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2004-08-15 19:09:56

"Open Water" Filmed In The Bahamas With Real Sharks

''In every single shot of this movie, the sharks are real.'' say movie producers.

Do not move. Do not scream. Do not appear to be a wounded fish.

Those were the rules on the aquatic set of the shark feeding-frenzy movie "Open Water."

In the black ocean at dusk, way off the shore of the Bahamas, two newcomer actors tried to remember the rules, but they were afraid, very afraid, that one leg kick or a yelp might be their last.

Blanchard Ryan and Daniel Travis could have been an evening appetizer for the sharks that truly get top billing in the indie hit.

"You're damned if you do and damned if you don't," Travis says. "Basically, when you work with sharks, you're told not to move around too much or they'll attack you. The rub is if you don't move around enough, they'll think you're a wounded fish, and then they'll try to bite you or eat you."

Travis, who makes his film debut in "Open Water," a film that boasted an astronomical $22,000-per-screen average last weekend, says he isn't sure he would work under these circumstances again.

"There were times in the water where my female co-star Blanchard would whisper to me, 'Daniel, stop kicking me! You're hurting me!' And I'd look at her in fear and say, 'I'm not kicking you. I'm nowhere near you.' "

At such moments, both of them feared to look down at their feet as they swam through shark-infested ocean waters. Down below, it was obvious that there were certain actors who wanted more screen time.

"We were constantly being bumped by the sharks," Travis says, shuddering. "As much as I'd like to credit my good acting, there's nothing that creates a certain look of fear in your eyes as looking down and seeing three or four sharks circling your feet."

"Open Water" centers on two overworked, stressed-out yuppies who decide to go on a scuba-diving vacation in the Bahamas. A simple mistake occurs when their diving leader screws up the count of passengers before the boat returns to land.

When this couple comes up for air, they find their boat is gone and they're in deep trouble. Their only mode of survival is treading water while sharks circle them.

"Open Water" went into production in 1997 when Kentis and Lau decided to take their love of diving and bring it to the big screen. At the time, they were reading about a true case of a woman in Australia who was stranded in open waters.

"She went on a dive boat that was overcrowded, which is the first mistake many people make," Kentis says. "Due to a botched count, she was left in the water."

It was a great idea for a film, but they had to wait until 2000, when digital filming had advanced enough for them to hit the actual waters off the Bahamas and employ live sharks.

The producers pride themselves because no computer-generated sharks were used. Nor were the actors shot with special screens that could incorporate the sharks into scenes via some fancy computer technology.

"These are real people in real water with real sharks," Kentis says. "In every single shot of this movie, the sharks are real, and they were shot by either Laura or myself."

Keeper of semi-trained sharks

For those wondering how this was accomplished without going through half the Screen Actors Guild roster, Kentis provides a few details. First, he hired a shark expert named Stuart Cove, who has what are known as semi-trained sharks off the Bahamas.

"Stuart has been taking thousands of divers down with this shark population for years," Kentis says. "He understands the behaviors of these sharks, and the animals are used to having humans in the waters."

Cove's "pets" are bull sharks, which are dangerous under normal circumstances. "If you ran into them under other conditions, I wouldn't want to get near them," Kentis says.

The production gave their actors an extra edge by putting them in special wetsuits embedded with anti-shark chain metals.

"We didn't want to take any chances," Lau says. "So we put our actors in suits made out of metal mesh. So when a shark bites down, its teeth cannot penetrate. Plus, the shark doesn't like the sting of metal on its teeth. The shark is expecting to bite into a fish, and when it tastes metal, it will want to let go."

Travis was a little nervous about becoming a fleshy treat for those critters. "I just had to keep reminding myself that most humans who get bit by sharks suffer from mistaken identity," Travis says. "Sharks do not like the taste of flesh. Stuart even tried to feed our sharks lamb, beef and chicken, and they didn't eat any of it. They only eat other fish."

So why do humans die of shark attacks? "Well, the problem is the sharks think we're big fish, and they will take a bite out of us," Travis says. "Then you just bleed to death."

Bleeding was also a problem on the set of "Without a Paddle." The comedy features some dangerous canoe trips, plus a breathtaking plunge over a waterfall for the three leads.

"I will tell you I've never been so scared on a movie set until this movie," Lillard admits. "I would wake up in the morning with a feeling of sickness in the pit of my stomach just realizing that I would be on the rapids in three hours."

There was no floatation device that could soothe his nerves.

"Of course I had on a little life preserver in the canoe, but the key word here is 'little.' I'm a big man, and they had little life preservers."

Lillard had cause for concern. On the first day on the set, his paddling coach gave the guys a stern warning.

"He sat us down and said, 'Guys, this is no joke. If you get in a situation where something goes wrong on the river, the only one who's going to be able to save you is you. I lost my mentor on the water, and he was a great paddler. He was a national champion and an Olympian. You're not champions, so be careful.'"

Lillard's stunt double had to ride a Class 5 rapid, which is one of the most dangerous. He almost died.

"They did a run over this dam. Think of it like sitting inside a jet turbine engine," Lillard says. "Kenny, who was my stunt double, went over but didn't have the proper safety gear. He hit his head on a rock, broke his eye socket, knocked out three teeth, and got 36 stitches. He was actually unconscious underwater. They had to go by and pick him out of the water so he didn't drown.

"It's truly amazing what some people do for a living," Lillard says.

Source of watery controversy

It's also amazing that there can be a controversy over a water flick. There are organizations out there who think films that love liquid are unfair to divers and even give sharks a bad name.

For starters, the Diving Equipment & Marketing Association, the trade association representing divers, is a little disappointed with "Open Water."

"In reality, diving is a safe and enjoyable sport," says Tom Ingram, DEMA's executive director. "While the movie is a heart-pounding thriller, it is a fictionalized account of what could have happened in the most extreme confluence of unlikely events."

DEMA concurs that the film is based on a real-life American couple, Tom and Eileen Lonergan, who whose dive boat left them behind in the ocean off Queensland, Australia. They are presumed dead. DEMA insists that although "Open Water" mirrors this real-life case, the shark attacks in the film are pure speculation on the part of screenwriters.

DEMA insists that that it's rare for divers to be left behind on a trip.

The Shedd Aquarium's Germann seconds that sharks have gotten a bad rep, thanks to the movies.

"We've tried to debunk the myths and legends about sharks," he says. "The truth is more people die of toothpick-related injuries each year than in shark attacks."

Filmmaker Kentis says, "We agree that diving is a safe sport, but we did find incidents of divers being left. While we were shooting, we heard of a couple in the Bahamas who were left in the water and luckily swam to a light tower. The dive shop workers didn't realize they were gone until the next morning.

"The dive industry was nervous about our film. We screened it for them, and they agreed that our film is positive. It's rare that people are attacked by sharks while diving, but it does happen."

So you might want to recall this advice from "Jaws": Don't go in the water.

Distributed by Big Picture News

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