The Requin Cinematographer Matt S. Bell Discusses the Darkness of the Open Ocean
While abandoned alleys and haunted houses are scary, there is something about the darkness of the open ocean and what is lurking beneath, that can bring a whole other level of terror. Alicia Silverstone (Clueless) and James Tupper (Big Little Lies) experience this firsthand in their new survival horror/thriller The Requin. The official synopsis: There’s terror in paradise when Jaelyn (Silverstone) and Kyle (Tupper) arrive at a remote seaside villa in Vietnam for a romantic getaway. A torrential storm descends, reducing the villa to little more than a raft and sweeping the young couple out to sea. Suddenly, another danger appears: a school of great white sharks. With her injured husband watching helplessly, Jaelyn must battle the deadly predators alone in this tense thriller that rides an unrelenting wave of fear. Creating a feature is hard enough, but shooting a film that takes place in the middle of the ocean can be a horror movie in itself. In the below interview, cinematographer Matt S. Bell talks about the experience of making The Requin and the obstacles of shooting over water.
Where do you think director Le-Van Kiet shines the most with The Requin?
For me, Kiet did a great job at leading the ship. I say that because a show like this when we are working on a smaller budget, it’s a big film for the budget we had, so we really had to think outside of the box, he did a good job at relinquishing a little bit of that creative control. From a broader sense, he has the ability to be more creative because he is working with his artist friends and collaborators that he has brought to the table. So he really trusts their judgement and allows them to do the job they were hired to do. He was great at focusing on the actor’s performances and story. When it came to bringing all those little individual pieces to the day of shooting, everyone was able to bring their maximum creative artistry to the project. While he had a very specific vision, he was really good about being a leader and getting us to the end of the project successfully.
-Is there a scene in the film that doesn’t look complex, but was very difficult to shoot?
Whenever the storm scene starts, there isn’t anything easy after that. Specifically, all the water scenes. Water scenes are very difficult to shoot. They might not seem complex for what they are, but any time you have actors, lighting, grip equipment, camera operators in the water, there is nothing simple about that. Not to mention all the underwater shots. Shooting actors under water when they have beats to hit from a storytelling standpoint, is a very difficult task to achieve. To me, a lot of vignettes and montages sequences are underrated. Whether you like it or not, you are going to be spending a lot of effort on every single frame you shoot. They are only a few seconds on screen, so they can often be overlooked. Rule of thumb, the less complex something looks, the more it is.
-In an interview Alicia Silverstone said the water that you all were filming in was freezing at times. Did you all have wet suits on?
We shot this movie in Orlando in December. You might think Orlando is always warm, but the fact of the matter is, when you are dealing with water, it gets frigid pretty quickly. A lot of the exterior shots were done in a pool that was near a lake, so we have very high winds most of the time. Production did what they could to cycle in warm water, but that only lasts so long. Most of the crew who had to go into the water wore wetsuits. Alicia and James were never able to wear one because of the wardrobe restrictions. So they are the ones that really had to deal with those conditions. It was a cold one. I would like to think this is something we don’t have to deal with that often, but unfortunately, we do. The other 4 shark movies I shot were all done in December. We play it as summertime, but that can get pretty frigid. Fortunately and unfortunately, I’m used to shooting in those conditions.
-Do you have a favorite memory from making this film?
Probably the prepping process. This was my first non-network television shark movie. This was the first one that wasn’t under the vail of Lifetime, or Syfy. So the prep and what we were able to plan for, was much different than network tv movie. So I really enjoyed that process. I enjoy being able to think of scenes not as time restraints, but as what we can do to up the attention in the scenes. A lot of times that means you are going to shoot longer scenes, so you can drag out those tense moments. On a network set, you can’t really do that because you are moving so quickly and you have to edit those films to very specific time standards. That part was a lot of fun. I love being on set and working with the actors. The whole process was fun for me.
-Did you shoot the sharks a certain way to make them look more menacing?
Yes, shooting the shark below their own eyeline, even if they are in the water makes them look grander in scale. For this movie in particular, so much was done in visual effects. A lot of the shark stuff we shot were just used as references. A lot of those shots are an editorial thing. How often to show the shark, how often you need to cut to it to build or relax tension. A monster movie is more about the direction and editorial process. I guess that bleeds directly into cinematography, in the sense of what angles we decide to get. When it comes to the shark, the big attack scene at the end, we used certain techniques to make the shark feel fast and strong. For the shark, we did a lot of it on green screen. We used a dolly and camera moves to help him move and make it look like he was in water. I don’t think we shot it to make it look more menacing, you treat it like any other character.
-What is one thing you learned from The Requin?
I was reminded of how difficult it is to shoot in water. I was very happy to go through that again as a reminder for future projects and what to expect. To help guide any production that will to be most effective for that type of movie. That was something I relearned. I learned a lot about shooting a two-character movie. I am not used to that with network television. It was nice to shoot a film that was only two characters, so helping tell that relationship between the two leads was a fun experience for me. Lighting an actual set on a stage is something I haven’t done in a while because a lot of the movies I shoot are very practical. Dealing with lighting from the ground up on a dark stage was a lot of fun. I got to work with a lot of new people on this film. That was fun. Figuring out different personalities and how to approach problems and how to effectively institute solutions. The management side was a big thing.
-I know a lot of the film was probably shot in tanks on stages, not at sea, but what was the biggest challenge of shooting consistently in water?
The only scenes we shot onstage dealing with water, were everything interior villa before and during the storm sequence. Everything after that was in a pool outside exposed to the elements. It’s extremely difficult to work on water in general, not to mention at a limited capacity, especially shooting outside by a lake with whipping winds. We did poolside dry land stuff. So all the close up more intimate moments were done on land. Just to be easier to walk around with our handheld techniques, instead of wading through the water. Surprisingly very few on set tank shots. You put a lot of trust and recognition in the post production team, the color team, to make it look cohesive. I promise, we were really working against weather.
-What are you most proud of about The Requin?
The final product. I know how many struggles we went through. I know what the effects went through and the overall hardships of the film. That’s every film. They all start off as one thing and then you end up shooting a completely different movie. I’m proud of the whole crew. We were a very limited crew because of Covid. We had to make a lot of cuts from the onsite crew because of this. Anyone who works on a film is used to a base line of crew availability and expectations of who handles what. We really had to put our heads together and gel our jobs together. We got 80 or 90% of crew was from the Orlando area. So it was nice to meet a lot of those people.
-Just a side question, what is your all-time favorite horror film?
Scream is a classic. Michael Myers is great. Jason too. Rob Zombie, his rendition of Halloween was amazing. The same for Devil’s Rejects. I like the more dark, gritty. Any chance you get to use lighting and lens to push the narrative, like Identity, I really enjoy. I tend to lean more in that realm. The Babysitter, which is more contemporary.