First of all, I'll say this, the Sound Design in Of Shark and Man is phenomenal, it sounds dynamic and at times monstrously big, all the while retaining the subtleties which aide each facet of the story telling. The attention to detail has been ridiculous, I was adamant I wanted everything to have, not just sound, but a designed and descriptive sonic aesthetic, sound which didn't just offer a simple description of the surroundings you see on screen, but which reaches out of the screen, grabs you and pulls you in there with me. Bad sound design kills a film, no sound design is inexcusable but great sound design can elevate a film beyond anything it could have ever been without it.
I am incredibly lucky to have had a friend in David Lawrie who not only was able to technically do what I wanted, but who also, most importantly "got it." I have heard sporadically over the last few years "but that's not how they do it, you're supposed to do it like this" but I've never really cared how "they" do it, only how I want to do it. That's probably a bit naive but so be it, thus far it's worked and as the saying goes if it ain't broke...
It's a rare person who is willing to spend their first trip back to the UK in a while, sitting down with someone demanding such rabid attention to detail it means going through more than 100 minutes of footage with a fine toothed comb to pick out every single thing that needs a sound (including underwater) and work together to put those sounds in, knowing full well the challenge of actually mixing it all coherently is going to be even more difficult than usual. The simple brief was "don't think documentary, think feature film event." Needless to say, Dave absolutely smashed it out of the park.
So I guess that means I should let you all know that the Director's Cut is finished and not only that, it has actually been seen by a small handful of people, one of whom was London based, Cypriot Singer/Songwriter Eleni Skarpari, also known as Echo Wants Her Voice Back. Eleni was in York, recording with David and I was asked to be the Cinematographer for her new Music Video and so afterwards, David, Eleni and I sat down to watch the film and having seen it, I got her on camera to give her thoughts on the film itself, completely impartial and honestly.
Eleni Skarpari - Reaction to First Viewing of "Of Shark and Man" from Scarlet View Media on Vimeo.
Feedback so far from the people who have seen it (David Lawrie, David's mum, Eleni and David Edwards from EDNA) has been quite overwhelming really in that they all essentially said exactly the kind of things I hoped people who see the film would say. The opinions of people like these are crucial to me, they are all highly skilled and talented individuals with little patience for mediocrity. They judge the work of others based on their own high standards and were all too aware that merely stroking egos was of no use whatsoever. Four people have seen the film thus far, two who were already interested in sharks, two who merely had a normal, passing curiosity in sharks, all different age ranges and all loved it.
There is also a trailer, in fact there will be two trailers as of the early hours of Thursday morning but only one will be released.
I've taken a big risk with the trailer. Basically I got bored of seeing the same thing over and over again and as this film is geared towards a mass market audience, I need to appreciate how that audience works. The shark crowd will look after themselves, if you like sharks or films about sharks, you shouldn't need too much convincing to make the effort to see the film. Unfortunately, to the average person, pure conservation films are "boring" and their trailers often don't do anything to convince them otherwise. They've been at work all day (probably at a job they hate), they're tired, they want to be entertained so the thought of a plodding documentary talking at them about something they really don't care about is not going to rev their engine so to speak. Of Shark and Man isn't really a pure conservation film either, it's an engaging story about ordinary people doing extraordinary things in a tropical paradise.
The idea here is to use those preconceived misconceptions against those people in a way, to hook them in with something they can totally relate to, then let them choose to ask questions of what they thought they knew whilst getting a bit of a thrill along the way. They are in no way being misled, they are instead being told "hey, all those other documentaries you would never normally watch, well this isn't one of them."
Look at the trailer for Blackfish, a trailer I think is one of the best I have seen in a long time and it's no coincidence the film was such a big success because the trailer screams out "watch me!"
With regards to the trailer, I did a first edit and showed it to a few people, here's an excerpt of feedback I got one from one very trusted person who knows about this stuff:
"My husband and I sat here together and watched the trailer. After it was over, I looked at him and said, "What did you think?" His eyes were huge, and his mouth was slightly agape. He said, "I just realized I was holding my breath." He was so mesmerized by what he was watching, that he didn't even realize he was holding his breath. So that's definitely a good sign!
I mean, I want him to start breathing again eventually, of course. So here's my impression: For me it was like taking a short, powerful journey. The first minute or so I felt like I was looking at myself in the mirror - sitting in a stale office, the vacant expression, just existing from one day to the next. Then the swimming scene - it really resonated with me, and I think it will with your audience too. How many of us just want to dive out of our mundane existence, and go toward something meaningful? Something completely different from what we experience every day?
Then to suddenly get that break, where the music becomes stronger, the colors brighter, the motion faster.... I feel like I'm traveling with you because of how you have engaged the senses of the viewer. And I keep asking myself, "What's going to happen next?"
I think that is the mark of a great storyteller, if the audience is so engaged that they have to know what happens next. And part of the reason the viewer wants to know what happens next is because early on in the trailer, by relaying your story of your unfulfilled life, and your desire for something more, you have made the audience care about you and what happens to you. The viewer becomes emotionally invested in the first few seconds, and that emotional investment only becomes stronger throughout the rest of the trailer.
I thought the footage and music tied together beautifully - I know you were especially conscious of the music, and it shows. There was only one little nagging question mark I had in my mind at the end of the trailer, and that had to do with the ambiguity of the plot. I was trying to view the trailer as someone who maybe doesn't know your story. So I was asking myself, "What is the ultimate reason he is doing all of this? Is it to face fears? Challenge himself? Tell the story of the sharks of Fiji? Tell people why sharks are important and need to be helped?" But I don't think that ambiguity is necessarily a negative thing. Asking those questions of oneself would make the viewer want to watch the entire feature to learn the answer. So while part of me was wondering, well, what EXACTLY is this about? The other part of me is thinking, actually that's not a bad thing to leave it a little ambiguous in order to pique curiosity.
But what it comes right down to is that I thought the trailer was exceptional. Obviously my husband did too, and I'm happy to inform you that he is indeed breathing again. Anyway, I hope all of this is helpful, and I didn't mean to write a dissertation. Well done, David. Very, very well done"
I was of course delighted with this feedback, especially with the comment about ambiguity which may surprise you, as I think ambiguity can drive an audience to watch the film to find out what the trailer i actually alluding to. My idea is, as a very good friend once said to me, "sell the sizzle, not the sausage." Give them just enough to pique their interest and curiosity so they have to see the film.
By the weekend there should be two functioning trailers and some of you out there will actually get a chance to see them and give me feedback which helps me choose which I release. It's not often a film-maker does that so if you're interested, email me at firstname.lastname@example.org
Finally, how about this... "Of Shark and Man" will get its first ever official public screening on April 25th at Il Muestra De Cine Submarino De Aguimes in Aguimes, Gran Canaria!
Fernando who runs the festival and also Alianza Por Los Tiburones De Canarias was super, super keen to screen the film, which at that point, hadn't even been completed and when the city offered to put me up in my own Villa to go and screen the film along with a Q&A, it was an offer simply too good to turn down! This is going to be an amazing event and a great opportunity to see the reaction to the Director's Cut from an International audience.
I am really looking forward to this, Spain and the Spanish territories have been very supportive of my work, my career started there with A Ray of Light so Fernando's enthusiasm really meant a lot to me. Not only that, it was even announced on TV there that I was going!
Watch from 46:28!
So, if you're in Gran Canaria on Saturday April 25th, come along. The new David Doubilet film is also showing so I'm looking forward to that too!
Bit of a longer blog this time but I thought you all deserved a proper update! Keep an eye out for the trailer and remember, if you want a chance to choose which one goes out, email me!