The Reef: from killer crocs to killer sharks

Four years ago, producer Michael Robertson’s company Prodigy Movies released its first feature, survival thriller Black Water, in which a group of tourists is stalked by crocodiles in northern Australia.

Black Water co-writer and director Andrew Traucki’s latest film for Prodigy is The Reef, in which a group of tourists (played by Damien Walshe-Howling, Gyton Grantley, Adrienne Pickering and Zoe Naylor) is stalked by a shark off the coast of Queensland.

The progression from killer crocs to killer shark is, perhaps, a perfectly natural one.

“It is a natural progression,” admits Robertson. “It’s something Andrew thought about for a while, whether he should follow up with such a similar theme.

He’s always felt sharks are a very dangerous predator in the eyes of, particularly, Australians.”

That said, “It’s not really about the animals for me,” explains Traucki. “I get intrigued by survival stories. I read this one years ago, a true story about a boat that overturned, and the people had to swim, and they started getting stalked by a shark. It stayed with me … so I decided I’d try to write it up. The film sticks pretty close to what actually happened.”

Although ‘killer shark’ movies are a dime a dozen, Traucki hopes the sense of realism he aims to bring to his films will help distinguish The Reef from the pack.

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A scene from The Reef.

“I try and make it as real as possible,” he says. “With Black Water, people said it was the most real croc film they’d seen. So again, for The Reef, I used real animals. There are so many bad shark films, I wanted to make sure this was not one of them.”

“At the heart of the project is the reality Andrew seeks to achieve,” agrees Robertson. “He does this by filming the real creature and compositing it into live action situations with the actors. His films take on a genuine sort of quasi-documentary feel. ‘What would you do if you were in this situation?’ is the question that comes through.”

Shooting The Reef was somewhat of a “trial by water”. Traucki, his actors and crew spent four-and-a-half weeks on the ocean, 10 hours a day, six days a week.

“The human body isn’t built for that,” says Traucki, alluding to skin rashes and various other unpleasant ailments. It was, he says, a challenge physically, mentally, and also logistically.

“It was a tough shoot. To get to the actors I had to wade through water or be yelling at them from the boat. Everything keeps on drifting away: the actors, the cameras, the props … Everything keeps moving! Normally I direct out of a script … but my script would disintegrate. I had four different versions before I finally got one that was waterproof.”

That’s not to mention the challenge of working with sharks, which, Traucki jokingly points out, “don’t respond to cast calls”.

“They’re wild animals, they do what they want. They didn’t have to turn up, but we were lucky that on the four days we went out to film them they did turn up and we got some amazing footage. But you’ve got to be constantly vigilant.”

There has been considerable international interest in the film. It has sold in more than 100 countries, including Mexico, Italy, Japan and the Philippines.

“From a commercial, international point of view,” says Robertson, “it’s very successful and, dare I say, one of the most successful Australian films of the last 12 months.”

In Australia, The Reef is the first film to be distributed by All Interactive Distribution’s new film distribution company, Gold Coast-based Pinnacle Films.

“The question of distribution is the one that confronts all Australian producers: how to do it effectively,” says Robertson.

“We hope it will do well,” he adds. “It’s screened at three Australian festivals (Canberra, Brisbane and on the Gold Coast), and we got a very good audience reaction. The scares are all in the right place. Most people come out of it going wow, it’s a real ride.”

A version of this article originally appeared in the February-March #139 issue of IF magazine. The Reef is currently showing in cinemas.

Putting Together The Reef

Stock Footage Library: Virginia Melrose, Ben Taylor – Absolutely Wild Visuals, Michael Love – Nature Films Network, USA
Video post-production: Warren Lynch Grading Intercolour Film
Sound post-production: Soundfirm Australia
Grip equipment: Brownie Grips
Camera equipment:
Video Australasia. Lenses supplied by Lambert Productions
Lighting Equipment: Yetto Light
Underwater Camera Equipment: Big Boy Films, Simon Christidis (Coral Sea TV)
Helicopter: Blue Tongue Helicopters (Pilot Graeme Gillies)
Two-Way Radios: Tin Can – Ian Moffatt
Makeup/Wardrobe Bus: Orana Film Transport
David Mansley, Mooneys Insurance Brokers
Legals: Janine Pearce (JP Media Law)
Travel Services: Travel Beyond
Freight: Galaxy Freight
Completion Guarantee: First Australian Completion Bond Company Pty Ltd