Hey, all you aspiring shark actors and actresses out there,
Hello, and thank you for taking time out of your very busy shark days to swim over to Movie Mezzanine. Between feeding, swimming in circles, and watching motivational shark videos on YouTube, there’s a lot vying for your attention. So I’ll try to keep this brief.
The reason I’m writing today is simple: I want to better the current output of killer shark movies, and we need your help. It isn’t every day that another killer shark film gets a wide release, as The Shallows recently did, and that’s precisely the point. I would like to tell you that there is a rich history of shark films throughout the years, and that we’re looking to build upon a foundation of diverse cinematic memories—but this just isn’t true. Scores of made-for-Canadian-television and SyFy original movies have sullied the name of you cartilaginous beasts, and that makes we the people pretty angry. Some are so bad they’re decent; some are so bad they didn’t make the jump to DVD; some are so bad they were merely piggybacking America’s fleeting fascination with Jersey Shore. Yet there you float, all you talented sharks just ready to sign up and show off your dorsal fins on the silver screen.
For more than four decades, the measuring stick for shark movies and shark performances has been Steven Spielberg’s Jaws, the seminal summer movie wherein a great white shark is brutally murdered while summering off the coast of New England. Bruce, our dearly departed hero, was actually portrayed by three (robotic) sharks. Spending most of the time underwater, Bruce was anything and everything you want out of the species: fierce, unbelievably strong, and remarkably timely. The power of the film rests solely on his fins. In the traumatic final scene, when a chauvinistic police chief explodes Bruce’s SCUBA-toothpick, the devastation felt among audiences is a real tribute to the acting provided by our aquatic friend—a mesmerizing debut from an unparalleled talent.
Yet as a species, we’d like you to look beyond Bruce, particularly after a sadistic and unremorseful GIF has been floating around the internet as of late. We need to widen our reach and cast a larger net with regards to this important sect of cinema. There happen to be a lot of misconceptions, about the genre and about the roles traditionally offered to sharks, and that’s what I’d like to address. Progress cannot be forged on the back of misunderstanding. If we’re going to succeed, we’re going to succeed together.
An important point that often gets lost on shark talent scouts is that you don’t even need to be a great white to land a starring role (although it would be overly optimistic to think that this doesn’t help—indeed, much of the industry is still swimming with species-ism). In Renny Harlin’s 1999 classic Deep Blue Sea, it was a modest trio of makos who were genetically given a brain boost before meeting a heroic and harrowing end out at sea. Remember, these makos didn’t actually have larger brains, so you don’t need to be a member of MENSA to have a chance to land such a coveted role. Makos have even gotten the title treatment in the 1976 film Mako: The Jaws of Death, while species such as tiger sharks (Night of the Sharks), Caribbean reef sharks (Open Water), and bull sharks (Red Water) have all headlined in the past few decades. Hell, you don’t even have to be alive (Ghost Shark), exist as a species (Megalodon), or obey the laws of physics (Sharknado). All you have to do is give us a big smile every once in a while and show us those massive white chompers. Don’t worry if you haven’t brushed in a few weeks—we can fix it in post.
If the starring role isn’t really your speed, there are plenty of opportunities for support players, where sharks play an intricate part in movies that somehow aren’t wholly about them. Two years ago, a shark even vied for a place at the Oscars thanks to Angelina Jolie’s Unbroken, yet somehow both the shark and Jack O’Connell came away without even a nomination. The nerve of those Academy voters! However, less Oscar-bait-y and more lucrative positions live in the action genre. Even as far back as 1966, in the first film adaptation of Batman, a shark makes a rather surprising and gruesome appearance, majestically flying above the ocean while attached to Batman and the Batcopter’s ladder. Just a year before, the fourth entry of the then-fledgling James Bond franchise, Thunderball, featured a pool full of very real sharks and a sequence of Sean Connery almost getting bit that somehow didn’t make the final cut—a minor part, sure, but crucial to setting the correct tone in the film.
Now all you animated sharks, take heed! It may have been harder to get work as an animated shark since the early 2000s (and before then, too, I suppose), but don’t let that discourage you. If you’re from Australia, we might be able to get someone cool like Eric Bana to voice your role, as he did in Pixar’s Finding Nemo (alongside veterans Bruce Spence and Barry Humphries). Better yet, if you’d like to be cast as a racially stereotyped mob shark, perhaps we can do you a solid and get a Robert De Niro, as was the case in Shark Tale.
I know what you’re thinking. A lot of this work seems a bit dubious: the villain, the beast, the uncontrollable menace. Image is certainly something to take into account when choosing your next role, particularly if you’d like to eventually land in a blockbuster feature. Remember the Stephen Baldwin flick Shark in Venice from 2008? No? Exactly. That shark hasn’t found work (I would assume) in the past eight years. I hear he didn’t even get a callback for Zombie Shark last year. It’s rough in this town. Just know that we’ll do everything we can to cast you in a good light. Think about the sandbar sharks in Cyclone (1978). Sure, they had an insatiable taste for human flesh, but so did the humans themselves. How can you hate on the sharks when we’re concerned about the cannibalistic leads?
If all this hasn’t convinced you to return to the movies (I’m talking to you, hammerhead: where ya been?), I’ll sweeten the deal once more: You don’t even have to be on screen for that long. Shark Kill is 76 minutes long. Sand Shark: 86 minutes. Sharktopus is 89, 12 Days of Terror a mere 86. Open Water, which audiences paid almost $55 million to see, is 79 minutes long—less than two House of Cards episodes. That’s almost $700,000 per minute. We won’t make you stay for that long, and we won’t make you go to any fancy Hollywood premieres—though granted, that’s because most movies you’ll star in are going to be sent to the SyFy network.
But that’s really what we’re here to change. The shark movie has been demoted as of late, and although Blake Lively gave it her all a few weeks ago (ending in yet another stunning and heartbreaking final sequence), the genre is still likely most to be found in the $4 DVD box at your local Walgreens. I don’t even think they make Blu-rays for most of these things. Really, our work won’t be done until one of your movies gets into the Criterion Collection. It’s time you got your due, Sharks and Sharkesses. It’s time to make shark movies great again.
A fan of your work still to come