When you’re networking with more than 15,000 of your closest friends at the BIO International Convention in Washington, DC, you’re bound to meet an interesting person or two. I met more than that.
At this year’s convention, I met either the most interesting person I’ve ever met or the craziest person I’ve ever met. Or both. Meet Robert Cantrell of Think IP Strategy.
PB: Robert, you have been an IP Strategist, MBA, author on business and military strategy, a professional shark photographer and now a documentarian of the world’s most dangerous sharks. Just what haven’t you done?
RC: Hi Stephen. I have not and probably will never go bungee jumping off a bridge. Every risk needs to have a purpose.
PB: So, you were sitting around one day and you said, “Hey, I could make a movie about swimming with dangerous sharks.” How did that come about and did your friends and family think this was a good idea?
RC: This part was easy. My friends and family are highly supportive because they have seen my still photography work with sharks and have wanted me to combine that with my writing. They had been encouraging me to do this.
PB: Is there something about the Oceanic Whitetip Shark that made you want to swim with them in the dark?
RC: Conventional wisdom was that you do not dive with oceanic whitetip sharks at night. Jacques Cousteau called them “The most dangerous of all sharks.” These are the sharks that historically have shown up at open ocean disasters such as the sinking of the USS Indianapolis in 1945, made famous by the monologue of Quint (Robert Shaw) about living through the experience in the movie Jaws.
There is a famous night sequence in the 1970 shark documentary Blue Water, White Death, by Peter Gimbel, that showed multiple oceanic whitetip sharks feeding at night. Peter’s team shot that sequence from within shark cages. Peter said that he regretted that the team had not left the cage at night…they had been the first team to venture out during the day. That documentary had an influence on me growing up, and this was an opportunity to answer that regret as best we could with multiple oceanic whitetip sharks at night.
PB: How long did it take to prepare for the project?
RC: It took ten months from concept approval in August 2010 to wrapping up filming in June 2011. Post-production is in progress now.
PB: Did you have certain expectations going into this project? Did you have anything specific in mind that you knew you wanted to include in the day you filmed?
RC: Things happened remarkably as expected, even with challenging weather, which is a big wildcard. I had been on site with the oceanic whitetip sharks before, so I knew what everything was going to look like and how the sharks were likely to behave. I also knew everyone I asked to participate in the shoot – 10 people in total from camera to crew – and we had people predisposed to work well with each other and offer creative suggestions. We had three contingencies: 1. A story line if we succeeded with the night dive. 2. A story line if the night dive did not happen. 3. An alternative tiger shark shoot if we found no oceanic whitetip sharks at all. As it was, we shot a rather extensive storyboard plan pretty much as written, with only a few additions and deletions as new or better opportunities presented themselves.
Now, emulating movie making, we want to make sure that every clip of dialog we use, every narration, and every picture shown has a purpose to drive the story forward. We have an overabundance of material will help us in this – many documentaries actually find themselves short of material.
PB: What is the most amazing thing you’ve learned working on All Fins On?
RC: This shoot reinforced several strategy principles I teach in my strategy courses – and itself quite resembled the best part of small unit military planning I used to do, albeit with multiple cameras instead of weapons. The whole planning and operation was an exercise in, piece-by-piece, reducing the uncertainties I could control so that we could focus on the uncertainties we could not control…such as whether we would find any oceanic whitetip sharks at all. It became organized flexibility at its best.
PB: It’s clear that you have a genuine appreciation of sharks that seems to come from personal experience. What kind of animals did you grow up with, and what kind of relationship did you have with them?
RC: We always had a family dog, and I have often had tropical fish. Since I left college, I have been on the road too much to make keeping a dog practical, however, the fish do fine with an automatic feeder. The more I see the wild, however, the more I regret that any animal that would not voluntarily stick around should have any confines at all…including people.
PB: Veteran nature film producer Chris Palmer wrote a book entitled Shooting In The Wild. He takes an in-depth look at the world of wildlife filmmaking to expose the ethical dilemmas faced by filmmakers who manipulate, fabricate, and deceive – all in the name of presenting nature “realistically.” The book has been generating a fair amount of media buzz with its recounting of staged animal sequences to coax certain behaviors, use of captive animals from animal farms or zoos, and even animal abuse – all for the sake of “getting the shot.” Did you face such dilemmas in shooting All Fins On?
RC: I read this book just prior to the shoot. To bring the oceanic whitetips around, we necessarily had to offer them an incentive. While we did not feed them per say, we did put crates with fish parts in the water to provide a scent for them to investigate. An occasional scrap would float free that they would snap up. Given that scent, the sharks were always free to swim in, investigate us, and either stay around or leave as they chose. One individual shark stayed with us for four days straight and participated in our night dive.
PB: As you know, this is Shark Week on the Discovery channel. Do you think these kinds of ratings boosting, shark as a scary, man-eating menace shows hinder conservation efforts? And do you watch?
RC: Here you get to a central point of this documentary. The easiest way to make a shark documentary to generate high ratings is to talk about one or more shark attacks, do a few interviews, recreate the scene, add a few shark clips, and done. The second easiest is to go to tried and true shark hot spots and see whether sharks will eat this or that. Discovery’s dilemma is that they are a commercial enterprise, and like it or not, shark conservation movies don’t sell well to the general public. We hope to offer an alternative anchored on solid storytelling and a cinematic presentation that provides the commercially saleable tension and fear that many people want with their shark stories along with a positive message that we actually need sharks for healthy oceans and our own survival as a species. Even a survivor of the USS Indianapolis we interviewed who lost a good friend to a shark right beside him thought that for the generations following to understand their story, they also need to see their shark.
PB: Finally, badmovies.org says that Shark Attack 3: Megalodon is the worse shark movie ever. Your thoughts?
RC: I have not seen this movie … if it went beyond Jaws 4, that is actually a cinematic accomplishment. For anyone who does not know, Megalodon is the giant extinct predatory shark known by the hand sized fossil teeth.
I work with a literary manager/producer in California, Ken Atchity, who helped one of his clients sell another Megalodon story, Meg, optioned to Hollywood for 1 million dollars. He is co-owner and manager of the Louisiana Wave Studio where an upcoming 3D shark thriller was filmed that will no doubt pack theaters called Shark Night 3D. In contrast, a single night showing of the well-done shark conservation movie, Shark Water, in Washington D.C. attracted all of four people, including me. That is the challenge that makes this project particularly exciting and important. I don’t think it has to be an either or proposition … I believe you can succeed with sharks commercially if you offer a realistic presentation of the shark and build it around a compelling and true story. Sharks are not monsters out to get us, nor are they benevolent beings. They are just sharks. Shark Night 3D may be so over the top, then, that people can enjoy the terror of the movie without seeing it as real life … a factor in Jaws since that movie did make it all seem too real for many people.
PB: Robert, thank you so much for your time today. Good luck with your movie.
RC: Thank you.
Robert Cantrell has written a number of articles and papers on intellectual property. This includes his recently published book, Outpacing the Competition: Patent-Based Business Strategy (Robert Cantrell: Wiley 2009). This book blends patent strategy, business strategy, and classical strategy into a comprehensive whole, with the overall theme that those businesses capable of proficiently assessing their situations, deciding on courses of action, and taking action, win most competitive contests.
Several of his written works are in use at the national and service war colleges as well as in the intellectual property field to include the top selling book Understanding Sun Tzu on the Art of War.
Robert is the founder of Center For Advantage, a provider of tools for strategy, innovation, and sales workshops, training, and problem solving. He is on the faculty of Patent Resources Group, where he teaches Patent Strategy for Business. And he was last seen developing a cure for cancer.