Directors Notes

 
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Shooting Sea Lions: a buoy just off Santa Monica beach

Constantly monitoring shark news revealed our next location to us, and it was something of a surprise. We knew that Monterrey Bay Aquarium had, on numerous occasions, displayed a juvenile white shark in a large tank, for a limited amount of time, before tagging and releasing it back into the wild. It led us to the work of Dr Chris Lowe, based at Cal State University in Long Beach, who was making some interesting discoveries concerning juvenile white sharks. The principle discovery being that the Los Angeles coastline is a nursery ground for white sharks, a hot spot for juveniles, little older than 1 year. Dr Lowe has a tagging programme run in conjunction with Monterrey Bay, and they would be working from Marina Del Ray in August. We felt it was a real opportunity to tell a slightly different great white story.

There was one small scheduling problem for us, and especially for Luke: we had been invited to work on the London Olympics closing ceremony, which was an immovable feast, August 12. The LA tagging was also immovable, August 13. After months of preparation for the ceremony, I had to watch Luke and the rest of STOMP in the biggest performance of our career, from the comfort of my hotel room in LA…

Meanwhile, D.J. had been busy adapting our underwater housing and 3d rig to take the new RED Epic cameras, which gave us a leap forward in resolution, tonal quality and available frame rates. It meant that most of the remaining footage would be shot at 48 frames, with the same cameras used by Peter Jackson to shoot The Hobbit in 3D. Of course, he had a few more rigs than we did.

Shooting the Lucille as it searches for juvenile White Sharks off the coast of Los Angeles.

Shooting the Lucille as it searches for juvenile White Sharks off the coast of Los Angeles.

The 3D rig was mounted on a techno crane, sitting atop a flat floating platform, and must have looked pretty peculiar to the people on Venice, Santa Monica and Malibu beaches as we passed by. Day one gave us our first shark capture, and it was held in a pen, hopefully going to be transferred to the aquarium. Luke arrived the following day, and there followed three days of no sightings. Without a tag and release we didn’t have a full story… we also learned that the shark from the first day was released after being deemed unsuitable for transfer to Monterrey, so we didn’t have a story ending there either.

After accidentally snagging a fisherman’s line by Venice Pier, we also came to the attention of the local coastguard. The tagging expedition was officially over, but we managed to persuade a local fishing crew to help us one more time, and as luck would have it, our spotter plane found a shark off Santa Monica pier. Just as Dr Lowe and his team caught the shark, the coastguard ordered us to stop shooting… after a few tense moments with the Baywatch team, we were allowed to resume shooting, and got the shot of the juvenile release…

On board with us was Terri Farley Teruel from Universal Studios, and it was fitting that she would see a “baby” white shark right in her back yard, not so far away from the JAWS theme park experience. A few days earlier, I had been to recce the JAWS location at Universal. It was early in the morning, before the park was open, and a family of deer were wading through the JAWS lake… JAWS and Bambi, together at last…

Just a few days later, a juvenile white shark would make the headlines, caught and released by a fisherman at Venice Pier: I doubt that a coyote seen strolling through the Hollywood Hills would make the evening news, but really, there is little difference. Los Angeles is a shark hot spot, in more ways than one…

D.J.Roller in San Benitos Photo: Vance Wiese

D.J.Roller in San Benitos Photo: Vance Wiese

Armed with D.J’s Epic cameras, we knew we wanted to flesh out our story by showing more of the food chain, in particular, the fur seals and sea lions that become such an important part of their diet as adults. So we headed for the kelp forests of San Benitos, with the crew of the Horizon, and captured more footage than we could possibly use of pinnipeds of all shapes and sizes, including the nightly trek of sea lions up the cliff sides, to the barren highlands. With dolphins, humpbacks and blue whales around us, it was a memorable trip, and we felt the movie was almost complete…

Except, now we had the higher resolution cameras, shouldn’t we return to New Zealand or Guadalupe, to get more shark footage?