Is it me… or do you have to swim with sharks to win a Cannes Lion?

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EXT. WATER. DAY - Three simple words, but as Steven Spielberg, James Cameron and Baltasarb Kormákur found out, filming at sea can be a deadly business.

I should know, I foolishly wrote those words to start a screenplay back in the day before Catherine Zeta-Jones met Michael Douglas. Blue Juice - week 1, day 3, the Atlantic Ocean… we’re shooting Ewan McGregor stealing a wave when a rogue rip dragged the crew half a mile down the beach. Mark Silk – the underwater cameraman and DOP (Dad doubled Sean Connery in Thunderball and the family are rumoured to still own the crotch-connected-wetsuit) - was unfazed. But in an instant, on simple error at sea had put the production 3 days behind.

Lesson number one: replace EXT. WATER. DAY with BE. VERY. AFRAID

The Attack was made for 2018 Healthcare agency of the year Havas / Lynx. My friend Tim Jones was the CD, produced by Thea and Luke at Maker Projects, this piece of unbranded content was facilitated by the fearless Mighty in Cape Town.

I originally heard about The Attack from Olivia Hirschberg at Johnny Foreigner. It was a story based around a middle-aged surfer who swims out past the back line to be attacked by what appears to be a shark. In fact, it’s his own heart. The project represented an important shift in the world of Pharma advertising. As Tim Jones says, it was an attempt to get clients to “ditch the overtly cliché and scientific scripts in favour of something that goes deeper.”

So exactly how do you produce a film with a heart stopping risk assessment for a modest content budget that goes on to win a Cannes Lion?

Let’s begin with EXT: for EXTERIOR.

I knew, from my love of surfing, Portugal and The Canaries are the places to consider shooting exterior water in February. But both can be unpredictable and have the propensity for backbreaking surf.  Just ask Andrew Cotton. This was unbranded content, not The Big Wave Project. It was time to consider slightly warmer waters. 

Positioned in the middle of a perfect peninsular there’s a location that’ll make water lovers weep at it’s legendary beauty; it also has a great local film community and my friends Jeanne + Terence Maritz at Mighty productions. Terence is an incredibly tenacious / talented DOP and bonus, he’s a surfer. So it had to be…

EXT CAPE TOWN. Now what about: DAY?

As any English diver will tell you, winter water can be challenging. Even at some of the best dive sites in the world epic clarity needs patience. Mother Nature performers for only one God and David Attenborough doesn’t do content. 

Aside from location we needed a place to shoot the actor in a controlled environment and to give us the classic Jaws POV. In Cape Town there are not one, but two types of pools, plus a great water crew, the Frog Squad. First there’s an open-air swimming pool, 2nd a series of tidal pools with shallow water, an oceanic horizon and a concrete wall to protect you from the local residents – As Matt Hooper would say, “Carcharodon carcharias aka The Great White Shark”.

The pools are next to a majestic beach called Mnandi, which faces False Bay, which faces Seal Island, which is famous for shots of breaching Great Whites. Why do all the best locations come with teeth? 

Now if you’re a diver, or person who spends a lot of time in the water, you know the odds for getting attached by a shark are 1 in 11.5 million, but as a director that decreases to 1 in a Spielberg. Not to mention respecting your producer and their risk assessment. So how do you shoot in shark infested waters and not end up like Chrissie Watkins?

Time for: DAY

With sharks, always avoid dawn and dusk unless you’re diving for the Blue Planet or having a holiday with Emperor Divers. Daytime visibility is mandatory. As the drone searched for shapes the Frog Squad buzzed the beach with a rib and it appeared the local predators didn’t like the sound of a noisy outboard. But we still had to put a real human - Martin Van Geems – into the water. By take 3 I heard a voice in my ear “I think we have it”, for a split second I though Sir David was onset but realised it was my producer, nerves tested to the max. Good call. The week after we shot at Mnandi the Frog squad, working at the desalination plant, saw a huge “Johnny” head out of the water just… looking around. As the old surfing adage goes – you should have been here last week!

BTW: The soundtrack for our BTS was created by the talented Brendan Crehan and if you’d like to see a copy of the full film, get in touch.

Carl Prechezer