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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