“Stewart’s footage is superb…. an eco-upset tale as complex and cautionary as ‘Darwin’s Nightmare.’ “
David Rooney, Variety
A 450 Million year old Introduction
To set the scene; I was 29 years old and chasing a referral job from an old university colleague. He had put me in touch with a guy that was looking for someone to do some title design and animation for his documentary. After a couple brief phone conversations, the director of this film invited me over to his space to talk about the film and what he was looking for in relation to the title sequences. I get to his building and am ushered in by the concierge and directed to the rooftop to sit on a beautiful patio overlooking the city.
30 second teaser
The filmmaker was Rob Stewart, a photographer also the son of Tribute Magazine’s Brian and Sandy Stewart. A legacy publication distributed throughout Canadian cinemas.
Rob discussed his film, Sharkwater. A documentary feature that followed his travels through our oceans searching for sharks. What was immediate was his passion for nature, conservation and his mission to demystify the stereotypes around sharks. Only a short time later I found myself standing behind an HDV Camera shooting a behind the scenes interview with the Supervising Editor of the film, Michael Clarke. As we spoke it became clear that Michael needed an extra pair of hands to assist him on the film.
What followed was a six week adventure to online the film and finalize affects shots ahead of the TIFF Deadline. Which we did, in full 10 bit uncompressed High Definition, on 4 Mac G5 towers in Michael’s apartment in downtown Toronto.
Myself, friends and colleagues Yotam Dor, Jeff Bai and Jason Agar worked in long shifts up-scaling, cleaning, reconnecting source footage and creating slo-mo affect shots. My additional duties were to design and animate the lower third titles, subtitles, title card blocks, opening credit sequence and closing credit title crawl.
We made the deadline, the TIFF ’06 premier launched at Ryerson, with an after party at the Century club. An insane whirlwind of a night.
The Canadian Release Date, March 23rd, 2007
Late January, 2007 I got a call from Rob asking if I was available to help him online some of the ads for the Canadian release date and to help finish piecing together the “Making of” documentaries. One a 24 minute piece that appear on the Sharkwater DVD as an extra, and also formatted for showing on Global TV in advance of the films launch. Four TV ads and some work promoting the film in various online spaces.
“The most awesome documentary ever”
Moon Yun, Ain’t It Cool News
Keeping in mind that in 2007, social media was just moving past it’s early infancy. The start of the Friendster decline and the boom of myspace ahead of the full Canadian launch of Facebook. I was self-taught in HTML & PHP so in order to better promote the film I created a series of thumbnail images, a 15 second and a 30 second web only teaser and began posting everywhere I could think there was an audience. Film fan forums, music fan forums or official musician and artist chat forums, various wildlife and conservation community forums (of which at the time there were few). I used YouTube, MySpace, Friendster, Rotten Tomatoes, Ain’t it Cool News and a ton of other comments threads in the arts and culture pages of newspapers, magazines and other publications. Loading pages with “a href” URL’s with “img” tags and links to the web videos for free download and an assortment of “friending” and posting everywhere I could think of.
At this time… This was called out for spamming, trolling & shamelessly self-promoting. Now, its called Google Ads, Promoted Tweets, Boosted/Suggested/Sponsored Posts and professionally called social media strategy.
I would spend 18 hours a day online, promoting the film in the three weeks leading up to it’s Canadian release. After all the online editing, title animation and video work was done. I ran my first experience in online digital promotion. Driving Sharkwater’s myspace page up from just over 300 friends/connections to over 10,000.
“The making of” (short version)
The only thing I wish I had done in hindsight, was taken screen caps of the sites and the most successful postings I had made. The kind of debate that was stirred in some of the most unexpected forums, polarizing discussions all about conservational activism and the roles sharks play in the health and sustainability of our planet.
“For filmmaker Rob Stewart, exploring sharks began as an underwater adventure. What it turned into was a beautiful and dangerous life journey into the balance of life on earth. Driven by passion fed from a life-long fascination with sharks, Stewart debunks historical stereotypes and media depictions of sharks as bloodthirsty, man-eating monsters and reveals the reality of sharks as pillars in the evolution of the seas. Filmed in visually stunning, high definition video, Sharkwater takes you into the most shark rich waters of the world, exposing the exploitation and corruption surrounding the world’s shark populations in the marine reserves of Cocos Island, Costa Rica and the Galapagos Islands, Ecuador. In an effort to protect sharks, Stewart teams up with renegade conservationist Paul Watson of the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society. Their unbelievable adventure together starts with a battle between the Sea Shepherd and shark poachers in Guatemala, resulting in pirate boat rammings, gunboat chases, mafia espionage, corrupt court systems and attempted murder charges, forcing them to flee for their lives. Through it all, Stewart discovers these magnificent creatures have gone from predator to prey, and how despite surviving the earth’s history of mass extinctions, they could easily be wiped out within a few years due to human greed. Stewart’s remarkable journey of courage and determination changes from a mission to save the world’s sharks, into a fight for his life, and that of humankind.”