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 The World of Film in Australia - on the Internet Updated Tuesday September 15, 2020 

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Sharks are perhaps the most feared creatures in Australia, and for good reason, according to stories like the one which inspired The Reef, as filmmaker Andrew Traucki tells Andrew L. Urban. The question is, what would you do in a situation like this?

‘Don’t film in water!' is the biggest lesson Aussie filmmaker Andrew Traucki learnt making his new survival thriller, The Reef. “We didn’t use a tank, we shot off the beach in Hervey Bay, Queensland,” he says, “and it was testing. Everything moves and floats! Your props, your cast, your cameraman … “

The other major factor is that the schedule changes every day, “and for someone like me who likes everything preplanned, that was a challenge,” he says.

The Reef is based on a true shark story Traucki once read in one of his wife’s books about a shark attack in the mid 80s off Townsville. “I’ve adapted it enough not to get sued,” he says, “especially the characters, but it’s based on the real event.” Sharks, he reminds us, are iconic elements of the Australian psyche.

The ‘what would I do’ factor was prominent in Traucki’s mind while making The Reef. “That’s what I kept thinking when I read the story…” It’s also what the audience is feeling.

"a matter of timing"

To achieve that, he says “it’s very much a matter of timing and editing has a vital role to play”. So does the score, and both editor Peter Crombie and composer Rafael May contribute solidly to the film’s impact. 

It’s a simple enough story: a group of friends take a sailboat for a relaxing trip around Australia’s Great Barrier Reef, but when the boat overturns in open water after its keel is torn off, they are stranded with two choices: stay and risk the boat sinking or try to swim to an island 12 kms away and risk being attacked by sharks. They don’t all make the same decision. They don’t all survive.

Traucki says the sharks we see in the film are real. “The thing you have to remember making a film like this,” he says, “is that the audience knows it’s going to see a shark movie so you can’t disappoint them. You build up the anticipation and the expectation and string it out as long as you can … you play on that fear.”

But the actors were never in real danger, even though there were minor accidents, like Damian Walshe-Howling treading on a stone fish. (The film also stars Gyton Grantley, Adrienne Pickering, Zoe Naylor and Kieran Darcy-Smith.)

“I’m big on survival stories,” says Traucki, whose previous film was the crocodile thriller Black Water (also based on true stories). He reads a lot of survival story books and finds that real stories make compelling movie concepts. (He’s looking for the next one …)

"primitive, visceral movies which people enjoy for being scared … safely"

The online content storm that has made real stories so accessible has driven up interest in these stories, says Traucki, “and I felt I could write the screenplay for these films, which is a big advantage.”

Traucki is aware that “some people pooh-pooh survival thrillers as unsophisticated, but they are not meant to be sophisticated, they’re primitive, visceral movies which people enjoy for being scared … safely.”

Published March 17, 2011

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