Open Water interview -- Chris Kentis
Chris Kentis spent two and a half years filming Open Water on quick-n-cheap digital video, battling sharks and jellyfish and gruelling scheduling to put together a tense gut-twister of a film. Vue Weekly talked to him on the phone and asked him questions about his movie.
VW: Where did the idea for the movie first come from? It says "based on true events"-- what does that mean?
CK: Well, you know, it's a long answer. The real idea for the movie had nothing to do with what the story was. It had to do with, really, we just very inspired by the affordable digital technology that existed and what a lot of really gifted filmmakers were doing with it, the Dogma 95 guys, Mike Figgis, and the idea of really tearing down, getting simple, basic, being able to finance something ourselves, control it completely and have the freedom to experiment and play and challenge ourselves. You get a certain aesthetic with video and I think most stories are better told on film, so it was a matter of trying to find a story that we thought would benefit from what we could get on video. Now, (co-producer Laura Lau) and I have been diving for eleven years and get all the newsletters and it was in the late 1990s that I read the story in the newsletter of the couple that was on vacation that went for a dive and the dive boat botched up the head count and left them in the water, so when we decided to do a project on video around 2001 this story seemed like it would be a good match.
VW: One imagines that you could've just gone twenty feet out into the water and shot towards the ocean, that you wouldn't really have to go to open water.
CK. One imagines that, but it's not the case. I imagined that very same thing, but when we started doing tests you find out very quickly all the reasons why it's not gonna happen, everything from subtle sounds, picking up the lapping of the surf on the beach, the sounds from land, boat traffic, plane traffic, not being able to turn the scene around to get the reverse angles and the light, and the next thing you know after a couple of tests it became very apparent that we really had to go 20 miles out, away from everything and in about 2000 feet of water. And I think it did a lot to help the actors as well, because when you're floating in that water and you look down and there's nothing but a dark abyss and nothing else and you feel very insignificant.
VW: One thing about the movie is it's got a very simple dramatic setup, basically just two actors, other than the boat sequence… so did that make it hard or easy to get footage, could you just go in, throw your actors in the water and just get whatever scene you wanted to work on that day, or…?
CK: Well, no, it was a very long pre-production process. We had to be extremely organized if we were gonna work on the ocean and so by the time we went out on the ocean the script was very tight, y'know, every line was scripted.
VW: Yeah, I was gonna ask, how tightly scripted it was.
CK: Yeah, totally scripted. I mean, what we did is we wrote the script to a point where we had it structurally figured out, we knew what would unfold, it was important to get all the details right of what would take place and how it work out there. We wanted to make use of the light and color of the ocean, much like you would in a theatre, on a stage. There was a definite arc that we had in mind, we began with the kind of inviting aquamarine, going to the cobalt blue and then silver, grey, black and finally red, and using the conditions of the sea, be it either turbulent or calm, to support whatever the emotional quality was within a given scene. So that's how we approached it, and we really had to have our act together, you couldn't just pull a boat up and throw them in, or we'd never have a movie.
VW: What about the sharks, how did you approach them?
CK: It was nothing to do with a stunt or some kind of gimmick, you know, we don't see this as a shark movie in any way, they were simply an element of this story if we're gonna tell the story in an accurate and realistic fashion then sharks will be a part of it.. Also we wanted to capture the sharks in a way we hadn't seen before. I've been underwater with sharks and they're majestic and beautiful but I've also been on the surface and instead of that Jaws-like fin just gliding across the surface it's much more of a violent explosion of water and its tail flaps and then it's gone, y'know, where is it, and you can't see a damn thing, and how many are there? For that reason we wanted to work with them on the surface and shoot everything from the point of view of the characters.
VW: What are you hoping for your audiences to come away from this film with?
CK: I have a little bit of anxiety with the fact that we've been compared to Blair Witch and Jaws and things like that. It's flattering, to say the least, but we didn't set out to make a horror movie or a shark film, and so I hope audiences go in with an open mind. What we've tried to do is tell this true story that we had this strong emotional response about and hopefully if the movie is working the audience will go along with it. I guess that's what I'm hoping, that the audience is open to the film we made instead of expecting a classic horror film where some shark comes and rips someone apart every fifteen minutes. The scares in our movie have much more to do with loss of control and abandonment and those kinds of things, not sharks and gore.
VW: Yeah, like for me the final effect was more horrible than something like Aliens vs. Predator where it's just cartoonish nothingness, whereas here it's real horror, you feel bad after the end of the film, you feel drained.
CK: That's kind of a compliment for me because that's kind how I felt when I read the true story. There's nothing wrong with feeling bad sometimes, it's kind of one of the themes in the movie, everybody's oh so worried about feeling good and there's a lot of good things you keep trying to take away from feeling bad and you're forced to kind of ponder certain kinds of things. It's an upsetting story, and it happened, and so it's an appropriate response, and it's ironic to me that the film's getting this huge release because you know, we made this film for ourselves. It was a really cool, great, interesting, satisfying way to spend a couple of years to work in this creative way.