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 a long run of television credits in the United States.
Many of Warn’s early screen ventures involved longtime friend Aaron Morton, who was then working his way up the ladder in the camera department of Xena: Warrior Princess. In the 1990s the duo collaborated 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 and Little Samurai, a tale of sushi and romance. Both shorts won nods at the NZ Film Awards.
Warn's fascination with puzzles and riddles was evident in 9 Across, in which a prison escape is tied up with a crossword puzzle. Warn developed his interest further while writing movie script Paper Scissors Stone, in which a mysterious figure leaves a trail of clues which lead a young woman into danger. As the script was finetuned, Metcalfe began cold-calling Hollywood executives, mentioning they were going to be in Los Angeles soon. A number of trips to North America later, the team finally signed a concrete deal — with Canadian company Lionsgate, in the days before The Hunger Games took it higher.
Nemesis Game (as the project was now known) was shot in Canada in 28 days, for NZ $6 million. The cast included Canadian Carly Pope, Rena Owen (as a crazed killer), Ian McShane (Deadwood), and Adrian Paul (star of TV series Highlander). At 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 images.
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 various liquids, including a reincarnation-inspired Tiger Beer spot which won him a Cannes Silver Lion. In 2011 Warn told Ad Media that he believed adverts 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, plus Tapert's 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 had a fantastical bent. The list includes episodes of True Blood, Riverdale, and Vampire Diaries spin-off The Originals— all of which featured Kiwi actors in key roles — plus Criminal Minds and superhero shows Arrow and The Flash. Since 2017 Warn has concentrated on acclaimed show Supergirl; he has directed more than a dozen episodes, including the opening episode of the third season, and been one of the show's supervising producers.
Back in New Zealand, Warn has directed commercials for his Auckland-based company Glider Films, working with producer Jack Sainte-Rose. Among Glider’s projects are a movie based on Ant Sang's graphic novel Shaolin Burning.
Profile updated on 29 April 2020
'Glider Films' Vimeo website. Accessed 29 April 2020
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 (Broken link). Loaded 15 October 2013. Accessed 4 May 2016
'Nemesis Game to be released in Australia' - NZfilm Issue 70, March 2003, page 8