Shark Week officially begins July 5, and for the third consecutive year, Discovery will have its own on-air after show, Shark After Dark. This time it’ll be hosted by Eli Roth, the writer/director of Hostel and executive producer of Netflix’s Hemlock Grove who, appropriately enough, recently signed on to helm the Megalodon-centric horror film Meg.
What can we expect from his incarnation of Shark After Dark? How did he end up smooching a Caribbean reef shark? And how will his Shark Week experience influence his big-screen resurrection of a prehistoric mega shark? Read on.
First question: Did you go into the water wanting to kiss a shark, or did it just happen in the moment?
I didn’t go into the water intending to kiss a shark. I was hoping I would be close to them and see them. I’ve always wanted to dive with sharks. My wife had gotten me scuba-certified for my birthday. [On] our honeymoon, we went diving in Thailand, and we didn’t see any sharks, which was all I wanted to see. So when [Discovery] offered me the chance to dive with sharks, I jumped at it. My wife and I went down there [to the Bahamas], and I saw them and I was like a little kid. You’re at Disneyland and you can’t wait to get on the ride. They suit you up in chainmail, so you know you’re gonna be safe if they bite. They’re reef sharks, they’re only going to go after something if they think it’s dying. In the water, I had flippers, and they know right away that you’re not a dying fish, and they can also sense your heartbeat.
They said, “Maybe if we’re lucky, we’ll get one in tonic.” This shark swam over, and tonic, they explained, is when you’re scratching them just under the nose and they go into a trance-like state. It’s almost like when you’re scratching a dog’s stomach and the dog starts twitching its leg — it was very similar to that, oddly. One of the dive masters is scratching this shark, and I swam over very calmly and put my hand under her nose and I held her in tonic, and it was incredible.
It was the photographer [Pia Venegas] who did the motion, like, “Take out your regulator and give her a kiss.” So of course, I waited for her to set her camera up, and I kissed the shark. She was so sweet. And then afterwards, I said [to my wife], “Honey, I cheated on you. I kissed this shark.”
They said, “That’s actually Lucy. She came to us two months ago for help.” And I had seen this story on Yahoo. It’s a YouTube video with the title “Shark asks divers for help!!!” It’s the same divers, and the same place, and this shark Lucy has a rope around her neck, and she swims up to the divers, stops, allows them to cut the rope off, and swims around so happy, and then lets them feed her. This shark comes back every day and knows that these are the divers that helped her. I never before thought of sharks as having that kind of emotional intelligence or understanding or empathy; but this shark really understood. It completely changed my whole perception of them.
What did you want to bring to Shark After Dark?
You know, a couple years ago there was this fake Megalodon documentary that Discovery put on that was very fun, but because it was on Discovery people thought it was real. … Everyone agreed that it was off-brand and they weren’t going to do it again. We really wanted to get back to a more scientific approach. I wanted to bring in my sense of fun and what I know from making scary movies, and really be on the side of the sharks — use it as a platform and, in a very fun way, educate people that sharks really are the doctors of the ocean. Their function in the ocean is to clean out the diseased and the sick. It’s great to be with these experts, and go, “Why are there so many attacks? What is going on right now at this moment?” The main thing that they say is there’s incredible over-fishing. Humans have decimated the sharks’ food supply. We’re out there fishing, and fishing, and fishing, and we’re taking everything from them. So they’re just looking for something to eat. Other things: Climate change is affecting where the currents are going and bringing the fish closer to the beach, bringing the sharks close to the beach. Often construction will be a contributing factor because there’s so much pollution — we’re polluting their environment.
The irony is that people are so afraid of being eaten by a shark, yet only five people are killed annually worldwide by sharks on average. … You have a better chance of being killed by a vending machine than a shark. One hundred million sharks are killed by humans every year for food, and that food is shark fin soup. They cut the fins, and they throw them back into the ocean and leave them to die. Often restaurants will call it “fish fin soup,” but it’s shark. It’s big in Asia, but it’s all parts of the world. Also, you look at cowboy boots that are coming out of places in Texas that are made out of sharks. Because of Jaws, people think they’re eating machines and it’s OK to do that. But the truth is, without sharks humans would die, because three quarters of our oxygen is coming from the ocean. If there’s a disease in the ocean, the shark is what prevents it from spreading into an epidemic.
I’m not a shark expert, so it was great for me to be able to sit down and talk with these people. But we also have a lot of fun on the show: We have Kevin Smith on the show. He’s a terrific guest and a big fan of Shark Week. Michael Pena from Ant Man comes on. Greg Nicotero from KNB EFX [and The Walking Dead fame] comes on and applies a makeup effect with effects artist Andy Schoneberg to show what a shark bite would look like. We bring in pro surfer Anastasia Ashley, and she goes on with a marine biologist, Craig O’Connell, who’s developed this incredible electromagnetic system that repels sharks without hurting them — and he’s finding a way to create a surfboard that has a built-in electromagnetic system that would repel a shark so it doesn’t think you’re a seal. We bring in shark expert Paul Clerkin and Brandon McMillan and talk about how to fight a shark: What do you do? Can you punch them in the nose? Can you grab their gills? Is it safer to swim in groups or swim alone? It’s really about, how do we keep people safe and how do we keep sharks safe. We all did it with a sense of fun, but everything is grounded in science.
Was there anyone you were most looking forward to talking with?
I was really excited to talk to Brandon, who went after the Great White Serial Killer, this one shark that attacks [California’s Surf Beach] every other year, [in July 6′s Return of the Great White Serial Killer]. Talking with Mark Healey, who’s this guy who tags pelagic thresher sharks [in July 8′s Ninja Sharks]: What’s it like when you have to hold your breath for five minutes, sneak up on a shark, tag it, and tag it safely in a way that doesn’t hurt the shark? Joe Romeiro, who’s a cinematographer [for July 10′s Monster Mako]. … I’m about to do this Megolodon movie at Warner Bros. I’m starting the pre-production on it now. Everything I’m gonna do is fake, but this guy actually takes the camera and goes in the water and gets up-close in the mouth of the shark. I work with actors that can be difficult; but if his actors are difficult, they eat him. It was just thrilling to be on the show with these people.
They’re all so nice and super cool and everyone loves sharks. Everyone got interested in doing this because of Jaws or because of Shark Week, and I think especially now in this climate with the shark bites that keep happening in North Carolina, it was great to have this moment where we can not panic, not be reactive — because you hear some people going, “Kill the sharks!” which is insanity — and really understand where it’s coming from and how we can be safe.
Is there anything that you’ve learned that will influence how you approach Meg?
Absolutely. The fun of Meg is that you’re making a movie with a shark the size of a Greyhound bus that’s eating people like Ms. Pac-Man. That’s what I want to see. I want that line of surfers and the shark comes and just eats them in one gulp. But I think what’s great is when you can do it like Jurassic Park where they ground it in real science. We can use this giant shark wreaking havoc on the ecosystem to talk about the function of sharks, and how important they are, and how they really are the ocean’s doctors, and how we need them, and how they really don’t have any interest in eating us but what we’re doing to their food supply. You can make the Megolodon the scariest shark and it puts everything into relation, just how friendly, and nice, and helpful the other sharks are. Sharks have gotten a terrible rap, but they’re fascinating, incredible animals. They say whale sharks live up to 150 years — think what that shark has seen in its lifetime. There’s almost 500 species of sharks, but everyone thinks of the great white. A lot of them are very gentle and filter feeders.
So I just want to have all these experts involved in the movie when I’m making it to really, really get the science right. And I’m gonna want to get real shark footage, too. I’m gonna wanna go in the water and film with great whites — and now I know the best people to do it with. So this is actually the perfect complement to the movie I’m about to dive into, no pun intended.
Shark After Dark airs Sunday, July 5 to Thursday, July 9 at 11 p.m. on Discovery. Shark Week runs July 5 to July 12 on Discovery.