Special Report on MIPCOM’s Most Wanted: Swimming With Sharks – Predators and distributors come together for Ron Taylor Production’s Shark Pod

Project: Shark Pod...
September 1, 1997

Project: Shark Pod

Description: A 52-minute doc set in an underwater lab where a husband and wife diving team test an electronic shark-repelling device.

Production company: Ron Taylor Film Productions Director/producers: Ron and Valerie Taylor

Editor: Ron Taylor

Distributor: Jennifer Cornish Media, Wooloomooloo, Australia – Jennifer Cornish, managing director; Emily O’Neil, sales manager

The culmination of 25 years of diving experience, Shark Pod follows Ron and Valerie Taylor as they test a Protective Oceanic Device mere meters away from tiger and great white sharks in the very live laboratory of Australia’s Southern Ocean.

Jennifer Cornish Media, an Australian distributor specializing in wildlife and adventure films, snapped up world rights for the project, offering Ron Taylor Productions a variable commission based on an approximate 70/30 split.

jcm represented Blue Wilderness, the six-episode half-hour series coproduced in 1992 by the Taylors with ABC Australia and National Geographic.

Managing director Jennifer Cornish attributes the success of Blue Wilderness and the anticipated success of Shark Pod to the subject matter. ‘Sharks attract worldwide interest, high ratings and strong audience response,’ she explains. Brisk sales to Japan, Germany and the U.K. are expected, followed by Spain, South Africa and smaller territories.

1951-1968: Holder of the 1965 World Spearfishing-title, Ron Taylor began his education in sharks at a common meeting ground of prey and predator. As he explains, ‘I had hungry sharks taking the fish off my spears, so I learned early on the characteristics of different species of sharks.’ Taylor gives up spearfishing and starts ‘hunting’ underwater with a 16mm camera instead.

1969-1970: Taylor works as a cameraman on Peter Gimbel’s highly successful feature documentary Blue Water White Death, the story of the search for the great white shark. It becomes one of the first films to tap into the public’s fascination with the deadly creatures.

1973-1974: Universal Pictures asks Gimbel to shoot second-unit underwater footage of sharks for a feature they are producing. Gimbel asks to direct the film, but is denied. Universal tells him they have a young unknown named Steven Spielberg in line for the project. Gimbel declines the offer for second-unit cameraman and suggests Taylor instead. Taylor agrees, and in January of ’74 shoots all the live shark sequences for Jaws.

1974-1975: The act of filming predatory underwater animals appeals to Taylor and he goes on to film great whites off the southern coast of Australia for many documentaries and features.

He creates the half-hour doc series Taylor’s Inner Space, comprised primarily of filmed sequences of sharks, which is picked up by NBC.

1976: Taylor is hired by Dino de Laurentis to shoot shark sequences for Orca. Although the insurance company lists a multitude of reasons why permission cannot be granted for such filming, Taylor goes ahead and shoots the footage, and hands it over to de Laurentis.

1992: The Taylors go to Durban, South Africa, to meet with the Natal Sharks Board. There they discover an electronic shark-repelling device and present the applications of this prototype in Shark Shocker, a half-hour segment of Blue Wilderness. The video package is picked up by JCM.

1993-1995: The Taylors return home and continue to experiment with the shark repeller using personal finances.

1996: The South Africans have produced a more sophisticated repeller called Shark Pod, which sends out an electronic pulse that works on a shark’s electro-receptors, believed to be in their mouths. To date, Pod Holdings in South Africa has already sold models of the device to abalone divers in California.

Using revenue from earlier projects, the Taylors invest approximately US$150,000 in a documentary that will demonstrate the repelling device in live action.

February 1996: With his digital camcorder in underwater housing, Taylor records the pod as it repels 4.5-metre-long sharks. During this time, the Taylors meet Shane Downs, a practical shark expert (someone who works with sharks in the wild rather than ones made passive).

September 1996: Taylor shoots footage of Downs outside of a traditional shark cage with only the electronic repeller to protect him. The two men literally swim within touching distance of tiger sharks that are being fed. In one sequence, Downs actually embraces a tiger shark while helping the animal free itself from entanglement with a rope that had bait attached. All this is shot on film with no computer-generated imagery involved.

October 1996: Post-production begins on Shark Pod. Using his own Betacam SP suite, Taylor cuts three versions of the film: a 45-minute version sold to Seven Network in Australia for aus$35,000 (approx us $26,000), a 48-minute version for Discovery and a 52-minute version for international broadcast and video. He mixes footage from the February shoot with old 16mm footage from earlier underwater shoots, and dubs in electronic noise to indicate to the viewer when the pod is turned on.

July 1997: jcm picks up international broadcasting for Shark Pod, excluding first window North America and Australia, as well as international video rights. Rather than an acquisition fee, the Taylors will receive 70% of gross sales.

Seven Network holds first window broadcast in Australia, and negotiations are underway with Discovery for first window in North America. Good sales are expected by Cornish, with anticipated sales of AUS$100,000 for two years broadcast in the European territories, AUS$20,000 in Japan and AUS$5,000 for South Africa.

August 1997: The relationship between jcm and Ron Taylor Film continues with an agreement for Adventures in the Kingdom of the Shark, an eight-part series of half-hour episodes. JCM – newly associated with SBS, the multicultural broadcaster of Australia – will act as coproducer, granting an advance of AUS$10,000 per episode and collaborating on the ‘look’ and content of the programs.

The Taylors will continue to swim with sharks.

Also in this report:

-Bad Boys, Whatcha Gonna Do?: Off the Fence stakes out South Africa’s elite ESPU in a new series that brings Cops-style attitude to the animal world

-War of the Worlds: Worldview Pictures divides and conquers in its production, War and Civilization

-Welcome to Mike’s World: Michael Moore takes another jab at TV

-Stade-by-Stage: For the 1998 World Cup, France pulls out all the stops and LM is there.

About The Author
Managing editor with realscreen publication, an international print and online magazine that covers the non-fiction film and television industries. Darah is an award-winning journalist who has spent over two decades covering a wide range of issues from real estate and urban development to immigration, politics and human rights, primarily with The Vancouver Sun. Prior to joining realscreen, she was editor of Stream Daily, realscreen's sister publication covering the dynamic global digital video industry. She also served a stint as a war reporter in Afghanistan for television and print, and was a national business blogger with Yahoo Canada.