Over the years Shark Divers has worked with a number of outstanding film and television productions on shark shows that have ranged from Discovery Channel to Ushia Natural History.
We have also turned down many shark productions like Endemol’s “Killer Shark Live” at Isla Guadalupe for reasons that ran the gamut from poor production value to the actual name of the show.
This year we have been busy once again on a series of shark productions in the Bahamas, most notably a Gillette commercial that involved a huge crew and a boatload of dignitaries from the Bahamas Film Commission. Getting to meet the “Queen of Productions,” Donna Mackey in person and wrangling sharks together on the back deck was one of the many highlights of this amazing shoot.
When we got the call months ago with a “kernel of a commercial idea,” it intrigued me.
How do you produce a main stream commercial that involves live sharks that is scientifically accurate, and commercially valid at the same time, without going over the edge into territory reserved for the moniker Shark Porn?
This was the challenge, additionally we wanted this high value production to benefit a local community as well, so we chose the Bahamas as the target site for shooting. In the end this production bought out 3/4 of a local resort to stage from, and involved many levels of the Bahamian government who had never seen a shark production in action and who were also very interested in the value of a live shark. They joined us on our last day of production to see how a production with sharks was done in the Bahamas.
The commercial value of a shark to ongoing conservation has been talked about a lot recently with several first rate studies coming out on the subject. The Bahamas just recently recognized this and declared all of the Bahamas a Shark Sanctuary a stunning development, but when presented with industry figures of a valuation of $80 million a year for live sharks you can see why.
Often left out of this discussion are film and television productions that drop many millions of dollars into local communities, keeping local business alive, and none more than the Bahamas West End on Grand Bahama, which has seen tough times as of late.
We always work with the same small production group and we tend to tackle projects that are technically challenging and at the same time exciting to work on. The premise for the Gillette commercial is absolutely “tongue in cheek,” it’s in the same vein as a recent commercials featuring white sharks and Snickers bars, or white sharks and Nicorette gum. The answer to the question of Shark Porn is to produce a commercial that is based in humor. The outrageous notion of two guys shaving in shark cages with one of them cutting themselves, is so far out there you discount it, until you see the actual sharks. That’s the hook.
We were gearing up to do a live shoot and as the old saying goes, “never work with children or animals.” You have to rely on the animals to be at the right place at the right time with the right conditions to make it happen. Sometimes it does not, and we know this first hand.
You can watch the Behind the Scenes Reel from this shoot and see the dedication and seriousness we all put into this production. It was always “go time” on the back deck while we were out there.
You also have to have the right crew in place, because there’s no way a shoot like this involving as many folks mixing it up with large, wild, sharks has any room for “mistakes,” and we take shark diving seriously.
After a decade in this game we remain “shark accident” free and it’s one of the reasons productions seek us out time and again. I must say our DP was also one of the best in the field. Johnny Friday is based in La Paz, Mexico and shoots RED, and he’s simply amazing. With the time we had on site he utilized every second and got every shot, he also one of the nicest commercial guys I have had the pleasure to work with.
We also had Luke Tipple on site as overall production manager and as one of the talent for this shoot. Luke is a marine biologist, and has been the driving force behind the Shark-Free Marinas Initiative, a conservation effort for sharks supported by the Humane Society, the Guy Harvey Institute, Slash from Guns n Roses and a host of fine folks from all over the shark conservation spectrum.
Day one saw as many as nine Tigers on site, and no Lemon sharks. This, as turned out, was too much of a good thing. By pure coincidence another shark boat three miles away was shooting a Spanish speaking documentary, we knew this after Johnny came up with his underwater comm gear and said, ” I hear some guy talking about sharks in Spanish.” It became evident that we had his Tigers and he had our Lemon sharks and both groups were in a mini shark purgatory.
Frankly, I am o.k with nine well behaved Tiger sharks on a shark production, but for this one, we needed Lemon sharks and lot’s of them. As I like to tell folks on shark trips, “tomorrow is another day.”
Day two was everything we had hoped it would be, thanks to Scotty and crew on the M/V Kate who kept our animals interested overnight, we acquired some 20 Lemon sharks the next day and that, with the Tigers, gave us the limited window we needed for the shoot. But time was running out as a boatload of Bahamian dignitaries was going to arrive that afternoon with the Vice President of BBDO, one of the largest advertising agencies on the planet who was paying for this.
We had to get busy and all we needed were sharks interested in cages.
It took time for the animals to “season up” to the two cages we had dropped the previous day, and as far as chumming we ended up using 20% of the total allotment we had on site. The idea was to appear as natural as this impossible scene could, and that meant limited chum. In fact we had submitted a complete shark site protocol written by Luke Tipple to the American Humane Association which they signed off on. No sharks were to be harmed in any way on this shoot, that meant animals getting into cages, caught on rigging, or any manner of production abuse to the wildlife.
We stand by that at Shark Diver, we’re here for the animals first and foremost and it has always been the case.
It was the afternoon when the pure magic happened. For whatever reason, the current, the animals, our team pulled off the extraordinary and we got into a amazing rhythm of animals approaching myself on the back deck and then peeling off to investigate the crew on the seafloor with the cages. This fantastic production scene went on for two hours delivering everything we needed, just in time for Donna Mackey’s arrival and her boatload of Bahamians who watched with some fascination at the scene unfolding in front of them.
I have wanted to spend some quality time with Donna on a professional level for several years, ever since we met her briefly in 2006 on a shoot. Donna is Bahamas Film, if you need anything to make your shoot work she is your go-to gal, and the reason why the Bahamas works so well for film productions involving sharks.
She and I ended up wrangling a few sharks on the back deck while we chatted about productions with sharks in the Bahamas and how, one day, the Bahamas might in fact become a Shark Sanctuary, that day has come, and it is thanks in part to the value of live sharks to the Bahamian community.
The final shark commercial is now on national television and we like it. It’s a fine line that you tread when you get involved in shark productions. But over the years we have managed to tread that line well, and often, and this commercial is one in a series of shark productions you’ll be seeing from us as time moves forward.
As for the crew, I have to say once again guys, from Scotty and the M/V Kate with Blue Iguana Charters, to Luke, Moondog, Johhny, and the L.A based production staff who were top notch, it’s been an amazing few years doing magic with you, let’s do it all again.