Jesse Warn’s filmmaking journey has involved its fair share of aeroplanes: from directing his first movie in Canada and editing it in London, to making commercials here and everywhere, to an extensive run of US television credits.
Many of Warn’s early screen ventures involved longtime friend Aaron Morton, who at the time was working his way up the ladder in the camera department of Xena: Warrior Princess. The 90s saw them collaborating on a run of music videos. Two became three when they paired up with producer Matthew Metcalfe, who found the cash to fund Warn’s early shorts 9 Across (starring Rena Owen) and Little Samurai, a tale of sushi and romance. Both shorts won nods at the NZ Film Awards.
The director’s fascination with puzzles and riddles had been evident in 9 Across, in which an escape from jail is tied up with a crossword puzzle. Warn developed this fascination further while writing feature script Paper Scissors Stone, in which a mysterious figure leaves a trail of clues which lead a young woman (played by Carly Pope) into dangerous territory. As the script was finetuned, Metcalfe began cold-calling Hollywood executives, mentioning they were going to be visiting town soon. A number of trips to North America later, the team finally signed a deal in stone — with Canadian company Lionsgate, in the days before The Hunger Games inspired even bigger dreams of theme parks.
Nemesis Game (as the project was now known) was shot in Canada in 28 days, for NZ $6 million. The cast included Rena Owen (as a crazed killer), Ian McShane (Deadwood), and Adrian Paul (who played Highlander on television). In the 2003 NZ Film Awards Nemesis Game was nominated for best film, director and script; it walked away with four awards, including one for Aaron Morton’s moody imagery.
Warn then directed a TV series which charted the rise of band Steriogram, and began a six year period concentrating on commercials. Among them were ads for varied liquids, including a reincarnation-inspired Tiger Beer spot which won him a Cannes Silver Lion. In 2011 Warn told Ad Media that he believed commercials presented directors with “one of the most challenging mediums there is. Consolidating a sharp, visually engaging story into 60 seconds or less is its own discipline, and requires a good instinct for what the audience will respond to.”
After Warn worked on a trailer for fantasy series Legend of the Seeker, Xena producer Rob Tapert tapped him to direct episodes of the series, then his follow-up project Spartacus. Warn’s contributions to the show included the season finale of Blood and Sand, and the debut of Gods of the Arena.
Spartacus opened doors to further television projects in the United States, many of a fantastical bent. The list includes episodes of True Blood, Riverdale, The Vampire Diaries and spin-off show The Originals— which features Kiwi actor Daniel Gillies —superhero shows Supergirl, Arrow and The Flash, and FBI series Criminal Minds.
Warn continues to fit in commercials for his Auckland-based company Glider Films, working alongside producer Jack Sainte-Rose. Among Glider’s projects are a feature film based on Ant Sang's graphic novel Shaolin Burning.
Glider Films website. Accessed 4 May 2016
Dan Kircher, 'method men' - Staple Issue 1, July 2003, page 24
Bonnie Summer, 'master weaver' (Interview with Matthew Metcalfe) - The Sunday Star-Times (Sunday pullout), 11 June 2006, page 20
Leesa Tilley, 'The story teller' (Interview) - AdMedia, 1 May 2011
'Jesse Warn' Westlake Boys High School website. Loaded 15 October 2013. Accessed 4 May 2016
'Nemesis Game to be released in Australia' - NZfilm Issue 70, March 2003, page 8