Horror-on-Sea interview with 6 Headed Shark co-writer and director Mark Atkins

6 Headed Shark (2018)

Director: Mark Atkins

Writers: Koichi Petetsky, Mark Atkins

Stars: Brandon Auret, Thandi Sebe, Cord Newman, Naima Sebe, Tapiwa Musvosvi

Attendees of a marriage boot camp on a remote island have to fight a 6-headed shark that attacks the beach.

Date & Venue: Sunday 13th January 20:00

Park Inn by Radisson Palace, Southend, Church Rd, Southend-on-Sea SS1 2AL, UK.

6 Headed Shark is a new action-horror from co-writer and director
Mark Atkins which has been selected to play at the Horror-on-Sea Film. I got a chance to ask Mark Atkins a few questions about what we can expect from the film.

Q. 6 Headed Shark has been selected to play at the Horror-on-Sea Film Festival. What can we expect from the film?

6-Headed Shark Attack was our love letter to insane over-the-top horror films. Everyone from cast to crew in production and post and visual effects went the extra mile to create a film that we hope will satisfy multi-headed shark movie fans with outrageous set-pieces and bloody action. In addition, we aimed to strike a chord in the audience with characters that have more depth than you might expect, as our protagonists struggle to keep their relationships afloat as the shark does its best to take them down. We hope it does what it says on the tin and a little more.

Q. You co-wrote the film with Koichi Petetsky. What were your influences when writing the latest installment in the series?

6-Headed Shark Attack was created by The Asylum partners David Latt, David Rimawi, Paul Bales and Development Executives, Anna Rasmussen and Delondra Williams. With a few multi-headed shark movies under their belts and a breakout series you may have heard of featuring a storm and some flying sharks, they have definite ideas about what they want to see in the franchise. Working with Koichi Petesky, we collaborated to create a film chock full of insane set pieces and hopefully engaging characters. We worked to create a movie that weaves over-the-top action, horror and comedy. One of my big influences on the script was the work of Taika Waititi. I loved Taika Waititi’s Thor Ragnorak (2017), which for me was a tour-de-force of action and comedy. The comedy brought something super original to that series, so we hoped in our own small way we could amp up the comedy and action in the multi-headed shark attack series to create something new and different from what has come before.  We put a lot of effort into the dialog to make the characters unique and enjoyable to watch and we focused on taking our aquatic star, the 6 Headed Shark, into new territory both literally and figuratively.  It will be up to the viewers to decide if we succeeded.

Q. What were your influences for the look and style of the film and apart from an additional head(s) how did you try to make it stand out as something different from the rest of the series? 

I wanted the look of the film to be big and colourful, so we used polarising filters to bring out the sky and water with wide framing to capture the characters in the environments which was the dramatic boulder-strewn landscape of the western cape of South Africa standing in for Baja California. The 6 Headed Shark necessitated a wide screen approach to accommodate all six heads in frame anytime the shark makes an appearance. I think visually one influence is Joon-ho Bong’s The Host (2006) hands down my favourite modern monster movie. The creature in The Host is one of the best I’ve seen and everything it does is original and memorable. I tried to take that concept as an influence and make any appearances by the 6-Headed Shark as outrageous and original as they can be, based off what we imagined our creature could do.

In terms of the other shark movies we tried to push the shark into new territory and worked to make the shark action completely insane, using a combination practical effects, stunts and visual effects in hopefully a visceral way that fans will enjoy. For one example, our Production Designer Ray Wahl built a set for below deck in our hero boat and we were able to destroy and flood it as part of the action. We also felt that the concept of too much blood was not going to come up as we utilized buckets practical blood and old-school blood cannons in our shark attacks.

Q. You have made several shark films, including Empire of the Sharks (2017) which played at Horror-on-Sea in 2018. What do you find appealing about the Shark genre?

First off I have to say how excited we are to be returning to Horror-on-Sea. When I first heard about the festival when we were finishing Empire of the Sharks, I felt that as a lover of the sea and horror this was the place for me. And now after having experienced the festival and getting to know the fans and Festival Director Paul Cotgrove and his team, we hope that 6-Headed Shark Attack punches the ticket with even more blood, gore and comedy!  

In terms of my relationship with the Shark genre, I have been fascinated with sharks and the ocean since childhood. I seriously considered marine biology but went to film school instead. While I was finishing school, I was fortunate to begin my film career working as an assistant cameraman for my aunt and uncle, Grace Niska and Paul Atkins who produce natural history films for BBC and National Geographic.  They specialised in apex ocean predators and I assisted loading film magazines and the like on their expeditions filming Great White Sharks and Killer Whales in the wild. As a result, I love working at sea and on boats, so these films give me an opportunity to do something I love. I have been lover of monster stories, horror and sci-fi since I was a kid. As a filmmaker I relish the challenge of making the unreal appear real.

In terms of the shark genre specifically I feel that as CGI has been democratized, shark films have been riffing and branching off in a unique way that other monster or creature features have not. I am not sure if there is an audience for 6-Headed werewolf, maybe someone can prove me wrong, but the shark genre provides a foundation that one can bounce off and make something different that hopefully audiences find entertaining.

Q. You have a varied background in filmmaking which include working with visual effects. Do you think this helps you as a director when you are dealing with special effects, especially when you are incorporating CGI effects post filming?

I think experience with visual effects is a big plus when making a film like 6-Headed Shark Attack where the hero creature of your film will be done in CGI. I have worked with some fantastic visual effects Supervisors and directors like Scott Wheeler and Glenn Campbell and I learned a ton from working with them on set and as time went by it made sense to start our own visual effect company. Having knowledge of visual effects while you are filming on set is important to prevent bottle-necks further down the line in post-production when it comes to realising the shots. On productions with these kinds of accelerated schedules anything that can be done to streamline artists workflow is appreciated. We were fortunate on 6-Headed Shark Attack to have a great VFX team headed by Visual Effects Supervisor Glenn Campbell and featuring fantastic work by multi-headed shark movie alumni Steve Clarke, Paul Knott, Joseph Lawson, Aine Graham, Matt Dean, Tammy Klein and the hero crew at The Asylum.  They worked on an insane and nearly impossible schedule to create the visual effects for the movie and my hats are off to them for bringing the 6-Headed Shark to life. 

Q. Did you make any changes during filming from your original script?

We worked from our original script, but we also were open to changes where we thought we could enhance a scene. We did a ton of improv with the dialog in rehearsals on set and if we discovered something, we liked we would shoot alternative takes. In this way scenes had several options that our editor Erica Steele could choose from and I think she knocked it out of the park with putting the scenes together.  We also benefited from a great ensemble cast with strong improv chops, a few of which like Brandon Auret, Thandi Sebe, Jonathan Pienaar and Tapiwa Musvosvi were in our previous shark movies and others like Cord Newman, Meghan Oberholzer, Chris Fisher, Naima Sebe, and Nikita Faber were new but all of them together created something special that we hope viewers will love.

Q. What was one of your favourite moments during the filming of 6 Headed Shark?

We had a ton of great moments filming 6-Headed Shark Attack but some of my most memorable ones occurred filming at sea. One day while we were filming a scene where Brandon Auret and Jonathan Pienaar row away from a sailboat, a super pod of hundreds of dolphins showed up barrelling through our filming location. We grabbed our cameras and started rolling using the dolphin stampede as a backdrop for Brandon and Jonathan rowing away to hunt the 6-Headed Shark. I can’t say the dolphins were required by the story in that scene, but it was quite a magical experience. By chance marine conservation photographer, Jean Tresfon was shooting aerials in his microlight and caught the spectacle on his camera. Our whole cast was there, and everyone got a kick out of it.

Q. With the added difficulty of having scenes in the water, did you experience any issues during filming?

They don’t call that part of South Africa the Cape of Storms for nothing! It was often a struggle to find a patch of calm water for filming and the captain and marine safety crew, aptly named Jaws Marine Crew, had to be constantly on the look-out for changes in the wind. On our last day of filming at sea the wind came up and we had to scramble to get back to the harbour, abandoning our location before we could complete our scheduled scene. We were able to come back the next day to try to finish but the wind increased so much that boats couldn’t even leave the docks safely, so we had to complete our filming. With the boat tied up at the dock which necessitated some interesting angles to hide the fact that we were no longer on the open ocean and now surrounded with the masts of a ton of docked boats in the harbour. 

Like Empire and Planet of the Sharks, we build a few floating sets for the movie. For 6-Headed Shark Attack our Production Designer Ray Wahl created the ruins of a floating lab. These sets worked out well, although we had to be ready to move them close to shore with the tide to prevent the ocean swell from wreaking havoc and creating a real ruin of them. 

The other factor we had to deal with was water temperature. Our main location was a place called Cape Columbine on the Western Cape of South Africa. We filmed at an eco-camp called Sea Shack right at water’s edge. The scenery is spectacular and worked to simulate a remote island, but it also has the coldest water pretty much of any area around Cape Town due to a local upwelling. Because of the water temperature, we had to minimise swimming scenes to as few takes as possible. The bone-chilling water made filming these scenes difficult and exhausting for the actors even with wet suits on it was very arduous. These were some of the obstacles we encountered filming on the ocean.

Q. Do you have any other projects which you are currently working on?

We always have scripts gestating in various stages of development. It is looking like our next project up is called Monster Mash, kind of a little movie with a big monster. It’s a Kaiju film set in the world of deep-sea mining. So, it brings us back to the sea in a way but now the monsters are much, much bigger.  I’m writing the script for The Asylum and we are looking to start production very soon in 2019.

Q. What advice would you give to someone who is looking to write and direct their own movie?

My biggest advice for writer/directors is to focus on your script. Equipment changes and technology eases the access to filmmaking tools, but the basics of storytelling stay the same. When I made my first feature, I was psyched about the technology, but I remember thinking that no-one is going to care what we shot the movie on if the script doesn’t work and they aren’t engaged with the characters. Read as many scripts as you can. And don’t be dogmatic with story rules but also don’t ignore the sages. It can’t hurt to take a peek at books like Robert McKee’s STORY and William Froug’s SCREEN-WRITING: TRICKS OF THE TRADE. These and many others have great nuggets of wisdom. 

The other thing I believe when you are making a film is to protect and honour your cast and crew.  These are your collaborators and partners on the journey. They work as many or more hours than you and if you’re lucky can become like second family. I feel supremely thankful for all the good folks I have gotten to work with over the years. And lastly, if you want to be able to make films, you must be successful at working with others. You must be someone others will want to work with. Be open to ideas and keep your ego in check. I look forward to seeing your creations!  

Congratulations if you made it to the end of this interview. I hope it inspires you to dive into the world of 6-Headed Shark Attack and if you can, come to our screening and check out the fantastic selection of films at Horror-on-Sea!  

You can find out more about 6 Headed Shark on the Facebook page here

You can find out more about the feature films playing at Horror-on-Sea Film Festival and details of tickets on the website.

Philip Rogers

Philip Rogers

Published in various websites, Philip is a reviewer who is best known for his interviews and media coverage of independent projects including; films, books, theatre and live events. Always on the lookout for something different to cover!