Written by: Adam Vaughn | July 22nd, 2021
I had the opportunity to speak with director Martin White on his latest film, Great White, which centers around a group of tourists who find themselves stranded at sea amidst the company of hungry, vicious sharks, paying homage to the classic creature-feature genre. Wilson discussed his inspiration for the movie, developing the story and characters, and the production process behind filming a feature-length project shot almost entirely at sea, and the many obstacles faced while braving the elements.
Adam Vaughn: Congratulations on Great White!
Martin Wilson: Thank you very much!
AV: What was your inspiration for making the film?
MW: The great white is a very sinister presence in Australia, and I’ve always been inspired by such creature-features as Alien, Aliens and such. And setting up a film where you put these people in isolation in this big sort of epic landscape of water, where there’s a sense of “what lurks beneath,” I guess really intrigued me. We all thought there was potential for a roller-coaster-style movie being unleashed on the public.
AV: The film has a very intimate cast, with a small cluster of characters. What was the process for discovering the characters, and discovering the story that encompasses them?
MW: What we were trying to do with Great White was create a sense of suspense and action, firstly through the lens. We wanted to capture tropical/Northern Australia, this beautiful, beguiling Australian landscape, and juxtapose it to the water, and how beautiful and emerald green the water is (you almost want to take a dip), but what was lurking underneath was something far more dangerous. So there were all those elements to the landscape.
And then there’s the character of the ocean. We did that through actual whale sounds, which has a sad quality to it. So there’s a sense of the world of the ocean that we’re hurting, and what humans have done to the ocean (through several things), which showed that the sharks weren’t acting as monsters but it showed that their environment was changing. So they were kind of more so avenging the ocean.
In terms of working with the main actors/actresses, I was working with a group who really liked to find their own journeys. Charlie (played by Aaron Jakubenko) and Kaz (Katrina Bowden) form the main love story, and of course we wanted to have Joji (Tim Kano) and Michelle (Kimie Tsukakoshi) who represent an Asian element that pays homage to the vast amount of Japanese pearl divers in Australia that is still pertinent to the continent today.
AV: So, naturally, this was a film that took place on the ocean for a considerable amount of time. Did you guys film on the actual ocean?
MW: Yeah, there’s some really beautiful landscapes and views off the oceanfront of Northern Australia, so we absolutely wanted to film that beautiful natural scenery.
AV: From a production standpoint, did filming on and underneath the ocean bring up any complications or obstacles?
MW: Yeah, I think the hardest part was just tackling the elements and the wildlife in the area. We had about a 25-day window to shoot these sequences, and all the while filming you have the wind, the tides, the brutal sun, as well as all kinds of animals (jellyfish being a major encounter). So you’ve got all these elements you’re up against on a daily basis. And then there’s the element of filming in tanks underwater, where actors had to hold their breath for long periods of time and the crew filming underwater could get a sense of claustrophobia being in narrow tanks surrounded by water. So yeah, the elements were a huge obstacle.
AV: Absolutely! So now that the film is wrapped, were there any experiences that you will carry with you to future projects?
MW: It’s been said that films are made in pre-production and in preparation/planning. It’s a team game, and every person has a role to play in making the film possible. It galvanizes my thoughts on how important the process of making a film is, and bringing together people to work as a team to create a final product.