Great White Director Martin Wilson on Conservation in Survival Film

As cinemas start to slowly open up again, there are passionate filmmakers like Martin Wilson, who are doing their part to try to get audiences back in with his directorial debut in Great White. As the title suggests, the film follows a group on a trip gone horribly wrong. A fun-filled flight to a remote atoll turns into a nightmare for five passengers when their seaplane is destroyed in a freak accident, and they are trapped on a raft, 100 miles from shore, with man-eating sharks lurking beneath the surface. I spoke to the director about the inspiration behind the film, casting, and the conservation message within the horror.

Great White Director Martin Wilson on Conservation in Survival Film
Image courtesy of Shudder / RLJE Films

Inspiration for Great White

"I think [Great White] was based out of growing up in Australia," Martin said. "There's an ever-present threat of great whites in the island. We got a lot of water around us. We do love our swimming, and there is that sense when you go in the water that you take your life into your own hands. Then there's a sense of what we had in the script [from Michael Boughen], set in northern Australia, which has just wonderful and rich history of tour dives, wrecks, and things like that with all the mythology and legends around that. We developed the characters. The character of Michelle (played by Kimie Tsukakoshi) wanted to go back to Hell's Reef, and we visit where her grandfather worked, so there's that sensibility. Then make this the world of creature features, thrillers, and survival, which is what Great White is. I love that and always wanted to make that type of movie."

Great White Director Martin Wilson on Conservation in Survival Film
Image courtesy of Shudder / RLJE Films

With Boughen's script, Wilson wanted to develop every single facet of the film layering the characters and the areas they find themselves in. "Michael had this great script of what we like to do and what I wanted to do with it," he said. "What came through with the script was the point of difference. We had the landscape. We had the north of Australia. It hasn't really been explored or exploited, in essence, the type of shark genre before. So you've got this amazing coastline, these beautiful, beguiling waters, and these epic locations. You juxtapose that with the water, the beautiful, beguiling waters these days. What's lurking under the water, what are the primary dangers that could be there, and how do you use the environment? How could we use the environment as an absolutely massive character in itself in the film? Because we've got five main characters that the environment, the location, the ocean is a massive part of the film and the point of difference in the film."

Great White Director Martin Wilson on Conservation in Survival Film
Image courtesy of Shudder / RLJE Films

Wilson painted the bleak picture the survivors find themselves in. "You've got this tiny rubber raft which is sinking slowly in this vast ocean, and it's still going strong," he explained. "So, how do you make that interesting? That was in the script and what we were looking at. Then all of a sudden especially layering in the scenes of climate change and the environment with how human beings are polluting and changing the aspects of the oceans and that the shots aren't just these crazy monsters, it's killing a perfectly another reason. There's a little motivation behind why they are behaving that way because their environment has been put out of whack the way we've treated the ocean. So there's always those elements that were working in the script, plus the nuanced characters that we're working on to get at some point of difference and are very attractive."

Great White Director Martin Wilson on Conservation in Survival Film
Image courtesy of Shudder / RLJE Films

Casting Great White

When it came to casting, Wilson knew star Katrina Bowden would be perfect for his lead of Kaz. "She really liked the script and embodied the character of Kaz perfectly," he said. "She had a real depth to the character and had a real emotional connection to Charlie (Aaron Jakubenko), which is what we wanted to build. As Kaz, she had this amazing athletic ability to become the action hero in a sense. She had all those qualities that we loved. Then we were casting for Charlie. We wanted a really strong mate, and Aaron jumped out in the casting process. He's got a great depth and got a real genuine pivot point during these central parts of the story. He's really very physical and had done a lot of training to water. He's very adept in water, understood diving, holding his breath, swimming, just very capable and every element of the film. So he was a tremendous casting. We had Tim [Kano] and Kimie [Tsukakoshi], who played the Asian couple. They added another very contemporary layer to the film. Te Kohe [Tuhaka] is from New Zealand, rounded out the cast. So we wanted everyone to bounce off each other, and there was a genuine chemistry between the two of them."

Great White Poster
Courtesy of RLJE Films

While Wilson shot the film on a mix between the ocean and tanks within a soundstage, he drew particular inspiration from the survival film 2013's All is Lost that starred Robert Redford and also from classics like Aliens (1986) and John Carpenter's The Thing (1982). While it wasn't developing sequences that were the director's biggest challenge, making sure mother nature and the elements cooperated within a tight window was. "When working on water and having to meet a deadline of 25 days, everything was tough," he said. "To be honest with you, I'm up against the elements of the wind, the rain, the tides, and the brutal sun here. I think when you look at the end sequence shot in a tank, it's very tough because the actors working in confined claustrophobic conditions and got to hold your breath, and it can be dangerous. Communication is obviously not as easy because you're underwater or you're above water. If you want to change the language, you've got to bring the camera up and take off the underwater housing is back on. There's always a time element involved in very difficult sequences you shoot."

RLJE Films' Great White is available in theaters, on-demand, and digital on July 16.

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About Tom Chang

I'm a follower of pop culture from gaming, comics, sci-fi, fantasy, film, and TV for over 30 years. I grew up reading magazines like Starlog, Mad, and Fangoria. As a writer for over 10 years, Star Wars was the first sci-fi franchise I fell in love with. I'm a nerd-of-all-trades.
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