It’s 10am and the largest room at Ripe Studios is dark blue from floor to ceiling, boxed into the left hand side of a large warehouse off Chapel Street in South Yarra. It’s separated from the other studios by a theatre curtain and the room is divided in two: one part a seamless blue wall and the other an area for storage, lighting and standing room for the crew. Above all, it smells like wet paint.
“The colour is Green Torquays,” says Gavin Youngs, one half of Melbourne-based production company, The Apiary. He’s staring at a large monitor screen that is hooked up directly to the camera in the middle of the room. Youngs and his partner Lili Coates painted the studio late last night with a friend and it was still wet to the touch when they loaded in this morning.
While Youngs mans the monitor, Coates kneels in front of the camera, talking her actors through the upcoming scene. They’re shooting a 90-second promotional film for luxury bathroom company Rogerseller that is split into three scenes. The first involves an actor holding a microphone to a flower, as if recording its elusive sounds. The second involves an actor and actress staring intently at each other across a round marble table.
“In the third film we cut back to you guys. We can see the looks between you and you’re incredibly aroused,” Coates explains to the pair. She is wearing skinny black jeans and a white shirt, and she has deep red hair, tied up loosely at the back with a chopstick in the knot. “We’re working up to that moment when your lips touch, building the tension. And when the tension explodes we cut to this lusty, sexual flower.”
A second later Coates joins Youngs at the monitor. “Action,” she yells, and then talks the lead actress through the scene. “Ooooh, wow, what’s this? It sounds amazing… Oh god, wow… Mmmm… Now you’re embarrassed… Now look up at him and stare him in the eyes,” she says, over the course of the 30-second take.
Beginning in 2009, The Apiary is a small production studio, run by Youngs and Coates. As friends and co-creative directors, they started shooting films for The Australian Ballet. But in the last year they’ve diversified, working with a multitude of high-profile clients. Youngs’ and Coates’ filmic style is instantly identifiable. They often incorporate music and rhythm into their documentaries, creating an intangible, dreamy screen aesthetic. In working with the National Gallery of Victoria, SBS subscription channel STVDIO, Light Years, Arts Victoria and Wayne McGregor’s Random Dance, the pair have developed a knack for finding beauty in inanimate objects and everyday settings.
It’s 12.30pm and the entrance to Ripe Studios is cluttered with cars and trucks. You enter just past the car park, through a thick door and up a small passageway. At lunchtime, just before Coates and Youngs begin filming the final scene of their commercial – a scene where the two leads share an excruciatingly slow, romantic lean in for a kiss – the lead actor is standing in the car park, smoking. He is immaculately styled in a blue shirt and trousers, and is tall and slim and looks a little anxious. “I’m nervous about the kiss,” he says. “I’m in I.T. so this isn’t a regular day.”
A few minutes later, Youngs appears in the doorway and motions the actor inside. “Is he nervous?” he says, laughing. “It will make for a good performance, so I wont tell him they never have to actually kiss.”
Today’s shoot was commissioned by Rogerseller and envisioned by a creative agency called Jane. It is one of the first more commercially orientated films The Apiary has worked on and they’re pleased to be catching the eye of companies in different disciplines. Previously, they’ve garnered attention for their films about creative people. They shoot dancers, artists, designers and musicians where they feel most comfortable. Last year, they were commissioned for a project in Europe that documented Australian artists overseas, and they plan on going back soon.
It’s 2.30pm and the actress is sitting in chair having her makeup retouched in green room at Ripe. It’s separate from the studios and tucked away in the back corner next to the kitchen. It’s something like a Hollywood cliché, yellow bulbs surrounding the mirrors. Youngs stands to the side of the room observing while Coates asserts the creative vision. Together they form a formidable team: Youngs is meticulous and considered and Coates is strong and assertive.
It’s the business end of the shoot and Youngs and Coates have one major scene left. Their brief is to capture ‘the art of seduction’ and their hero is a flowering white orchid. In the third and final scene, when the innuendo reaches its peak and the actors their most intimate, they cut to a long shot of the orchid and finish on its sumptuous curves.
“We didn’t even think about the flower until this morning,” admits Youngs, pulling it out from a white flower box. “I was too worried about the little things. My friend helped me paint the studio last night and I felt that when we finished, my side was perfect and his was a little streaky,” he laughs. “I thought the green was going to be a really bad choice, so I painted it again…I always get caught up on the little things.”
Watch the final video, The Art of Seduction here.