Any filmmaker that's ever attempted to shoot on water has immediately regretted it. James Cameron (The Abyss) and Steven Spielberg (Jaws) are just two directors that have encountered problems making nautically tinged adventures. After being presented with the script for The Shallows, which sees Blake Lively's surfer attacked by a shark and then stranded on a rock for 24 hours, director Jaume Collet-Serra didn't balk at overseeing a production on water, though. But when I sat down with the Spanish filmmaker earlier this week to talk about The Shallows his tune had changed quite a bit, as when I asked him about any advice he had for directors who would shoot in these conditions he simply responded, "It's impossible, don't do it."
Intrigued, I pushed for further details regarding how difficult production was on The Shallows. And in the end Jaume Collet-Serra provided me with 8 obstacles that should have made The Shallows an impossible movie to film, but which he somehow managed to overcome.
The Budget And The Schedule
Making a film has to run to a strict schedule, otherwise its budget can instantly become bloated and spiral out of control. But while a closed set can be controlled relatively easily, when you're out on the beach (The Shallows was shot in Australia), the waves from the ocean don't stop and wait even when an intern politely asks them to do so. Jaume Collet-Serra explained to me:
Every movie that has ever shot on water has gone over budget and over schedule. We went a bit over budget, but didn't go over schedule because we couldn't ... We had the release date and we barely made it.
However, that doesn't mean that everything came out perfectly, because Jaume Collet-Serra admitted, "But if we could I would have."
Some Days, You Can't Shoot
While the ocean and the water can cause all kinds of grief during an actual shot, there are some days when it's too ferocious, or the wind, rain, and various other elements from nature combine to make filming simply downright impossible. Jaume Collet-Serra admitted that some days the elements combined to either ruin stuff that they'd already shot, or the cast and crew were left twiddling their thumbs as they were unable to get to work. "There are days that you don't shoot anything," Jaume Collet-Serra admitted despondently. "That had not happened to me in my life. You are at the mercy of the elements. And the elements change constantly."
The Sun Messes With The Color Of The Ocean
But it's not just the water that wreaks havoc during production. Jaume Collet-Serra explained that the bastard sun can change the color of the ocean, which then immediately ruined the consistency of his shots.
You can not tell how many different colors the ocean has, it has a million different colors because of where the sun is. Imagine if I was shooting a scene and the ocean just kept on changing color because the sun was going left and right? You have to be consistent. And it was never consistent.
By this point in our discussion I genuinely began to worry that I'd trigged some kind of post-traumatic stress disorder for the director. Serra carried on regardless though, while I readied my shoulder just in case he needed something to cry on.
Birds Are Horrible, Horrible Co-Stars
With both the sun and ocean having disrupted production on The Shallows it was now time for some animals to join in the mayhem. While the beach chosen in New South Wales, Australia, was picturesque and the perfect location for the shoot, it also happened to be home to "millions" of new parent birds as well as their infant children. Serra explained:
This was a beach that was a bird sanctuary. There were a million birds hatching all around us that we couldn't even disturb. And they were attacking us and what not. And then at night all of the other birds that went to get food in the morning came back and there were millions of birds hitting us in the head, like landing. So we had to get out of there, because the birds were very good at flying but not at landing. They were crashing into trucks.
Basically, production on The Shallows was an Alfred Hitchcock film come to life. I can't think of anything more terrifying.
It's Impossible For Actors To Communicate
It wasn't just Jaume Collet-Serra that suffered during The Shallows' production. Serra's leading lady, Blake Lively, was also put through the motions while shooting. But while Serra's complaints stopped him from getting the perfect shots he desired, during my discussion with Blake Lively the 28-year-old actress admitted that hers were quite a bit more harrowing. In fact, there were times when she was filming underwater where it was impossible for those around her to tell whether she was acting or actually couldn't breathe.
Blake Lively recalled to me:
It was scary shooting in the water because I couldn't breathe under water, there's no way to communicate with people underwater, be it the camera man that you are bumping into, or the person who is having to do the role of the shark ... When I had to be violently pulled under, and stay under and go deeper and deeper and deeper as I am fighting and kicking to stay out, someone had to do that otherwise I would just float to the top. So there was no way to communicate, so how does he know when I was kicking and thrashing acting, or kicking and thrashing because I am out of oxygen. So there were a few times when I was actually out of air, and extremely panicked, but he thought I was performing. He had an oxygen mask so he had no gauge of whether it was too long. There were some scary moments for sure.
The Weather And The Tide
The Shallows works because, tantalizingly, the rock that Blake Lively's Nancy calls home for most of its running time is actually only 200 yards away from the shore. It's just unfortunate for her that a peckish shark is marauding around this area and is ready to chomp down on her as soon as she leaves it. But Jaume Collet-Serra admitted to me that sometimes during the shoot, not only would the weather ruin the consistency of his shots, but the tide would go so high that it would just expose a huge patch of sand.
Obviously this wouldn't do, because it would have simply allowed Blake Lively to climb down and walk back to the safety of the beach, while her foe flipped and flopped on the dry sand away from his previous water. Serra explained, "So you'd start a scene and then it'd get cloudy, or the wind would pick up, or the tide was wrong, the tide changes are huge, like metres and metres of exposed beach. And the whole beach would disappear when the tide was high. So you'd have to shoot at the right times so that the tide was consistent in the scene. And hope for the previous weather as the same shots."
You're Unable To Keep The Film Consistent
Another issue for The Shallows was that the film is actually set over a 24 hour period. Obviously it takes a little longer to shoot these cinematic escapades, but that meant that trying to match shots from different days soon turned into the world's most expensive, and infuriating, jigsaw puzzle. "Movies are about consistency, because we were shooting what was supposed to be one day over eight weeks," Jaume Collet-Serra noted. "So the weather, the tide, and these things, they have to be the same. They can't change. Because otherwise people would notice that the waves have changed and they could see it."
Water Sucks. It Really, Really Sucks
By this point, you probably realize that shooting on water is just plain old annoying. But on top of all of the other points that I've just mentioned, Jaume Collet-Serra also revealed that cinematic equipment and H2o just don't belong together. In fact, water hates show business so much that, according Serra, it literally ravaged and battered their sets to death.
The water destroyed all our sets. Several times. The waves, the salt, the chlorine when we were in the tank.
Thankfully, despite the hassle and the mammoth undertaking, The Shallows proved to be worth it, because it's a damn-fine summer blockbuster. You can check The Shallows out for yourself from tomorrow, while in the meantime you can click over here to read my review.