Sunday, 24 July 2011

Boundaries and Barriers

We're almost half way through production of "Of Shark and Man" now and the brevity of what I am actually doing is finally totally sinking in. I'm not only directing, producing and promoting my first feature length film, I am doing it with a crew of only three, on the other side of the world where life is very different to what I am used to back home and you then have the added fact that I am doing it surrounded by up to 100, yep that's ONE HUNDRED huge Bull Sharks. This is a big, big task to pull this off but hey, pull it off we are!

I have managed to see more of Fiji than just the beaches and underwater. Alfie here at Uprising, who has been nothing short of superb, took us to the mountains that lead into the jungle the other day and the scenery was stunning, really stunning. A pterodactyl circling the various huge mounts wouldn't have been out of place!

We have also been to Fiji's capital, Suva, twice to film and do some interviews with Alfie (above is a pic of us both looking super cool whilst being filmed by Hugh) and it's a great place, very photogenic and tonnes of atmosphere.
It has become clear to me that this experience is about boundaries and barriers. I am most passionate about integrating myself with the locals and in particular Mike and his amazing staff. I have the utmost respect for them all and I hope that when I leave, they can feel some respect for me also. Today Mike even implied he will be a little sad when I leave so I think he's starting to become quite attached to me being Mike? ;)

The other connection I want to make is with the sharks. I have begun to enter into the unspoken dialogue with the sharks here on Shark Reef and I am aiming to increase that communication further in the remaining dives. It's a relationship, you respect them, hopefully they have at least a modicum of respect for you, if that isn't there then you can forget them either a) coming close to you and b) seeing you as something other than a vulnerable flapping idiot in the water and I would hope that isn't the case with me! 

Watching Shark Week or just general shark shows on television does not prepare you for the experience of diving with sharks on Shark Reef. I have dived with many different species in many different places but things are very different here. If you're a "shark hugger," forget it, they don't care and will make mincemeat out of you at the drop of a hat. These sharks are enormous, if I didn't know better I would half think Mike had grown these giant Bull Sharks in a lab somewhere to do his bidding as and when he wishes. Speaking of communication with sharks, it's not a generic thing, you can't just open a "dialogue" with sharks and expect them to listen. It;s species and location specific, here on Shark Reef, the level of understanding Mike and the boys have with these animals is astonishing, it really is a two-way street and to watch how Rusi, Manasa and Tumbi control the feeds is a glorious thing to behold, man and shark in a symbiotic relationship where the sharks have learned a specific way to behave during these feeds. Of course this can never be fully controlled but here is possibly the best example in the world of how to do it.

I am learning so much not just about the art of film-making, how to communicate with the sharks here and the general ins and outs of "Shark Heaven" but mostly about myself and of what I am capable in these situations. I am so relaxed around these animals, sometimes I have to pinch myself to appreciate the situation I am in. There is also a heightened sense of awareness and when these two sensations allign, it's a feeling of pure joy and experience. I want to earn the respect of the B.A.D Boys enough to continue to get even closer to these sharks and experience Shark Reef to the fullest of my ability and to earn the respect of the people who see the shark as a God, I feel a kinship with them, I can only hope that can be reciprocated by the time I leave.

Today I did a dive on Shark Reef on a non-feed day for a specific section of the film and wow, what an experience, nine Bull Sharks allowed me into their back yard to watch them behave as they would normally and the point of this? To disprove that these shark feeding areas become more dangerous to ordinary divers, they don't and there's no proof, in fact, today we got the benefit these feed sites can give, guaranteed, chilled out sharks that were all too happy to have us there, no aggression, no threat, just two different animals hanging out. Brilliant!!

The film is really taking shape, I'm slowly getting my tan and Mike is giving me the impression that when I leave, his "little Swiss heart" will actually break...What's not to like?!

Please cross all your crossables for me for a Tiger Shark to turn up as well. One has but it was the day we weren't diving and my new friends from Broadreach got a hell of a show in our absence, gutted for me, delighted for them. I want a Tiger so bad it hurts!

See you soon, sorry for the lack of pics, the internet connection here is painfully slow!

One final thing, Jane West and Martin Harlow at Fiji Me, thank you, you made my dreams come true, I just hope I can repay the faith you have shown in me.

Just hope it stops raining now!

Thursday, 21 July 2011

The first video diary!

Just a quick blog to say the first video diary is up. As promised, I wanted to let you know the kind of gear we are shooting with out here and it also includes some nice sharky footage at the end which  shot a few days ago. It's straight outta the camera so no processing on it but hey, check out all those Bull Sharks!!!

I'm gonna do a blog soon about how this is all affecting me and me feelings at actually being here but today, I'm sick unfortunately so will wait until I'm better to hopefully do it justice.

Incidentally, having missed the dives today due to aforementioned sickness, Mike and Chris, a really nice guy out here on a project called Broadreach, informed me they had one of the Tigers turn up not once, but twice! Damn! However, I am hopeful she'll be back to say hello to me soon.


Saturday, 16 July 2011

What a load of Bulls!

We've been in Fiji now for four full days and the reality of everything is now sinking in through a haze of exhaustion, excitement and the realisation of the task in hand, oh and Mike Neumann's endless jealous remarks about my delightful, milky complexion, cultivated over a year of not really going outside at all.

What can I say about this place? It really is amazing for a whole host of reasons, the weather is outstanding, sure there's been a bit of rain but it's still warm when it does, and lovely and hot when it doesn't, what's not to like?! From our four days here there are two stand out reasons why Fiji is an incredible place though, the people and the sharks.

I have had numerous encounters with sharks in many different parts of the world but let me say this and I urge you to take it on board...There is nowhere in the world that offers the kind of diving offered here by Beqa Adventure Divers, nowhere. It is breathtaking and nothing can prepare you for the sheer number of Bull Sharks and also their size, they are huge, really huge!

When you have upwards of forty big Bull Sharks and they are coming nose to nose with you (literally!) and you feel that connection between you and them, it is the kind of feeling which puts everything into perspective, all those dreams I have had my whole life are coming true every day and to be honest, it's something I am trying not to overstate, the shark diving here in Beqa, at Shark Reef, is without question THE best in the world that I know of. Bulls, Tawny Nurse Sharks, Whitetip and Blacktip Reef and Grey Reef Sharks are everywhere, you can't turn around without seeing a shark and where else in the world can offer you that? It is mind blowing!

We have done four of these dives now with many, many more to come and we are starting to be allowed to get closer to the action which is quite humbling because this is no cowboy operation. Thes things can't be rushed and if they don't think we are ready, then we don't go closer, simple as that. The staff here, from the receptionist Nani to Mike himself are top notch, not only do they have a world beating shark dive, but they have world beating staff. Friendly, passionate, knowledgeable and most important of all, they have an understanding of the sharks and their behaviour which puts them up there amongst the best, probably the best on the planet. For me to watch and learn from them is truly an honour, it is also refreshing to have seen another side to Mike, those of you who read his blogs may be interested to know he is exactly the same in real life but having had the pleasure of sitting with him watching his shark footage today, what is blindingly clear is that he loves sharks with a passion and respect that I can obviously relate to and with an astonishing level of knowledge.

The concept of putting divers in such close proximity to huge, dangerous sharks without the use of a cage is of course a controversial one but here is proof it can be done and to the extreme, we had about sixty Bulls alone on our first dive and to control a situation like that takes the best people, with the best training and with an understanding of shark behaviour the anti-shark feeding, armchair pseudo scientists would do well to look at and learn from. This isn't something just anybody can do and that speaks volumes for all of Mike's staff.

Filming has begun of course and we have met and spoken with some wonderful people and I can also confirm that this film will feature footage, never seen before in the world by anyone, seriously, animal behaviour which has to be seen to be believed. 
This certainly isn't a holiday let me assure you, only now, at half midnight local time have I found time to do a blog and send an email, the days are long, it's hot and aside from filming I have the arduous task of downloading and logging all footage shot by myself, Hugh and Hamish who also took these photos by the way. However, I'm having a blast and I cannot speak highly enough of Alfie and all the staff at Uprising Beach Resort who have been exceptional, welcoming and warm throughout our stay here and also put us up in two beautiful villas right on the beach!

I visited the village of Galoa the other day and they were kind enough to let me film there and that has been one of the highlights. They live in what many Brits would describe as "poverty" but their warmth was very humbling, plus, they never stopped smiling and you haven't seen the happiest kids in the world til you come here, everyone is always smiling, it makes a lovely change!

OK, it's late, I'm tired and I still have work to do so that's it for now but keep checking back and I'll keep updating you and if Fiji's broadband will let me, I'll put some video up soon too!
Bula Vinaka!

Wednesday, 13 July 2011

Bula Fiji!! Bula Sharks!!

Just over twelve months ago, at this precise time, I would have been sitting in an office wishing my day away, today at this precise time, I am on the other side of the world, it is almost 10pm, 80 degrees and the South Pacific is a matter of yards away. After the trials, tribulations, sacrifice and difficulty of the last year, I can say without doubt that it was well worth it!!

I have met Mike Neumann for the first time today, what a great, intelligent and passionate guy he is and tomorrow, I have the first of many, many shark dives with upwards of one hundred individual sharks, today they had no less than seventy Bull Sharks alone. his isn't just paradise, it's shark paradise.

We have had over thirty six hours of travel, stopped over in Seoul, South Korea and are all absolutely exhausted but I wanted to let you know that you'll soon be getting the lowdown on filming along with some sharky stuff to look at, of course, if you join the Facebook group and the mailing list you will get even more, it's totally free and the place to be for any self respecting sharkphile! ;)
By the way, Uprising Beach Resort in Pacific Harbour, where we are staying is amazing and the Fijian people have already got a brand new fan, they are incredibly warm, friendly and helpful. This is gonna be one hell of a month!!

So, tomorrow, when I would have been on my way to a job I didn't want to do a year ago, I will be in paradise surrounded by sharks...Not too shabby!! 

I'm off to bed for some much deserved sleep. Night!!

Friday, 8 July 2011

T-Minus 73 hours! What to expect while I'm in Fiji...

Twelve months and eleven days ago I woke up to the sound of my alarm clock and the sense of dread that another week lay ahead doing something I didn't want to do, purely so I could merely exist and scrape by in the world, that was when I said to myself, "sod this, I've had enough" and decided to go after what I have wanted my entire life. In the doom and gloom, recession laden UK it seemed an absurd thing to do, no experience, no money, no support system, no contacts or links to the film industry and no idea of how to start putting this whole thing together.

Now, I am only three days away from boarding the plane to Fiji, with one film under my belt, to make a film I have wanted to for the last fifteen or so years, if you don't mind me saying, it is a hell of an achievement I have got this far. With that in mind, I hope you take from this that it is possible to change your life for the better, with hard work, dedication, commitment and a never say die attitude, ordinary people like us, from average working class backgrounds, can achieve the things we believe in.

So, what can you expect while I am out there? Firstly, you can be sure you will be with me every step of the way and 'll be updating you with blogs, video blogs, behind the scenes footage and photos, not only from me but also my crew, Hamish Harper and Hugh Fairs. You will get all that here on this blog, my Twitter, the Facebook Group and the Youtube Page and for the extra special, first in the queue updates, scroll to below the trailer on the front page and join the mailing list!

I intend to answer the kind of questions I always wanted the answers for on these types of adventures that people never seem to answer, unlike all the other film shoots that give the fortunate few a chance to chase adventure around the world, this is not a closed house, I'll tell you how we are doing things, what gear we are using, what problems we are facing and give a real insight into what it is like to be doing this, I want to inspire you to follow your dreams, if I can also help by letting you in on the "secrets" behind my adventure, then that will do for me.

What about the film itself? "Of Shark and Man" tells two stories, firstly the story of how one man's desperate urge to fulfill his lifelong ambition leads him to take the ultimate risk, gamble everything and actually manage to achieve that dream, secondly, this film will tell the full story of Shark Reef. This will be the most in-depth and detailed film in existence, about this incredible story and will be different to anything else out there that deals with sharky subject matter. You'll meet the people at the core of what is, in my opinion, one of the greatest marine conservation success stories ever, you'll get a totally different insight into why shark conservation and a healthy shark population is a good thing, it will look and sound different to all the other shark films and perhaps most importantly, will give you, the viewer, the credit of being able to think for yourselves. This isn't a pious, chest beating declaration of impending doom or ego driven shark porn, this is for the sharks and for you, the ordinary man on the street who has been, for the most part, neglected as a target audience for intelligent pro-shark media.

Sound good? It will be...

I can't stress enough, this film has been driven by passion, honesty, will and positivity, all of which is geared towards making something artistically creative, cool and informative, not with agenda driven statistics, but with facts, to me, it's all about inspiration, heart and soul.

When this is all done, I will be able to look at it and know that I went from nothing to finally having a finished product and I did it my way and I did it on my own, however, there are some things one individual simply cannot do and without a small band of incredible people, this film would not be getting made at all. These are the people and organisations at the core of what I hope to achieve, not just with "Of Shark and Man" but with all my future films, inspirational, enthusiastic, positive people who walk the walk and people who had the courage to get behind someone the vast majority wouldn't even bother responding to emails from. These are people who I admire, respect and for whom I will have enormous gratitude until my dying day.

Martin and Jane at Fiji Me have been nothing less than amazing and they are the reason I am going in the first place as it is they who are the primary sponsor of this film. They haven't just provided sponsorship though, they have worked tirelessly the last six months or so and have given invaluable enthusiasm and support in what has been an exceptionally difficult time. In short, they have been a dream come true.

Mike Neumann at Beqa Adventure Divers (here he is stuck on the business end of a local Tiger Shark called Scarface) has been an invaluable source of advice and information, along with positive words and guidance when needed the most. I wanted to tell this story in the best way possible and I wouldn't have wanted to do it with anyone else. Thankfully, he had already heard of me by the time I contacted him when he was passed an article I wrote for DIVER Magazine a couple of years ago and from that and me chancing upon it when googling myself (ahem, yeah...) a beautiful friendship has gone from strength to strength and in a few days we'll be sharing a beer over some nice food and shooting the sharky breeze. I can't wait.

Canon  have been incredibly generous and supportive and both Alan and Dave have been brilliant. I couldn't be happier to be endorsed by these guys for the simple reason that the Canon DSLRs which are revolutionising the film industry are the best things to happen to underwater film-makers for years, they are the dog's dangly bits and I can see myself using them for years. Not only do they look better than many of the six figure price dedicated film cameras, they are also a lot cheaper and give greater artistic flexibility. I am smitten.

Mario Vitalini, Dave Glanfield and Paul Duxfield have been with me since the start of this journey and are an invaluable source of advice, information and support, they're also just about to launch their new venture and their help and the help from their colleagues at Cameras Underwater has been outstanding.

Believe it or not, "From the Office to the Ocean" was originally intended to be a book (and will be one day) but it was during a conversation with Jim Standing of Fourth Element that the concept of making it a series of films came about. I had always wanted it to be that way, however I thought it would be impossible, it seems that thankfully I was wrong and the Fourth Element guys have been with me since day one. They make the best and coolest looking dive gear around and in the Proteus, the most comfortable, warmest and best looking 5mm wetsuit I have ever used.

These companies and people have either provided funding, equipment or advice but all have given encouragement, guidance and support which has got me to where I am today. I would also like to extend the warmest welcome to the newest member of the "from the Office..." family, Alex Tattersall and Underwater Visions, the UK's primary distributor for Nauticam Underwater Housings. My camera is now my livelihood so putting it in water is nerve wracking enough, putting it in water filled with very big sharks is off the scale so confidence in its protection is vital and these housings are pretty much bullet proof. Both myself and Hugh are now proud owners of the NA-7D and not only did Alex get us out of not one, but two potential disasters, he's also a photographic genius, see the pic of the Lionfish above which he actually took whilst I was next to him and remains to this day one of my favourite photos ever.

I contacted hundreds of individuals and companies for support in the making of this film and the guys above were the small handful with the cojones to back me and with the desire to support grassroots, pro-shark media and I couldn't be prouder to be associated with them all.

I just want to point out as well that donations made by a number of generous people, some of whom I have never met in my life have also got me to this position. The Indiegogo campaign raised $1000 alone and that this came from ordinary people who must be going through financially tough times like everyone else, means the world and I cannot wait to start giving you the goodies when I get back. You are all amazing!

In three days my life is going to change for ever and I can't wait. full speed ahead Beqa Lagoon!!

Oh by the way, don't forget, "Behind Blue Glass" is coming soon...