Shark Film Gone Wrong!

The fun, dumb and dangerous events during the making of a film titled “Shark Bait”.

So I decided to make a shark film and I never thought “What could possibly go wrong?” Well, apparently a lot can!

In my previous post I talked about how I came up with the idea for this film. It came about in an organic way without any specific goals of me wanting to do a “shark film”. Definitely the last thing I was aiming to do was a film that takes place half of the time on water. Well, if you ever think of doing a film on water then believe me when I say it’s 1000 times more difficult than doing one on land.

Like always I came prepared when I showed up to a film set. I had made storyboards for each scene. I did tests with some effects, like the failed shark fin.

I rehearsed the scenes with the actors on land. I kept on checking the weather to make sure we didn’t have too much wind or rain or anything else that would prevent us from filming.

I also made sure to schedule 2 days of filming on land and then 2 days of filming on the water because half the script takes place on water. Honestly, I should have scheduled at least 5 days to film on water!

The first two days where we did all the land based scenes went easy. We actually finished both days ahead of schedule and that is mainly because of the talented actors we hired. I produced this film with Garage Filmmakers in Ecuador. We held the auditions there and met a lot of different actors. I chose not just the most talented actors but also ones that personified their characters the most. I always look at how a person naturally behaves so that they don’t always have to act, especially when situations get difficult. This came in real handy when doing the water scenes.

Like I said the first two days filming on land was easy and actually fun. We started by doing the opening scene in a pool where we put black fabric on the bottom to hide the fact that it is a pool. This worked out great and looking back at it I don’t know why I didn’t just shoot most of the water scenes in a pool or some other small body of water? After that we did the scenes in a restaurant and then finished the day off doing our night scenes.

The second day was also pretty smooth. We moved the production to the center of the little town of Playas. There we did a mix of scenes throughout the day. Again, having everything storyboarded made this process super easy. I always first just follow the script and the storyboards and when we finish each scene ahead of schedule then I let the actors experiment. Sometimes improv can help create very organic moments that make a film feel more authentic but I never want to rely on just improv. First I need to know that we have a good story on paper. Once the script works then I always make sure that the visuals will also tell the story by doing the storyboards.

Anyways, we finished the second day thinking that filming the last two days on water will be just as easy. Boy was I wrong. First off on the morning of our third day I found out that because of scheduling conflicts we only have the boats and some of the crew for 1 day, not 2 like originally planned. I thought that perhaps we can still film what we were planning to and then we will find another day the following week to do the second day on water. Turned out that the actors were already booked on other jobs. Plus I couldn’t keep on delaying because I also had to fly back to the US. In short, I very quickly realized that we have to shoot in one day what I originally planned to do in 2 days.

Then we had a nice and big breakfast, which normally is a good thing. Well not if you’re going to go out on the open water in the Pacific ocean. Aside from the guys we hired to operate the 3 boats, nobody on the cast and crew had experience of being out on the ocean for extended periods of time. So by the time we motored out far enough from the coast so we couldn’t hear any noise of the city, most of the crew and cast got sea sick. The weather was calm but that means nothing when the ocean swells reach over 2 meters. One moment the boat is lifted on a wave and you can see the horizon and then suddenly the boat gently goes down and all you see around you is water. Very quickly many people vomited out the breakfast. In the end only me and my cinematographer were spared from getting sea sick.

I have to give big thanks to the actors who despite how sick they felt, they all decided to stay and keep on filming. They would vomit one moment and the next I would yell action and they put on a smile. Half the crew however decided to take the third boat we rented as our production vehicle back to shore. Just so happened that the life jackets and all the safety equipment was in that boat. We couldn’t have it in our two main boats since those were actually used as props and in our story the characters forgot to bring any safety devices.

The radios we had only worked half the time. Once when we did need the 3rd boat to come back they didn’t hear us. We tried to film but everything was slowed down so much because of simple logistics. For example a simple bathroom break on land that would take a few minutes for the actor was now a big ordeal. By the time we called the 3rd boat back from shore, it took around 20 minutes to come to us. Then another 20 minutes to go to shore to use the bathroom and then another 20 minutes coming back. Well again I gotta give the actors and the remaining crew a big thanks when multiple people suggested that we just jump in the water and pee there, then come out and dry out and keep on filming. It’s not very comfortable or sanitary but this definitely speeded things up.

The next issue we kept on having is following the storyboards and being able to go through the whole scene because of the movement of the boats. When you are out on the open water and the ocean currents keep on moving the boats then there is nothing you can do to stabilize the boats. For example we would start with an angle based on the storyboards and figure out the position of the camera, what lens we would use, where we would put the reflector and the microphone boom and all the things that are needed to get that particular shot. But by the time we slate the shot and start recording the boats would often rotate in such a position that the reflector does nothing because the sun is on the opposite side, or the mic boom is casting a shadow. Also often we would now see neighboring fishing boats or land in the distance. Since the story is supposed to take place out on the open ocean but also away from any sign of land or other boats it means that each shot was ruined.

Finally I had to make a decision, do we stop filming and possibly never finish the film or do I just keep on filming regardless? Mind you by this point it was lunch time. We all had a chance to go back to shore to get some food. To use proper bathrooms. Then I sat down with my brother who is also the producer of this film, and with Danny the cinematographer and had to discuss what we can best do. We decided that we would shoot the rest of this film like a documentary. Meaning we just do one long take for each scene and shoot on two cameras as much as we can. No retakes. Whatever mistakes happen, like if we see land behind or the lighting looks horrible or even if actors make a mistake, I will then have to deal with it all in post. Either edit around the mistakes or use VFX to fix them. 

After lunch we had about 4 hours of daylight left and we had to shoot 9 pages of the script. That’s insane. Clearly not possible. If you know anything about film production, the most you can ever hope to shoot is about 3 script pages per day. That’s if its a simple scene, just two people talking in a controlled setting. Not when you are doing action and dangerous stunts on the water. 

So right away I had to change the script and shorten it to just 4 pages. Even that was going to be very difficult to shoot. I also decided to change many of the scenes to night time, and I would shoot them day for night since that would also allow me to hide a lot of the mistakes and mismatched lighting. Another thing the cinematographer suggested is that we shoot using just the kit zoom lenses that the sony cameras came with. This would allow him to quickly zoom in and zoom out in the middle of the long takes so that it looks like we got a lot of different shots. Considering that this was all unrehearsed it was very risky. I didn’t know if we would get enough footage to edit complete scenes. I had no clue if the audio would also work since often things on the boats would move and make noise.

There was so many unknowns but in the end it was that or we don’t have a film. So we went back out there on the water and filmed so quickly that many times we didn’t even slate the shots or had time to yell cut. We just kept on filming while I would yell at the actors and crew what to do. Thank god we didn’t have any injuries or anyone drowning even though we did have one of the actors get tired while he was swimming with me out in the ocean. I  was holding the camera and when we finished the scene, we both turned back to the boats to realize the boats had drifted really far from us. So I grabbed the actor and somehow we made it back to the boat. I remember the last shot we did. I was again in the water with the camera while the cinematographer was filming with the other camera from one of the boats. Once we finished filming the two boats bumped into each other and I had to duck down under water to avoid being crashed. When I came back up to the surface I had no more strength left to get back onboard. I think the last hour of filming I was just running on pure adrenaline. But we did it. The sun was already set. We had no more light. There was nothing else we could film so that was it. All we could do was to come back ashore and hope I had enough footage to make the film.

I remember waking up the following day and all I wanted to do was to go through all the footage we got on the last day. I was watching the raw footage and right away editing it in my head. Very quickly I realized that I would have to use a lot of post production tricks and effects, which now are thankfully a lot faster and easier in Davinci Resolve. If you haven’t yet seen my video about the AI tools in Davinci Resolve then I recommend you take a look at it. I also noticed that many of the insert shots were missing, things like a close up of someone’s hand or leg or an underwater shot of people swimming etc. All of that I would have to film later back in the US. I also had to buy a lot of stock footage of boats and sharks in order to edit the film.

It took me almost a year to do the first edit of this film. That first rough cut allowed me to make a detailed list of all the extra shots I still needed to get in order to finish the edit. Most of these shots were done with my family and friends. I am now still working on the VFX shots. So in my upcoming videos I will share how I fix a lot of the issues in my film using the built in tools of Davinci Resolve. So if you want to see what is possible to do and exactly how to do it then make sure you subscribe. Also check out my website for more info about this film and when you can finally see the finished product.

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