Countdown to Shark Week: ‘Blood in the Water’

This week, senior writer Lindsay Gibb is counting down the days to Discovery's Shark Week launch on August 2. In this, the second installment, we look at the popularity of this special programming and the film that will launch its first night, Blood in the Water.
July 29, 2009

This week, senior writer Lindsay Gibb (pictured, in shark mask) is counting down the days to Discovery’s Shark Week launch on August 2. In this, the second installment, we look at the popularity of this special programming and the film that will launch its first night, Blood in the Water.

Discovery’s Brooke Runnette, an executive producer who oversees Shark Week, says the reason people keep returning in droves to Shark Week is pretty simple. ‘They’re fascinating creatures that people can’t get enough of,’ she says. ‘They’re the apex predator of the sea. They’re the only thing that people have to respect because they are more apex than we are.’

Brook Lapping’s Blood in the Water illustrates just how much of an apex predator the shark is. The project is a docudrama about the 1916 shark attacks that were part of the inspiration behind Jaws. Directed and produced by Richard Bedser, Blood dramatizes 12 weeks in New Jersey when five people were attacked by sharks, using newspaper articles from the time to reconstruct what happened. These were the first multiple shark attacks in American history and they introduced Americans to the idea that sharks could be dangerous while also allowing the press to have a field day.

Making a dramadoc around the 1916 attacks, Bedser says they were creating something very different from Jaws. ‘I don’t think Jaws was just based on the Jersey attacks; I think it was based on several attacks and imagination,’ says Bedser. Having read a lot about the attacks when he was working on his first Shark Week doc, Ocean of Fear, Bedser decided to devise a reporter character to interview family members of the victims and witnesses in order to best tell the story. The team behind Blood built the story using the newspaper articles, shark experts, scientists and witness accounts, and took great care in depicting the actual attacks.

‘Our shark had to be more realistic [than the Jaws shark] because we weren’t just making a horror movie. It’s more doc-horror where it’s also got to have a semblance of reality to it,’ says Bedser. So they went to Animated Extras, UK-based experts in animatronic animals, to make two sharks for the production. One was a fully animated front end and back tail which took three people to operate and the other was a ‘swimming shark’ which weighed almost one ton, measured 8 1/2 feet and needed to be towed behind a boat. ‘We had to build these two things so we could do the full attacks on our actors,’ says Bedser. ‘We need to dunk them under the water and have parts of their bodies in the shark’s mouths being chewed, and not actually kill anyone.’

Aside from playing with animatronic sharks, a big part of the fun in working on a Shark Week project, says Bedser, is finding creative ways to work underwater. The DoP on Blood, Malcolm McClean, suggested they use a Technocrane for easier maneuverability around the tanks, housed in both Pinewood Studios (just west of London) and Malta. ‘We got so much material this way and the shots look great,’ says Bedser. ‘We built a large barge so we could also use it out on the lake doubling as Matawan Creek. I know we abused it a bit by dunking it underwater, but the shots were cool.’

Tomorrow, in the third and final edition of realscreen‘s countdown to Shark Week, we’ll reveal what Discovery is looking for when it sets out to program the week of special programming, what will set this year apart from previous editions, and Sharkbite Summer.

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