Shark Week is well underway, and on Friday Air Jaws: Night Stalker is on the fin-tastic lineup.
Narrated by Game of Thrones star Lena Headey, the program tracks shark expert Jeff Kurr, biologist Neil Hammerschlag, and photographer Chris Fallows as they investigate how great white sharks effectively hunt at night. It marks the eighth Air Jaws turn for Fallows.
“Some of the findings that come out in the show are breakthrough because people have been studying great whites for many years now, and it’s not easy to find something that’s really new to science,” Fallows tells EW, adding that this one is amongst the “most beautiful” they’ve done. “[Hammerschlag’s work] really adds intellectual elements that I think people feel have been missing in many shark shows.”
Here, Fallows expands on Air Jaws: Night Stalker, explaining why great white sharks hunting at night is the focus, how he strikes a balance in showing the predators as both fierce and majestic, what Cersei Lannister, err Headey, brings as the voice of the program, and more.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: Now in its eighth go-around, Air Jaws has become a recognizable and favorite part of Shark Week. What is it about this particular series that you think has captured audiences?
CHRIS FALLOWS: The great white shark is undoubtedly the most well-known shark on the planet and arguably the most well-known animal on the planet. When you’ve got great white sharks that not only swim in the ocean, but fly out of the water and take these spectacular bursts of athleticism, I think that really captures the world’s imagination. We’ve been very fortunate to have a lot of very good scientists involved in the documentary, and there’s the intellectual quality of the programming and some of the best marine wildlife cinematographers. Jeff Kurr…Andy Casagrande have really [contributed] interesting material to the viewers’ screens in a truly beautiful, cinematographic way. The combination of amazing shots of the most iconic species with great filmmakers and a good, intelligent storyline to go with it, I think that’s really been the key to the documentaries’ amazing longevity.
Speaking of the cinematography, the visuals are always really stunning. What do you set out to accomplish aesthetically with these shows, and more specifically, how do you want the sharks to look?
From my own standpoint, I like the animals to be conveyed as the majestic predators they are, to show all the different sides of their behavior; not just the exciting predatory components, but how these animals are completely in control of their environment. Then from a filmmaking perspective, you want to try and show it not only in an engaging, entertaining way, but as [our filmmakers] have done so well, in a way that’s truly beautiful. They pay incredible attention to detail with all the shots…even the small shots. Those shots take hours to achieve. The end product generally has a fantastic flow going through it, from the most basic things to the ultimate, incredible money shots that we usually have at the end.
You’ve been studying great white sharks hunting in total darkness for years now. Why was this was an area of interest for you in the first place, and why did you want it to be the focus here?
You start out [studying] sharks during the day, you answer those questions, and ultimately the most difficult environment to study them is not necessarily just below the surface of the ocean, but below the surface of the ocean at night. It’s an environment that I think keeps a lot of people away. And certainly when you’re studying an animal that can meld in and out of the background like a white shark likes to do at night is very difficult, so you take all the expertise you’ve gained through the years and try to learn about them at night. What’s really helped us to do that now is how technology has advanced. Several years ago, we got a glimpse into the night life, but with the cameras we use now you really turn night into day and that gives us a real insight into what’s actually going on out there. We couldn’t do that 15 years ago.
In a different role than we’re used to, Lena Headey narrates. What does she bring as the voice of this Air Jaws installment?
The show needs to be a sum of all its parts. It needs to have the dramatic action of the behavior [and] the cinematography that really catches the beauty and essence of the animal. Then the voiceover needs to be in line with the quality of the rest of the show, and certainly we have great narration — it ties all the parts up so beautifully. Lena’s voice adds credibility to everything else that’s going on. She’s got a very concerning voice, a voice that…also [has] a little bit of mystery. And with white sharks at night, there’s a lot of mystery. It’s a sexy animal as well, so it compliments everything.
You said earlier that making the animals seem majestic is important, but this documentary sees you freediving at night, which seems pretty intense and scary (see a clip here). How do you strike the balance between showing great white sharks as fierce predators without vilifying them?
I try to put myself in situations where people think the sharks are going to come in and chew me to pieces…by getting in the water with them at night or on a kayak or on a paddle board or whatever the case may be and show that these animals don’t just rush in and grab me. It speaks volumes of their actions. It’s easy to stand on a boat and say they don’t do it, but when you put yourself in that position where you are vulnerable and they don’t do it, it adds credence to what you say. From our side, everything we do is on a calculated basis. I’ve spent a very significant part of my life working with these animals and [have seen] very clearly that these animals are not after the intention of [hunting] every human and eating them, so it’s trying to educate people through our action. At the same time, you have to have an entertainment component to the show, and I guess people found it interesting that you can get into the water with them at night and interact with them.
What will you be studying next?
I’m always looking for new angles and one of the things that I’m learning from different films of wildlife is that every single, individual animal out there, just like every single, individual human, has a unique personality. We’ve all got our own styles and ways of doing things, and when people can associate mannerisms of animals with what we do, it creates a relationship where you don’t just see them as wild creatures intent on killing things. You actually anthropomorphize them and create a relationship with them, so we try to do that more and more to show the human characteristics to these animals. I basically want to take people to far-flung parts of the planet away from the conventionally known great white shark aggregation so I can show them great white sharks in some of the most amazing cities and hopefully they [show] new behavior that hasn’t been seen before. I think that’s going to be one of the focuses to come, and Jeff always has some crazy ideas to get me in the water with these sharks doing lots of different things. I’m sure we’ll conjure up a few more ways to try and get me killed, and hopefully I’ll survive those too.
Air Jaws: Night Stalker airs Tuesday, June 28 at 10 p.m. ET on Discovery.