In Production 2009-2012
We re-kindled our contact with Mike Rutzen, and whilst still in production on The Last Reef, headed for South Africa, hoping to capture Mike swimming outside of the cage, with a great white shark. We also wanted to cover the activity of cage diving, which had grown to be a big business in Gansbaai, South Africa. The other activity South African white sharks are famous for is breaching: leaping completely clear of the water, taking an unsuspecting fur seal by surprise, and brute force. As luck would have it, the Imax production, Born to be Wild, was shooting in Kenya, with the Imax/Phantom 65 3D camera system, and we were able to ship it down to Gansbaai, enabling us to shoot with a long lens, in 3d in full 4k resolution at 140 frames per second. This opened up a realm of possibilities for us: we knew from our experience with The Last Reef, that underwater digital footage could work really well on a giant screen. This was the first time we felt confident enough to use a 3d digital system above water for large format, with the added bonus of being able to shoot slow motion.
We were armed with enough footage to pique interest in the film, but we were always on the lookout for further great white action, something to make this movie unlike any other. Negotiations to shoot in the Farallon Islands were getting nowhere fast, when we came across an odd YouTube video about a “newly discovered aggregation” of white sharks in a “secret” location. Somewhere no one had filmed before; somewhere the sharks weren’t used to cages, or more accurately, people inside cages, in the water. It would be an opportunity to capture raw images of great whites reminiscent of the very first images shot by Stan Waterman for Blue Water/White Death.
The location transpired to be Stewart Island, at the Southern tip of New Zealand. Just before we arrived, there had been reports of a whale carcass on a Stewart Island beach, beset with white sharks in shallow water, we had just missed it… In the deep south, it was cold, wet and windy; Stewart Island felt like the edge of the world. In over two weeks there were only three days with weather that allowed access to the sharks.
Working with Peter Scott and Dave Abbott, we managed to shoot some great footage, at one point we had up to eight sharks around us, too many to see on camera all at once…
There was some resistance from the islanders too, who were worried that baiting sharks would endanger the local abalone divers. Every white shark aggregation seems to be close to kelp forests, close to abalone and, as a result, close to abalone divers. These people spend their lives, working in white shark waters.