When on set, and indeed living away from the comforts of one’s own hearth and home, there are certain rituals one establishes. We put these in place to help give ourselves a sense of routine and grounding, which helps give a sense of order in an otherwise chaotic time. Times spent shooting out of town when I can’t sleep in my own bed seems to be the norm for me, with time passed in a series of rented accommodations.
I tend to bring little pieces of home with me that act as little luck charms. My double spider opal pendant crafted for me by Tessa Rand‘s loving hands on my Happy Place on the Sunshine Coast. My wire-wrapped heart made of a piece of sea glass, scavenged from the beach while on a walk with my lover and crafted by his hands. My favourite bandana from Puff that reminds me of Commercial Drive, East Vancouver and always kindles excitement for travel. These elements of juju calm my otherwise homesick mind when I am not close to my cats, serpents, and dragon.
But I have managed to establish a routine within our cast house. We have dubbed the living room ‘The Nook’. It’s where we gather with hot beverages, personal communication devices, and watch a collection of shark movies on Netflix. I’m uncertain how it was that we started with the film ‘Sharknado’, which if you aren’t au fait with the franchise, enters around a series of bizarre meteorological events that sucks up sharks and deposits them in urban centres. When viewing, reality needs to take a walk and it usually takes suspension of disbelief along with it for these films. We followed the trilogy (yes, there’s three) up with the film Three Headed Shark, and then the film Shark Week. The latter has the dubious honour of being our least favourite on a technical basis, but has thus become the yardstick by which all terrible shark films are measured. I never thought I’d say I saw a shark film that made the production value of Sharknado shine brightly, but there you are. My judgement is as harsh as was the lighting.
Mindless escapism aside, it troubles me. Not the movies themselves, but the sentiment. I’m old enough to remember people being terrified of Jaws as a child. To even hum the refrain from the score was enough to make my friend’s younger siblings whine until they hit a fever pitch and would exit the kiddie pool, shrieking for their mother. I have no defence: I’m an only child and was intolerant of younger kids and a water hog at that. I very much doubt any kid can scare anyone by saying “Sharknado” and doing jazz hands these days. But the standard has become, once again, that sharks are reduced again to mindless killing machines, that relentlessly stalk and devour humans. As amusing as it is in film, I find it ultimately depressing.
In my time alone, I enjoy watching documentaries on a variety of topics. The ones featuring sharks are a personal favourite. Over the years I’ve amassed a sort of armchair education on the topic of shark behaviour as more and more research has begun to reveal, in complex habits. Michael Rutzen, an inspiration, frequently studies sharks, and does so without a cage. His reasoning being that you can’t learn and observe from the deck of a boat on the surface, or from behind the confines of a cage’s bars. He instead opts to swim in open ocean with one of the most feared organisms on the planet. My respect for him is as infinite as his experiences with these animals intimate. He has frequently been referred to as ‘Sharkman’, and his conservationist work to help preserve this apex predator has helped to act as field support for the Department of South African Environmental Affairs.
What all this has done is with a series of documentaries is expanded people’s perceptions of these fascinating animals. My own interest with sharks has been with me a lifetime, having spent a great deal of time sailing with my family throughout my childhood and teens. Some of my own experiences include observing a tiger shark in Fiji in 1999 on New Years Eve (talk about auspicious) and swimming in the presence of black-tipped reef sharks in Hawaii as a child at Molokini. In frequent visits to the Vancouver Aquarium, I’d spend half of the visit in the shark gallery, watching them swim in lazy circles. I wondered if they knew how close they were to an ocean on the peninsula point of Stanley Park, and the open ocean. Knowing now that these creatures are beyond a mouth and digestive tract, I often speculate if with so many regular visits that they recognized and remembered me. I remembered them. To the point of being really excited watching the Canadian show The Beachcombers where an episode that took place in the Aquarium and shark tank. It was exciting as seeing an old friend guest star on a favourite show and feeling a strange secondhand pride at the fact, despite it having nothing to actually do with me personally. Our sharks were FAMOUS and starring alongside Bruno Gerussi, which before Vancouver became Hollywood North, was pretty damn cool.
The Sharkman and I aren’t alone in our adoration of our finned friends. I recently came across a photographer that shares our sentiment. George Probst has spent as much time photographing Great White sharks as Michael Rutzen has swimming with them. After his first trip to the Isla de Guadalupe in Mexico, he too broke free of the cage’s confines to better illustrate the true personality of these animals beyond automated predator. He was able to take note of details that gave the animals character, such as blue eyes, that meet your own when they pass by, and open jaw shots that while popular amongst people are about as threatening to his eye as the open mouth of a dog catching a ball or biscuit in midair. Like any and all large predatory animals, they have the ability to be dangerous, but also endearing as wolves, tigers, and bears, who are have YouTube videos of behaviour that causes a flurry of ‘awww’s and social media postings.
I wanted to post some of his works here to share, and to see some of these animals in all their glory. Hopefully an open mind looks to these creatures a hosting Cheshire cat grins rather than deadly grimaces. All photos taken by George Probst, and you can find more of his work at sharkpix.com
Little Miss Risk