ABOUT THE PRODUCTION
 

This page was created on August 14, 2004
This page was last updated on August 14, 2004


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ABOUT THIS FILM
About The Production
Writer-director Chris Kentis and producer Laura Lau took a killer "based on true events" premise -- a couple scuba diving in tropical waters is mistakenly abandoned in the middle of the ocean -- and went on to create an ingeniously harrowing, knees-to-your-chest thriller. Shot on weekends and holidays, OPEN WATER employs not a single cheesy special effect or computer generated image. Instead, actors Blanchard Ryan and Daniel Travis spent over 120 hours in the water twenty miles off shore amidst all kinds of sea life, including the real-life, honest-to-God sharks that give the film its chilling authenticity.

Capturing a breathtaking range of ocean light, from hypnotic aquamarine to treacherous blackness, OPEN WATER reminds us how much fun it is to be frightened by our most primal fears, namely what we think may linger just below the surface.

While shining a light on how we often take our comfortable lives and our relationships for granted, OPEN WATER reminds us of the fragility and vulnerability of modern man in relation to the vast and indiscriminant power of nature.

Like Susan and Daniel, the people who made OPEN WATER are certified open water scuba divers, and they are a couple. Unlike Susan and Daniel, Laura Lau and Chris Kentis are married and have a daughter. "The tension between the couple in the film," Lau told Salon during the 2004 Sundance Film Festival, "has nothing to do with our marriage!"

Lau and Kentis are very much a filmmaking team. Though their duties often overlap, Lau produced OPEN WATER and photographed the film with Kentis, who wrote, directed and edited the film, and was responsible for all in-the-water and underwater photography.

According to actress Blanchard Ryan, the team dynamic Lau and Kentis brought to OPEN WATER was an important part of making the film. "Working with a couple, it made us feel better, because it was a risky film on many levels: the nudity, the sharks, being in the ocean, having to carry a film when you're two actors no one knows. We trusted them and knew they weren't going to clash like other teams, and that was a comfortable feeling for us."

The water in OPEN WATER is every bit as much a title character as, say, a little boy's psychic abilities in "The Shining." Ubiquitous, beautiful, terrifying and ever changing, the ocean's water and the light it caught became the filmmakers' medium and inspiration. It also became a third member of the tiny crew, (the crew being Kentis, Lau, Lau's sister, and the boat captain), filling at times the role of gaffer, its shimmering, glassy or choppy surface hanging the different lights of the sun and the sky, the moon and even some ominous flashes of lightning. The ocean became a source of transportation as its winds and currents moved cast and crew from place to place. And it worked as a property master, bringing a tuft of kelp for this shot, a fleet of jellyfish and a razor-toothed barracuda for that.

But on some days, if the ocean had indeed been a crewmember, Lau and Kentis would have fired it.

"Everything was very tightly scripted," says Lau. "The sky would change and we'd have to jump to another scene." By the end of the shoot we actually lost a few days to fantastic weather, clear blue skies, bright sunshine, as the conditions were just too pristine for the scenes that remained."

"But most of the time, Mother Nature was totally on our side," said Kentis. "For instance the day we had scheduled to shoot the jellyfish scene." The jellyfish just showed up," recalls actor Daniel Travis. "And that's the only time during our whole shoot that we saw jellyfish," said Kentis. I had originally planned to go to a special location to find them for the underwater portion of the scene, but out of nowhere they came to us."

The idea for OPEN WATER came from a particular news event that circulated in dive magazines and newsletters a few years ago. The event centered around divers who had been stranded in the open ocean. Kentis, a scuba diver, began to research whether this was an isolated incident or a common occurrence. Through his research he learned that though it is very rare, other similar incidents had in fact occurred. He also did research on men left adrift at sea during wartime, through these accounts he learned more about the psychological and physiological changes the human mind and body undergoes under the stress of abandonment and exposure to the open sky and ocean.

"When I sat down to write the film, I wasn't interested in portraying the real people involved," Kentis explains. "I did no research on them. I didn't want to represent their relationship or their lives, out of respect for their privacy and because it was not pertinent to the story. We also wanted to leave the exact setting of our movie ambiguous, because we didn't want to lay that trip on anybody's tourist trade. What I was really interested in is the fact that this could and did happen, the terror of being alone at sea, what that was like-- and I thought it was a great cautionary tale."

Says Chris Kentis, " We blunder off into an exotic locale, cement over the place and serve each other drinks. We go with arrogance into these places, forgetting we're also animals in the food chain."

The food chain - and our place in it - is a recurring theme in OPEN WATER, and the manipulation of the food chain played an important part in its production. To create the drama inherent in the dilemma of a stranded couple slowly becoming food, Kentis and Lau shot most of the film in the open ocean off of the Bahamas. They worked with a local shark expert, who introduced them to a population of sharks that's had lots of exposure to people.

The shark experts and the filmmakers would manipulate the sharks' movements by throwing chunks of bloody tuna into the water, often near the actors. Says Kentis, "We would throw bait in the water to get the sharks to move. But once too many pieces were in the water, the sharks would get really worked up, and then the actors would have to get out of the water. But Laura would still be shooting on her platform, which dipped in and out of the water as the sharks frenzied below. Sometimes she would shoot with her legs dangling in the water."

"That made Blanchard very nervous for me," adds Lau. "She would call out, 'Laura watch out, Laura be careful,' especially as we were throwing the bait in the water from that platform and it was covered with fish blood. But I knew the sharks weren't interested in me, and I trusted the wranglers we were working with." "We were working with top experts," echoes Kentis. Even though the director was often swarmed with sharks, he felt completely safe. "In the water, with the camera, I'd be getting bumped constantly," says Kentis. "There were times I'd look down, there would just be gray, no blue."

The sharks, mostly gray reef sharks with a few bull sharks averaging seven to eleven feet in length, numbered between 45 and 50.

The film's production schedule was also fitted around the work with the sharks. "All of the emotional stuff, the screaming and splashing around, was done weeks later after we'd finished working with the sharks, as a safety precaution," Kentis explains. But there were still plenty of close encounters.

Safety was the primary concern while working with the sharks.

"Even though our budget was low, safety was paramount," Lau explains. "Not only did we get our actors 'open water' certified, but we bore the expense of shooting on location in the Bahamas, where the world's foremost experts on film production with sharks are located."

Actors Blanchard Ryan and Daniel Travis wore protective chain mail under their wetsuits, which would have prevented dismemberment but not bruising. Luckily, neither actor was bitten by a shark, though on the first day of shooting a barracuda bit Ryan. "It was bleeding a lot," says Ryan. "I was like, 'did you get it?' Because if I'm gonna get bit, at least let it be usable footage."

Kentis did not capture the bite, though it happened on the day of the shoot when Ryan and Travis' characters cavort among the coral with angelfish and eels.

"Daniel was much less afraid of the sharks, but I was terrified," says actress Blanchard Ryan. "The first day we shot, Chris jumps in the water, Daniel jumps in the water, they're swimming around, the sharks are eating the tuna, and they're not bothering them. I was thinking, 'I'm being a Nancy. I need to get in the water!' But it was just terrifying."

Adds Daniel Travis, "When they wanted the sharks to swim really close they would throw the chunks of tuna right next to us. I'd shout, 'A little close on that one! That's a little close!'"

Producer Laura Lau insists that even though the actors had a harrowing experience, they were safe as they bobbed among the sharks. "This is a known shark population, and the people we worked with dive with those sharks every day. The sharks know, almost like pigeons, that they're going to get fed, and they're accustomed to ignoring divers in the water. It's true that Daniel and Blanchard couldn't splash around too much because they could have been bitten by accident. Any time you're near animals with large, sharp teeth, you have to be very cautious. But I never felt for a moment that anyone was in danger."

"Working in the water with real sharks was the key to the movie for me, "Kentis adds. "It seems like in most movies today, everything is done with CGI [computer generated imaging], and personally I don't get the same sense of danger that I did with movies from the 70s and 80s, when you saw stunt men doing these amazing things. You'd say, 'Oh my god, someone was in that car! when it wrecked.

"It was important to work with real sharks, to get the way their tails flap around like big rats in the water as opposed to the usual Hollywood fin gliding smoothly on the surface."

Born and raised in New England, BLANCHARD RYAN graduated from the University of New Hampshire with a BA in Political Philosophy. She began her career in commercials, while studying acting and improv in New York City. Prior to her role as Susan in OPEN WATER, Ryan also starred in several independent films including "My Sister's Wedding," "Remembering Sex" and "Exceed," and appeared in Fox Searchlight's "Broken Lizard's Super Troopers" and Kevin Smith's "Big Helium Dog."

Ryan also appeared on HBO's "Sex and the City," and performed in recurring scripted and improv sketches on NBC's "Late Night with Conan O'Brien."

Ryan is an avid hockey fan, and loves visiting zoos and aquariums and reading mystery novels.

DANIEL TRAVIS grew up in Clarkston, Michigan and attended Miami University in Oxford, Ohio, where he completed his undergraduate studies in theater and received a BFA. He then attended The Mason Gross School of the Arts at Rutgers University where he received an MFA.

Major theatre roles have consisted of John Buchanan in Summer and Smoke, The Earl of Richmond in Richard III and Paul Bratter in Barefoot In The Park. He has also been seen in "Sex and The City" as "Captain Crunch" and in "The Education of Max Bickford" with Richard Dreyfus.

OPEN WATER is Daniel's first feature length film.

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