As a filmmaker it can be very visually exciting to enter and create in bold, new worlds. The excitement of pushing the boundaries into these worlds is very clearly in “Top Gun 2” where the filmmakers decided to put 4 IMAX cameras in real fighter plane cockpits and to film the action true to life rather than by using digital effects. The end result is that as an audience we feel immersed in a whole new world and are riveted.
Another territory that consistently creates a sense of “wow” is the world of underwater. Having recently filmed underwater, we became very passionate about this area and how to do it right. The cool thing about filmmaking is that it does combine creative and logistics (organization of production) and this is abundantly needed in underwater filming.
So how do we best get incredible results with underwater filming?
1. Talent Prep for Underwater
One of the first things we must realize is that performing underwater requires one to perform in and adjust to a whole other world, literally.
We recommend that talent at minimum do one prep day to prepare themselves for holding their breath underwater and to experiment, test and learn how they can perform naturally under these vastly different conditions.
In our film “Time is Eternal” featuring actress/model Berite Labelle who has had 6 international covers of Vogue, Glamour recently…Berite was a true professional. She had the difficult task of not only performing underwater but also doing it in a mermaid tail. So Berite enrolled herself to a mermaid school and learned how to swim and perform as a mermaid first. Then she scheduled a day with brilliant underwater photographer and cinematographer Brett Stanley. In the session with Brett she learned breathing techniques and how to communicate and work with the cinematographer and was able to review the pictures as well to see the end result of her actions and make adjustments accordingly.
As Brett, who has years of experience always says, that type of prep is what makes the difference. One cannot expect to get excellent results without that prep.
2. Work with a Specialist.
Filming Underwater is best accomplished with an expert like Brett. Brett not only knows how to coach talent for underwater, help them with their breathing and how to maintain best facial expressions underwater but also has the simple tools that can ensure success. Having a ladder laid horizontally across the pool so that talent can have physical support in the middle of the pool is game changing- especially when they are in an elaborate costume.
3. Slow Motion
A simple tool one can apply underwater for highly cinematic results is to shoot in slow motion. Slow motion underwater is totally hypnotic.
4. Hair and Makeup.
We highly recommend again working with a specialist who has experience doing hair and make up underwater otherwise the make up will wash off. You need waterproof make up and a specialist will also know how to keep hair in position underwater or what styles will work best given the nature of water.
5. Equipment Prep.
Always budget for a half day to do camera prep. The last thing you want to do is bring an expensive camera underwater and have it be destroyed. An underwater specialist will test the camera in a underwater housing before your main shoot day. Keep in mind that it is best to get special insurance that will protect your equipment underwater because a straight up normal policy will not automatically cover it.
Having a scuba diver on set for safety is a recommended good idea in case anything goes wrong.
In any stunts or specialized action scenes, practicing safety is always recommended and can protect against very dangerous potential outcomes. If you truly prep and practice safety, your shoot won’t go wrong and you will get stunning results.
So that is a bit of understanding about creating magic underwater. Enjoy this new world!