About 4 years ago, I was sitting at home late winter, joking with people online about crazy, far-fetched bmovie ideas, when I was suddenly hit with a, idea for a title – “House Shark”. I instantly loved it, and sent it to my regular producer, Jonathan Straiton, who also shared my feelings for the idea. I knew immediately this was going to be my next movie. For years I had wanted to do a shark movie. I had been working up some ideas of how to do one that would be set in the water, trying to think of ways I could make it seem big budget but with a simple idea and within my limits. But “House Shark” could scratch that itch, and in a much less expensive and more easily controllable way.
So I set down to write the script. Now I knew the title was “House Shark”, and was going to play it more for humor than screams. My original intention was to make more of a PG movies, giving it an old Super-8mm feel like the super-8mm short the kids made at the end of, wait for it, “Super-8”. My son was around 11 at the time and been frustrated he was never able to see my movies. This one was going to be for him. The script came out of my head quick, and I was going to role on production that summer. But as production dates loomed, I found I had too much on my plate and decided to push it back to the next year. I’m glad I did, as over the course of that year I rewrote it and made it more grown up. I still wanted it to retain a certain innocence though. I had seen “Jaws” when I was around 7 yrs old. I loved it so much I would spend summer after summer playing it and making up sequels with kids around the neighborhood. I also had (still have) this 13” toy rubber shark I would play out stories with using my “Star Wars” figures as bait. So taking the basic idea of “Jaws” in a house, I wanted to make the movie like I was a pre-teen who had gotten his hands on a camera back in the 70s and this was the fan film that came out of my head.
Also in taking that year to rework it, I found myself thinking of new plays on not only “Jaws” but even other “Jaws” knock offs that came out shortly after it and in the years that followed, movies like “Grizzly”, “Piranha”, “Alligator”, “Blades” and so forth. But the main focus was “Jaws”, and I thought of ways to pay homage to all the great moments and characters in that movie, big and small. Some are obvious, well know and quoted often, but others would only be caught by the hardcore “Jaws” fan. I also took the time to really look hard at Steven Spielberg’s work. When I started out as a filmmaker, I drew my most inspiration from George Romero, Alfred Hitchcock and Orson Welles. More recently I had shifted more towards John Carpenter. But as I looked at Spielberg’s work, I came to realize what a huge influence he had on me and my love of movies. I knew it was there, but I had never dug deep into it and really considered the idea of making a movie anything like his work. Now I doubt anyone will compare “House Shark” to any of his efforts, but I very much tried to capture the feel of his work on a small scale. I always thought he was a great director, under appreciated despite his many accolades. But really studying his work made me realize really how truly complex and thought out his shots are. It made me strive for so much more in my own efforts. I found trying to do some of the Speilberg style shots, especially his famous “oner” - where he does long takes that forgoes edits while accomplishing the same thing, almost always with more impact than a scene that cuts back and forth does - was near impossible on my budget with limited gear. I always worked hard to map out the shots, things within the shots, actor motions, props, etc to help tell the story beyond the words the characters would say. But looking at his work really made me stop and look at different and much more interesting ways to advance the stories I was trying to tell with just the visuals within the shots.
Production rolled over three blocks, August 2015, March 2016 and August 2016. For the first block, we did not have the any of the special FX including the shark, so it gave me time to get comfortable with the new camera we were using - a Blackmagic 4k URSA. It was my first time shooting 4k, and I had gotten accustomed to the very forgiving and easily manipulated DSLR cameras, so it was a bit of a learning curve. Since I could reframe the shots to a nearly unlimited amount, it cut down on the number of takes I needed. But because it had to be lit like film, that time saved with less shots was eaten up by longer light set ups. As I do most of the lighting and camera work myself, while also directing, this was often exhausting. It didn’t help that the camera was 25lbs before even adding the lenses, and it really limited the camera moves I had planned in advance.
The second block, FX artist Marcus Koch arrived with the shark. Where I had envisioned more of a standing shark, something akin to “The Deadly Spawn” monster, Marcus had constructed a more elongated - like a real shark. It was also bigger and wider than planned, 14ft long and too wide to fit thru regular sized doorways in the house. This was an all-new learning curve for me. I had never worked with a monster effect this size before. I had rented the URSA mini this time, which was easier, but the FX slowed things down this round, but just a little. I adjusted shots for where the shark didn’t fit or could move as intended, and we could cut the shark down on set if needed, like remove it’s tail and just work with the upper body. Having either a shark too large, or partially cut down, forced me to really call upon my creative side on how best to show the shark on screen, like moving in and out of rooms or around characters. Marcus created an amazing looking creature, and I learned on set - and then more so in editing - which ways shooting it made it scarier or look more effective – a lesson I can take forward on my next monster feature.
For the third block, the kinks were mostly worked out, which was a good thing as this was far and away the most production packed days. It was the longest stretch too, 16 days straight (the other 2 had been 8 production days each). I had to work around some crazy schedules with the cast, trying to sync actors up for the days they were on set together, and even coordinate it with the days and weekend I had my son for his scenes. Also having these blocks allowed me to rough cut scenes we shot, then go back and shoot any that just did not work the way I had hoped, or pick up a shot or two to fix any thing that wasn’t properly covered. All things considered, as exhausting as the final stretch was, it went pretty smoothly. There’s always things that don’t come out as you hope or plan, or you have to make on the spot adjustments on set to make sure you get everything shot even if not as you had envisioned. But for the most part, I was able to make the movie I intended, and I was eager to edit it and get it released.
With production done, I worked every open night for the next six months on editing. I had done quick rough cuts of scenes between each block, but now was the time to go back and polish cut all, clean the sound, add the color grade and get the soundtrack done. Though the movie relied mostly on practical effects, there were some things I just had to do digitally in post-production. I edit on Adobe CS6, refusing for now to move to Adobe’s Creative Cloud and pay their hefty monthly charges. I use After Effects for any of the digital effects, and it has a great tracker with an add-on program called Mocha. Basically I would trace around a person, animal or object, creating a mask, and Mocha would track it and adjust the mask as the object moved, turned, etc. It is amazingly accurate and can make doing complex FX shots quick and easy. Well I learned as I started his digital work that Mocha on CS6 does not track 4k footage. AE has its own built in tracker but it did not work with my needs either. So basically what this meant is I had to do these effects old school, going frame by frame and adjusting the masks manually. If an object had a lot of uneven surface, say like the shark with its rough skin texture, then this would require a lot of mask marks, and I would have to manually drag each one to a new spot on every frame. It would take me 2-3 weeks working 3-4 hours every night to finish some of these effects that last literally seconds in the movie. So that added a lot of extra time to the edit part of post. Instead of being done in August, I didn’t have a fairly polished rough cut down until October, just in time for the movie to premiere at the Nightmares Film Fest, where it won Best Horror Comedy. By early December I finally had a the movie done and polished, and was ready to begin the marketing phase.
“House Shark” has since been invited to a few more film festivals – with the smaller release window, as I wanted to have presale copies out by Spring, I had decided not to really submit it around to fests like I had done with my prior film, “She Kills”. So I only was submitting to festivals that I either had a relationship with or that invited it in, like Nightmares had done. Boston SciFi, the oldest genre fest in the USA, asked to show it. Also the prestigious Weekend of Fear in Germany would provide the European World Premiere. It is also set to play the South Street Cinema in Philly in March, and the Kansas City Crypticon. Besides my local premiere, a number of other screening dates will soon be added. I’m really pleased to have a movie that gets this kind of interest. Instead of chasing people or sources down for a potential showing, I have so many excellent, genre-loving events wanting to screen it for their attendees.
“House Shark” is currently doing presales for the limited edition advance media on Indiegogo. This is the only place to buy the signed physical copies, which includes Bluray, DVD & VHS. I also have some awesome props and FX gags from the movie - almost all one of a kind – plus posters, House Shark socks, Skype sessions and even a chance to come on late as a Producer. And the campaign is nearly 1100% funded as of my writing here! We passed one stretch goal and are closing in on the second one. I’m truly grateful for the attention it has received! A wide DVD release will come in August near “Shark Week”, and we’re hoping to see it in Walmart, Family Video and more retailers.
So as I go full-fledge into “House Shark” promo mode, I am hard at work on new scripts. I have “Johnny Z” which I wrote and am producing and acting in starting in April (Jonathan Straiton directs). I hope to start a new production of my own either Fall or Winter. I have a fairly large scale, serious horror movie planned next, but a potential production deal is developing with a long-time independent studio, and that may change some of my plans (hopefully in a good way, with a regular slate of ongoing productions). Meantime, I have “House Shark” to hype, and I hope shark movie fans will check it out, and more importantly, enjoy it. It’s a lot of fun, epic, and scary, all the things you expect from a movie billed as “Jaws, in a house!”
By Ron Bonk
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