Survivors of a plane crash find themselves in shark-infested waters in the new movie Great White, and with the aquatic thriller now in theaters, On Demand, and Digital HD, we caught up with director Martin Wilson in a new Q&A feature to discuss working with his talented cast, filming on and under the water, and bringing the film’s sharks to life.
Thanks for taking the time to answer questions for us, Martin, and congratulations on Great White! What was it about Michael Boughen’s screenplay for this film that made you want to bring this story to life on screen?
Martin Wilson: I felt the script by Michael Boughen had a strong visual scope to use the locations evocatively as a dynamic and dangerous place. The setting itself was a really important character in the film for me. I wanted to showcase the northern tropical waters of Australia as vast, beautiful, and beguiling. But there was something primal and dangerous lurking underneath.
Where did filming take place, and how many days were in your shooting schedule?
Martin Wilson: The film was shot over 25 days in Northern Queensland, Brisbane and the Gold Coast Australia.
You worked with a great cast in this film, including Katrina Bowden, Aaron Jakubenko, Kimie Tsukakoshi, Tim Kano, and Te Kohe Tuhaka. What was it like collaborating with them on this movie?
Martin Wilson: It was a brilliant experience working with all the cast on the movie. They really embraced the sensibility of the film: a wild, dangerous roller coaster, the unpredictability, the danger. They were all up for the relentless physical demands of the shoot, while also being present and conscious of the layers of character that we wanted to seed into the film.
In Great White, were the sharks brought to life with CG, practical effects, real sharks, or a combination of all three? How did the actors interact with the sharks during filming?
Martin Wilson: There is equal mixture of all three: stock footage, CGI, and the practical animatronic sharks. The beauty of the practical sharks is that the actors can move and interact with the sharks, get up close and personal, making it a more dangerous and visceral experience for them. Much better than reacting to a green tennis ball.
So much of this film takes place in the water. Did you encounter any specific challenges during your aquatic shoot?
Martin Wilson: Shooting Great White was an awesome challenge. You’ve only got 25 days and you’re faced with so many variables in particular when you’re shooting on water, where you're fighting the elements as well as time. The deeper the water and the farther out you go means you are all walking off boats, which adds considerable infrastructure that means you move more slowly.
Then you had the added challenge of filming underwater, where you often can't tell what’s the shot until you have a camera down in that environment and can see whether it's working or not. It takes time, because you might have to change a lens and you've got to bring the camera back up, put it back in a housing. And with actors working underwater, they can hardly see in front of them; so, they're faced with a big challenge of communication between themselves and the crew.
But I had such a great cast that were so dynamic, so ready and willing for the physical challenges and the action of shooting on water. Aaron Jakubenko, in particularly was an absolute legend, he had experience working underwater from Tidelands and was a real asset in encouraging and helping his fellow cast members with those tricky scenes.
The crew were also super professional and supportive in making sure we maximized the shooting time in the most practical and creative way.
Did you do any research on great white sharks to prepare for filming?
Martin Wilson: We did a lot of research in great white behaviors and feeding patterns.
Looking back at your time on set, is there a favorite or memorable moment that stands out?
Martin Wilson: My favorite moment is when Kaz goes into the water to retrieve the paddle. It was all about working with the suspense here.
Ultimately, what do you hope viewers take away from Great White?
Martin Wilson: With this film we were not trying to re-invent the wheel, we were aiming to entertain and thrill people. A fun roller coaster ride. We wanted to create the sense of claustrophobia that is being stuck on a raft juxtaposed against the vast and ever-changing force that is the ocean.
This film is very much like a love story and a little bit of a tragedy between the two leads. The way we shot the death scenes, there is more an element of emotion and heart. You feel the tremendous loss for the lead character. You take away that feeling as you (the audience) have invested time watching these characters and liking them. That was a key element, that you feel like there’s some sort of sense of loss or tragedy that would stay with you at the end, amongst all the action and all the suspense, and all that stuff. But one of the first things I said to the actors was, ‘What if there was no shark in this movie? What if we didn't have a shark?' What you're left with is the characters and the performances and how they related to each other. And to be people that transcended the genre. So, if you took away the shark, I still think you would have an interesting character study. That's what we're trying to do.
What I hope audiences feel after they've seen Great White is, you know, it's a sense of one of the key elements that I was originally looking at was to try and transcend the film through the characters. They're human, they're authentic and real.
And to put the audience in that characters' position, what would you do if you were lost in the middle of the ocean with sharks stalking you and your raft was sinking, what would you do?
What has it been like to team up with RLJE Films and Shudder to release Great White?
Martin Wilson: It’s been awesome to link up with RLJE and Shudder, such respected distributors of genre and horror, it’s been huge.
With Great White now in theaters, On Demand, and Digital, what other projects do you have coming up that you’re excited about, and where can our readers go online to keep up to date on your work?
Martin Wilson: I’ve got two films in the works, one is where a genetic scientist wakes up on a military jet with no memory. Think Dog Soldiers meets The Thing. The other project is like an Aussie Stand By Me meets The Ghost and the Darkness, set in the Australia bush. My website martinwilsonfilms.com has regular updates.