Tuesday, 19 November 2013

Sarah Shark - Huge Congratulations!

If you read this blog regularly, hell, if you have only ever read it once, you'll know I love my shark films, the (all too rare) brilliant, the good, the mediocre, the bad and the just plain awful, I always watch them and I regularly feel compelled to comment on them on this blog, passing my super dooper expert judgement on them like a kind of shark world Simon Cowell and more often than not, echoing his withering tones as yet another painted drone with a sense of entitlement, tramples over the legacy of the truly great originals.

If you are a regular reader, you'll know that I'm a big fan of the "Sarah Shark" project, a tiny independent group of film-makers in Australia, making their own short form, TV style documentaries about some of the sharks found in the waters that surround their very sharky country.

Why am I such a fan? Loads of reasons!

Firstly, Sarah is the real deal, an actual biologist and whereas that doesn't necessarily always equate to great TV, it gives her a sense of credibility that you can't get by simply repeating what you've read on the Sea Shepherd website, Facebook or the back of a cereal box. She knows what she's talking about and she gives a shit, as in she really genuinely cares.

She also manages to completely ignore the narcissistic, self styled shark messiah approach so beloved by many these days, preferring a grounded, approachable and engagingly natural style which makes her infinitely more likable, when she speaks, you listen because you want to listen to her. It's a simple, yet all too rare approach in the modern era.

Aside from Sarah herself, the content is always good, not too heavy, ideal for that core audience of young teenagers to those in their mid-twenties (in my opinion), it's serious and factual, but not overbearing and shouty, the conservation message is there, but it's not an over earnest, Americanised, finger jabbing guilt trip and I love the way they make it a central feature, without allowing it to strangle the fun and enjoyment out of each episode.

Primarily though, I just love their attitude, they're doers, they go out on a tiny budget and they get stuff done and when they do it, it's professional, really well made and most importantly of all, it has a heart and soul, each film is borne out of a desire to go out and do something cool the best they can and that is something which should be celebrated far more than it already is.

Shark Party!! Photo: Nicolas Rakotopare

So why all this gratuitous purring over these people from the other side of the planet? Well, they finished the first series (six episodes) and having been in negotiations with the TV in their home country for some time, haven't been able to put episodes 3-6 online for public consumption however, since we have become friends in the last couple of years, Kieren Curry, the creative driving force behind the series, was kind enough to let me see them before their wrap party.

Before I give you my thoughts, I have already mentioned we are friends so does that make me biased? No, it doesn't, if I thought they were really bad, I obviously wouldn't come on here and say "this really sucks, these losers need to get proper jobs" but I would make constructive criticisms of the areas I personally think could and should be improved but again, it's only my opinion. If I say something is good and give it praise on here, it's because it is good and deserves it, full stop.

What's changed then in these later episodes? First and foremost, the production is better, it seems slicker and as the series runs through each episode, those episodes get better and better, you can actually see the development happening from film to film and I really like that. They say they're taking us on a journey and they really mean it, that rough and ready, low budget charm, really, really works because they have obviously strived to make the absolute most of what they had available.

The cinematography has got more ambitious and locations play a bigger part, you can tell they've gone to the effort to set up shots in specific locations because they look good aesthetically, that wasn't so present in the first two I thought but in the latter episodes, it's an obvious progression.

Sarah seems more relaxed on camera and is very good at delivering what is a scripted narrative, both to camera and on voice over, she's clear, articulate, warm and the scripts are actually very good.

A really big winner they have is whoever is doing their graphics, from episode 1 to 6, they are consistently brilliant and creative, the time and effort that has obviously gone into them really shows, they are genuinely top class, whoever you are, please go to the nearest mirror and high five yourself.

The sound is really good too. Normally on low budget films, the sound varies from bad, to really, really, really awful, a muffled mess of badly edited soundbites barely audible above traffic noise or wind (I myself have been culpable in that regard on Behind Blue Glass, a mistake I will never, ever make again) but in each episode, the sound is always, at worst good and at best, excellent.

Where I have been critical in the past is the music, in the first episode it was a bit cheesy, I can sympathise though, stock music is often horribly dreadful, a synth dirge of forgettable and utterly inoffensive pseudo melody, music designed to make you forget music is playing, so at least they made the effort to create their own. The musician behind the Sarah Shark score read my first review and instead of throwing his toys out of the pram and having a strop, took on board the feedback from an opinionated pom he's never met, went into the studio and altered the style of music for future episodes, and it's to his great credit that the music is yet another facet of the production which has taken a drastic upwards curve.

To be honest, each episode showed improvement upon improvement and I am absolutely over the moon for them that they managed to finish the first series because it was a huge task. There is so much good about Sarah Shark I feel I should balance out the onslaught of praise with some stuff that's bad about the films but being completely honest, there is nothing bad about them! Is there room for improvement? Of course, there is in everything, but they have a very solid foundation upon which to build for future series, especially if they are given the money to increase production value and I'm going on record here, if they ever need a Cinematographer, Shark guy, Editor, Colourist etc for a future series, I would jump at the chance to work in that team.

On location in Christmas Island

I know the guys have some exciting things in the offing so I won't spoil that for them by blabbing here but I do want to say a genuine well done to each and everyone of them for such a huge effort and to let them know that there are people around the world who support and enjoy what they are doing and who admire them for their courage and conviction to doing something worthwhile. I think you guys are awesome so the people reading this should hopefully feel the same.

Please check them out on Facebook and give them your support!

Well played Team Sarah Shark, well played indeed.


Veerle (Vee) said...

I absolutely loved the Sarah Shark approach up to now, can't wait for the other epidodes to follow ! You are right : Sarah and her team rock !

OfficetoOcean said...

They're great aren't they, the new episodes are really good, the last one especially!