When it came time to film his extraordinary new NITV series The Beach, director and sole star Warwick Thornton had only one person in mind behind the camera: son Dylan River.
River is creator and director on acclaimed SBS series Robbie Hood, but has also worked as camera operator on his father’s projects Mystery Road and Sweet Country.
The Beach is an exile project for Thornton, filmed over a month at a lone beachside shack in Jilirr, Dampier Peninsula, two hours north of Broome. According to River, there was a therapeutic aspect to the project, giving it a good narrative as a series.
“It was the right time to do it. We were going to shoot Mystery Road and he wanted to get back on the straight and narrow and have a little bit of time to himself, so he thought ‘This is the best time to make this idea that I’ve got,'” River explains.
“I got attached to the project, probably in the last six months. He said ‘I’m doing this thing and I want you to be there. I want you to film it.'”
The crew comprised just 4 people, including Thornton, in a purpose-built shack with natural light and no power.
“It was absolutely epic,” River recalls.
“There wasn’t really a script. There was just a list of dishes that he wanted to cook.”
“In shooting this we had very little structure. We knew we’re going to be on the beach in a shack. We found a location but once we were there, there wasn’t really a script. There was just a list of dishes that he wanted to cook.
“It was a very meditative shoot in that we would just take each day as it comes.”
Indeed, while the series centres around Thornton, the land and an off-the-grid existence, River describes it as a lifestyle show. While his father is famous for his screen work, his skill in cooking is less-widely known.
“He watches very little films. I think he’s over watching cinema, so he actually watches a lot of those cooking shows! To me, it seems completely bonkers, that he would do that. But he watches cooking shows to switch off and to energise himself to survive and create,” he explains.
“He never likes to do something that you’ve seen before.”
“People have said, ‘You should do a cookbook, you should do a cooking show.’ His nickname is Wok and that’s for good reason. He loves Asian cooking and feeding people.
“He learned to cook, because of the film crews he works with. It was a way of giving back.
“But it’s taken him many years for him to realise what kind of show it could be. In true Warwick Thornton style, he never likes to do something that you’ve seen before. He always likes to challenge audiences, and that’s what we see with The Beach.”
A cooking show it may be, but River’s photography brings the feel of a nature documentary, filmed in an IMAX format, using ultra-wide, ultra-high definition 8k.
Such is the serious, collegiate way in which this father and son approach their work.
“We have a second-hand way of communicating”
“I feel we have a second-hand way of communicating. Sometimes that can turn into an argument because we’re pretty strong-willed and we both have a creative vision. It’s very hard for me to just do exactly what he wants. It’s also hard for him to just let me do whatever I want,” River admits.
“So we’re just trying to find the balance constantly, but I think in caring about what we’re making we both push each other to make everything we work on the best it can be. I think we’ll continue to do that into the future.”
SBS and NITV will screen all 6×30 minute episodes back to back in a “Slow TV” marathon 7:30pm Friday.