Just below the surface is a threat that could tear anyone apart. The shark is the perfect villain that no one can escape.
Filmmakers love to exploit our deepest and darkest fears, and no fear is more prominent and timeless than our fear of sharks. Who can blame someone for being afraid of a shark? Sharks are at the top of the oceans food chain while humans are defenseless while trying to survive in the water.
There is something exciting and terrifying about a large group of people on the beach when a shark lurks beneath the surface and that fear is an abundance of shark films from classics like. has produced jaw to cult favorites like Sharknado.
The trick in making a good shark movie is to create the perfect shark. How that water villain is acquired will determine how effective the shark movie will be. When making a shark movie there are only three options: arguing a real shark in the ocean, using practical effects, or using a CGI shark to terrorize beach goers.
Atomic Abe Productions looks at the pros and cons of each method while finding other creative ways to showcase the main villain of a shark movie. Watch the full video here:
Use a real shark
In the early days of filmmaking, camera technicians found a way to capture images of aquatic life. This invention enabled filmmakers to incorporate images of marine life into their stories.
This innovation led actors like Edward G. Robinson in the 1932 film to appear to interact with a tiger shark Tiger shark. When an audience sees a dangerous stunt, like a man being hit by a car or someone swimming free in the ocean, true terror builds up. Using real sharks offers excitement and authenticity, but it carries real dangers.
When Steven Spielberg tried to use a real shark jaw, a shark stuck its head in the cage and started beating around. Eventually the shark’s tail got into the boat and tore out all the hydraulic cables.
Many independent films outside of the US did not get the memo that dealing with real sharks could be dangerous, nor did they care about the safety of the animals or the crew. Instead, these filmmakers welcomed the idea of real danger in their films. Most of these films showed cruelty to animals as well as their death on the screen in the finished product.
Sometimes people were injured or killed during the filming. In the 1969 film Shark Stunt performer Jose Marco was attacked by a falsely sedated shark and gutted while the cameras captured the horrific scene. His death was used as a selling point for the film.
The best way to capture living people and living sharks is to edit two different settings together. Many actors are filmed in a large plunge pool, while underwater cameras capture sharks that are just plain sharks. It can be very effective at creating the illusion of a human and a shark sharing the same space, but the scene can feel dated and cheesy if poorly edited.
Use a practical shark
Practical effects allow real interaction between the shark and the actor. Giving actors something physical to work with can generate real reactions and make the performance feel real. Practical sharks can be anything from an underwater prop to a large, complex animatronic shark. These sharks are super safe, but the downside is they look fake.
Most mechanical sharks look bad. Your robot movements and thousand-yard looks give it away very quickly. Another major disadvantage of using an artificial shark is that the shark could have technical problems. The shark out jaw was notorious for breaking down all the time. It worked because of the salt water, the waves, the currents …
While a practical shark can look bad, there are a few ways you can work around this problem. One way to solve this shark’s false appearance problem is by not showing it off. The golden rule of cinema is “show, don’t tell,” and the same goes for the underwater threat. Keep the action underwater, away from the audience’s eyes, and let the audience fill in the horrors of the scene for themselves.
You could also meet the dummy shark with a dummy actor, which makes the scene bizarre and makes it aware of its falsehood. There’s no movie rule that says a shark movie has to be serious. Have fun with it and lean on the campiness of the gag, which makes a brief appearance throughout the film. People appreciate films that are self-aware and don’t try to hide the obvious flaws.
Using a CGI Shark
Some of the best uses of a CGI shark have been in The shallows, 47 meters down, and The Meg. These films use scientific research and craftsmanship to create a villainous shark that feels as real as possible.
Like the real sharks, a perfectly rendered CGI shark can elicit horror from the audience as it lurks just below the surface while keeping the cast and crew safe at all times. The best thing about a CGI shark is that it can do things that no trained animal can, such as shooting down an airplane, taking a bite off the Golden Gate Bridge, or devouring a man who falls overboard.
Not every CGI shark can be perfect. A fearsome shark like the megalodon in The Meg is an effort that some films cannot afford. A bad CGI shark is easy to spot. Many low budget films use these types of sharks with full seriousness, and it’s almost a ridiculous insult.
Realism seems to be slipping into a forgotten abyss when it comes to CGI-Hai, and filmmakers are prone to this idea of taking audiences into a reality far from our understanding. An absurd premise that lasts for an hour and a half can be a fun form of creature feature mixed in with science fiction. Most movies that use a bad CGI shark do so on purpose and are only here for a good time.
No matter how you use a shark, make sure you use the shark in a way that will benefit your movie. There is no need to take advantage of the shark’s death or actually cause harm to the creature when practical and CGI sharks exist. So sit in on what works for you and your creature function.
What are some of your favorite shark moments in the movie? Let us know in the comments below!