Director and producer, Howard and Michelle Hall check out what lies at the bottom of the ocean in IMAX 3D
When it comes to traveling down to the bottom of the ocean, James Cameron has pretty much got that market cornered. The Titanic director has made or been a producer, or writer, or just involved some way in water movies about 10 times.
But now, Mr. Cameron is in for some big competition. Even before there was Titanic, back in 1994, there was Into the Deep, an IMAX film that explored the ocean floors of Southern California directed and shot by Howard Hall.
Howard is continuing his success with his latest IMAX film, Deep Sea 3D; yes, I said 3D. If you've ever wanted to know what it really looks like at the bottom of some of the most beautiful oceans and seas, you'll be able to thanks to Howard's and IMAX's 3D technology.
Throughout his journey, Howard and his team traveled halfway around the globe to get the shots he did. Their first stop was back in California for three location shoots, then onto Hawaii, the Gulf of Mexico, the Sea of Cortez, parts of North Carolina, the Bahamas, and British Columbia. After seeing this film, I had to find out all about the journey it took to get this film made.
With that being the case, there was nothing like jumping off a plane and being asked to do an interview about their film. Howard, along with his wife, Michelle, who's also the producer on the film, were on a plane, came back to their office and spoke to me. I must add, this was on a Friday night; now, that's dedication. Here's what we talked about:
The colors are amazing in this film; how did you get that to shine at the bottom of the ocean?
Howard Hall: We use light differently under water than we do on land. What we were trying to do was simply put the color back into the shot and we want to avoid trying to look like it's lit in a very subtle way.
Does that light affect the fish? Can that hurt their eyes?
Howard Hall: No, it doesn't. What you saw in the film were species of animals that weren't bothered by the light. There are other animals down there that do amazing and wonderful things, but the animals that are affected by the light we weren't able to film; they're not in this movie. So we chose animals that aren't affected by that, animals that aren't affected by four or five divers around, and a camera that weighs 1300 pounds.
So what are the limitations of using a 1300 pound camera?
Howard Hall: There's enormous limitations; and when I made my first film, I thought it was just plain impossible. Your thoughts aren't ‘what are your limitations' but ‘what can you accomplish with this darn thing.' We've since learned about what we can accomplish, whether it's an ocean surge moving back and forth. It's also impossible to shoot any fast moving thing that's happening. It's also hard to hold composition with that camera because you have two people operating it.
How long did it take you to shoot this movie?
Michelle Hall: We were in and out of the field for about 14 months; the actual production time from when we got the green light was 21 months. But we were really in production since 1994 when we made our first film, Into the Deep. And it was so successful that we immediately knew we wanted to do another one.
Aside from technology, was money a factor in waiting so long to do another film?
Howard Hall: The films are very expensive to make, and it takes something special in order to make. In the case of Deep Sea 3D, Warner Brothers wanted to make something that was good for the environment, family oriented, and a good environmental message. They stepped up to the plate to help make this.
When did Warner come into the film, and how were they able to help with the cost of making this?
Michelle Hall: They helped tremendously financially because they came up to plate to come up with all of the production budget. They had collaborated with IMAX and NASCAR 3D (2004); the launch of that film was successful. They asked IMAX what they had in the pipeline; Greg Foster told them they had this under water 3D film, and that was the beginning of our collaboration with Warner Brothers. And thanks to them, with their tremendous confidence and support, they really took on the financial aspect so we didn't have to go searching for other huge amounts of funding.
Howard Hall: Certainly Warner Brothers made the financial budget possible, but also gave us the opportunity to get Danny Elfman to do the music, and without the Warner Brothers affiliation, I doubt that would have happened. Now certainly without the Warner collaboration, we wouldn't have had Johnny Depp and Kate Winslet do the narration.
With those three involved, was there any talks to get Tim Burton?
Howard Hall: I've never met Tim, but he would have had to replace me in the dives, and he would have had a tough time. There's no way I could replace him on the kinds of movies he makes either. We often get asked about ‘how many shots were really there? How many of those jelly fish were there?' All of them. But people are so used to seeing special effects in movies, that when people see something so remarkable like this in an IMAX film, they often think it isn't there.
When you're down in the ocean, do you have a plan of what to shoot, or are you just letting the camera roll on what you can find?
Howard Hall: With an IMAX 3D camera, you don't have the luxury of just shooting what you see. The camera can only run 3 minutes worth of film before it runs out. So when you push the button on the camera, you pretty much have to know what is going to happen. That means we have to know a lot about the animals we're shooting; we have to know all about the animal behaviors. What we excel in is knowing about the marine life, knowing what to do and where to go to capture the footage.
What would you say was your favorite part of being down there and shooting this film?
Howard Hall: That's always a difficult question to pin down the one thing I remember; this film has so many things I really loved about, but if I had to choose, the mantis shrimp sequence is amazing, because they are such amazing creatures. There's one shot when he stands up and displays himself, it's better than actually being there. You see that shrimp do that as close to you; you see every little hair and every little bobble, all the colors. It looked as good as it did through my diving mask.
Michelle Hall: I loved the turtles, the turtles being cleaned in Hawaii is just magic.
On the flip side, what was the hardest part, or your least favorite part?
Howard Hall: Well, there really isn't anything that we didn't dislike. You have to understand the nature of our crew, the harder it gets the more fun it becomes. There were two sequences; one was the sand tiger sharks in North Carolina. That was challenging because the depth was 120 feet. And our dive was to shoot seven minutes of footage, which took two hours; after two hours, it took two and a half hours to compress on the way up. So, that was a four and a half hour dive to shoot seven minutes; we did that every day for five days. The other scene that was difficult was the octopus attacking the crab; we were under water for over two hours before the octopus even came out of his den. We were just sitting there, not moving, as still as possible; the water temperature was 46 degrees, so you can just imagine being submerged under water for two and a half hours in 46 degree water. In a way, it's kind of sick but I enjoyed that.
Michelle Hall: I guess another thing to think about with what was difficult is what we didn't get. We had things on our activity list that we just couldn't find the animals to cooperate. We traveled for miles and miles and days and days to look for loggerhead turtles. That was the most difficult, because we've seen it, we've filmed it for television, we had contact with other divers on other boats who were telling us ‘there was a loggerhead turtle here today at this site' so we went there the next day and never got there.
With the sharks swimming around, were you ever in danger?
Howard Hall: No, there was no time that I ever felt threatened by any of the animals. But, there's a very brief moment when we're shooting the tiger sharks, a very short scene where the tiger shark is going by the reef. We had to be careful with the tiger sharks with not being too high off the bottom because very often they'll attack things off the surface. It's an easy thing to shoot, but it's just a matter of having the camera crew follow after me. I was fiddling with the light meter setting; I wasn't paying attention, and the tiger shark went right past my shoulder when I first saw it. And if he was inclined to bite me, he would have had me because he was that close. It was sort of a wake up call, because I was careless.
Are there any films or ideas that you're working on for the next project?
Howard Hall: Our next major project will be in Indonesia; we would love to shoot that in IMAX and in 3D. But it's so difficult to do that, and if that doesn't work out, then we'll probably make something for television, National Geographic, and things like that.
What are you going to be doing in Indonesia?
Howard Hall: There are some very interesting animals, weird animals, probably the weirdest animals you'll find anywhere. We're kind of raising the bar from Deep Sea 3D; Indonesia will be that much more difficult. The animals in Indonesia are so colorful and so bizarre, it would be that much more difficult.
We'll have to wait for Indonesia. But you can definitely see what lies beneath in Deep Sea 3D when it launches into IMAX theaters March 3rd. This is a film you will not be disappointed in; the music is awesome, and the shots that Howard has captured are just magnificent. Believe me, you will want to see this film.