Submerged! The Story of Underwater Filmmakers

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Ever wonder what goes on behind the scenes of an underwater shoot? Kim Crowie dives into this complex and incredibly rewarding side of the film industry.

Imagine a tightly packed, pulsating ball of sardines being charged by sharks, dolphins, seals and gannets. You’re in the thick of it, filming this fantastic feeding frenzy. A gigantic Bryde’s whale lunges at the baitball from below, coming within inches of your camera. This is the everyday life of an underwater filmmaker.

Twenty years ago, this side of South Africa’s movie industry was barely there, let alone professional or regulated. A few decades down the line, however, and underwater shoots are done by some of the most qualified divers in the business. These specialists range from underwater operators, film divers, and technicians to marine coordinators and supervisors.

“Nowadays your crew are key; we now have specialist underwater operators, specialist film divers and underwater technicians. In the last thirteen years we’ve had the pleasure of working with topside camera pros,” explains Jason Martin, Marine Coordinator at FrogSquad,”But their Achilles heel was the diving part, working in an environment where they weren’t 100% comfortable ended up mostly in very ordinary or basic shoots.” Today, however, South Africa offers up an international level of underwater photography and film that spans from big-budget shoots the likes of Black Sails, Tomb Raider, and Dark Tower to reality TV like Fear Factor and dozens of commercials.

This is also a very niche sector of filmmaking, with most qualified divers needing a good number of years under their belt, qualifications in place and an idea of how to work with highly specialised equipment in the water. Coordinating these kinds of shoots is also more time-consuming than other straight shots on land, given the equipment, expertise and vision of the director that needs to be translated into an unfriendly environment with limited colour possibilities and potentially dangerous scenarios – how about filming that baitball as part of your day job, for instance. That said, most industry professional report that although it’s harsh work and long hours, they thoroughly enjoy it – and the rewards are plenty.

Continue reading about the exciting challenge of filming underwater:

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