Filmmaker Jaume Collet-Serra earned my eternal vote of confidence after The Shallows, because he did the unthinkable – he got me to care about a shark thriller constructed almost entirely with computer graphics. The tropical paradise is mostly fake. The shark is totally fake. Blake Lively…kidding – she’s real, and she KILLS IT – but you catch my drift. Here I am, an advocate of practical effects in almost all my horror reviews, yet I’m left shocked senseless by a digital shark that’s worth every audible gasp.
The Shallows is a bit of white-knuckled underwater terror, brought to life by director Jaume Collet-Serra and writer Anthony Jaswinski. Blake Lively may not look like a fighter, but there’s an undeniable star-power she brings to her rock-perched lone survivor – and tremendous strength to boot. You’ll never be bored – between gorgeous scenic shots and Lively’s ferocious fight for survival – and more importantly, you’ll have a blast peering from behind folded hands.
I had the chance to talk with Mr. Collet-Serra in New York City this week, where he was promoting his aquatic nightmare. We sat down to talk about his avoidance of sharks, the technical challenges of filming in water, and why Blake Lively was chose for the role. In addition, I got some tips on how to direct a seagull (if you can), and he made me a semi-believer in heavy-concept CG effects. That’s no easy task, but after The Shallows, I’m starting to become a believer.
Read on to learn more, and enjoy!
When people think of shark movies, they immediately think of Jaws. Did you try and look elsewhere for inspiration, or immediately try to set yourself apart?
Jaume Collet-Serra: Well, this isn’t a creature movie – it’s a movie about isolation, and survival. It’s closer to 127 Hours and Gravity than it is to any other shark movie. Just because it’s a shark movie – it could be any type of genre. It could be a shark drama. A shark comedy. A shark action film. This is more a survival movie, falling into that category. Just like how Non-Stop was a mystery/thriller, and not so much an airplane disaster movie even though there’s a plane crash. You mix and match.
So where was most of your shooting done, on location?
JCS: It was mostly done on a stage – or tank, rather – with bluescreens. There’s a bit of location work, because that stuff is hard to fake. There have been movies that used mostly bluescreens, but they have a more stylized look. This movie had the challenge of keeping a sense of reality. We see the location – we are in the location for a little bit – but we have to cut back and forth, keeping consistent with reality.
That’s tremendous, because so much of the film vibes this tropical, real-life paradise. So that was all recreation work?
JCS: Mostly all of it. There’s only 10% on location. 90% is in a tank, an exterior stage with bluescreens. It’s when we cut to the location that I trick you. Every scene has one shot that is real, and the other 99% is not – but the one real shot tricks you. You might doubt, but then see that one real shot, and are convinced otherwise. If I showed ten minutes of real footage in the beginning and the rest digital, then yeah – it’d be bad. But we didn’t. It’s one shot in each scene that’s real.
So there’s not a lot of gore in The Shallows…
JCS: Yup, that was my decision.
OK, that’s exactly what I was going to ask – did you come in wanting to drive this more tense route over gory attacks?
JCS: I’ve done R-rated films, R-rated horror films, PG-13 horror films, PG-13 thrillers. I think that you have to deliver what you promised to the audience, but it can’t be gratuitous. It can’t just cross that line. Here there’s some gore, but it’s a certain way. [Blake Lively] is [operating] on herself, and it’s very hard to make that look real. Especially in the water. Water destroys makeup. There’s no VFX there at all. Everything is [Blake]. She stitched her prosthetic, and everything worked in camera. This is classic, no CG…
You didn’t have a lick of additional digital help?
JCS: Nothing. [Blake] did several takes – changing the piece completely – taking the time to do it old-school. With water it’s very difficult because it’s interacting with the prosthetic. The glue gets messy, there’s no retouches. Everything is in camera, and thankfully it looks so good – but what happens when it looks this good, is it’s fucking over the edge. People were fainting on set. Wardrobe, and even big Grip guys. They were watching the monitor, and had to look away. If you watch the whole shot, it took her two minutes. If you have a camera pointing at that for two minutes, it becomes real. We only use snippets of the shot – and not because it’s R or not R – but because you give enough to tell the story without giving too much.