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The Reef: Interview with writer/director/producer Andrew Traucki

Based on true events that occurred in Queensland in the 1980s, The Reef is an intense Australian thriller that follows a group of people who are hunted by a great white shark.  Writer/director/producer Andrew Traucki discusses his career, his thoughts on Australian cinema and the thriller/horror genre, and his experiences during the film’s production.

How long have you been working in the film industry?

I did a Communications Degree at Macquarie University and I started making music clips, corporate videos and then a small TV series. Then it all got a bit too hard so I went into interactive media, but I was always writing. At one stage I worked at Screen Australia, which was good because I got to read a lot of scripts, and I learnt a lot about my script writing approach while I was there. I made Black Water [a thriller about a crocodile] in 2007, and then I made this film.

What are your thoughts on Australian cinema?

I feel that we have gone too far doing these dramas. I can understand it because Hollywood is so successful at making genre films that we’re all scared of doing it, and rightly so, because it’s got so much money behind it… but I want to make movies that people will go and see. I don’t think that genre’s a dirty word, so why not make Australian style genre, rather than American style? My films fight against the grain on those American conventions. I don’t have four kids that are all going to get sliced and diced – my characters have a personality. So it’s just bringing in an Australian-ism to genre, to make it our own thing. We need to take it and shape it into our own voice.

What is it about ‘creature’ thrillers that you are particularly interested in?

It’s not about the creatures – it’s about true survival stories that are based in Australia. I am fascinated with true-life survival stories. I find them very compelling.

Do you think this film might steer viewers away from the ocean?

I take the view that this is a scary film, but ultimately it’s just a film. I surf, and I’ve seen things that I can’t describe [in the ocean], so I get the feeling that sharks are around, but that they don’t often attack. Even though those images of filming these big creatures are still in my head, they haven’t stopped me from surfing.

Why do you think people like to be scared?

We all have this desire to see the forbidden and be scared, but we all want to do it from the safety of our own lounge rooms… so what a horror film/thriller does, is it allows us to go to a place that we normally wouldn’t be allowed to go, while knowing that we’ll be safe doing it.

Tension is important in thrillers – were you influenced by the ‘Master of Suspense’?

Yes, Hitchcock was a huge influence. I’m old school – gore to me is the last resort. Suspense is what it’s all about. Playing the game of letting people know there is a threat, without actually showing them… it’s about keeping the anticipation going as long as possible. I was trying to make people feel like they could be there in the water. Keeping it real was my main guiding force.

The acting is also a significant feature of a thriller – what was the casting process like?

I really believe that if you do your casting right, you’re 75% of the way there, so I spent a lot of time casting – but when I found these guys, it was just fantastic. They all just clicked, so I was really, really happy. I think they did a wonderful job.

Where was the film shot?

Mainly in Harvey Bay in Queensland, and a bit in Byron Bay. In this whole approach to being real, we shot it all in the sea. It was a very exhausting shoot, because it was six days a week, 10 hours a day, for four and a half weeks in the water. And you know if you lie in a bath for an hour you become a prune, so you can imagine what people’s bodies were doing. Then there was the fear of wondering what those splashes in the distance were! There were also lots of hazards – the weather would change, and the equipment and actors would drift away, and my script would dissolve. Water is quiet a difficult environment.

How have you publicised the film?

Back in 2009 during production, we came close to 10,000 people watching the live stream, which was a world first, because you could actually see us making the film. You could also talk to the actors and ask us questions, which went really well. It was a great way to launch the publicity while we were actually shooting. The film is being released in 106 countries across the world now. There’s also competition on the website at the moment where you can win a dive with a great white shark.

Visit www.reefmovie.com for further information. The Reef is released in theatres from March 17th.

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