CAPE D - On Monday, a red and white Coast Guard rescue helicopter circled slowly, then hovered, hummingbird like, over the rough surf just off the shore of Cape Disappointment's Waikiki Beach.
A swimmer balanced on the edge of the open door, flippered feet dangling. Large, storm-tossed logs bobbed below, increasing the danger. A moment later, the swimmer pushed off and plunged into the frigid ocean. Bent on accomplishing his mission, the swimmer begins to move through the water, fighting waves, wind and current.
Fortunately, this time, the goal is not to pull some injured person from the dangerous waters, but to film a scene from an upcoming movie called "The Guardian." The movie, staring Kevin Costner and Ashton Kutcher, tells the story of the Coast Guard rescue swimmers, the training they endure in their elite "A" School, and hazards they willingly face to protect the lives of others.
Although filmed predominately in Shreveport, La., and Kodiak, Alaska, the crew second-unit team from Silver Heart Productions could not have picked a better location for this particular scene, home to real-life guardians of this notoriously treacherous coast.
Those local experts, including the Coast Guard, South Pacific County Technical Rescue, and the Ilwaco Fire Department, played a key role in ensuring the safety of stunt doubles Michael Trisler (Kevin Costner) and Tim Soergel (Ashton Kutcher). Should the fictional rescue somehow turn factual, they were prepared.
Long before the stunt doubles donned their wetsuits, intensive planning and coordination occurred.
"The level of planning is very high," said Lt. Amy Sandbothe, public affairs officer and helicopter rescue pilot.
One of the numerous safety meetings took place two days before the shoot. Everything from hazards to equipment and transportation, to timing and communication were discussed. On film, the scene might last a few minutes. The hours and effort of work behind the scene will not be apparent. The danger will seem remote to the viewer. But for those involved, it's real.
"This will be one of the most challenging shots we've ever shot," said Trisler, who has years of stunt experience, and is also a former Army Ranger.
Talk turned to evacuation plans in case the unthinkable should happen. How would they get victims to medical care?
"Our team's going to get them out of the water," Doug Knutzen, of the South Pacific County Technical Rescue Team, assured them. "We've been doing that for a long time."
"It's sounding better and better," said 1st Assistant Director Jim La Rocca. "Sounds to me like you're covered."
The Peninsula is home to the real "A" School, the Advanced Rescue Swimmer School, and coincidentally, they are conducting courses while the film crew is here. Some of those students may be filmed performing their training maneuvers. Sandbothe said the key to making the difficult maneuvers seem effortless is repetition until responses are second nature. So for the students, filming would be one more practice session.
But, she admitted, "It's going to be very enjoyable for everyone involved." Sandbothe will be one of the pilots involved in flying the helicopters.
She emphasized, as did Knutzen, that should an emergency occur elsewhere, filming would be immediately halted and rescuers would respond. "Our mission comes first," she said.
The film crew willingly accepted that condition as the price they pay for working with the best.
So when "The Guardian" hits the big screen, although only a few people will be shown in that scene filmed at Waikiki Beach, just out of sight hovered a 47-foot Coast Guard rescue boat, members of Technical Rescue Team on jet skies and in an inflatable boat, and Ilwaco Fire Department personnel on land standing by.
Just like in the movie, these dedicated experts are often invisible, out of the scene - unless real action is called for.
The movie is expected to be released in theaters nationwide in September.