Great White stars Katrina Bowden (Piranha 3DD, “30 Rock”), Aaron Jakubenko (“Tidelands”), Kimie Tsukakoshi (Riptide), Tim Kano (“Neighbours”), and Te Kohe Tuhaka (Love and Monsters, “The Dead Lands”). The film was directed by Martin Wilson, making his feature directorial debut and written by Michael Boughen (Dying Breed).
In Great White, a blissful tourist trip turns into a nightmare when five seaplane passengers are stranded miles from shore. In a desperate bid for survival, the group try to make it to land before they either run out of supplies or are taken by a menacing terror lurking just beneath the surface.
I had the opportunity to connect with director Martin Wilson and talk about his filmmaking journey starting out in commercials, geek out on classic 80s horror films and dive deep into what it was like filming location and combating natural elements that lurk beneath.
This interview has been edited for content and clarity.
Sadie Dean: Take us on your filmmaking journey from working as a PA, a casting director to now, where you’re directing films with sharks.
Martin: [laughs] Yeah, well, I think my career and any career in the arts it's a crazy, tough, long ride. I started out as a production runner here, and my career has been in TV commercials, primarily, some short films, but always with an eye to making a feature film. It's just taken a long time to finally get there. It’s never easy to jump to make a leap from commercials or short films into feature film directing, it's a long journey for most people, and definitely my journey as well. It's now starting to hopefully evolve with this film and it has been a long trying journey for sure.
Sadie: What kind of stories are you drawn to as a filmmaker?
Martin: Such cool questions, I think people who want to get into film, fall in love very early on. Which was true for me as well, like so my movies as a kid in the 80s I was watching The Thing or Escape From New York, all the John Carpenter movies. I loved the first two Alien films, that type of creature feature and the original Fright Night and of course, Jaws. I love all these creature features and anything that these types of filmmakers were doing. It was that visceral type of filmmaking that really lit my fire at the time and kept me going on this long journey when nothing was happening, and the phone never rings, you just got to just keep chipping away at it and you keep the dream going and flickering when there's not much wood on the fire. Those are the films that really galvanized me and then lifted up my spirit to keep going.
Sadie: Those are a great little library of films that you rattled off there, do you have any interest in doing creature features in the near future?
Martin: Yeah, I do. It's definitely where I want to place myself. I've got one because I'm from Australia, set in the bush here, we call it the bush or forest. Down where I’m from in Western Australia, there are some amazing forests, beautiful but very dangerous, but they don't appear dangerous to others. But they've got a great tone and feel to them. And one is about the big cat legend in Australia, which is a fascinating one because we obviously don't have those predators here. There is a legend of cats, panthers and cougars escaping from circuses over the last 100 years. Or from the US servicemen that were here in World War Two and they had let them loose in the bush. My story is a little bit like a Stand by Me type of film with the cross between The Ghost and the Darkness, another one my favorite movies. It's very much a teen coming of type of thing and I have another werewolf type of project set on a plane, so there’s very exciting projects I want to get off the ground. I'm hoping Great White really does well in the states to help me with that.
Sadie: Crossing fingers, I want to see those movies. Reminds me of the story of a crew that filmed on Catalina Island out here in the U.S. and they had a bunch of Buffalo shipped over and they didn't want to bring them back, so they just left them there. Now, there's wild buffalo roaming Catalina Island.
Martin: [laughs] It is random that these are the things that capture people's imagination. How do you actually turn that into a story? It's not easy. It takes years to really formulate a good plot and a good story. Of course, it doesn't happen overnight, like anything. But yeah, of course, I'd like to be shooting yesterday. [laughs]
Martin: Obviously, these are films that I'd like to watch as well. You make what you’d want to watch.
Sadie: Are you looking to pen those scripts yourself or do you have other writers in mind to collaborate with?
Martin: Yeah, these days, I co-write, or I come up with a concept, or write a lot of it and work with someone else, because two heads are better than one. And I've never considered myself an amazing writer and I’ve been focusing on directing. I think there are so many people out there who are better skilled at that process than me, but it’s a team game.
Sadie: Speaking of teams, in terms of production, assuming you guys were all on location with a very small and scrappy team, what was that process like putting together your team, from cinematographer to your special effects crew?
Martin: We shot in Queensland, they've got some great professional crew over there. Certainly, couldn't have done it with those without those guys, because we had a really demanding schedule, it was 25 days to shoot an action-adventure film on the open water. I mean, that’s insane. My hands are shaking talking about it. [laughs] It's when you're doing all of that stuff, you got to realize that when you're on the water, you’re so vulnerable and open to the elements. The wind is insane. The tides are crazy. The sun is brutal. There are stingers in the water, there's jellyfish swimming around. You've got all these elements on top of that, and just when you thought you were safe, [laughs] go into the tank areas, in enclosed environments, but they're enclosed and claustrophobic people are holding their breath. If you want to change your camera lens, you got to bring the camera out of the water and take up the housing, and then put the lens on and then put the housing back on. It's all time-time-time-time. You cannot do that without a great team behind you, which is what we had.
Sadie: Knowing that you guys shot on location in the water, for you as a creative, did you find any restrictions as a creative or maybe new discoveries that you came up against, either on production or even pre-production?
Martin: That’s another awesome question, because you do come up with discoveries and you do come up with obstacles, like anything. And what I found, which is really interesting, we were creating the illusion that we're in the middle of the ocean. A lot of the times, we got board shorts on, the water was lapping up to the top half of your thighs, and when you do that, when you're in that scenario, the cameraman can be standing, we don't have platforms, we don't have boats. The process of filmmaking is so much faster. As soon as the tides change, as soon as you start going deeper, and people have to be on platforms and rigging and boats, you probably slow down by 30 to 50 percent. It's a big, big lesson.
Sadie: What was the collaborative process like with your writer Michael Boughen?
Martin: Michael Boughen, just a wonderful, wonderful man. He is a very well-known producer. He’s done some amazing stuff in Australia. He's also a writer. We collaborated for a year, very open, very much a team player. We just kept chipping away at creating more sort of nuances and more layers to the characters, tried to layer in very subtle environmental things, some motivation to the sharks. It's very hard to do a shark film, because you're going to get compared to all the others, so what can you do to make it different? You try, obviously. And what we had was that we were doing a landscape picture in the north of Australia, which is a beautiful tropical, epic looking vast ocean and shoreline. That hasn't really been seen before in this type of film. We were trying to make that as sort of evocative and beguiling and beautiful. And then juxtapose that to what lies beneath these beautiful waters and having that constant tension lurking away. Those sort of elements we worked in the script and then the nuanced characters, the sense of isolation, this smaller puny raft which was sinking in the middle of nowhere and all those little things.
Sadie: Any advice to filmmakers who are about to embark on writing or directing a thriller piece like yours, man versus nature? Essentially, what is something they should have ready in their creative arsenal?
Martin: Good question. I've read lots of scriptwriting books. There’s a book called Save the Cat. That's a good one. Another one is called Story by Robert McKee. That's a good one. There's one book called Making a Good Script Great. There are so many books you and can get some good from all of them. Any man vs. beast, in any thriller or horror, it's always what transcends to me or what you try to use to make the characters relatable and interesting. And when you've got that, then it seems to elevate the film. Somehow, we hit the zeitgeist. Night of the Living Dead, George A. Romero, it was low budget as hell, but they had that Vietnam War thing going on, all these subtleties going through the film. And that film became legendary or look at Mad Max, that got me into filmmaking. How many times have people tried to copy that, so many people trying to emulate that film.
Sadie: Martin, thank you so much for your time. Best of luck with everything and I look forward to your creature features.
Martin: Can’t wait to do them! [laughs] Great to talk to you.
Great White is available In Theaters, On Demand and Digital July 16, 2021.
DIRECTOR: Martin Wilson
WRITER: Michael Boughen
CAST: Katrina Bowden, Aaron Jakubenko, Kimie Tsukakoshi, Tim Kano, Te Kohe Tuhaka
SYNOPSIS: In GREAT WHITE, a blissful tourist trip turns into a nightmare when five seaplane passengers are stranded miles from shore. In a desperate bid for survival, the group try to make it to land before they either run out of supplies or are taken by a menacing terror lurking just beneath the surface.
RUN TIME: 91 minutes
RATING: Not Rated
DISTRIBUTOR: RLJE Films / Shudder