GUARDIAN Featurette: Filming The Dinner Scene
Independent Films, Trailers, Documentaries
A brief behind the scenes look at the filming of a crucial dinner in Ben Warner's second feature film GUARDIAN.
Transcripts / Production notes / Scripts
The genesis of Guardian, a tradition that has emerged during the making of all of Ben Warner’s previous films, occurred while Warner was shooting his first feature film, Breaking Point.
“The ‘Breaking Point’ experience really was a voyage into the unknown,” says Warner. “Being the company’s first independent, privately produced and funded full-length feature project, none of us knew what we could pull off, and for me, given the limited resources I had at my disposal, I didn’t know whether or not I could make a feature-length film and make it to the same high standard which I expect to see whenever I watch any movie at the cinema.
“Then I had a few strokes of luck. The original two lead actresses had to pull out due to other commitments, but I found two new actresses who were perfectly suited to the roles. I was granted access to a number of locations which I didn’t think I was going to get, and everything in general just fell in to place perfectly.
“At about the half-way mark of the shoot, I started thinking to myself, ‘Aren’t I lucky?’ Everything turned out right and I couldn’t have asked for anything more. It was at this point that I started to think, was it luck, or was it fate? And that’s where the inspiration for ‘Guardian’ emerged; do things happen at random or do they happen by design? I found that an intriguing concept and felt it was worthy of examination in a feature film.”
As it turned out, Breaking Point was further “guided” to a very successful premiere night opening with numerous corporate sponsors supporting the event and attended by distinguished guests from the political, media, corporate, fashion and film industry sectors.
“The first time you do anything it can be a little daunting, whether its shooting a feature film or coordinating a launch where hundreds of people will be reacting to your work,” Warner continues. “But when everything works, it’s the best feeling in the world. Although you go on to meet new challenges, that first experience gives you that grounding confidence to take on any new project, and on that basis, the production of Guardian had a special sense of excitement attached to it.”
Although Warner had begun formulating the story for Guardian during the production of Breaking Point, pre-production and scripting did not begin in earnest until after the Breaking Point Premiere. The first step was to finalise the final draft of the script, which Warner had to complete within the six weeks prior to casting.
“Speed-typing is a great virtue to have!” Warner enthuses. “With a great deal of persistence and some help from my producers, I was able to put together a screenplay that I feel proud to have written. It contains many of the elements that make me enthusiastic about making movies, and what got me interested in them in the first place.”
With the script in place, the next phase of pre-production began with casting. To attract a wide variety of talent, producer Michael Clarkin coordinated a general casting call.
“When we were ready, I faxed the local paper and they ran an article in their Weekend Edition,” Clarkin explains. “I received hundreds of calls. My phone was running hot right up until and after those audition sessions. On the first day of casting, hundreds of people showed up. In the end we got through about a hundred of those, but to get through the rest we had to schedule another session for the following week. Overall we saw about eighty-five percent of the people that had turned up the first day. It was an exhausting process, but we did achieve our goal of attracting a wide variety of talent.”
The film’s lead male role had already been cast even before the script had been written. Andrew Cienciala (Russell Jackson) had a small role in Breaking Point and also served as an extra in an office scene. “From what Ben was telling me,” Cienciala recalls, “he saw me in the (office) suit and said, maybe this guy’s right for the next film! He got in contact with me when he was putting Guardian together, and that was it.”
“I was impressed with Andy’s professionalism and dedication during ‘Breaking Point’,” Warner explains. “He only had a small role but he really prepared well for it and as a director I’m always looking for actors that are going to give you something special. Their work ethic shows that they’re going to give you all that they’ve got and not just what’s adequate. That not only makes my job easier, but it also makes for an enjoyable working environment, and of course it benefits the project.”
The remaining roles were cast from those actors who attended the general casting call. Katherine Marie Hunter (Nicole Jackson) recalls the auditioning process, "I saw an article in the paper and I thought I might go down and check it out. There was a hundred people there which was a little daunting to say the least but nevertheless I got my opportunity to do a cold read. I then received a call a couple of days later for another audition and then after that I got the role!"
Charlotte Hogan (Carla Morgan) recalls, “when I saw the audition in the paper, I went along and when I heard that there was a character that was a forensic psychologist I was very, very interested. I'm a medical doctor in real life and the chance to play a character that was very close to home for me seemed perfect!"
Locations for the shoot were next to be organised, and some of the locations used in Breaking Point were re-used in Guardian, albeit different sections to give the film a different look to its predecessor. The Physiotherapy and Occupational Therapy Departments of The Queen Elizabeth Hospital granted the production access to its facilities, namely the treatment areas where the counselling centre scenes take place. Provideo Systems and AON Insurance jointly became the work place of Russell Jackson and the Barr-Smith Library at the University of Adelaide was the setting for the opening scene of the film between Nicole and her best friend Vicki.
“All of those locations were great, both for their purpose in the story and logistically,” Warner explains. “Being a privately funded production, I have to use locations that are extremely practical, yet still be dramatically interesting.”
One of the locations called for in the script was a Conservation Park where Nicole encounters Rachel for the first time. This particular location had to be just right to provide the quality of eerieness that the scenes required.
“A month or two prior to shooting,” Warner recalls, “I was talking with Andy over the phone about his character and the conversation drifted towards the conservation park setting. I hadn’t yet found anything that was suitable. Andy started telling me about this great pine forest up at Mount Crawford that would be perfect for the movie. I drove up there with him and as soon as I saw it all doubt disappeared. Mount Crawford was a spectacular location visually, and logistically it was perfect because no one would be around to disturb us. It was a win-win situation. The only problem was that it would take us two hours to drive there and two hours back for each shooting day which required a bit of preparation with everyone that was required to be on set those days, but in the end it wasn’t that hard.”
PJ O’Brien’s Irish Bar provided its second floor bar for the scene where Russell encounters Rachel. “That scene is important in the story because it demonstrates that Rachel isn’t just a figment of Nicole’s imagination... she is much more than that,” Warner explains. “The setting had to provide the right elements of class and distinction and PJ’s did that and more.”
“The bar scene set at PJ’s gave us a great opportunity to gain support from a number of corporate sponsors in the form of product placement,” Clarkin explains. “As it’s only natural to see logos in a bar, we were able to incorporate a number of brands in to the film without interfering with Ben’s artistic vision for the project.”
The diverse locations helped give the production a grand scale. The story travels through the lush and beautiful outdoor setting of Mount Crawford Pine Forest, to the corporate business world of entrepeneur Russell Jackson, to the clinical setting of forensic psychologist Carla Morgan’s counselling centre, and also to Russell’s beautiful large home in the foothills of the city and Nicole’s University, amongst others.
Another asset for the 'look' of the production came when both “Cue Design” and “Miss Gladys Sym Choon” contributed some of their extensive line of clothes for the wardrobe department.
“When I read the bar scene in the script, Rachel really needed to have a stand-out dress,” Clarkin recalls. “I went to see Razak, head designer at Miss Gladys Sym Choon. He agreed to design a spectacular red dress for the character of Rachel. He also provided wardrobe to other cast members taking part in that scene from his personal label. On a production like ours, where we didn’t have the funding to spend on expensive wardrobe yet required glamorous costumes for crucial scenes, the support of Razak and Cue Design proved to be invaluable.”
Cue Design provided for Carla Morgan’s character, who required a very professional, business look to make her believable as a forensic psychologist.
“Working in film means creating a world that an audience can totally believe in,” Warner explains. “It’s hard when you don’t have the money to have the freedom to do absolutely everything you want, but it’s amazing what you can get when you put your mind to it and you have people willing to help you. The contributions from Cue Design and Miss Gladys Sym Choon were invaluable in establishing the right look for certain characters in ‘Guardian’.”
Gaining support for the production was one of those important steps forward in establishing a solid foundation for DIGICOSM’s productions. “You can never have enough support,” Clarkin says with enthusiasm. “Everything we get serves to make our films that much better and that’s the most important thing.”
The pre-production period passed without incident. “Everything came together fairly quickly,” Warner says. “The two month pre-production period was intensive; in retrospect I would have liked to have had a bit longer but all of the details were organised in advance of the production which gave me the freedom to shoot the film without too many headaches."
Day One of the shoot saw the production move to the Physiotherapy Department at The Queen Elizabeth Hospital where a dream sequence involving Carla and Rachel was set. The scene proved pivotal for the production as its tone and quality demonstrated the next step Warner wanted to take in dramatising a story for the screen.
“’Breaking Point’ had a more bland look, which suited the film because it was about the monotony of everyday life,” Warner explains. “’Guardian’ on the other hand delves in to the complexities of human relationships and I wanted the visuals to be as diverse as possible. To that end I set up several shots in Carla’s dream sequence that were almost gothic in nature, and that proved to separate ‘Guardian’ from my previous films right from the start of production. I approached every scene from then on in this way; moving towards mood rather than portraying the set exactly as it would appear in real life.”
A flashback scene showing the first meeting of Carla Morgan and Russell Jackson provided some amusement for both cast and crew.
“We were filming the scene between Carla and Russell when one of his taglines emerged,” Warner explains. “Carla asks Russell if he’s sorted out his untrustworthy employees to which he responds, ‘it’s been dealt with.’ Andy delivered that line with such an arrogant tone that for the rest of the day everyone was conjuring up these images of Russell having an army of henchmen that dispose of those people that cross him by dropping them off the end of a jetty with concrete boots... he is a powerful businessman after all.”
Cienciala had more fun with the bar scene. “The bar in the film didn’t have a name,” Warner explains, “so Andy named it RJ’s after the initials of his character. Who’s to know anyway?”
Mount Crawford proved to be an excellent location, and so did the weather. “Except for the shooting days, every day during that period was either raining or miserable,” Clarkin explains. “Was it a coincidence or was it meant to be?”
An interesting challenge arose during the shoot at Mount Crawford that no one could have predicted.
“Each shoot day up in the forest required four hours of driving,” Warner says. “In the week leading up to the second phase of the shoot at Mount Crawford, there was a petrol shortage which led to rationing of fuel to motorists. I started worrying that I wasn’t going to be able to get everyone up there, and even if we did make it there, that we wouldn’t be able to get back! Steve (producer) had just enough petrol to get back home! You’ve got to laugh about these things though. There’s always something that doesn’t go according to plan.”
Fittingly, the final scene scheduled for the shoot was the final scene of the film. “It was a simple half day of work and a relatively straight-forward way to end what was a successful shoot,” Warner says. “It only amounted to around six set-ups which weren’t overtly complicated.
“During the production, everyone rose to the challenge of making a film of high standard, and for me, I feel I’ve stretched myself further again to tell a story that is better than any I have done before. As an artist that’s what I constantly strive for and I don’t feel satisfied unless I’ve done that. The Guardian production took me to a new level and is another positive step forward in my filmmaking career.”
Year of Production: 2002