Fessenden’s 10-foot Rubber Fish as Finicky as Bruce the Shark

As Larry Fessenden, director of the new thriller “Beneath,” likes to point out, you can’t make a giant-creature-under-the-water movie without thinking of “Jaws.” Like Steven Spielberg’s classic, Fessenden’s tale of terror will make some viewers stay away from even the quietest of lakes.

Looking like a distant relative of Bruce, the mechanical shark from Spielberg’s epic, Fessenden’s 10-foot rubber nemesis was built on land in a laboratory for props, but not necessarily for swimming. “It behaved about as well as Bruce the shark. Since I loved ‘Jaws’ so much, I never fantasized that we were doing anything as classy,” Fessenden said when reached by telephone.

6 characters, 18 days, one hungry fish

“Beneath” focuses on six teenagers celebrating their high school graduation with a trip to Black Lake. Underneath those calm waters, though, lurks a hungry predator with a taste for tender flesh.

Fessenden said that he and the crew decided early on that there would be two approaches to filming. “One is to have sort of a shaky cam approach in a boat or a boat next to it and really get down and dirty. I chose the opposite, which was to have a sweeping–what I call existential–camera that was indifferent to the characters that were floating around,” the director explained.

The crew also put a movie crane on a really big barge: “You aren’t supposed to do that because the crane is just balancing on a tiny fulcrum. And the movement of the barge was very stretchy on the crane.”

While in the boat, would-be director Zeke (a hilarious Griffin Newman) has his waterproof wrist camera filming all the action. Fessenden said footage from that device was used in “Beneath” as well.

“Usually we added some sound so you are very aware that it is his camera. The actor actually shot a lot of his sequences. That was exactly the opposite, more of the found footage element which people like a lot nowadays,” he said.

Without having to use lights on set, Fessenden thought the shoot would move quickly, but it still took forever to set up a given shot: “And there were the actors just sitting out there on the boat under an umbrella so they didn’t bake.”

Actors dying for a role

Without giving too much away, several characters in “Beneath” end up as fish food. Fessenden shot the scenes in order so as their character was killed, they would leave and say their goodbyes. “I think it helped the actors feel that loss over the course of the shoot and over the course of the story,” he explained.

In some ways, the performers each get a star turn before meeting their maker. Griffin Newman, for instance, generates some big laughs before he is tossed into the lake. His character doesn’t opt for a heroic, self-sacrificing end, however.

“I love that shot. I specifically cut to it; there was no other take that showed that little bit of business. It’s almost its own shot, to get that in,” Fessenden said.

On the other hand, actress Mackenzie Rosman had to stay in the boat covered in what appears to be her own gore.

“Typical of my kind of directing, I literally asked her to stay an extra day to lie under the towel. Normally, you’d put a mannequin there, and yet I just felt having her there would look more realistic,” the director said. “That’s always a funny thing, when you become a prop as an actor after you are dead and they still need you as a corpse.”

Produced by Glass Eye Pix, “Beneath” is available on VOD.

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