Director Andrew Davis explores the world of Coast Guard Rescue Swimmers in the dramatic film, The Guardian, starring Kevin Costner and Ashton Kutcher. Davis was so dedicated to getting the story right that he even went as far as to cast real members of the Coast Guard in the film to make sure he told the story as accurately as possible.
Was it important to show the real Coast Guard Rescuer Swimmers in their own feature on the DVD?
I always felt that it was important to make reference to the fact that these are real people. And I was able to do that in the end credits of the movie, to visualize the history of the swimmers and the Coast Guard. But yeah, it was important to me because this is what was so inspirational. It was the basis of the whole movie was looking at real footage, real people, understanding what they went through.
Ron Brinkerhoff, the writer, met these guys early on in the process. When I met them, I said, 'You've got to be in the movie. I can't get an actor to do what you guys do in terms of the finesse, and the way they just sort of approach certain things. It rubbed off on Ashton and Kevin and all the other actors.
How did the real Coast Guard Rescue Swimmers react to the film?
They loved it. What can I tell you? It's their life. They were very impressed with how hard we worked to make it honest and real, from the waves tank to the way we trained, to how we cast the kids in the class who were - some of them were - Olympic swimmers, a lot of them were triathletes. To how hard Kevin and Ashton, especially Ashton, worked getting in shape. They were very impressed with it. I think that I haven't heard anybody in the Coast Guard who knows anything about what these guys do, have anything to say but glowing things about it. Which is what was the most important thing to me, these guys as they really are, and gals.
Why do you think no one thought of this movie before?
People had been doing stories about people killing people. To me it was important to do a story about people saving people. The military, Top Gun, they're learning how to blow the blank out of people's villages and lives and planes.
But we've seen firefighter movies. What took so long for this?
There's only 270 of them and they only work in bases near big storms where there are helicopters. So they're sort of spread out on the edges of our world or where there are big storms. Some people don't like to live in those areas.
Kevin Costner's had experience doing films in water before. Did he have any trepidation?
No, I think on Message in a Bottle there were some situations where he was a little uncomfortable being underwater in that. But not at all. We had top, top people around him and he knew what he was getting involved in. He was a trooper. It's very rough to be banged around like that. You get seasick. It's cold and it was windy and stuff was blowing in your face, and you can't see or hear. It's scary. But he knew that that's what these guys did and he was portraying them. He got to go to a comfortable place after being beat up versus having to get in the helicopter and fly for three hours - so he accepted it.
Was this your first CGI experience?
In detail, yes. There was some CGI in Holes but not nearly as extensive. I've walked away from other big effects movies because it's just so mechanical and the director's so removed, really, from what's happening in so many ways. But with this project, first of all, I was challenged as someone who loves the sea and the water and having been a sailor and a lifeguard myself to portray this properly. And also, the fact that we could create a postage stamp-sized piece of what we were trying to do in broad strokes. We had a little postage stamp piece of the Baring Sea, which was just as violent and windy and crazy as it would have been like to be out there. We could control things.
I think the fact that we relied on a real world rather than a synthetic world of documentary footage and real waves and real storms and real rescues allowed me to feel like I was a part of what was going on all the time. And designing shots completely from scratch where you can sort of literally sit down and design how you want to fly over the water, where the helicopter's going to be and how the camera's going to move, that was a lot of fun.
Did you have some fun with conventions from military-themed training movies like Top Gun?
"I think we were criticized unfairly by having images and scenes that you've 'seen before' and my response to that has been if you do a Western and you have a horse and a bad guy and a jail, a pretty girl and a sheriff, people are going to say, 'Well, I've seen that before.' In these kinds of environments where you have to push people to their limits and you have to work to a certain standard, and you have to have a certain level of discipline and tragedy, those things are going to come back.
I think the fact that the Coast Guard isn't looked at as something that has that kind of rigorous background is part of the story we were trying to tell. I think it's interesting to see what they have to go through. It was interesting to me to learn about the scope of what these men and women have to bring out to rescue people, in terms of being medics. They have to be navigators; they have to know all about the equipment on the helicopter. They have to do everything in the water. So it's quite daunting what the training involves. I think showing that training, even a glimpse of what they have to go through with the psychological aspects of, 'Can I do this? Do I want to do this?' is compelling."