Olesund, and he’s back in Sweden, and he goes to Stockholm a lot, and he works in a camera rental shop. He has the same cameras that we’re shooting on for the USA part of the documentary. Globalizing this documentary was a goal of mine from the get-go. In my very first treatment to Peter Hawley[1], I mentioned the opportunity to possibly examining Swedish culture not from far away, or even a bird’s eye view, but from right up front with a guy speaking Swedish and asking people questions in English and Swedish. It’s going to be a great mixing of cultures, and it’s going to be interesting to see how Swedish hipsters differ from Americans, and maybe even what they think of us, what they think of us borrowing some of their style – not even just in terms of clothing: lots of hipsters furnish their apartments with Ikea because it’s cheap, it’s simple, and it looks nice. These people just have an eye for what’s hip and what’s cool, and America loves it.

We started in Chicago, straight up. October 2009 we just went at it. We strapped a camera to the top of our car and drove around Wicker Park. We interviewed people. We put out Craigslist ads. We did the nitty-gritty doc stuff. Just getting the hang of it. Just to realize what we’re doing.

From Chicago, I took a little bit of a break. We filmed a lot. John[2] and I took a break, and then we got some funding to go to New York. And we got up on that. We went to Maryland first. We interviewed these crazy dudes who call themselves hipsters, who you’ll just have to see. They are hilarious. And we got some great footage of them riding Fixies down big Maryland hills –


Fixed gear bikes. As hipsters call them, “Fixies.” We drove to Maryland dazed and confused, got to Maryland on no sleep, and drove straight to Brooklyn from Maryland. Got there at night. Checked out a lot of sweet stuff. We saw Williamsburg[3] up in front, and met, not met, (laughs) observed hipsters. We were like a hipster guerilla crew. We were shooting out of the car with two cameras, observing them like they were –

You were saying “guerrilla,” but I was about to call you Hipster Jane Goodalls.

Yeah, right? (Laughs.) I didn’t have quite the emotional attachment that she had to her animals, but we definitely had a blast just filming out of the windows, and seeing hipsters everywhere, hipster children and families. I definitely thought it was Mecca. And I want to go back. If we have time for it, who knows.

Peterson in L.A., showing off his American Spirits during our Skype interivew.

We saw Times Square too. Had fun over there. Got some New Yorky b-roll. Then I got back to Chicago, we shot a little more. After a few months of filming, I graduated from film school and decided to take it out west. Moved out here to Los Angeles, California, and I’ve had an opportunity to film for a couple weekends. We’ve got crews set up in L.A., Sweden, and Chicago. We’re still filming in Chicago. I’m probably coming out there in November or December, to film the finale.

What kind of other coverage in film has there been on hipsters? Doc coverage…

There have been some little student documentaries. I think there’s one by a high school kid on Vimeo. There’s a couple things that go through the basic definition of a hipster. It’s basically stereotypes stringed together in an edit of people saying “Skinny jeans” and “PBR” and blah blah blah blah blah. There’s nothing out there that really reveals a truly investigated definition through a scholarly approach by using a scholar – we are setting up an interview with a professor out here very soon…

There hasn’t been something that’s gone in depth. There hasn’t been something that’s gone in multiple cities. There hasn’t been something that’s gone to multiple countries. We are trying to cover this better than anybody out there. I have hopes of this being the hipster documentary, and not just one of the hipster documentaries.

I learned that filmmaking isn’t a one-person task. I thought, end-all-be-all, I can do it all on my own. And I still could, but it wouldn’t be the best product. With the help of John Mokhtarei, and D.J. Karner, and Katie Holland, and Andy Fink, and everybody at Flashpoint, and Danny Crook… I mean, the list goes on and on of people who have helped. Adam Gacka was a huge supporter of this documentary and still is. These are all Chicago-rooted people, people who have trusted me and seen my abilities and put their time and even money to help me out. And even you, man. It’s been an awesome opportunity.

Filmmaking is not a one-person job. If you try to make it that, it’s overwhelming. I’ve been there. I’ve sat with this footage all by myself for sleepless nights, just watching it over and over and over. You don’t even know how hard it is to edit yourself. I look like a buffoon, you know? But there are people along the way that will really support you and help you out. They see it as an equal opportunity to better themselves, and that in itself is a huge compliment.

Definitely in this process I’ve learned that you should grasp new technologies as quick as you can. John and I realized that the 7D was the camera to shoot on, and we tried our best, and with the help of Katie we were able to get it. That camera saved this documentary. Because John and I, whenever we had the urge to shoot, we’d shoot. It’s an amazing camera.

I’m learning how to tell a story. And that is probably the most valuable lesson, because this is going to help me make really good content. “Hipsters” is not the only thing. There are many projects brewing…

Jack M Silverstein is a freelance writer covering music, culture, and sports in Chicago. His People with Passion interview series can be found here. Contact him at, or say hey at twitter/readjack or facebook/readjack.

Stay tuned for the upcoming release of HIPSTERS!

Check out the original HIPSTERS teaser on Vimeo

Luke Peterson on Vimeo

John Mokhtarei on Vimeo

[1] Chair of film department at Flashpoint Academy; Peterson began hipster doc in Hawley’s documentary class.

[2] Fellow filmmaker John Mokhtarei. Luke: “My DP, co-producer, co-director. Just an awesome dude. He’s the best.”

[3] A neighborhood in Brooklyn known for its hipster culture.


2 Replies to “People with Passion: filmmaker Luke Peterson”

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