Interview : Andrew Traucki on directing “The Reef: Stalked”

“Black Water” and “The Reef” director Andrew Traucki returns with a follow-up to his 2010 shark thriller: “The Reef: Stalked”.

Teressa Liane (“The Vampire Diaries”, “Into the Badlands”) stars as Nic, a young Australian woman haunted by the murder of one of her siblings. With the support of her diving buddies and younger sister, she returns home and decides to conquer her trauma – only to find nature is far less accommodating.

We had the pleasure of speaking to Andrew about his reputation as a creature-feature master, the challenges of shooting on location and possible future projects!

To date, you’ve tackled a lot of creature-feature type films. What about that particular kind of story and filmmaking approach appeals to you so much?

Andrew: To be brutally honest, they get made. [laughs]

That’s as good a reason as any.

Andrew: I’ve got lots of other scripts, I’ve been telling people. I’ve got this black comedy called “Melodica: Vampire Slayers”, which is “Spinal Tap” meets “Dracula”, and I’m busting my gut to try and get it made. 

But I’m the creature-feature guy as you said. I enjoy it, obviously – I wouldn’t do it if I didn’t enjoy it. But the reality is that I have been somewhat put in that space, so if I put my name to that sort of film, there’s a good chance it will get made. Whereas if I put my name to another sort of film, it’s not so likely. That’s the reality of life.

Nobody really aims for a niche, do they? Filmmaking is bloody hard. You make what you’re able to make, and then the specific projects can hopefully happen eventually, right?

Andrew: Absolutely. And I’m very happy with this film: I’ve gotten closer to making something that I want to make. I feel it’s more elevated; it’s got more relationship drama going on as well. Don’t get me wrong, I really enjoy making these films, and certainly, nobody’s put a gun to my head. But it’d be great to diversify a little bit.

I understand you shot on location in the Queensland area, primarily on the open water. What kind of benefits and challenges does that offer you as a director, compared to a studio tank – is it just a simple matter of cost?

Andrew: That’s a good question. It’s a mix of things. Obviously, cost is one thing. Also availability of tanks – at the time, the studios were all filled up. We couldn’t get a tank. 

And the style of filming can be cheaper. It might not be cheaper; it depends on whether you have a run of luck or not. What I like about it a lot is the sense of realism. On the day, what you shoot is what you’re going to get. That feels real: if the wind’s blowing, the wind’s blowing. That’s the upside. The downside is, if the wind’s blowing, the wind’s blowing. [laughs]

The weather can be very hazardous. In this day and age where everybody wants to control things in these studios, people get kind of freaked out about that unknown factor of the weather. But it’s very real. It’s also challenging, because you’re in water for ten hours a day. You’re on a beach that’s open to rainfall; all the weather conditions. 

We had rain when we weren’t meant to, we had wind; we had sunny days, cloudy days, all of which are meant to be the same day. So continuity was an issue. A camera assistant trod on a stingray and got a barb in her leg. We actually had a real shark on set, but it was only a small one. So it was quite real.

At least there’s a little synchronicity there between the filmmaking process and your characters, because despite all their interpersonal drama, nature doesn’t really care. It’s just going to do what nature does.

Andrew: Well put, well put.

Of course, you didn’t have an enormous “Jaws” style animatronic shark to work with on set. What was your experience in directing your actors when there wasn’t necessarily a tangible threat to react to?

Andrew: It’s difficult. There were times when they’d be in the dugout, and I’d be going, “it’s over there! Look at it over there! And now it’s gone over there,” and they’ve got to follow the eyelines and the expressions. They did a magnificent job of conjuring up fear and terror when sometimes it wasn’t present. There’s a lot of logistics that goes into thinking it through so that you can get it all to sit together nicely. It can be difficult. 

I spoke to Teressa (Liane) yesterday, and she said she didn’t actually find it too difficult to conjure up those emotions, because when you’re shooting on the open water, anything could be down there. What was your methodology in terms of manifesting the shark on-screen?

Andrew: It’s all about the actor’s response to what they see or don’t see. It’s all about getting them in that space, and making sure that what’s happening in the boat matches what’s happening with the shark. It’s about the actor’s expression and getting them to be fearful, and then just matching those actions.

Were the actual shark sequences a mixture of existing shark footage and then some digital effects for the more action-oriented scenes? It was quite well-edited in a way that obfuscates the way it’s been done.

Andrew: I don’t really want to give too much away, because I don’t know about you, but if I’m sitting there trying to work out the technical aspects, it kind of takes me out of the film. 

We’d love to see “Melodica: Vampire Slayers” come to fruition, but in the meantime, is there any particular type of animal, creature or entity that you’d particularly like to tackle next?

Andrew: Well, I think the most dangerous creature on Earth is humans. So I’d like to do a more human film. [laughs]

But if I was to do a creature…recently, I’ve been thinking that what’s pretty icky is leeches and worms that could get inside you. Like “Squirm”, and things along those lines. Rather than the big fellas, maybe have the more psychological interior guys. I don’t know about you, but when you get a leech, it’s horrible. It’s like, “oh my god”.

THE REEF: STALKED will be available in Theaters and will stream on Shudder July 29.

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