Monday, 23 July 2012

"Of Shark and Man" - Breaking down barriers

A truly awful picture of the "Of Shark and Man" timeline.

I figured it's about time  to get back on track with something positive given all the stuff which has pissed me off in the last couple of weeks!

In case you'd forgotten, I am currently in the post production phase for my magnum opus, the greatest shark film ever made by an Englishman about Bull Sharks in Fiji, "From the Office to the Ocean Part 1 - Of Shark and Man." This time last year, we would have been on the boat in between dives of Shark Reef, it was probably raining and I was in the middle of the single biggest adventure of my life so far.

One thing is for sure, I didn't give the project the respect it deserved in regards to just how elephantine the task ahead of me was and I also took a crew with me which was probably about four people less than the minimum it should have been but somehow, I, we, pulled it off.

It's been eleven months since we got back and progress has been slow to say the least but slow for numerous, unavoidable reasons.

Firstly, there were remaining shots to shoot in the UK which needed locations, actors (mates who had spare time to be more accurate!) and camera operators and aligning all three to get all the shots done, took the best part of six months!!! A huge thank you to Liam, Owen, Olli and my old boss, Dean Nixon for helping me get done what needed to be done, they didn't need to help me, but they did, because they're awesome.

Another major reason was the task of logging and organising 3TB of footage, syncing audio, cataloguing interview answers and questions, organising a months worth shark footage into species specific, depth specific, context specific and time specific folders, all to make the edit easier. A big job indeed, an even bigger job for one person doing it alone, an even bigger job when he's doing it on a second hand laptop with software that only worked 50% of the time! That job took from the first morning back, August 13th, until mid February this year and I'm not even joking! Thanks to Tim Leroy at Novatech, my technological issues are sorted and I have the capability to work at much greater than snail's pace!

Throughout all of this I have been to Mallorca to make and release a short film, formed my own production company (more coming soon) and basically tried to survive by any means possible but by far the biggest obstacle has also been the most worrying.

Since probably around March, I have been suffering with a crippling creative block, because of which I have been unable to sleep or think about anything other than how to construct what is the most important creation I will have ever made and which I have invested my entire soul and future to not only make the best possible film I can, but to also do justice to the people who helped me get this far.

The original storyline for this film was quite simple, I go to Fiji, tell the story of Shark Reef and the Fijian relationship with sharks and hopefully, people might be interested to learn about a subject about which I am passionate in a way which is as far removed from Shark Week as possible. Then I had loads of other ideas, loads happened during the shoot which wasn't part of the original story, the idea became way more complex and layered and I actually learnt how to make films.

So, what is "Of Shark and Man" now?

The best description I could give you would be a film about me making a film but you get to see the film at the same time, sounds like gibberish doesn't it? It probably is, let me try again, imagine you can watch a film and the "making of" at the same time, it's just that this time the film is about an ordinary bloke getting closer to the world's biggest Bull Sharks than anybody barring a tiny elite, has ever done before and finally tells the full story of one of the world's greatest conservation successes ever. It's a hearts and minds piece, a human story about sharks and people, with tonnes of sharks, amazing, never before seen footage of incredible natural behaviour, a range of emotions, some terrible weather and my determined efforts to get a tan (that's only a small part though...)

It's a highly stylised, conceptual piece that combines realism and documentary guerrilla film-making with a cinematic delivery. God that sounds pretentious but yes, it will be ace.

So why make things more difficult for myself? I always intended to do something different to everyone else, I didn't want to cobble together years old footage other people had, make a story up and make the footage fit and I certainly didn't want to push an agenda no matter how successful that has been for other people. The dry, scientific, graphs and stats approach has never really appealed and nor has the "woohoo, I just goddamn swam with big sonofabith sharks yeeaaaw!" approach. I wanted a story, a compelling, honest record of a lifelong dream coming true and I went with the intention of telling a story about Fijians and sharks but came back with not just that, but a story about myself as well.

I also wanted to challenge myself and to challenge and respect my audience. I could have just got the crazy shark footage, filled in the blanks and put together a thirty minute vanity piece but that would not be doing the effort it took to get there in the first place justice, let alone the people involved. It sounds a bit wanky but I want this film to have artistic merit and originality, drawing from my many influences which are as far removed from shark related film-making as you can get. It's a risk, maybe nobody will like it but I can at least guarantee the finished version will be the best I could do at the time and will be the film I want to make.

Back in the Nerve Engine days I used to write songs as though they were stories, layering building melodies on ever changing rhythms and arrangements to try to take the listener on a journey and to the climax of a song, a release of emotion, much like a good story will do and the way I wrote was to construct the song in full, including vocal lines, harmonies and drum patterns, in my head so I could listen to it in its entirety, changing bits at will, whenever I wanted and wherever I was. When I thought I had the full idea, I would then teach myself the song. That approach is exactly how I work on films now, I picture in my head the images, the edit, the colours and the flow of a piece then try to capture that and the problem with this recent creative block was, despite knowing exactly what I wanted to say, I just couldn't picture it in a way which made sense but was aesthetically pleasing and creative and which would bridge into the following section which was much less metaphoric and included a shift in time. All very complex and it was driving me insane.

You will hopefully be glad to know that that creative block has been unblocked and that the edit is back up and running again with a better, sleeker intro and a more natural script, although "script" is slightly misleading given that narrative, scripted overdubs will only be used when absolutely necessary, think along the lines of A Ray of Light which has zero scripted overdubbing and you'll be on the right track.

As of today, I am constructing the narrative from a month of interviews and pieces to camera I did so you will see the story unfold as it happens through my eyes, hopefully engaging you in the journey because I have always wanted you to feel a part of this film, primarily this is the film I want to see but always, there is a hope that you feel it's the kind of film you have been missing out on too. As for the "cast," aside from the most incredible collection of charismatic, intelligent sharks on the planet we have some truly stellar names in the shark world and inspirational "everyman" heroes, conservation legends and world famous photographers discussing everything that needs to be discussed, even the controversial stuff. Running time will be between 60-90 minutes and it will look beautiful, of that I can assure you.

All this will of course take time but a barrier has been knocked down so things are picking up a pace, as soon as I decide the time is right, I will start releasing trailers but before then you may just get to see some footage. I have put together two short pieces featuring footage from "Of Shark and Man" which do exist and are online but are currently private, whether you see them or not is dependent upon something out of my control but if the time comes for them to go public then you will of course be the first to know.

Bear with me, there is still a way to go yet but we are at least getting there and to say I am excited is putting it lightly!

Edit: Thanks to Mike for this very kind post, I may not have had the resources to do this in a way which has been so tough, but kind and supportive words like these and like those from the people who have been with me from the start (and I really hope they know by now who they are,) are what has kept me going and got me to Fiji in the first place so I mean it when I say the effort going into making this as good as it can possibly is as much for you guys than it is me :) 

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Saturday, 21 July 2012

Fiji - A response to Sea Shepherd

Captain Crunch's Funky Bunch

It was always going to come and now it has, it hasn't disappointed.

A response has been posted by Mike to the indefensible actions in Fiji by the cult of Sea Shepherd, whose approach to conservation seems to be jeopardising the creation of shark sanctuaries and manhandling children for photo shoots to promote their brand.

Yes the dissenting voices will cry out about "squabbles" and "egos" and will claim this is all nothing more than an offensive attack on the ocean's great white hope because of agenda led politics but no, it isn't, these are the facts and yes, the people involved really are that arrogant and stupid.

I can't add anything to what DaShark has said other than to say I am 100% in agreement and the people and government of Fiji also have my full and enthusiastic support.

If you disagree, please post on Mike's blog, not here.

Wednesday, 11 July 2012

"Sea Bites" now in English! Hooray!

I've been a bit negative on my last two blogs and I don't like being negative, it's not really me and I much prefer to give praise than criticise so imagine how happy I was to find that one of my favourite things of late is now in English so I can actually follow the narrative!

A couple of months ago I did this blog to introduce some things I really enjoyed into your lives so that hopefully, you would enjoy them too. One of those was a short Spanish film entitled "Percebeiros" and it is brilliant.

Now, "Percebeiros" has English subtitles so if like me, you can't speak Spanish, you can now actually understand what is being said.

It's brilliant, I love it and I hope you do too. A great bit of Film-Making.

Sea Bites (english subtitles) from enpiedeguerra on Vimeo.

Thursday, 5 July 2012

Thank Neptune for rich, white people!

OK, firstly, I am in a foul mood so this probably won't be very nice and some of you won't like it so sorry about that.

Have you seen "Team America: World police?" Not only is it a work of comedic genius, it is also a stinging and frighteningly accurate attack on the propensity of a group of people to blindly believe that what they believe is right and the best way to make the rest of the world (who is obviously "stupid" of course,) realise that you're right and they're wrong, is to just blindly blunder into situations and start throwing your weight around.

Sometimes, sometimes it has the desired effect but often, it's a pointless, badly planned endeavour, undertaken by woefully under trained, inexperienced and under qualified people, which actually makes the situation worse and sees you getting chased out of the Mediterranean by the Libyan Navy.

So, in true Team America fashion, we have this, Operation Requiem, requiem meaning a "mass for the dead" and there also being a group of sharks referred to as "Requiem Sharks," geddit?

Operation Requiem from Built By Wildman on Vimeo.

First, the nice stuff...

It looks visually excellent, again, Shark Angels have put together video media which contains some truly brilliant footage, I'm not sure if Paul Wildman is behind this one and if he is, kudos, great work again by a cameraman I think is really, very, very good. Also, I like Julie, she's a really nice lady who I had the pleasure of speaking with on the phone for an hour and a half a few years ago and I am in no doubt her love for sharks and the ocean is totally genuine. I even have a grudging regard for the elephantine ego that is Paul Watson, for all the self promotion, arrogance, dreadful poetry, saying the Tsunami in Japan was them just getting what they deserved and the lies, at least the dude is trying to do something, albeit in a misguided, clumsy and occasionally, thoroughly offensive way.

Now the not so nice and I'm coming at this from two points, one from a genuine shark lover who has had that passion longer than most around today, and the other from the perspective of someone who knows a bit about "direct action"and putting yourself in the thick of it, not in regards to conservation however I may add, so it had neither the budget nor safety of giant war ships when it came on top but I'll leave that there if you don't mind.

There are a great many problems with direct action, the main being that it is seen from the outside as being edgy, cool and not to put a too fine a point on it, fun. Direct action is fun, it's an adrenaline rush and you feel like you're doing something but these things need to have a purpose and they need leadership, the problem with a lot of direct action is that it is often nothing more than the half blind leading the totally blind, giddy and idealistic and these are the people who do stupid things without considering their consequences. It's also a magnet for the blustering egos resplendent in their anarchist uniform, desperate to be seen as a main face in the badass sea pirates, huuuuhh!!

Recently a name has appeared shouting carefully scripted battle cries to the assembled fluttering eyelashes, constantly making sure we are all aware how informed and involved they are, "Hey, I have this petition, I did, please sign my petition, this one here, the one I did," it was a name I hadn't heard of until this year and the more I've seen it, the more arrogant I have found his statements to be. That arrogance manifests itself on the comments section of this post by Mike in a post oozing self satisfactory pomposity from every pore. Mike's response echoes my own thoughts, an awful lot of hot air with zero substance and as usual, no positive results. I don't know Gary and haven't met him, but I'm neither impressed, nor motivated to jump on board the Stokesmobile as it splutters off into oblivion, accompanied by a calvacade of willing servants, many of whom are decent, intelligent and worthy people who have been drawn in by everything that accompanies this most bloated of conservation beasts.

I prefer to say nice things, I don't like criticising, I would much rather be celebrating awesome, cool and worthy things, proper conservationists like  Brad Robertson, but I just cannot abide self congratulatory arrogance, I hate it. I'm not a bad guy, I'd like to think anyone who has ever met me would at least say I was straight up, genuine and hopefully at least "alright" but when you read that comment on Mike's post, it shows how embarrassingly misinformed Gary is about what the Beqa Adventure Divers crew have done and continue to do in Fiji and its relation to "Operation Requiem" needs to be addressed and I'm afraid Gary, you have had what we in the UK call "a 'mare."

Fiji has recently closed the gate on Sea Shepherd, ("pirates" who actually announce they're coming? It's like a burglar knocking on your front door...) and have been absolutely right in doing so. I actually think that in areas of lawlessness where poaching takes place, having a well trained, well fed, prepared and efficient Sea Shepherd type vessel and crew would be great but therein lies part of the problem with Sea Shepherd, they want it to be them when anyone with a modicum of sense would have locals protecting their own waters, permanently and without Animal Planet's cameras scripting every move for them.

Many will undoubtedly look on little Fiji, with its people who live in huts and wear grass skirts, with their quaint little songs and beaming smiles and come to the assumption that they need the white man to go over there and hold their little hands and protect their sharks for them but then, those people would be morons. That is effectively what Sea Shepherd are saying and here is the crux of it, "Operation Requiem" is a TV show, nothing more, everything about this project is geared towards a successful television show, ratings and hopefully, in true Alan Partridge fashion, a second series. (Watch that link, it is brilliant!)

They don't need to go to Fiji, Shark Reef Marine Reserve was achieved without them, the regeneration of an entire reef eco-system was done without them, it is successfully stewarded and ferociously guarded without them and on the 17th of July 2012, the government will convene to discuss the potential confirmation of the most stringently protected Shark Sanctuary on the planet, all of this without Sea Shepherd, in fact, all of this achieved quietly, with great aplomb and properly, by those same "little islanders in their grass skirts" so please, show them some fucking respect.

As far as I can tell, Sea Shepherd want to be there to bask in the reflected glory of the hard work and dedication of others and I find that, in all honesty, repugnant. The belief they can just swan in to a fanfare of congratulations and adoration from a proud, respectful people is as misguided as it is arrogant and the offence their presence could cause could also greatly harm the years and years of hard work that has got Fiji into this position in the first place. The Fijian people are a wonderful, welcoming and kind hearted people but in the event Sea Shepherd start upsetting the locals, they will wish they were back in the Med getting chased off by the Libyan Navy again. Does anyone in the SSCS organisation understand the concept of qoliqoli? Do they have an understanding of the cultural significance of sharks and other marine creatures in Fiji? I doubt it. The white man go and tell Fijian islanders what to do? Yeah, good luck with that, the last to try that were the missionaries and most of them ended up as dinner and that wasn't even that long ago.

"The Sea Shepherd approach is that of interventionists, that is we intervene directly against illegal activities..."

Fair enough so why the need to go to Fiji? The Shark Sanctuary if implemented, will be policed by Fijians, exactly how it should be, creating opportunities and an infrastructure for the local communities, so are you saying you don't think they're capable of that, that the white man needs to come and teach them how? By "offering your services" you are preemptively asserting that you don't think they're up to the job.

All that being said, I agree with a lot of what is said in the trailer and the issue of poaching and shark finning does need to be confronted head on but properly, not as a plot line for a TV show. Watching people playing pirates on the high seas, as fun as that all sounds, doesn't inspire me to believe a single thing will be changed, I don't have any faith in the potency of any of this, what happened to the campaign to get the nets removed in South Africa? 

I'll probably upset a few people with this, I'm sure I'll be persona non grata with many for airing my opinions but I wanted to address it anyway, of course, I have an interest in this as I am editing a film about shark conservation in Fiji, celebrating the Fijians and their culture along with the achievements of the people there but you'll have to wait a bit for mine.  As Julie said, "so few people are willing to give up everything to save the animals that very few people care about," and I've done exactly that but without a mountain of money behind me and only to be met with a wall of apathy and silence from the very people who promote themselves on television as being the sharks' ultimate saviours. 

Those years ago, any ideal I had that we were all on the same team evaporated when I realised fairly quickly that there is no team, just the same group of people fighting over what little funding there is, willing to dilute the message to get that commission and appeal to the lowest common denominator.

Unless anyone offers me opportunities otherwise, I'll stick to doing things on my own rather than do that, however, it's worth pointing out that I was allowed into Fiji to hang out with the sharks there and not only that, I had the support of the Fijian government in doing so and I'm a nobody, I don't even have a cool pointy boat.

P.S Read this post by Mike, great stuff.

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