"Open Water": The Sharks, and the Fear, Were Real

Stefan Lovgren
for National Geographic News
August 5, 2004

Forget that clunky mechanical shark in Jaws.

In Open Water, a new movie about a scuba-diving couple that is mistakenly abandoned in the middle of the ocean, the school of menacing sharks is real.

"We thought we would have to swim with two or three sharks," said Daniel Travis, who plays one half of the stranded couple. "But when we showed up for filming there were about 45 or 50 of them."

The movie, which opens in limited release on August 6, is unlikely to change the stereotype of sharks as vicious killers. But it's a more realistic portrayal of sharks than the usual Hollywood fare.

"It was important to work with real sharks, to get the way their tails flap around like big rats in the water as opposed to the usual Hollywood fin gliding smoothly on the surface," said Chris Kentis, the film's director.


Kentis's screenplay was loosely based on the true story of Americans Tom and Eileen Lonergan, who were stranded in the ocean off Cairns in Australia six years ago. The operators of their tour boat had miscounted the number of divers on board and set off without the couple.

The boat's crew only realized its mistake two days later, when they found some of the Lonergans' property on board. Despite a widespread search by the police and the Australian Navy, the Lonergans were never found.

Although rare, other such incidents of divers being left behind in the open ocean have happened. Even Kentis and his wife Laura Lau, both experienced divers, once found themselves temporarily abandoned by their dive boat during a diving excursion.

"The fear of being left in the open water is an extremely frightening feeling," said Kentis, whose wife produced and co-shot the movie. "We were both attracted to the simplicity of that story."

Working on a meager U.S. $120,000 budget, the husband-and-wife team filmed Open Water on weekends and holidays for three years off the coast of Bahamas. They shot more than 120 hours of footage.

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