Thursday, 2 July 2015

North Carolina Shark Attacks - Why So Many This Year?

Photo by Steve Bouser

With the news yesterday of a seventh shark attack, North Carolina is now having it's equal worst year since 1900 (tied with 2008) for shark bite incidents. The most recent victim, a 67 year old man, was bitten multiple times on the abdomen, hip, lower leg and both hands, is in a stable condition in hospital and eyewitnesses are reporting the incident to be very similar to most of the other incidents so this raises the question, why is North Carolina suffering an outbreak of attacks and what can be done to minimise the risk?

To begin with we need to look at the different kinds of incidents for which the term "shark attack" is used because not all incidents can be justifiably referred to as "attacks" and understanding each is key to establishing what might be causing these incidents. At this stage I should also point out that, whereby we need to address the issue objectively and having stated that not all incidents are "attacks," I do not subscribe to the recent campaign to ban the word "Shark Attack" from the media, firstly, I am uncomfortable with any kind of censorship, but moreover, I find the definitions given in the linked article, purposefully misleading and far too vague. What we need is accurate reporting, not censorship and although the 100 or so phd students, researchers and communications professionals are respected individuals in their fields, I am not aware of any whose area of expertise is actually shark attack. Whereas I agree that more should be done to increase media understanding of shark bites to aid more accurate reporting, I don't think this is the way to go about it.

Consider this, from Shark Uber-Mensch Samuel "Doc" Gruber from his 1988 paper "Why Do Sharks Attack Humans," Gruber states;

"...some attacks can be accepted as legitimate attempts by the shark to feed on humans."

For me, personally, if we are to look at the broad spectrum of what the media currently refers to as a "Shark Attack" upon an individual it can be defined most accurately as "a non-voluntary contact encounter between a human(s) and a shark" and this could range from a surfer having his board bumped by a shark to a swimmer being completely consumed and everything in between.

Regular readers will know how passionate I am about avoiding hyperbolic and simplistic reports about these incidents using lazy terminology in place of detailed analysis, I have stated here, in articles and interviews many times that each incident is dependent upon so many variables that the only way to increase understanding of these incidents is to look at every detail available to assess the incident fully. The existence of human objective input into these details is not only problematic in the media, it also leads to inconsistencies in the existing databases where some attacks are not included due to being classed as "provoked," most commonly due to the victim's activity prior to the attack, usually spearfishing.

For the purposes of accurate detailed analysis, I would like to see a "Shark/Human Incident" database which includes all non-voluntary contact encounters between sharks and humans and splits them up into the following categories;

Non-Injurious (including attacks on boats)

In each incident report, as much detail as possible would be included and where possible, a viable explanation given for the attack, on the understanding that it is impossible to always be certain on what a shark's motivation can be.

As a caveat to the above, it must be noted that, as shark attacks are so infrequent, it is impossible to collect enough reliable data to assess risks in relation to potential future incidents or, put more simply, it is impossible to create a model which will predict when a shark bite on a human will occur. Also, shark attacks are defined by many different variables from the species involved, to the victim, the victim's activity at the time of the attack, the location and various environmental factors. It is inaccurate and misleading to compartmentalise shark attacks into easily digested (pardon the pun) soundbites.

With regards to North Carolina, let's have a look at its history with shark attacks.

If we look at the current spate of attacks first:

June 11th - 13 year old received minor bites to her feet and two bites to her Body Board

June 14th - 12 year old Kirsten Yow receives serious multiple bites to her arm and leg with her hand severed. Arm is later amputated below the elbow

June 14th - 16 year old Hunter Treschl receives serious multiple bites losing his let arm above the elbow

June 24th - 8 year old boy suffers minor injuries from a bite which appears to be from a small shark at Surf City

June 26th - 47 year old man bitten on the back at Avon in Hatteras Island

June 27th - 18 year old man suffers multiple serious bites to his right calf, buttocks and both hands at Waves, also Hatteras Island

July 1st - 68 year old man receives multiple bites to abdomen, hip, lower leg and both hands at Ocracoke Island

Seven attacks in nineteen days in such a condensed geographic area is certainly a rare occurrence but it's not unprecedented. Contrary to a statement from one of the main voices behind the "ban the phrase 'shark attacks' campaign," incidents of shark bite on the same or consecutive days have actually happened multiple times around the world, including in North Carolina, prior to the events this year.

In 2001 (one fatality), 2008 and 2011 North Carolina experienced multiple attacks days and in 1995, 2000, 2004 and 2007 there were incidents on consecutive days, 1995 actually saw three attacks in 4 days.

If we look at the seven incidents so far this year, five have been confirmed as multiple bites which points towards a pronounce determination on the part of the shark, contrary to the notion that all "shark bites are a result of mistaken identity" or "curiosity," these multiple bite incidents can be more accurately described as being motivated by a degree of determination and possibly even predation. That's not to say however, that the sharks involved in these attacks are swimming around looking for people to eat, rather the unfortunate victims have encountered sharks in a natural predatory state.

Historical Statistics:

  • There have been 95 unprovoked attacks in North Carolina waters with 11 of those fatal.
  •  On average there is a fatality every 10.4 years with the most number of fatalities in a single year being two, this has happened only once (1905) since 1900.
  • The last fatality in North Carolina was the 2008 attack on Richard Snead although there is doubt whether the injuries he sustained were the cause of his death, or came after he drowned. If we place this attack as "unconfirmed," the last fatality prior to Snead came in 2001, the victim Sergi Zaloukaev.
  • Since 2000, North Carolina has seen 55 shark incidents, an average of 3.6 each year
It is also interesting that of the 95 unprovoked attacks in NC waters, 64 (67.3%) occurred in the months of June, July and August.

This can be explained firstly, by there being more people in the water due to hotter weather and also, people staying in the water for longer due to increased sea temperature. More people in the water for longer means more people exposed to sharks. The average sea temperature from early June to late August is 83.4 degrees Fahrenheit or in "real money," 28.5 degrees Celsius.

Another factor to consider is the migration and seasonal aggregation patterns of prey animals. During the warm Summer months, bait fish and other larger marine creatures move along the coastline, travelling in large numbers close to shore to try to evade predators in deeper water. This in turn attracts sharks which follow the fish into shallower water and thus, in closer proximity to bathers. Large numbers of prey means larger numbers of sharks close to shore and unfortunately, as we have seen in North Carolina this year and Florida every year, occasionally humans are getting in the way of these sharks, sharks which are in the shallows, potentially motivated by predation.

Bull Shark Photo: Andy Murch

Blacktip Shark Photo: Alexander Safonov

The most likely culprits in these attacks are the Bull Shark and Blacktip Shark. In the incidents where there have been multiple bites, I'm almost certain the attacks were carried out by Bulls. Bull Shark attacks are characterised by a propensity to bite a victim more than once, plus, their size and power often leads to serious injury and loss of limb in attacks where they are the culprit.

Blacktips are not a species often involved in shark bite incidents however they have, and do, occasionally bite people although, unlike the Bull Shark, are less likely to mount a sustained attack on a human.

Both species are regularly encountered in North Carolina waters and both will enter the shallows whilst following prey, so for me, these would be the two species most likely involved in incidents such as these in this part of the world. North Carolina is also home to Tiger Sharks, Great White, Dusky, Spinner and the most commonly encountered species there, Sandbar sharks, however, although all have historically been involved in shark bite incidents, I would be less inclined to blame any of these species above the two detailed above.

It's important to recognise a few salient points, firstly, these sharks were off these same beaches last year, the year before, the year before and so on and so on, although shark attacks in the United States have shown an upwards curve in numbers over the last 60 years, this is due solely to there being more people in the water. I've seen claims that people feeding sharks or fishing from the pier has caused the attacks but there is simply no evidence for that. Could warmer than usual water temperatures play a part? Possibly but only because it is having an effect on the migrations and seasonal aggregations of the shark's prey. Sharks go where the food is and right now, the food is close to shore off popular bathing beaches.

There will be more shark bites off America's east coast this year, Florida is unusually quiet at the moment but as the Summer gets hotter and the sea gets warmer, more people are going to be in a position where they may just get in the way of a shark following its natural prey so what can you do to minimise your risk of being bitten?

Firstly, stay out of the water, you won't get bitten by a shark on the beach! If you do however want to go into the sea and let's be honest, I don't blame you, avoid if possible, areas where the water is murky, where people are fishing, avoid swimming near the mouths of inlets or estuaries and if you can, speak to local fishermen, like sharks, they follow the fish and if the fish are in big numbers, there will be sharks there.

Most importantly though, use your brain, you know there have been incidents in North Carolina so if you must swim in those areas, realise it is your responsibility to ensure the safety of both yourself and your family, not the sharks'. Sharks do what sharks do and when you make the choice to swim in areas where you know there is shark activity, you must accept you are taking a risk, it's a small risk of course, but the responsibility is on you.

Try to be shark smart, the best people to talk to about the shark activity in your area are the people who use the beach all day every day, lifeguards and fishermen. If you're not sure whether you should be swimming somewhere, don't be afraid to ask!

Finally, don't panic, shark populations aren't exploding in numbers (quite the opposite) and moving closer to shore to eat people. Although this is a bad year for shark bites in North Carolina, it is unusual and certainly not the norm. Statistical anomalies in areas where shark bites occur, or if you want a simpler description, spikes in shark bite activity where a year's number of incidents exceeds a statistical pattern, however, are not that out of the ordinary. It happens, many places around the world have experienced a flurry of incidents followed by years, sometimes decades without a single bite.

Be safe!

Edit: Case in point regarding misleading and factually inaccurate public statements can be found in this article

"It's commonly accepted that sharks aren't intentionally trying to bite humans, either: "Scientists believe that most shark bites are a case of mistaken identity. From below, a surfer in a black rubber wetsuit looks a great deal like a seal, for example," explains David Shiffman, a PhD candidate at the University of Miami's Abess Center for Ecosystem Science and Policy."
This is quantifiably incorrect. None of the victims were surfing, none were wearing wetsuits (which incidentally are made from neoprene, not "rubber") and although some attacks throughout history have been a result of "mistaken identity," it's a tiny proportion and almost always incidents involving Great White Sharks. The notion of "mistaken identity" is misleading because it implies over 400 million years of evolution, sharks are unable to differentiate humans from their natural prey items.

None of these attacks provide any evidence that "mistaken identity" can be used as a reason, especially in the five incidents where the victim sustained multiple bites.

Tuesday, 30 June 2015

Radio Interview Wednesday July 1st And OSAM FB Page Now Live

Just a bit of news to share, I will be on WGN Radio in Chicago tomorrow (Weds 1st July) doing an interview about Of Shark and Man and also the recent shark attacks in North Carolina. The interview goes out at 3:35am local time, 9:35am UK time and I'm looking forward to it. It's nice to be approached for stuff like this.

Also, the official Of Shark and Man Facebook page is now live along with the official Twitter account so be cool and give both a like/follow. The From the Office... page will still be very much live and used as often as it is now, it's just that the OSAM page will focus solely on the film, extra content etc and all relevant subject matter and it will get that stuff first so if you want to keep up to speed it's good to climb aboard on that for sure!

The website is coming soon and that means the trailer will go live very soon also!

Have a listen to the interview if you can, if you can't I'll post up the link if they put it online and as always, keen to hear your thoughts on everything!

Friday, 26 June 2015

More Feedback For Of Shark And Man

A couple of weeks ago I sent out the watermarked screener for Of Shark and Man to a few carefully selected people and the first bits of feedback are coming in so thought I'd share bits of that feedback here and in upcoming blog posts. The people the film went out to are incredibly busy so it's taking a while for everyone to get a chance to sit down properly with the film so there's still plenty to come.

"Excuse my language, but HOLY F*@%. The last dive scene in the upcoming Of Shark and Man is the best 10 minutes of shark film I have ever seen... I'm sitting in my living room in my underwear and my heart is beating out of my chest. What a ride!...

The shark feeding discussion is fascinating and the back and forth between Mike and Helen is really well done. Not sure if anyone has done this as well as you have.”

The section on $ and diving is fantastic. It's probably the best explanation of the value of shark diving I've seen. The walkabout dive piece is mind blowing. It's the best part of the film, and left me breathless.” Angelo Villagomez (Shark Defenders)

"David, this film is extraordinary. It hits every single point that needs to be addressed when it comes to sharks, ecotourism, shark diving; and our responsibilities the animals, local communities and conservation in general. It is beautifully shot and edited. Your story telling in sharing your journey is beautifully done. I am so inspired and impressed, this is so needed in our shark world.

I cannot say enough about this film. You have done an exceptional job. You managed to cover so much, while keeping it interesting and shot beautifully!!

I have not been to Fiji, but seeing all the work they are doing and have worked so hard to implement I am humbled and have so much respect for everyone involved there. Simply beautiful..."
Amanda Cotton (Photographer)

I watched it last night- you did a wonderful job with it! You managed to weave together such lovely footage, story-telling, and critical conservation messages without any of the unnecessary fluff or "preachiness" found in like-minded documentaries. 

It actually brought tears to my eyes to see all that I find special about BAD and SRMR to be captured on screen, especially with the now iconic shots of Rusi. 

I truly can't wait until you release it and I can share it with my family and friends to try and give them some insight into my life from the last four years and what exactly it is that makes me love BAD and SRMR so damn much! Lindsay Graff (Shark Biologist/Conservationist)

"...thanks again for sharing your film with us! It is amazing. I really like the positive angle, the fact that you show a solution how a reef can be restored. I like that you show also the opponents of shark feeding. And it's nice to get to know you better. It's really a personal film."  Lisa Deventer (Ocean Film Festival)

"Underwater footage at its best, three stories all worth being told, and brought to the audience in a well balanced way... It is a story about believing and about perseverance and taking no ‘no’s’ for an answer.
David is not afraid to address the issues at hand: from shark finning, shark feeding to attract them during the dive trips, ecotourism to carbon emission, he gives points to ponder by giving information without stressing a particular point of view.
All in all 4 weeks in Fiji and 4 years of editing resulted in a beautiful movie with honest and true content." Marjo Boertien (Ocean Conservation)

More feedback is on its way so I will post it when it comes through but again, everything is overwhelmingly positive!

For some reason Blogger is not letting me reply to comments! I'm not ignoring you I promise! In answer to the question from people about how they can get to see the film themselves, there will be a way to do that in the coming weeks so keep your eyes peeled for an announcement on here and the Facebook group!

Sunday, 21 June 2015

Terribly Sad News From Fiji - Rusiate Balenagasau 1960 - 2015

Rusi and I in 2011

I was saddened to see news from Mike today that the famous "man in the yellow hood," Rusi, chief Shark Feeder at B.A.D and true champion of shark conservation in Fiji has passed away at the age of 55.

Anyone who has dived with B.A.D will be familiar with Rusi, not only was he a softly spoken, kind and decent man, he also had a rare connection to the sharks he had spent thousands of hours with. They were very much "his" sharks, he loved them in a rare, genuine and heartfelt way and was a passionate protector and champion for their conservation.

I can't say I knew Rusi well but I did have the honour of spending almost every day of my month in Fiji with him, observing, learning from and being inspired by him and it truly was an honour, the man was a colossus in the shark diving world. Nowadays the word "legend" is so overused it has lost its true meaning but ask anyone who knows shark diving, Rusi genuinely was one of the few who deserved the tag of "legend."

It's not for me to eulogise the man's life, that is for the people who knew him best but I am immensely proud to have spent time with him, to have dived with him and to have had him be such a big part of "Of Shark and Man," but I think the thing I am proudest of, is that in a journey which changed my life forever, in which I achieved one of my greatest ambitions, he was a key part in that and if it weren't for Rusi's understanding of sharks and his immense experience, I would not have been given that chance. Vinaka Rusi.

My heart goes out to his family, to Mike and to everyone at Beqa Adventure Divers as they come to terms with the loss of a truly irreplaceable friend and giant of Fijian Shark Conservation.

"They are like dogs to me, you know, when you've got dogs in your home, you really love the dogs, that's the same thing, I love my sharks."

Rusi really did love his sharks.

Rusiate Balenagasau 1960 - 2015

Sunday, 24 May 2015

Angel Sharks In Gran Canaria - A Short Film

It's always nice to have a little time to work on a project just for fun, it's been a while since the last one, a short film made with footage I shot in the Farne Islands with Seals so, seeing as I had some time yesterday and the evening before where I was uploading a ton of stuff, I thought I'd finally put something together from my time in Gran Canaria.

It was a pretty quick job, basic edit, a fairly straightforward grade and a sound track ("Sunset" by The XX) but I thin it works quite well and I rather like it.

The Angel Shark is possibly the world's rarest shark so I felt incredibly lucky to see not one but three in my time in Gran Canaria and I want to thank Fernando and Manuela especially for getting me out there to have this wonderful experience. They run a small grassroots NGO called Alianza Tiburones Canarias which is dedicated to education and inspiration of the people on all the Canary Islands as to the importance of sharks and shark conservation and they really do deserve the support of anyone with an interest in sharks.

So here it is! As always, comments and feedback are warmly welcomed!

In Search of Angels - 11 Days in Gran Canaria from Scarlet View Media on Vimeo.

 Finally, on the subject of welcoming comments, just a quick point on that.

I always welcome comments, I love when people want to get involved here and even when they may be contrary to points I raise or are somewhat barbed, I still enjoy hearing from you. I also understand  the occasional need for anonymity and I publish 99% of the comments I receive but I will have to reconsider what I publish in regards to anonymous comments based on a frankly ridiculous comment I received on the last blog. Although I went to the effort to compose a polite response to what was essentially, a nonsensical rant, I decided that the original comment was so absurd I'd be better served just deleting it and not allowing it to ruin what was a positive piece.

With all that in mind, again, please, if you can, put your name on your comments if you do want to address things which may bother you. Criticism is not a bad thing and I welcome that also but I don't really have the inclination to allow the blog to become a place to push strange agendas or bizarre grudges however, for more benign comments, anonymity is still fine if that's what you'd prefer.

If you do want to have a little rant anonymously, you can of course do that, but don't be upset if it doesn't get published.

Enjoy the film and I hope you have a brilliant bank holiday to all you UK readers!

Thursday, 21 May 2015

Your Chance To Get Cool Stuff And Help Release Of Shark And Man Is Coming!

I figured now is as good a time as any for an update on Of Shark and Man!

It's been a bit of a whirlwind the last couple of weeks, after Gran Canaria I had a lot of catching up to do and also returned home with thoughts on how to tighten up the edit of the film and make a few corrections so I've been working hard on that and now only have to slot in the updated Sound Design. The changes aren't massive but I have changed some clips and the new v.2 of the film is, certainly to me anyway, an even better film!

I've also been working closely with the wonderful people at EDNA Interactive to finalise the strategy we have for promoting the film upon its release. That means creating content, design work and most importantly, giving you the viewer, the absolute highest value I can. I have always been passionate about my audience investing themselves in to my work and feeling that they are getting a genuine return on that, films like this need support and that support is something I think should be rewarded.

I've been meeting with magazines, designers, manufacturers and supporters, discussing the best ways to achieve this and I am so excited that the people who are investing their expertise, time, product and above all else, their friendship into this project are all the people I had on my wish list because they're just so damn good at what they do.

With all that in mind, the next big milestone is the launch of the official website and social media platforms where you can finally start getting your hands on the kind of content you've been so patiently waiting for and also, start kitting yourself out with some truly incredible products, one off memorabilia items and also, maybe, just maybe, one hell of an opportunity to tell your own shark story.

So, here's the long and short of it, "Of Shark and Man," needs to get out there and that doesn't happen with the odd post on Facebook, it happens with a proper plan, a marketing and promotional strategy, screenings and attending events in person to get the message out there that this is the film that so many of you and your peers and friends have been saying for years you've wished you could see. If this film achieves its goal and gets out to a wide audience, it means more will be made which means that for everyone who's ever signed petitions or complained against what they see as low value and irresponsible shark based TV and film, you now have a chance to actually have an impact in getting what you say you want.

Here's a list of some of the things I need to cover costs of to realistically give me a solid shot at achieving all the above:

Marketing Campaign
Festival and Private Screenings
Legal Documentation and Insurance
Promotional Merchandise
Press Kit Materials
Licensing of Footage
Website Hosting Fees
Blu-Rays and Electronic copies of the film for Festivals

Of course it would be nice to make the film open access and free to everyone but in the real world it's just not possible. I've done that with all my other films and lost considerable amounts of money doing so in order to give people productions which, although free to view, are still of the highest quality. It's just not feasible to do that with Of Shark and Man and as such, I have to be very careful with having complete control over any existing copies of the film so it doesn't end up as a torrent online.

With all that being said, I have been working really hard to come up with a way to involve you in everything, give you opportunities to get your hands on some amazing, and I mean amazing stuff, including signed memorabilia, one off pieces of artwork, dive gear (yes, actual top of the range dive gear), invitations to screenings, extremely limited opportunities and also possibly the most incredible raffle prize I can think of for anyone who loves sharks. Not only that, but also the opportunity for you to see the film, in full in the comfort of your own home.

The way I will be doing all the above is by running a Crowdfund campaign, most likely through Indiegogo to raise the money needed to get everything off the ground. I ran one previously when I started this whole thing so this means all those who contributed to that will receive their stuff when this new one launches so that's pretty exciting too!

I already have two major dive manufacturers who make top of the range products who are putting forward some of their best gear for perks, not little stuff either, I'm talking products worth between £250-£1500! There is also a third dive company potentially joining  so if you're in need of dive gear this year and you only want the best quality and value for your money, maybe hold on a couple of weeks!

Other perks will range from smaller cost stuff like stickers and signed posters, through to T-Shirts, tickets to screenings and bespoke, one off pieces of artwork (believe me, these in particular will be really, really cool if I can confirm them). There will also be more personal stuff like Skype video calls so you can get any answers to any questions you have, advice or just talk about the weather or anything else you like with me, tonnes of stuff, all of which is designed to give you the best value possible for your donation.

In conjunction with the perks you get per donation, there are also going to be raffle prizes, the bigger the donation, the bigger the prize with one super mega prize I'm hoping to confirm in the next week which really is something special!

So, keep your eyes peeled, join this Facebook group to get up to date news and maybe start putting away some pennies. This will launch soon and will be something very awesome I can assure you!

In addition to that, if you're thinking of going to the 40Fathoms Film Festival in Hermanus, South Africa on June 5th, 6th and 7th, you'll get a chance to see three of my films, "A Ray of Light," "A Ray of Light II," and "Sea Dogs" which is pretty cool. They're also showing Mexico Pelagico I believe and that is well worth your time too!


Wednesday, 6 May 2015

11 Days in Gran Canaria - Angel Sharks and The Public Reaction To Of Shark And Man!

Not bad for a first screening of the Director's Cut!

So, I'm back in the cold and wet of the UK after a brilliant eleven days in Gran Canaria (including a day trip to Tenerife) where I met wonderful people, did some very cool dives, got a bit of a tan, ate some massive steaks, saw Of Shark and Man on the big screen for the first time with a public audience and even walked away with two awards!

Firstly Gran Canaria is great, the weather was hot, there is actually life underwater and the people I met were just amazing. I was a guest of Fernando and Manuela who run Alianza Tiburones Canarias, a small, grassroots conservation NGO which works to educate and inspire the people of the Canary Islands about sharks in their waters, in particular the Angel Shark.

The hospitality I received was second to none and I cannot speak highly enough of them, they are passionate, informed and ambitious and these are three things vital to running successful campaigns and above anything, they're really, really nice people!

I had been invited over as a guest for their annual film festival,focusing on marine life and films about the ocean for which they were incredibly keen to have Of Shark and Man screened. It was also a chance for me to do some diving and try to get some footage of at least one Angel Shark so I couldn't say no and off I went.

My day started at 3am for my 8am flight, I landed in Gran Canaria just past midday, met up with Fernando and Manuela along with David from EDNA and was immediately whisked off to a live radio interview, in Spanish to talk about the film and the festival! It was then off to the venue to discuss the structure of everything and meet a few of the volunteers who were (as was the case with everyone I met) really lovely people, I even had my own translator who was a real help, very kind and with whom, along with her boyfriend Christian, Dave and I went out for something to eat later and discuss all things shark.

Photo by Kepa Garmendia

So, to the festival itself!

Photo by Kepa Garmendia

 Photo by Kepa Garmendia

There were, if I remember correctly, sixteen films spread out over two days, two feature length films (including OSAM), a few animations which were great, one of which, "The Health of Our Oceans" had a super cool credits sequence at the end at which both Dave and I were salivating it was that good. Most of the films were shorts, split between pros and amateurs even including first time film-makers (which I love), most of the films had little to no narrative and topics varied from sharks to plastic pollution, to location pieces and everything in between. Friday's highlight for me and most of the audience was without question a short film by Alberto Ramos Rodriguez called "Utopia" which was both surreal and at times ingenious, I loved the fact it thought way outside the box. The audience seemed in agreement that the other highlights included the beautifully shot "Secretos de Macronesia" by Rafa Herrero Massieu, "The Azores in 5K" by Nuno Sa and Lee Burghard's "A Fight for Survival."

Saturday saw the screening of "Of Shark and Man," and to be honest, I was quite nervous, there was a lot of expectation and I was worried about the duration of the film as it is all in English and would play out in front of a majority Spanish/German audience. At 104 minutes with an enormous amount of content, I had visions of an audience gradually sneaking out to go to the bar during the film leaving only David and I in the theatre...

Photo by Kepa Garmendia

With that being said, it came as a very happy surprise that throughout the film, not one person left, even to go to the loo, people reacted to the film, there were laughs, the odd "woah" and audience members exchanging nods and smiles of approval with each other. When the film came to a close, the applause started immediately as the credits rolled and lasted almost the entire duration, leaving me, having been invited up on stage, rather embarrassed by it all. I don't really take public displays of praise too well when I'm there in front of a room of people!

What was particularly encouraging was the Q&A session, people were picking out parts of the film and quoting bits back to me, asking intelligent questions about everything and most importantly telling me what they liked and how they felt when they watched the film which isn't really the norm in a Q&A. Not only that but there was a genuine enthusiasm for not only the three stories in the film but the technical aspects of the Cinematography and Sound Design.

What became apparent over the remainder of the evening was not just that people liked the film, but that it awoke something in them, either a reminder of the kind of films that inspired their love of the oceans originally, or the desire to perhaps rethink their own opinions of things, discuss the incredible story of Shark Reef and also to readdress how they saw the portrayal of sharks in the media. What people really seemed to love is that the film does not claim to be or have a message, it just does what it does and encourages the viewer to think throughout and as such, amazingly for a foreign language audience, they felt the film's length was perfect as it passed by quickly.

They also mentioned it had an approachability in that instead of making breathy statements or trying to push ideas on the viewer, it informs by simply telling a story through one man's eyes and also, the people in the film itself were extremely popular because again, no caricatures or considered personas, just honest, decent people speaking from the heart.

To go in thinking I'd see people quietly sneaking out to the bar and instead to have more than one person tell me after the screening that "Of Shark and Man" was "the best shark film I have ever seen" (honestly, we have it on camera) is something I will never forget.

See what an audience mamber, Marjo, had to say about the film here.

Photo by Kepa Garmendia

Even saying all that, when I found out there would be awards presented, I didn't expect to win one, I thought maybe I'd get a small one for taking part and making the effort to attend the event but that's it, so it all came as a bit of a surprise that OSAM was chosen as the "Best Film" by both the City of Aguimes and most importantly of all, unanimously apparently, by the audience.

Photo by Kepa Garmendia

So after the evenings wonderful event and a celebratory meal in a cave (ginormous steak obviously) the focus turned to diving and trying to get some shots of what is likely the world's rarest shark, the Angel Shark.

Photo by Yuneysa Garcia Flores

The diving in Gran Canaria is actually really good, I've become accustomed to the Mediterranean in the last few years and there is so much more life around the Canary Islands, the water was a mild 19 degrees, the viz pretty good and on most of the dives we'd see some big shoals of fish which I always enjoy filming.

Photo by Yuneysa Garcia Flores
The dives felt wilder than in the Med and I like that, there was always something to see but what made the dives so special were the people I dived with. Mareike from Diving Centre Nautico with some additional RIB support from Jerry at Canary Diving, Kepa, Yuneysa (who took the two shots above), Felipe, Eugenio and of course, Fernando and Manuela.

Kepa and Manuela

Mareike and I

It took a few days but I saw my first Angel Shark (two actually) on a night dive at a place called Sardina but it was a couple of days later at El Cabron where I really got to have a proper encounter with a nice sized female we found towards the end of our dive. They may not be one of the big, charismatic species but it was so exciting to see one because they are so very rare and this particular shark really co-operated for the camera which is of course, always appreciated!

 Photo by David Diley

 Photo by David Diley

 Photo by Fernando Reis

 Mareike with the Angel Shark - Photo by David Diley

Fernando with the Angel Shark - Photo by David Diley

So, Gran Canaria was brilliant, I loved it! In the week I also did a press conference and an interview with VIVA Magazine alongside filming some more stuff for the Making Of features we will be releasing on the official website. There will also be a short film of some underwater footage coming up so keep an eye out for that.

I was also invited to the University of Las Palmas to give a talk about Shark Feeding and the Shark Reef story which was really cool as the students seemed really enthusiastic about it and asked some brilliant questions. It's nice to be a part of getting this story out to a wide audience.

I want to thank everyone I met for their hospitality, warmth and most importantly, their friendship. Huge thanks to the City of Aguimes for putting me up in the beautiful Casa Aldaba, which, if you ever plan to visit there, I strongly recommend, I loved it, it's a gorgeous little house in a gorgeous, quiet little town.

I'm feeling ever more confident about Of Shark and Man, it won over an informed audience of people in a foreign country for whom English is not a first, or often second, language and people didn't only like it, they loved it!

Lots of good stuff is coming your way so keep your eyes peeled, this journey is about to get very interesting!

Saturday, 11 April 2015

Trailer Feedback Is In And There Was a Clear Winner

So, the feedback from the two versions of the trailer came back and firstly it was overwhelmingly positive, secondly there was a clear "winner" and I'm glad to say it was the one which I would have chosen myself. I like both but there was one I thought flowed better and gave a better overall representation of the film and that will be the one which goes out as pretty much everyone agreed!

Here's a selection of quotes from the feedback:

"...the Everyman target audience - you got that passionately and perfectly done. Well done for that accomplishment. People will definitely get that and effectively put themselves as 'you' when they watch this film if that angle comes across as well as it does in the trailer."

"WOW great effort with both! Gave me shivers of excitement while watching both."

"I whacked this onto a 42" telly with surround sound and it just booms with awesomeness. It's true to the region, is enchanting, almost haunting, and sent shivers down my back."

"...congratulations it looks WOW!"

And some more feedback from the full film itself:

"...I think this can become an atemporal reference film for the world's 'shark conservation tribe'. With 'Of Shark and Man' you have just started a debate... you know, and we all conservationists, we need so much to be united around a global and ethical shark conservationism movement... that this debate is so needed right now"

The trailer will be out as soon as a few promotional details are sorted.

The very first screening of the film for a public audience takes place two weeks today! (Saturday April 25th) and next week I travel to London for an interview with DIVE Magazine and to screen the film for Jane West at Tourism Fiji along with a few others and that is a big thing, if Jane likes it then I will be stoked as it is she and her former colleague Martin Harlow who actually gave me the chance to make the film.

I have also started talking to some potential sponsors of the film's website and promo materials and not only that but also worked on the crowdfund campaign and can tell you that not only will there be some cool perks for every donation but also, some really amazing, and I mean amazing prizes to be won by some very lucky donors. Keep your eyes peeled for that!
If you're interested in potentially becoming a sponsor, email me at and if you haven't already, join the Facebook page here.

Have a great weekend!

Tuesday, 31 March 2015

Of Shark and Man - Big News And Major Progress!

Yes, that would be your first look at the official branding for the film

First of all, behold, the first public look at the branding for "Of Shark and Man." I love it and I think it captures exactly the mood I'm going for, gritty but with a Fijian flavour and a marriage of the industrial urban north of England and something far more exotic. I wanted "different" and that's what I got. I have Sue and David at EDNA Interactive and Kris Allen to thank for the logos and in my opinion, they have absolutely nailed it.

Its been a mad few weeks since the last blog, consumed in the main by completing the Sound Design which meant 12-14 hour days in David Lawrie's studio composing the final pieces of music and constructing and mixing the film's sound.

First of all, I'll say this, the Sound Design in Of Shark and Man is phenomenal, it sounds dynamic and at times monstrously big, all the while retaining the subtleties which aide each facet of the story telling. The attention to detail has been ridiculous, I was adamant I wanted everything to have, not just sound, but a designed and descriptive sonic aesthetic, sound which didn't just offer a simple description of the surroundings you see on screen, but which reaches out of the screen, grabs you and pulls you in there with me. Bad sound design kills a film, no sound design is inexcusable but great sound design can elevate a film beyond anything it could have ever been without it.

I am incredibly lucky to have had a friend in David Lawrie who not only was able to technically do what I wanted, but who also, most importantly "got it." I have heard sporadically over the last few years "but that's not how they do it, you're supposed to do it like this" but I've never really cared how "they" do it, only how I want to do it. That's probably a bit naive but so be it, thus far it's worked and as the saying goes if it ain't broke...

It's a rare person who is willing to spend their first trip back to the UK in a while, sitting down with someone demanding such rabid attention to detail it means going through more than 100 minutes of footage with a fine toothed comb to pick out every single thing that needs a sound (including underwater) and work together to put those sounds in, knowing full well the challenge of actually mixing it all coherently is going to be even more difficult than usual. The simple brief was "don't think documentary, think feature film event." Needless to say, Dave absolutely smashed it out of the park.

So I guess that means I should let you all know that the Director's Cut is finished and not only that, it has actually been seen by a small handful of people, one of whom was London based, Cypriot Singer/Songwriter Eleni Skarpari, also known as Echo Wants Her Voice Back. Eleni was in York, recording with David and I was asked to be the Cinematographer for her new Music Video and so afterwards, David, Eleni and I sat down to watch the film and having seen it, I got her on camera to give her thoughts on the film itself, completely impartial and honestly.

Eleni Skarpari - Reaction to First Viewing of "Of Shark and Man" from Scarlet View Media on Vimeo.

Feedback so far from the people who have seen it (David Lawrie, David's mum, Eleni and David Edwards from EDNA) has been quite overwhelming really in that they all essentially said exactly the kind of things I hoped people who see the film would say. The opinions of people like these are crucial to me, they are all highly skilled and talented individuals with little patience for mediocrity. They judge the work of others based on their own high standards and were all too aware that merely stroking egos was of no use whatsoever. Four people have seen the film thus far, two who were already interested in sharks, two who merely had a normal, passing curiosity in sharks, all different age ranges and all loved it.

There is also a trailer, in fact there will be two trailers as of the early hours of Thursday morning but only one will be released.

I've taken a big risk with the trailer. Basically I got bored of seeing the same thing over and over again and as this film is geared towards a mass market audience, I need to appreciate how that audience works. The shark crowd will look after themselves, if you like sharks or films about sharks, you shouldn't need too much convincing to make the effort to see the film. Unfortunately, to the average person, pure conservation films are "boring" and their trailers often don't do anything to convince them otherwise. They've been at work all day (probably at a job they hate), they're tired, they want to be entertained so the thought of a plodding documentary talking at them about something they really don't care about is not going to rev their engine so to speak. Of Shark and Man isn't really a pure conservation film either, it's an engaging story about ordinary people doing extraordinary things in a tropical paradise.

The idea here is to use those preconceived misconceptions against those people in a way, to hook them in with something they can totally relate to, then let them choose to ask questions of what they thought they knew whilst getting a bit of a thrill along the way. They are in no way being misled, they are instead being told "hey, all those other documentaries you would never normally watch, well this isn't one of them."

Look at the trailer for Blackfish, a trailer I think is one of the best I have seen in a long time and it's no coincidence the film was such a big success because the trailer screams out "watch me!"

With regards to the trailer, I did a first edit and showed it to a few people, here's an excerpt of feedback I got one from one very trusted person who knows about this stuff:

"My husband and I sat here together and watched the trailer. After it was over, I looked at him and said, "What did you think?" His eyes were huge, and his mouth was slightly agape. He said, "I just realized I was holding my breath." He was so mesmerized by what he was watching, that he didn't even realize he was holding his breath. So that's definitely a good sign! 

I mean, I want him to start breathing again eventually, of course. So here's my impression: For me it was like taking a short, powerful journey. The first minute or so I felt like I was looking at myself in the mirror - sitting in a stale office, the vacant expression, just existing from one day to the next. Then the swimming scene - it really resonated with me, and I think it will with your audience too. How many of us just want to dive out of our mundane existence, and go toward something meaningful? Something completely different from what we experience every day? 

Then to suddenly get that break, where the music becomes stronger, the colors brighter, the motion faster.... I feel like I'm traveling with you because of how you have engaged the senses of the viewer. And I keep asking myself, "What's going to happen next?" 

I think that is the mark of a great storyteller, if the audience is so engaged that they have to know what happens next. And part of the reason the viewer wants to know what happens next is because early on in the trailer, by relaying your story of your unfulfilled life, and your desire for something more, you have made the audience care about you and what happens to you. The viewer becomes emotionally invested in the first few seconds, and that emotional investment only becomes stronger throughout the rest of the trailer. 

I thought the footage and music tied together beautifully - I know you were especially conscious of the music, and it shows. There was only one little nagging question mark I had in my mind at the end of the trailer, and that had to do with the ambiguity of the plot. I was trying to view the trailer as someone who maybe doesn't know your story. So I was asking myself, "What is the ultimate reason he is doing all of this? Is it to face fears? Challenge himself? Tell the story of the sharks of Fiji? Tell people why sharks are important and need to be helped?" But I don't think that ambiguity is necessarily a negative thing. Asking those questions of oneself would make the viewer want to watch the entire feature to learn the answer. So while part of me was wondering, well, what EXACTLY is this about? The other part of me is thinking, actually that's not a bad thing to leave it a little ambiguous in order to pique curiosity. 

But what it comes right down to is that I thought the trailer was exceptional. Obviously my husband did too, and I'm happy to inform you that he is indeed breathing again. Anyway, I hope all of this is helpful, and I didn't mean to write a dissertation. Well done, David. Very, very well done"

I was of course delighted with this feedback, especially with the comment about ambiguity which may surprise you, as I think ambiguity can drive an audience to watch the film to find out what the trailer i actually alluding to. My idea is, as a very good friend once said to me, "sell the sizzle, not the sausage." Give them just enough to pique their interest and curiosity so they have to see the film.

By the weekend there should be two functioning trailers and some of you out there will actually get a chance to see them and give me feedback which helps me choose which I release. It's not often a film-maker does that so if you're interested, email me at

Finally, how about this... "Of Shark and Man" will get its first ever official public screening on April 25th at Il Muestra De Cine Submarino De Aguimes in Aguimes, Gran Canaria!

Fernando who runs the festival and also Alianza Por Los Tiburones De Canarias was super, super keen to screen the film, which at that point, hadn't even been completed and when the city offered to put me up in my own Villa to go and screen the film along with a Q&A, it was an offer simply too good to turn down! This is going to be an amazing event and a great opportunity to see the reaction to the Director's Cut from an International audience.

I am really looking forward to this, Spain and the Spanish territories have been very supportive of my work, my career started there with A Ray of Light so Fernando's enthusiasm really meant a lot to me. Not only that, it was even announced on TV there that I was going!

Watch from 46:28!


So, if you're in Gran Canaria on Saturday April 25th, come along. The new David Doubilet film is also showing so I'm looking forward to that too!

Bit of a longer blog this time but I thought you all deserved a proper update! Keep an eye out for the trailer and remember, if you want a chance to choose which one goes out, email me!

Thursday, 5 March 2015

I Have Finally Watched Of Shark And Man In Full

Click photo for detail

Today I did something I've been wanting to do for four years, I actually watched Of Shark and Man start to finish in one full go.

That might sound odd but during the edit process the intro section was in a separate timeline as about a year ago I decided what I had wasn't cutting it and ripped the whole thing apart. This was stressful for me as I initially really liked it but as time wore on it just started to seem a bit...ordinary. These days shark films all tend to blend into one another, some good but unoriginal, others utterly turgid and uninspiring, occasionally there is the odd gem (Mexico Pelagico immediately springs to mind) and of course it's impossible not to judge the work of others against your own, so while watching other films was motivated by an interest in anything that had sharks in, there was also an element of seeing what others were doing, with or without proper budgets.

I never looked at these films as a possible source of inspiration though, even the ones I liked (and believe me, if there's a shark film available out there online, on TV or any other format, I've seen it) because I have known what I was going to do with "Of Shark and Man" for almost ten years now and my inspiration comes less and less from shark documentaries as time progresses because I don't just want to be the same as everyone else or take an easy option and I certainly don't want Of Shark and Man to simply become "just another shark film."

So, back to my original point, I was stressing about the intro because although it was certainly different, its execution was ordinary and a bit corny. It took probably a full year to come up with something that really presented the film as it deserves in the first few minutes, both conceptually and artistically because, as wanky as it may sound, I do see Of Shark and Man as a piece of art but of course, art is subjective...

Over the last year we (myself, David Lawrie and various talented Musicians) have been working (and losing sleep) on the soundtrack and sound design for the film and now the intro music has been finalised and believe me, that was a big, big job, I was able to actually take the intro and stick it onto the rest of the film and thus, tonight I got to watch he whole thing as it should be seen.

Screen Grab from Of Shark and Man

Theoretically I could have watched it sooner extremely easily but truth be told, I almost didn't want to, I was nervous, what if I didn't like it? What if I thought it was boring or kept seeing mistakes? I had actually been putting off watching the film because although people tell me I'm quite good at what I do and people seem to like it, when you've had the amount of people telling you that you're wasting your time or kidding yourself as I have had in the last few years (if I had a pound for every time I heard the phrase "cloud cuckoo land"...) then you undoubtedly experience periods of intense self doubt.

I exist in a bizarre mindset of supreme confidence shadowed by crippling self doubt all of which is driven by an almost psychotic desire to achieve perfection, if that even exists, all of which has both inspired and almost destroyed me in the last few years and all because of a film. It's kind of ridiculous when you think about it but hey, none of us are perfect right?... I am course, trying to address that...

Screen Grab from Of Shark and Man

So tonight was the night, the volume levels were all over the place as there is still a bit of sound design to add and a couple of music tracks to complete (next week) but it was still a functioning piece of work. So what did I discover?

My biggest fear is that the film would drag and get lost in a morass of self indulgence, at over 102 minutes, it would be really easy to bore an audience into a stupefying coma of disinterest and thankfully, even as my own biggest critic, the film absolutely flew by and that, to be honest, surprised me.

When you venture over the sixty minute mark, you're taking a big risk that you will lose your audience, sharks are awesome, we all like sharks but there are people out there who don't and it is they, if you have any aspirations of "changing the perception of sharks," who you need to engage.

Thankfully because of the sheer weight of content and calibre of the people on camera, the film carries everything really well. If anyone was going to get bored of the film it would be me, I have lived with it for almost five years now but at no point did I feel I was being weighed down by the feeling I had to finish it because I'd just spent the last hour watching it.

The music works really, really well and the sound design is fantastic, lack of sound design will kill a film before it gets going and that was a major reason why, when I started the edit, I spoke to David Lawrie about my idea to have sound be another character in the story, to accent, intensify and breathe life into the images on screen. Needless to say Dave has done an incredible job.

Screen Grab from Of Shark and Man

Also, and this was a big thing for me, the film just looks totally different to any other shark film out there and absolutely nothing like a documentary and that is exactly what I wanted because I don't see Of Shark and Man as a documentary, rather a feature length film with factual content. It was a difficult process to get that look right and it started with the filming itself. There is not a great deal of the "guerilla" style of cinematography, achieving this meant impressing on anybody filming when I wasn't, to see the beauty and the drama in what they were shooting. Cinematic was the order of the day and I think we achieved that.

The grade of course plays a big part in the look of the film too and I leaned heavily towards the filmic look, quite high contrast and using colour to tell the story with an almost 1970's look but brought into the modern era. It's not as super sharp as had I shot it on C100/300/500 or RED as I would have done if I were shooting it today (I own a C100 now) but the slightly softer edge actually gives the footage a more distinctive look from everything else in these days of 4,5 and 6K and lends itself well to that filmic look I was so passionate about capturing.

Now, of course it would be easy to say I was biased, of course I am and I certainly wouldn't be here saying "hey, I watched my film tonight, guess what, it sucks!" but I do think anybody with an interest in sharks will enjoy it, learn from it and take something, probably many things away after viewing it, but more importantly to me, I think it fulfils a goal I set from the start, to appeal to people who have no interest in sharks.

Screen Grab from Of Shark and Man

I think the thing I'm happiest with is the concept itself, bridging that gap between the urban landscape and a South Pacific paradise, the "everyman" idea which drives the whole story. Of Shark and Man is not merely people sitting down reeling off facts, it's a journey, a very real story told be real people who are being honest. I had no interest in taking a scientific approach, I didn't want to talk to an endless conveyor belt of researchers in labs repeating statistics, this is about visceral escapism.

That's not to say the film is light on facts, far from it, factual content drives everything in the film and regardless of your level of knowledge, you absolutely will learn something you don't already know, not only that, you will see things you have never seen before and that can only be a good thing can't it.

So what now?

Well, the official trailer is now almost complete and will give you a far better idea of what to expect than simply reading the above. The plan for that is that I will allow a few people to see the trailer privately and give their feedback before its release and this could include you, more on that in the coming weeks.

The website has been registered and is being designed, as are the Twitter and Facebook pages. Behind the Scenes videos will be coming out soon and most importantly, opportunities for you to actually see the film and make up your own mind!

There is also a brilliant opportunity that has been presented to me which I am 99.9% certain I will be able to to do which excites me enormously!

Finally, I just want to say this, if you are an independent Film-Maker who has made or is making your own film about sharks, I applaud you for getting out there and having a go at doing something. The more independent shark films out there the better in my opinion. If you're an aspiring Film-Maker and you have no idea where to start or you have questions nobody else seems willing to answer, please, always feel free to drop me a line and I will always try to help you if I can. I may not be Fincher, Kubrick or Spielberg (obviously, I wish I was!) but I'm always happy to be of any assistance I can.

As always, keep your peepers peeled for updates, after years of hearing "it's almost done," I can now tell you that unequivocally, it's almost done!

Saturday, 28 February 2015

Eugenie Clark and Richard Theiss

Dr Eugenie Clark - A True Pioneer
 I know it's probably a little late but I still felt I should mark the passing of Eugenie Clark, a woman who was a massive influence on me and who can claim some responsibility for the existence of this blog and everything I have done in relation to my work with sharks over the last twenty or so years.

The world of shark diving and its influence on popular culture, although seemingly a macho pursuit was in fact pioneered by women and none more so the Dr Clark. She was a lady with bigger balls than most men I know, a huge intellect and passion and by all accounts a truly lovely, down to earth and friendly person.

As a kid I vividly remember being in 2nd year at primary school, what is now known in the UK as Year 4 (I think) and already being shark mad, I found a book in our classroom about Eugenie and her adventures with sharks, it may have been the original pressing of "The Lady and The Sharks," and reading about when she and her kids were at the beach, all of them in the water when a large Hammerhead approached, as everyone else made a swift exit from the water, Eugenie described how she and her kids just stared in wonder, overjoyed at such a close encounter and that really stuck with me. There was also the National Geographic documentary featuring her work with the Moses Sole and both the book and that film were staples of my formative passion for sharks.

Thanks for the inspiration Dr Clark.
 Richard Theiss - A great pro and a wonderful man

I also want to mention the sad passing of Richard Theiss. A passionate shark lover, great pro and a really nice guy, Richard and I would chat via email intermittently and he helped me a lot when I was starting this journey. Richard really was one of the good guys and his immense popularity amongst his peers is testament to this. I won't post lengthy platitudes about Richard as that is for people who knew him far better than I but I do want to say to Richard, thank you for everything.

Condolences and best wishes to his family and close friends whom it was obvious he cared for deeply.

We've lost two of the genuine leaders in our world and they will be greatly missed.