Friday, 9 December 2011

Things I learnt watching "Tintorera!"

1. In 1970's Mexico, the only things that happened were shark attacks and orgies. (Confirmation Mike?)
2. "Chopper Chicks in Zombie Town," "Johnny Mnemonic" and "Titanic" are still the worst films I have ever seen
3. If you and your buddy's double act is reminiscent of Ted Bundy and The Zodiac, you will get all the hot chicks
4. Susan George is a terrible dancer
5. Apparently if you don't speak English or Spanish, you don't deserve to know what is being said in 50% of this film

6. This man (above) is utterly irresistible to women despite looking like a permanently constipated Kenny Everett
7. Continuity and plot are not at all important, the character of Steve is first seen in a hospital bed after having collapsed at work, he is next seen, within sixty seconds, on a boat in Mexico, with no explanation whatsoever.
8. You can cover the real time period of ten days in less than two minutes, even without a montage, you just have to say it's been ten days. 
9. "Tintorera!" has some of, if not the, most realistic shark attack sequences I have ever seen.
10. In the 1970's, it seems attempted rape is something women think is funny.
11. "Zazzil" is the Mayan word for scotch on the rocks. I learnt this during this dazzling exchange;

"What's a zazzil?
"Zazzil huh? It's the Mayan word for Scotch on the rocks,"
"I'll have a Vodka and tonic...aren't you going to have your Zazzil?"
"I think I'll have a Martguerita"

12. No matter what your film is actually about and no matter how boring it might be, it becomes instantly watchable, even enjoyable, if you put sharks in it and on the cover. See the Burt Reynolds straight to video masterpiece "Shark" as proof. Full film here if you're interested.
13. Our attitude to sharks has changed enormously and without question, for the better.
14. CGI sharks really, really suck. Although that's hardly news to anyone, if this (brilliant) piece of crap can offer up live shark footage like they have, there is no excuse for Hollywood to keep forcing bad CGI sharks upon us when the real thing looks as good as it does.
15. Susan George swims like she's riding a bike.
16. Two men sharing one woman never ends well. 

17. The 70's looks like possibly the most fun anyone has ever had. (Confirmation Mike?)
18.  It's possible to make a film entirely about threesomes seem mainstream if you put sharks in it.
19. The cutaway wasn't invented when this film was made meaning the main character appears to be in up to four different places at the same time.
20. It's still shocking to see actual live animals being killed purely for a film, how things change!
21. I still have no idea whether Steve lives or dies at the end, an ending which looks as though they just ran out of time and had an hour to finish the film.

Is Tintorera! a good film? Hell no! Is it unintentionally funny? Yes! The real life Shark/Turtle/Eagle Ray killings aside, I actually quite enjoyed it. If you like films with the following ingredients, sharks, boobs, beards, speedos and really bad dubbing, then you might too.

Make your own mind up here. Feel free to post your own reviews in the comments section.

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Monday, 5 December 2011

Two of my favourite things, Blue Sharks and the Balearic islands (video)

I was sent this video the other day by a good friend who knew I would be interested, of course because it has a shark in it but also the location, Menorca.

I am a  lover of the Balearic islands, Spain and the Spanish people and culture, my first ever film, "Behind Blue Glass" was shot in Mallorca and was to a large extent, about Mallorca, at least its history with the Great White Shark (ahem, available to buy very soon from a selected outlet, check here and sign up to the mailing list for further info)...

I love Blue Sharks, they're a beautiful animal, the vivid blue hue you see in this video is nothing compared to when you actually get up close to one in the water, they're magnificent, graceful animals and one of the shark species I feel to be truly "iconic." This video is an interesting one for a couple of reasons.

First of all, the Blue Shark is very much a pelagic species, that is, it generally speaking spends most if not all of its life in deep waters, miles offshore, traversing thousands and thousands of miles of ocean each year and is the archetypal ocean nomad. It is unusual to see Blue Sharks as close to land, in shallow waters as this shark is in the video but it's not that unusual in the Balearics and off the coast of Spain...

I've just done a search for the pics I have seen in UK and Spanish newspapers of Blue Sharks appearing in shallow waters close to shore and this popped up, apparently a film from 1977 where the cover depicts a Blue Shark, is called "Blue Shark" (Tintorera in Spanish) yet then says Tiger Shark...Bit weird but no doubt I'll be trying to find a download of this later. Anyway, where was I?...

Oh yeah, Blue Sharks close to shore. It happens pretty much every year in the Mediterranean, particularly off the Spanish and French coast, a Blue Shark turned up in Palma Port a couple of weeks after I left this year (typical), Barcelona sees this fairly regularly also and I remember a story a few years back about a windsurfer being surrounded by up to a dozen Blue Sharks off St Tropez in France.
I'm not going to try to give an all encompassing, generic explanation for each and every instance as we just don't know what will motivate lone individuals to venture so close to shore, even beach themselves. Large groups can be more rationally explained as reacting to a movement of prey or environmental factors perhaps but we don't know what's going on in the mind of an individual shark or what has caused such unusual behaviour although I'm pretty sure at least someone on the internet will try to say it's to do with some apocalyptic environmental event to help attract numbers to their Facebook group (yes there is some bile still left over from the last blog...)

So, the video. First off, contrary to the appearance of a fishing rod, I don't think the shark has been hooked at any point, nor do I think they people in the video are trying to hook it, it looks to me like they're actually trying to shoo it away and help it on its way, contrary to the belief that everyone who owns a fishing rod is some kind of bloodthirsty murderer. I don't speak Spanish though, aside from various shark names, swear words (of course!) and knowing how to find a toilet, I am pretty useless, if anyone out there does speak Spanish, any chance of a basic idea of what the people in the video are saying? At least the running theme anyway?
The shark itself doesn't look in great shape to me, it looks disorientated, sluggish and confused and it's repeated 180 degree tuns whilst hugging the wall could suggest it's trying to find its way out to deeper water, which would also in turn suggest its got lost somehow, again, we won't know for certain but it's a decent hypothesis. If you look closely, it has a fairly pronounced wound on its head/snout. Now, this shark looks like a female to me but I can't be sure, I'm basing that on only getting a topside view but that wound is not a mating scar.

Aside from the head wound, the shark actually looks in decent shape, aesthetically anyway, but in its movements, it doesn't look like a Blue Shark normally would. They are wiry, agile, fast moving sharks with an elegant grace accentuated by it's sleek, narrow build, this one just looks drunk.

The head wound could be a part of this, has it taken a whack from another shark? A boat perhaps? Maybe...

The shark is in what looks pretty much like a typical Mediterranean small fishing port, could it be that this shark has followed a small fishing fleet back to the harbour, got trapped and is disorientated, trying to find its way out to deeper water? The stories you may have read about commercial and small fishing fleets being followed for miles by sharks, you can be pretty certain that in most occassions, the sharks following them would have included Blue Sharks, it's just something they do.

We have seen when aquaria try to house Great White Sharks it just doesn't work and the major factor in that is the White Shark's natural tendency to roam large areas of sea, the Blue Shark is not dissimilar, in the videos from Monteray Aquarium when they have housed juvenile White Sharks, you see elements of disorientation in their behaviour, hugging the walls, nudging them to the extent they severely damage their snouts, it looks to me that this Blue Shark is clearly looking for a way out and is not fully compus mentis, a side effect of the head wound? The relative confinement of the environment compared to its normal surroundings or both?

That head wound doesn't look too serious to me, these are hardy, tough animals so this could be a temporary straying off course and after the video ends, the shark finally finds her way out to more familiar surroundings. There is a temptation to raise the subject of the almost total annihilation of fish life in the Mediterranean making it harder and harder for sharks of all species resident or regularly to occassionally  occurring in the Med, fifty-three since records began in 1758, to find food meaning that what may ordinarily be a relatively minor wound which would cause no real impact to a shark elsewhere in the world, could actually have amore drastic effect on a shark in the industrially ravaged Med but that would be mere conjecture, it just as likely has absolutely nothing to do with it, than it has any relevence to this particular shark.

Hopefully this particularly beautiful shark made it out in the end and is happily swinning around one of the world's most beautiful cluster of islands.

Edit: I have just been informed by a Gibraltan friend of mine that the gist of what the guys in the video are saying is general amazement and shock that the shark is there, they dare the one with the fishing rod (jokingly) to try and catch it, at which point the shark almost snatches his rod, the general shock and awe continues and one says he thinks it's staring at him, again, semi serious. Shortly after, the shark swims off.

Another edit: The trailer for Tintorera!

Just a quick word about the last blog. Yes it was a bit controversial I suppose but the feedback I have received has been 100% positive. I lost a couple of people off the Facebook group but over on Linkedin, it seems the marine biology and science community seem to want to read more of the same from me. What is thoroughly encouraging is that the people who contacted me to register their approval are entirely made up of people who know sharks, work with sharks and whose opinions are the opinions I would make an effort to hear myself so that's good. It certainly seems to have hit the mark as it is still being read no less than three hundred times a day so it's nice to know I wasn't just speaking to myself or addressing the ether.

Thank you all for the kind words and re-blogging, it means a lot.

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Monday, 21 November 2011

Behind Blue Glass, Ongoing projects and some cool stuff!

It's been far too long since I last did a blog to let you know what's going on in my world so here is a long overdue update...

Behind Blue Glass
Remember the film I shot in Mallorca about Great White Sharks and the flip side to shark/human interaction you normally see in the media? Things have been dragging a bit due to the "Of Shark and Man" shoot, post-production on that and some other projects that have come my way so as a way to refresh your memories, watch this ninety second trailer:


Full size version here

I know it says on the trailer it was due to be released in the summer but sometimes, things don't always go as quickly as you'd like. The good news however, is that this is almost ready for release, meaning you can buy a copy on DVD for yourself. I have pretty much confirmed a distributor and agreement, the film is being subtitled into Spanish and the behind the scenes bonus stuff, DVD packaging and authoring of menus is now being done. I am hoping it will be made available by the retailer online and when it is available, you will be the first to know!

Of Shark and Man
The editing of a film like "Of Shark and Man" is a pretty epic task, more so when you're doing it on your own, even more so when you're negotiating your way around various technical problems that are a product of putting something like this together in the way I have! However, if you saw the private teaser trailer then you will have a fair idea of how good this film is going to look and hopefully you will have also notice a refreshing change from the usual modern approach of treating an audience like idiots and titillating them with shark porn or boring them half to death, I'm trying to capture the excitement and adventure of the 70's and 80's heyday of shark film-making and to also tell a story that you don't already know. If you haven't seen the trailer yet, why? The only excuse you could have is that you don't have internet and if that's the case, you won't be reading this anyway. If you do want to see it and if you like sharks, you should, all you have to do is sign up to the mailing list here (scroll down), it takes about ten seconds and your details are secure and you will not be spammed. Because I'm nice, I'll be sending out the link and password in the next bit of news I send to subscribers and not just that, you might even be getting some more cool stuff to see before anyone else (more on that in "other projects"...)

If you don't already know, you don't just come back from a shoot and start putting everything in a timeline and voila, you have a film. What I have been doing since August is the very unglamourous but essential part of being a film-maker. Almost 3TB of footage needs to be painstakingly separated, catalogued, pre-edited, encoded/converted and logged so when it comes to the edit I have specific content and shots ready and easy to find so the best of the best is going into the film. To put it into perspective, there are folders like "Bull Sharks closeup swimming left to right," that means going through hours of footage to find scenes where Bull Sharks are closeup swimming left to right and for every left to right, there has to be a right to left, non-closeup, good viz, bad viz...You get the idea. In one five minute clip there could be shots that fit every criteria I need so that clip needs to be edited and catalogued over and over and over again. This takes a hell of a lot of time and effort but means when the edit starts it will be a much easier task.

I have also started shooting the UK scenes in my beloved Manchester in all its grey and overcrowded glory, the only things left now are storyboarded shots for the film's intro and a specific shot I want to open the film but I need to find somewhere which has what I need to film and will allow me access in private to do so.

I am really, really excited about this film and I hope you are too, I am confident it's going to be something pretty special!

Ongoing Projects
As well as everything to do with Behind Blue Glass and Of Shark and Man, I have been working on two other short videos in support of something I can't say anything about yet, but it's something about which I am very passionate. It's also not my story to tell but these two videos will help support the telling of this story and breaking of the news when hopefully, they (the amazing people in the thick of the action) are in a position to do so. The intention is that one will be used as an internet viral type PSA, the other for broadcast on national television.

It's early doors at the moment, nothing is 100% guaranteed but it's all positive so far, as usual, mailing list subscribers will be the first to know as, when and if I am able to break the news so go sign up because you don't want to miss this if it happens.

Cool Stuff

Finally, here's some cool stuff which I rather enjoyed, some shark related, some nothing to do with sharks but brilliant nonetheless, think of them as a bit of an apology for my enforced silence this last couple of weeks!

An epic and thoroughly justified rant

A dead cert for an OSCAR surely? Thanks to Mike for the heads up

(Click this link) - Great band, great tunes and all for free! Check it out

The 21st century prophet yet again, speaking the truth, very funny, very true (warning, some blue language!)

Enjoy the cool stuff and I'll be back soon hopefully with yet more good news and delightful goodness for you!

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Monday, 31 October 2011

To Cull or not to Cull? That is the (stupid) question...

Firstly, let me apologise for my relative silence the last couple of weeks, not only have I been obscenely busy working my way through a mountain of things to do in regards to both "Of Shark and Man" and "Behind Blue Glass" (updates to come on the latter shortly including details about its release) but I have also been in attendance again at this years Dive Show in Birmingham and have also had my monthly technological problems meaning my laptop has been in for repair.

Also, contrary to an email I received yesterday asking if what they had heard about me was true, no I am not dead, I can confirm that I was not, nor have I ever been, killed in a motorway accident!!

Anyway, on to business...

With the three recent fatalities in Western Australia, the spectre of a shark cull has loomed large with echoes of JAWS and the Australian Fisheries Minister giving the go ahead to catch and kill the "killer shark." There are several problems with this, as the wonderful Valerie states in the video, how on earth can the authorities ensure they catch what they believe to be the lone shark responsible? The method of drum lining for sharks is hardly selective and how will they know if any shark they catch is responsible for any of the attacks? It also raises the nonsense theory of the "rogue shark" again, that is, a shark which actually swims around with a taste for human flesh, looking for humans to eat, in other words, something which doesn't exist so in effect, the Australian government is authorising a witch hunt, a hunt as worthwhile as trying to catch a fart in a fishing net.

Given my enforced absence and late arrival onto the scene commenting on this story, there is no point in me discussing the attacks in any detail, instead I want to focus on something else which has barely been mentioned and which, in my opinion, could have serious ramifications for sharks around the globe.

If you are one of the thousands of people partaking in the various incarnations of the brilliant "Occupy Wall Street" campaign or indeed, an ordinary football supporter in the UK, you will have a decent grasp of the hypocrisy of governments when it comes to the enforcement of laws, by that I mean that laws exist to stop you or I doing certain things or behaving in a certain way, for example, unprovoked violence against another person is an offence punishable by law, that is unless it's the police assaulting ordinary people with no justification at the behest of the government, then it's seemingly OK and although I'm veering towards digressing here, it's this moving of the goal posts and its relevance to this shark cull that needs to be addressed.

The Great White Shark is a protected species in various parts of the world including Australia, where law dictates that to catch and kill one is an illegal offence. That is, unless the government is killing them, then it seems, much like the physical abuse of people exercising their freedom of speech and expression, it becomes OK.

When the government decides to bend their own rules based on nothing more than an attempt to appease a minority of it's citizens, it makes a mockery of all the laws it places on its people. What would now stop a commercial shark fisherman asking why, if it's OK for the government to kill a protected and vulnerable species, is it not OK for him to do so? If the government are telling him the Great White Shark is in need of protection then going out and killing them themselves, were they telling him the truth about this shark's vulnerable status in the first place. How would the upholders of the law react to an ordinary fisherman bringing a Great White Shark into dock, would they look to prosecute him and if so, how would they react if he (quite rightly in a perverse way) were to say "well, you're doing it, why can't I?"

The Australian government needs to have a word with itself, they either protect the Great White Shark or they don't. I'm gonna be honest here and it may piss a few people off, the Australian government's attitude to serious shark conservation is a joke, a backwards, unfunny joke, just look at this year's reversal of the laws protecting Sand Tiger Sharks around Fish Rock in NSW by this idiot

That brings me on to my next point, the issue of shark culling isn't an occasional news story, it is actually something which happens every single year in Australia and South Africa with the archaic use of shark nets and this is the fourth suggested shark cull this year alone with The Seychelles, Mexico and Costa Rica also wanting in on the act.

The Seychelles is an interesting one because the use of shark nets has been recommended by a team of "experts" from South Africa including Geremy Cliff, the very same Geremy Cliff of the KZN Sharks Board, the same KZN Sharks Board who, it is alleged, sell the fins of the sharks they find dead in the nets, to the Asian Shark Fin industry which, if true, must raise questions as to whether their motives are for the nets remaining in place to continue to provide negligible protection to bathers at netted beaches or to continue to benefit financially from the unsustainable trade in shark fins?

Shark nets are even less selective than drumlines and with the Australian government's intentions to initiate a shark cull it now seems to me that in Australia, Great White Sharks are protected, that is unless they're killed in shark nets...or on drumlines...or indeed any other way the government deems appropriate when it decides to break its own laws.

There is some good to come out of this though, a quick googling of the Australian shark cull, shows overwhelming opposition in the media, from experts, from the scientific community and of course, the millions of facebook groups which have been set up in protest. We've come a long way, back when I started in shark conservation over twenty years ago (Jesus, I feel old) a cull was the standard response to an attack pretty much everywhere and were undertaken with almost zero opposition. Public perception is changing thankfully but until the world's governments actually start listening to their people (instead of attacking them with tear gas and batons) when they speak out for change, we won't achieve anywhere near what we need to. The only way we can make our leaders act responsibly is to speak out, act up and make them listen, after all, they work for us, not the other way around.

Friday, 14 October 2011

Sarah Shark Episode 2

You may remember a couple of months ago, I stumbled across Sarah Richmond, or "Sarah Shark" as she is better known who had made a half hour documentary about Wobbegongs which was really, pretty good! I had never heard of Sarah before but what I thought was great about what she was doing was that she is obviously a passionate shark lover and was out there doing something positive, creative and something which was of a very high standard, higher than I was expecting if I'm being honest.

Well, Sarah's back and this time she's tackling the far sexier and much better known, Great White Shark.

I'm a bit of a fan actually, there's something incredibly likable about Sarah as a host and she's clearly very passionate. What she does extremely well is that she doesn't allow this to manifest itself into some chest beating pious war cry blinding by inaccuracies and anti-human propaganda, in fact, quite the opposite. She sticks to the facts , involves the general public and allows the viewer to make his or her own mind up.
This episode, like the first is clearly aimed at an already sympathetic audience and has an almost innocent quality to it, it's not trying to be arty, controversial or sensationalist, it just is what it is, a small group of talented and passionate people doing something they all clearly enjoy doing and that's one of its major strengths.

In this episode, Sarah and the team look at the issue of shark nets, film some very big and beautiful cuttlefish and go cage diving with the White Sharks off Port Lincoln.

The shark nets issue could have been a bit more in-depth maybe but then again, the episodes last less than half an hour and they more than cram enough in without anything seeming like it's been brushed over so this section in particular more than gets its point across.

It's filmed well, the sound is good and once again, the graphics used to illustrate certain points are top notch, a real professional edge to everything. The basics are done well also, Sarah's narrative and pieces to camera are delivered articulately and at a suitable pace which although sounding obvious, gets the points she's making across well. Pieces to camera aren't easy, a lot less easy than you probably think and it's something she does very well.

The White Shark footage is good too. It can be restrictive filming from a cage with angles and shots being somewhat limited, add to that the time constraints of what I imagine was only a couple of days at sea to get the shots but they did a really good job.

I said in the previous review that what Sarah and her team is doing isn't groundbreakingly original or completely new, but it doesn't need to be. It doesn't hide behind a glossy veneer of "art" to make up for lack of substance. It is what it is, it gets a message across and it's put together and promoted very well and people are certainly seeming to take an interest. The highlight of this episode, well, both episodes put together for me, is a simple reaction, a three second scene where, when passed by a very large shark, Sarah jumps up in the water squealing with delight, it's those honest, unscripted moments of enthusiasm, enjoyment and positivity, which often do far more to help sharks and the image of sharks, than constant images of death and slaughter.
Well done again Sarah and the Sarah Shark team, looking forward to part three!

As for me, well, coming soon will be some info on "Behind Blue Glass" which I am hoping will finally be released very soon and also some progress reports on post production for "Of Shark and Man" which after having spent the last six weeks reviewing, cataloguing and filing a month's worth of footage, I can tell you, is looking like it's gonna be pretty damn special! Keep your eyes peeled and join the mailing list!!!! The feedback from the private teaser promo which you will only have seen if you are on the mailing list, attended the BiteBack fundraiser or are one of the select few I sent the link to directly, has been nothing short of phenomenal.

have a top weekend!

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Tuesday, 4 October 2011

Making It Happen Part 4

So you've got your money, you've got your backing, you've done the endless hours and sleepless nights but you did it, you're about to embark on your film shoot!...Now is the time for the real hard work!
It took me nine months and twenty seven days to go from nothing to hearing that I was definitely on my way to Fiji and that was when I thought to myself that the pressure was most definitely on. I'd made a lot of promises and had a lot of faith put in me and it was my responsibility to repay that faith so I wanted to get it right, from pre-production basics to post production essentials, it was imperative I didn't mess this up!

The basics

None of this stuff really needs me to go into too much detail but I would urge you to take this advice!
  • Make sure, as in 100% sure, you have everything insured!
  • If you don't have them, buy durable, long lasting, water proof hard cases for your gear
  • Research any health and safety issues like jabs and vaccinations if applicable and get them
  • Take batteries, loads of them, buy as many as you think you could possibly use, then buy more
  • Insure yourself!
  • Quadruple check everything, pack as little as possible, travel light and get written confirmation of any help you have been offered
  • Take a first aid kit and make sure someone in your crew is a qualified first aider
  • Take local currency, travellers cheques and credit cards
  • Take any available spares of anything you can't live without
  • Take superglue

 What equipment to use?

I shot a rather impressive sequence of scenes for a "dream sequence" type thing for the film at Pinewood Studios early this year using a camera which cost £100,000 in a custom built housing with three crew and the total cost of probably an hours shoot would have been about half a million quid. Yes it looks amazing but you don't need that sort of cash to get stunning results.

I made  a promise from day one that I would use only equipment that is accessible to pretty much anybody with average financial means. Of course there are a great many people who can't afford the absolute essentials in life so to some these things are out of reach, however, to the everyday Joe on the street in full time employment, they are easily available and affordable, more affordable to some than others but still, the importance that broadcast quality can be achieved with stuff you can get your hands on pretty easily.


This is the video diary where I talk about the gear we used to shoot the film so have a look at that, below is also a breakdown of the gear.


We used two Canon 7D cameras as the main shooting cameras and a Canon 550D for stuff on the boat and when the two 7D's were in their housings. Both cameras shoot full HD 1080p to a broadcast standard in different frame rates, 24fps, 25fps and 30fps in 1080p with the additional option of HD 720p which will shoot up to 50fps, ideal for slow mo footage. Bear in mind in the edit, you will need to resize your 720p footage to match the 1080p shots.

We also used one of these believe it or not, the Canon Ixus 100. Small enough to fit inside a fag packet (handy if you're in a bit of a moody neighbourhood at night) but it shoots 720p HD video! It is a ridiculous camera, purely because the quality to price ratio is so good, I can't help but think canon are having us over about something. If you signed up to the mailing list and received the private promo teaser today, there is a shot in there filmed on this camera, I challenge you to tell me which it is.

We also used a Go Pro for some pretty cool stuff. Go Pro cameras seem to be taking over the world at the moment and I'll be honest, I fell in love a little bit. They shoot HD with an ultra wide angle and they're tiny, I strapped one to my underwater rig so I was able to film my reactions and also what was going on behind me, put one on my chest for the dives when I had to pass my camera to Hamish and take a pole for a POV shot of what I was seeing and also, they went on the wrist of a feeder, you won't get a closer view of an enormous Bull Shark milliseconds before it bites, anywhere else. As I don't have a Go Pro, I borrowed Mike's (thanks again Mike!) so if anyone from Go Pro is reading, I will not complain if you send me one with the attachments, I will happily make it a staple of my kit!


In case you're wondering, unfortunately that isn't my personal collection of lenses!

Lenses are very important in getting the desired shots you're after and a big benefit of the DSLR cameras in that you have a lot of flexibility. We used a selection of lenses, some we already owned and others we bought in Incheon Airport, South Korea which I still feel like I stole because they were so cheap!

The primary lens for this shoot on the 7D was the brilliant 15-85mm lens. We also used a brilliant 50mm prime lens I picked up in said airport for £60, a 70-300mm lens Hamish bought for £124(!!!) and a 18-55mm on the 550D.

For underwater shots, we used the 10-22mm super wide angle lens. All lenses were, of course, Canon lenses and were chosen for various scenarios, interviews, scenic, atmospheric, zoom, low light and impact. If you're not shooting underwater and can only afford one lens, I'd go for the 15-85mm lens, it's amazing and very versatile.


You may be forgiven for concentrating everything on the visuals of your film but avoid that at all costs. make no mistake, sound is as important as image. You could have a beautiful shot, with a great interview subject and amazing content but if the sound is crap, you can't use it. Capturing good sound is essential and also pretty easy.

For interviews, always, if possible, mic up your subject with a lapel mic. I used this which I found for £6, (can't remember how though!) and I really can't fault it. In a rare moment of ingenuity, I came upon the idea of forgoing the usual radio receiver route and instead ran it directly into the Zoom H1N which is one of the best things I have ever bought and now stays in my camera bag wherever I go. Simply plug the mic into the Zoom, check the level with headphones (don't go over -6db) and press record, it's that easy and it sounds ace. You don't get interference either from rogue radio waves, if you've seen Spinal Tap, think back to the scene in the airbase, you'll know what I mean!

We also ran the Zoom H4N for additional sound on me as interviewer and for ambient sounds. Make sure you set the H4N to record at 48Khz so it matches with the H1N in the edit, something I didn't learn until yesterday, avoid the pain in the arse fiddling with sound I have to do in the final edit by heeding my advice!

Another essential in the "From the Office..." shooting rig is the Rode Video Mic which can be attached directly to the camera or to a makeshift boom running into the H4N.

Take a few pairs of headphones, take time to get the sound right before you shoot and never underestimate the importance and power of gaffer tape and electrical tape, I owe a lot to that stuff!

pic by the ridiculously amazing Michael Patrick O'Neill


If you're taking your camera underwater you want it to stay dry, if you're taking your camera underwater to meet ginormous Bull Sharks it better be made of stern stuff so don't scrimp on this vital piece of kit because if you do, you'll regret it, trust me.

Both Hugh and myself use the Nauticam NA-7D and I cannot speak highly enough of this absolute beast of a housing. It's relatively light, ergonomic, easy to assemble, easy to use and my god is it solid. If a burglar ever tries to break into Casa Diley, I know what I'll be using to see him off, it's an absolute monster and I can confirm from practical testing that they are Bull Shark proof! This housing took three very heavy bites from the world's biggest Bull Sharks and survived almost without a scratch, with the camera happy, snug and most importantly, dry, afterwards. You can count me as a big fan!

I got mine from the supremely talented and all around wonderful bloke, Alex Tattersall at 

Bits and Pieces

First off, get a good, roomy camera bag that is easy to carry, I got one of the Lowepro Slingshot bags, not cheap by any stretch but it's very good.

You will need at least 32gb of storage space per camera for a days shoot, I got three 16gb Transcend CF Cards which are cheaper than SanDisk and as far as I can tell, at least as good, I've never had any bother with them at all. Spread your storage around, if you choose to go with one big card and you have a flood or a malfunction of some sort, that's all your footage on the card dead, don't take that risk!

Get filters for your lenses, seriously, do it. Get at least a polariser and ND filter for every lens you have, if you don't, things like reflections and washed out, white sky will ruin your shots.

Get lens cleaning kits and use them, every day.

A spare battery for each camera is essential.

Another essential is a good card reader, you'll appreciate the difference! I use this Lexar one and when you download your footage EVERY DAY (more on that later) and you need to put it somewhere so stock up on external hard drives, I have a 3TB Seagate GoFlex master drive, two 1TB Seagate HDDs, three 500GB Seagate HDD's and a Toshiba 650GB drive, that was just me, Hamish brought about 4TB of storage space and Hugh about 3TB. We didn't use all of that space by any means but we had the option to, you see where I'm going with this?

Buy, and use (!!) a decent tripod. Monopods are also good to have and I also use this shoulder support. It's not the best granted, in fact it melted on day two but fortunately I also had my Frankenstein shoulder support, this monopod shoulder mount with this screwed in the bottom where the monopod is supposed to go as a back up. I will be investing in a better shoulder support asap!

For DSLR movie shooting, an LCD Viewfinder is an essential purchase because you get a magnified view of your shot and more importantly it keeps the sun from your LCD screen meaning you don't make a dog's dinner of the exposure, I use one like this but I am looking to upgrade in the future. It does the job though!

The production

A year before I even set foot in Fiji, I was able to watch this film in my head from start to finish, I had a very distinct idea of the look, the flow and the story I wanted to capture and that's important when you are making a film which is based on factual events that have already taken place. Of course, that is only half of the story of this film so you must be aware that if you want to do similar, at least half your story will only happen as it happens when you're shooting, just be sure you are ready to capture it!

Write a Screenplay and scratch script

This is important for two reasons, firstly, you as a director need to know what you want to capture and secondly, you need to have an idea of the edit. I am a firm believer in shooting for the benefit of how you intend to edit. This of course applies to the things you can control like specific pieces to camera, interviews and scenic pieces. You have an idea of shooting someone walking along a beach at sunset, is that right to left or left to right? Is it a wide shot, closeup or in between the two? Is anyone else present? You can see all this stuff in your head, your cameraman can't, write it down, draw a diagram if you can as well.

You have a lot of stuff you want to say in your film but how are you going to say them? Don't just tell, show your audience as well and what's the best way to show your audience in the most effective way? All this needs to be written down using diagrams so your cameraman knows what on earth you're on about when you describe the shot you want.
Your script is important because you absolutely must articulate what you want to say as succinctly as possible. You know those times when you are having an argument with someone, you walk away and think "agggh I wish I'd said that!?" Don't get stuck in that situation, write down what you want to say in certain parts of the film and memorise it.

Your script and screenplay will change when you get home after the shoot and will need to be re-written, that's what I'm doing now and you'll be glad you did the work before shooting started when you get to this point.

Own the production

It's your vision, it's your reputation on the line and it's your name attached to the film so own the production and control it as much as you can whilst also allowing your crew to feel involved in artistic decisions and able to contribute their own ideas.

If you shrink away and allow others to control your film, making decisions you don't agree with and it turns out a pale version of your initial idea, it won't be them who cops the blame, it will be you so be strong and this might mean conflict so don't shy away from that. In my days in Nerve Engine, conflict over artistic direction was a constant for ten years, sometimes over the tiniest detail and looking back, some of it was ridiculous but it was always for the best reasons and most importantly it was never personal. We are all still the best of friends and we can joke about it now.

It was difficult for me to begin with, being in charge of a shoot where the other members of the crew were more experienced than me. Did I make mistakes? Yes I did, mistakes where I should have listened to advice sooner and mistakes when I should have forced my decision more and there were minor conflicts throughout the shoot but this isn't a bad thing. If everyone is passionate about the end result then people will disagree, it's a fact of life, listen to what others are saying, their ideas might be better than yours and ensure you present your ideas with respect for your crew and with reasons why you want to do certain things then discuss the options. For example, I originally intended to do scripted pieces to camera, we quickly discovered that although these were fine, we had stumbled upon a way to do them much, much better and that is now a main facet of my on screen delivery. If my crew hadn't felt able to raise the suggestion and I hadn't listened, the film would not be as good.

Remember though, it's your responsibility, the final decision is yours, it's your film, if it's great then accept the praise with humility but if it's not received well, accept the criticism with good grace and accept the responsibility for it not being up to scratch, if you're willing to bask in the glory of a work of genius you also have to be willing to hold your hands up and take the blame if things don't go according to plan. It's not your crew's fault.

Failure to prepare, is preparing to fail

If at all possible, spend the weeks leading up to your shoot preparing all your shooting and sound settings.

Unfortunately we didn't have the opportunity to shoot underwater in similar surroundings before getting to Fiji so the early underwater footage does not match with the stuff we shot when we got our settings sorted but thankfully this is not too big an issue as we sorted our glitch with plenty of time to spare.

When shooting topside, I wholeheartedly recommend setting your Canon DSLR to the downloadable Cinestyle setting. You remember I mentioned shooting to suit the edit? Well this is absolutely ideal for that. It is apparent when shooting that the image you see looks very flat, lifeless and desaturated, however, this setting allows complete flexibility in post production. Your camera records the colours but doesn't present them allowing you to boost, desaturate, change and basically, create a whole new palette for each scene. For the promo trailer I screened at BiteBack the strength of this setting became apparent as it was a joy to work with the footage at colour correction and grading stage, if you've seen it, you will appreciate how vibrant it looks, believe me, the raw footage looks nothing like that!

However, DO NOT use this setting underwater, it sucks! Use a red filter along with which ever preset you like the look of, white balance and use lights if the situation needs them.

Also don't use Auto ISO, that is unless you enjoy denoising and having the sky change colour every two seconds. I never like to go above 800, 200 is my automatic choice, 800 at a push in real low light. Use the aperture, specific lenses and lights to get the light you need, don't crank the ISO, you'll just saturate the shots with horrible noise which needs removing and takes forever to render in post production.

Also, match your cameras before every scene, you don't want to be doing that in post because, well, it's a complete ballache that takes ages when you could solve the problem by spending two minutes matching when you're preparing your shot.

Shoot B-Roll and lots of it! 

B-Roll if you' don't already know, is when you shoot cutaways, like scenery, people,animals, weather etc and is used to join shots together. Long shots of the same thing are boring to look at and having a ton of B-Roll gives you options to cut scenes together using only the best bits and allow your scenes to flow better. It is also a great way to edit down interviews and cut out any bits which aren't relevant to what you are trying to show, things like long pauses and extraneous information.

Try to avoid using photographs unless they are necessary as well because unless you have taken them yourself or you have permission to use them, you will encounter licensing issues and perhaps more importantly, videos of photos and long segments of text are really, really, really, really boring. I see them all the time and I never last longer than thirty seconds before I have to turn them off!

Protect your footage

Your footage is your asset for the film, without it, you don't have a film. Imagine you get the backing to go shoot your film, you get halfway or even worse, all the way through and you have a technical issue, a theft, water damage or anything else which damages your equipment and you lose your footage, what do you do now?!! The answer is most likely nothing because there is nothing you can do!

Every single day in Fiji, I would have my evening meal and then return to my villa to download and log every single shot from every single card for that day. This would occasionally be up to 100GB of video and my god was it boring. The footage would be downloaded onto an external hard drive and when the footage was all finally, safely, downloaded, I would log the file name for every single clip and a short description of what it was. 

This was never the intended plan, the original plan was that we would all download our own footage which would then be duplicated on to the master hard drive but whereas I run a Windows 7 laptop, Hamish and Hugh both run Macs and the hard drives were formatted differently so whilst everyone else could relax in the evening with a few beers and good company, I would be holed up in my room logging footage I couldn't watch properly because it was unencoded and this usually took around four to five hours every night until about 1am.

It wasn't much fun but it was absolutely necessary because now I am back, I don't have to go through almost 3TB of footage in one go which would be, quite frankly, hell.

All the footage was saved on each shooter's individual hard drive, was saved all together on one master hard drive and this was then duplicated to another. It would have taken one hell of a catastrophe to lose the footage.

What's your story?

I knew I couldn't just go and interview people about a story which has already happened and continues to progress, sure it would interest me but most people who will be watching your film will want to see something more. People enjoy watching other people doing things or experiencing scenarios which are unusual, different and one of the most important elements in any engaging story is jeopardy, the will he/won't he stuff, the things which make the protagonist uncomfortable or put him at risk, that's what people want to see. These are things which just happen, things you normally can't script so it's important you are open to putting yourself in situations whereby you can allow your story to develop.

Look at Sharkwater as an example. It's a film I personally like, it's beautifully shot and has done a lot of good for shark conservation, I imagine you could look at the people you know personally or even more so, the groups on Facebook who are talking about shark conservation, I would wager most of them appeared post-sharkwater, it has certainly mobilised increased activity amongst the man on the street in regards to shark conservation. The interesting thing to me is that it's perceived to be a film about sharks when in actuality it isn't, it's a film about Rob Stewart.

Which bits of the film stand out that you remember? Rob and the Sea Shepherd crew being chased by the police, Rob getting Dengue Fever, Rob filming the shark fin processing plant, Rob returning to Costa Rica to find that the locals are marching in favour of shark protection. None of these things actually have anything to do with sharks, they are about people and that is why the film was so successful, the sharks are merely supporting players in a film about people, had the film had none of the above and just been about sharks, it most likely wouldn't have had anywhere near the impact it did, Rob is an engaging storyteller who constructed a story to deliver an important message and it worked very well, a great many of the people now interested in the conservation of sharks were most likely drawn to it not by the sharks, but by Rob Stewart and he must be commended for that.

Watch it again, in fact, watch any film which is similar to Sharkwater, every scene in which the protagonist appears has been carefully crafted to illustrate the hero as exactly that, a hero. It sounds cynical but that's just the way it is, can you think of any film that doesn't have a hero and a villain? An audience needs to be engaged and the best way to do that is to give them someone to root for and/or someone to rail against. You don't have to wear a cape and shoot laser beams out of your eyes, you just have to have something to which your audience can relate, you want them to want to be there with you.

The edit

Now you've returned from your shoot, you have to put it all together into an entertaining final end product. You might be handing your footage over to an editor but if you're like me and you're editing it yourself, you need to bear a few things in mind.

What are you using to edit your footage? I'm still in the process of trying to put together my post production budget which will give me access to the resources I need to get what I want a lot more easily and a lot quicker, until then I will be editing on my laptop.

This is by no means ideal but I have the software to create a professional broadcast standard film, it's just the laptop that's the problem as although you can do it on a decent system, it takes infinitely longer than with something a lot more powerful.

I use the Adobe CS4 master Collection suite and I love it. The edit is done in Premiere Pro, the effects in After Effects and the colour correction with Synthetic Aperture Colour Finesse 3 LE (amazing) and the grading with Video Copilot's Film magic Pro and Magic Bullet's Mojo.

How long is your film going to be? What music will you use? Both of these are hugely important as you need to bear the length of the film in mind right from the start so you don't get carried away, it also teaches you the importance of being brutal with your edit. The music will set the tone of your film as well. Forget about using songs by all your favourite artists unless you have squillions of pounds to pay for the licensing, so that means you either do it yourself, or you enlist the help of others to do it for you but make sure you have a written agreement in place beforehand.

Don't fall into the trap of using too much of a shot just because you like it, don't let text last too long on screen either, I saw a video the other day (ten minutes of photographs and text and nothing else *shudder*) and there was one text caption that had only three words and lasted for almost twenty-five seconds. Needless to say, I didn't watch the rest. The text font was also horrifically bad, avoid using funky fonts unless they are called for, stay simple, readable and small, it looks far more professional.

 So that's it, I have undoubtedly missed things out so if you have any questions, please feel free to shout them out to me and I guarantee you'll get an answer.

Things are going very, very well at the moment, bizarrely,  am now being approached by people within the television industry who are showing some good interest so you never know, i may just get this on your telly after all! Stay positive, believe in yourself and follow your heart. If you are embarking on your own adventure, get in touch, I'd love to hear all about it!