1 September 2023

Realities of budget filmmaking: Canberra crew dismantles entire set in 15 minutes to beat storm

| Travis Radford
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Bryan Dawson plays Mason in 5 Eyes.

Bryan Dawson plays Mason, one of four public servants forced to face the horrors which escape the government facility where they work. Photos: Mikey J. Watson.

It’s about 7 pm at Canberra Technology Park in Watson when an electrical storm strikes the set of public service themed horror-thriller series 5 Eyes.

What happens next demonstrates the realities of filming on a budget without access to a dedicated studio and the consequences of risks taken which not only don’t pay off – but backfire.

The Bureau of Meteorology issues a warning for severe thunderstorms earlier that day, but the Academy of Interactive Entertainment (AIE) students behind the series decide to take a calculated risk. They’re midway through more than a fortnight of shooting for the series, which is on a strict end-of-year deadline, and need to shoot its penultimate fifth episode before it can be edited.

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Tonight, the four public servants which the series follows are set to attempt to gain access to a supercomputer powering the government facility in outback Australia where they work.

To make matters worse, they’re trying to evade escaped supernatural monsters lurking around the facility, which itself is being threatened with potential nuclear annihilation.

But while the actors and crew are breaking for dinner ahead of the shoot, the storm begins. Filming lights taped to the roof are unstuck by moisture and water gushes out of drain pipes pointing directly towards the wooden set pieces. In an instant, an all-hands-on-deck race against the clock begins to dismantle the film set, which has been set up in a semi-exposed external corridor.

Award-winning film producer and AIE trainer Dan Sanguineti says it’s an example of the realities of filmmaking, but also reveals the potential benefits offered by AIE’s planned purpose-built (and weather-protected) film studio. “When you’ve got limited time and resources, you’re going to try and make your film happen no matter what,” Dan explains. “And today it just didn’t happen.”

None of the internal corridors at Canberra Technology Park, the former site of Watson High School, are wide enough to set up as the corridor leading to the fictional supercomputer.

But the wider external corridors near the public high school’s old quadrangle fit the bill. “The architecture fits within their design aesthetic, which is the brutalist look and feel,” Dan says.

“It wasn’t Plan A to film out here under this corridor area, but it was one of the options that has worked and they get that experience of having to bump into a space using temporary structures.”

The DIY-d corridor is a far cry from a couple of months ago when the crew began filming inside the Australian National University’s Manning Clark Hall as past of the Uncharted Territory festival.

That set-up included a small, highly manoeuvrable crane that could move a film camera in advanced sequences called a Technodolly and a curved LED virtual production screen that could display computer graphics in real time. Back at Canberra Technology Park however, no room in the former high school is large enough to accommodate both pieces of technology in the same space.

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Actor Bryan Dawson, who plays timid pencil-pushing public servant Mason, says shooting at ANU makes everything come to life for him a lot more.

“That was a huge step up for me because my past experience up until now has been a small skeleton crew of four students and one camera,” he says.

“I know it’s an actor’s job to imagine and pretend but having that there really took a massive weight off, not just my shoulders, but everyone else there on the day.”

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Daniel O'CONNELL12:59 pm 03 Sep 23

Apparently this film was panned by critics in the USA but proved very popular with movie-goers.

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