The Knockturnal got the chance to sit down with talented director Jaume Collet-Serra to chat about his new movie “The Shallows,” starring Blake Lively. The film is now playing!
What attracted you to this project?
For me it was obviously the script, it was a challenge. As you read it, it was a page turner. It was a short script, very intense, and I felt like I could do a good job. Since I like movies and make a lot of movies that have strong ideas, one location, one night. I felt that that was right up my alley. I immediately saw the challenges as an opportunity. To do a movie in the water, that’s just something I have never done before. I wanted to learn and experience that. It’s a movie that has so many visual effects, but done in a very realistic way. I think that as many visual effects in the world that have to deal with things that are impossible and I tried to see this as a challenge to create the creature, everybody knows what it looks like, how it moves. To try to do that realistically, that’s what attracted me.
How did you go about creating it?
We knew that we couldn’t use a mechanical shark because those things break down and there is a big expense. The bigger they are, the harder they are to move. So we knew that we would have to use CG (Computer Graphics). The difficulty with CG is not the actual texture or behavior of the shark, but the interaction with water. Then we used other little shapes to interact with the water and then get those elements. For instance, if the shark is coming out of the water, we used a balloon under the water; then we release it, it created the splash, then we erase the balloon and put the shark. When it comes down into the water, we used a cylinder. So we dropped the cylinder going into the water and that creates that splash. The water is real, but the shark is not. That’s where you can tell, in the water, not in the shark. Surfaces and animation is very advanced. Fluid, like water or fire, are very hard to do in CG, you can tell immediately something’s not right. So that’s how we did it, we made the CG part of what we thought we could pull off. Underwater is different. Underwater you can do more because you don’t see the interaction so much. Then we found this island called Lord Howe. Between Australia and New Zealand, there’s this island that’s very small.
Why did you choose this specific location?
Well if you look at the story, you have this girl who is traveling alone in Mexico. She gets into the water when it’s late and doesn’t really talk to the other guys. If the place is not beautiful, she would be very dumb. Not that the beauty protects you, it creates a false sense of security, but if it is already something that’s gloomy, it’s like why are you doing it? Don’t you see that this place is very scary? We wanted the beauty to be a way to make her feel safe. And because this was her mom’s beach it had to be beautiful. It could’t just be some spooky. We saw some beaches that were some spooky elements and would have been much more easier for us to access as a crew and probably we would’ve had easier times doing the movie, but it wasn’t right. Here it was very difficult because we were far away in an island, we didn’t have enough equipment, we didn’t have enough people because the island is so small that it didn’t have enough room for everybody.
Did you have Blake Lively in mind for the part?
Yeah, it came on pretty early on. We were looking for such a specific person: somebody who was a surfer, smart, capable, very tough, and somebody who wants to do it and is ready for the challenge because it was a challenge. You have to carry the movie, you have to be a really good actress.
Especially with everything that you don’t see. You really have to let your imagination go.
She didn’t see anything, there is no shark, there’s no background. We went to this beach for a while, but then we had to go to the blue screen stage and do the rest of the movie. So she couldn’t even react to things, nothing. Everything happened in her imagination.
How did you like working with her?
Great. I think she was a real pleasure, a partner, a hard worker. She filled up the character with so much life. When we originally had the script, the character was much more simple, a surfer girl, maybe trying to be a nurse much more immature, but when Blake came into the picture we needed to make her more resourceful, smarter, capable. Things like her stitching her own wound, that was her idea. Things like that, it’s things that she can bring to the table because she’s Blake Lively.
What was your favorite scene to shoot?
It’s very weird because I love them all the same. They’re all very difficult because the weather was changing so much, so I would start a scene and then I would have to stop because the weather would change and I would have to start another one. It’s almost like I never completed a scene until the movie was completed. I loved shooting the surf, that was great, shooting some helicopter stuff, that was good because it was so easy. Finally, after being in the water and whatnot, getting in a helicopter and being able to just say “Go there, shoot this! Go there, shoot that!” and it was so effective. I loved it because I was sitting down and everything looked great and it was fantastic. So that was my favorite.
What attracts you to this genre of movies?
That’s what I know how to do. If I could make comedies, I would make comedies. I would prefer to make people laugh, but if not, I’ll make them suffer.
But even in this movie, you found comedy.
A little bit. I think the hardest thing is to make people laugh. What I do, suspense, it’s easier. For me it is, I don’t know about for other people, but for me it is. That’s why I do it. I love it.
Were you worried that your movie might be compared to other “shark movies?”
I don’t care. I don’t read what people talk about. I don’t care what people say. I do what movies I want to do. Other people don’t live my life, and I don’t live theirs, so I just do what I feel like doing.
Are you working on anything right now?
I’m doing another Liam Neeson movie, in London. It’s another movie on a train, another mystery movie, some action. It will be fun, completely different from the other ones, but with some elements of mystery.
It’s your fourth movie with him?
Yes, the fourth. Like last time, everybody said “Well you’ve completed your trilogy,” it’s like “what trilogy, I’m going to do ten movies.” We are going to do many movies together. It’s great.
Do you have any dream project or something that you would like to do?
Not at this moment, no. I think that I’m already doing my dream projects. I like to work; I like to, like I said, make people suffer or be on the edge of their seat and as long as I can do that I will be happy. I’m very happy to be doing so many movies.
I know you have a new production company where you invite people from Spain. Can you tell me how it’s going?
We’ve done a few movies. It’s going okay. It’s just a long process to make movies internationally because you have to put all these elements together: you need the money from here, the actor from there, the script from here, this to qualify for the tax incentives. We’ve done 3 or 4 movies with that and now we’re preparing some other ones, but because I’ve been so busy as well we haven’t been shooting anything this year, so hopefully at the end of this year or at the beginning of the next one, we’ll shoot some more. It’s all good. It’s good to be able to talk to other directors. That is one thing that as a director you don’t get to do because there’s only one director on set. It’s good to feel the new energy and be able to use my experience in helping other people, and actually the opposite too, have their experience and their take on things help me. It’s great to collaborate. Directing is a very lonely job, in that sense.
How was the transition from Spain to the U.S.?
I was young and naive and dumb, so I was just dumb lucky and started working in commercials and music videos. I didn’t know what I was doing. One day, after I shoot f—— hundred commercials, I already know. And then the movie was a very natural transition because I was doing big, big commercials. So when I did my first movie, which was already a pretty big movie, House of Wax, at the time, it felt like I was doing a low-budget commercial because I was already doing such big commercials. I was very dumb at the time and I felt like I knew everything, when obviously I didn’t. Now I look fondly at my younger self and I would like to slap him in the face.
It got you here, so that’s good.
All’s well that ends well.
What’s your process like when you go into a movie?
Just look at the elements and try to plan it. You’re given a script and a box, and the box is basically money, a time frame, and a budget, and you have to fit it together somehow because you can get as much creative freedom in the projects that I do as you want as long as you fit them in the box. The moment that you get out of the box, that’s when other people come in and they make decisions for you because you cannot go over budget and use so much money or off schedule. So my process is to really plan everything to the smallest detail so I can use all of the money that they’re giving me at the time the most efficiently as possible. So that’s it. I just try to create my homework so when I’m on set I’m very, very effective.
So you plan every shot?
Every detail. Things happen, things change, the weather, the thing, everything, you can plan and you can break it, but if you don’t have a plan, then it is not going to be good. It is not the plan that tells you what shot it is, it tells you why you need the shot. So when you cannot do that shot, you’re like “Ok I cannot do that shot, but I still know why I needed it. Maybe I can put that reason into this other shot,” and then you’re covered. If you don’t do the planning, you don’t know why you needed the shot, you don’t know what you need. Other people are different. I’m not trying to say that my way is the right way. My way is the slow, dumb way. Other people are very smart.
Check out director Jaume Collet-Serra’s new film, The Shallows, now playing in theaters.