From wildly imaginative child to stuntman to accomplished director, David Ellis has had an incredible journey in Hollywood. As the man behind such films as ‘Cellular,’ ‘Snakes On A Plane,’ and ‘The Final Destination’, he continues to thrill audiences worldwide and keeps them coming back for more! His action-packed thrill ride is ‘Shark Night 3D’ which focuses on a group of college students in search of a sexy summer weekend only to find it turned into a blood-soaked nightmare as the become trapped on an island surrounded by voracious underwater predators! Featuring a red-hot young cast including Sara Paxton (Superhero Movie, Last House on the Left), Dustin Milligan (“90210,” Slither), Chris Carmack (“The O.C.”), Joel David Moore (Avatar), Chris Zylka (The Amazing Spider-Man) and Katharine McPhee (The House Bunny), ‘Shark Night 3D’ proves to be Ellis’s most exciting work to date. Jason Price of Icon Vs. Icon recently sat down with him to discuss the making of ‘Shark Night 3D’, the challenges involved and what projects lie ahead for him in the months to come!
First, I want to thank you for taking time out to talk with us today! It is very much appreciated!
Oh, of course!
I wanted to give our readers a little background on you, in your own words. What got you started on journey as a filmmaker?
I started my journey at nineteen as stuntman. I started directing second units at the age of twenty five. When I got into my early forties, the directing thing just kinda took off! I had been directing huge, big budget, second units on action films. It was during the making of ‘Waterworld’ that I was offered my first film to direct, which was ‘Homeward Bound 2’. It did great at the box office but it didn’t do much for my directing career. So I went back to the big budget second unit stuff, ‘The Matrix Reloaded’, the first ‘Harry Potter’, ‘Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World’, ‘The Perfect Storm’ — big action films! Then I was given the opportunity to direct ‘Final Destination 2’, which led to the film ‘Cellular’, which lead to ‘Snakes On A Plane’ and then to ‘The Final Destination’ in 3D and now — SHARK NIGHT 3D! So there you go! I am still doing second unit projects. I am actually in Boston at the moment, prepping a big action unit on the film ‘R.I.P.D.’ that will star Jeff Bridges and Ryan Reynolds. Then I will be off to direct two films back to back!
You definitely aren’t showing any signs of slowing down!
Oh no! I love what I do! I am having a blast!
What attracted you to the ‘Shark Night 3D’ project?
It was a great script and it is a really good story. The characters are really well developed and you find yourself really caring about these kids, it’s not kinda like a ‘Final Destination’ where you barely meet the kids because they are going to die right away. I just felt that it was a great story, not to say that you could ever outdo ‘Jaws’ but I tried to make a film like that for a younger generation. The demographic that were are going after with this film, probably 90% of them, have never seen ‘Jaws’. It is really geared towards kids from 13 to 18. We wanted to make a fun, scary, cool PG-13 movie about sharks. With the technology we have, the animatronics and CGI, you can make totally realistic sharks come alive in scenes with actors, safely, where you couldn’t before. People have a fascination with sharks. Shark Week is one of the most watched programs on cable and many people are still freaked out about going into the water from seeing ‘Jaws’! It is that natural fear and fascination that we wanted to tap into and it’s a great script. We are nothing like the ‘Piranha 3D’ movie that came out last year, which was very campy, very gory and relied on a lot of boobs, over-the-top gore and language to make it successful for the people that want to see that. Some people are complaining that we are not an R rated film but I think that there is enough blood that you get what is going on. I am very proud of this movie and very excited for people to see it.
You mentioned all of the different elements that you had to contend with on this film from 3D, the animatronics, the CGI and the water. What was the biggest challenge in putting this film together?
It was shooting in 3D on the water and under the water! Because you have two cameras, one for each eye, the cameras for 3D are much more bulky. We were doing a lot of stuff just above or below the water, so technically speaking, shooting in 3D was the challenge. I think it is the only way to shoot 3D, as opposed to shooting in 2D and converting it, that is really like 2 ½ D. I wanted to put the audience in the world with the sharks. Our film isn’t a gimmicky 3D movie, it’s not throwing stuff at your face all the time. When you are in the water, diving with the sharks, the sharks are in the audience! That is going to be a little freaky for people when it is right there in the seat in front of you!
What does a leading lady like Katherine McPhee and the rest of the cast bring to the table for a project like this?
Katherine McPhee, everybody knows her as a singer from ‘American Idol’ but she is a really strong actress, really charismatic and is going to be a huge star. Obviously, Steve Spielberg picked her for a pilot and they are going to be doing a huge TV series with her. She is awesome! Sara Paxton, who was in ‘Last House on the Left’, I loved her work in that, she is another great actress. Dustin Milligan and Chris Zylka are both going to be big stars. You know, when we sell a movie like this, with the concept of sharks in 3D and stuff like that, we didn’t need a big name cast, we just needed a talented cast. As I did with Chris Evans in ‘Cellular’, I like to find very strong young actors, give them a shot and try to break them. Obviously for Chris it worked out! I think these kids will all be big stars in the future. However they get their big break, they all have superb talent!
I ask this question a lot but with your unique and varied projects, I think it is even more interesting. Is there a particular type of film or genre that you haven’t had a can to tackle that you would like to pursue?
Action Comedy! Absolutely! I have been lumped in this genre because I have had success in it but it is a catch-22. If you haven’t done a comedy, they don’t offer you a comedy. I would love to do something like that because I have a lot of fun on the set making gory horror movies and I can’t imagine how much fun it would be if I got to do a comedy! I am blessed that I am working and making films and hopefully entertaining people, so no complaints! If I could do something like an action comedy, that would be great or a big action film, like a ‘Bourne’ film because my background is action. I would love to do something like that as well.
What is the best piece of advice that you can give to aspiring filmmakers?
Don’t give up! If that is your dream, then pursue it! Find a way in. Films right now are being made right now, not just in Hollywood, but in New Orleans, Baton Rouge and Shreveport and Boston, where I am right now, because of taxes. Go to one of those kind of places and become a PA or do whatever you can to break in. A lot of people started in the mail room, so you might have to start at the bottom but if you have that passion and you have the drive, you can do it!
Thank you for your time, David! We will be spreading the word on all of you projects!
Thank you, Jason! Take care!