47 METERS DOWN: UNCAGED
In the summer of 2017, Claire Hold and Mandy Moore starred in the contained,
claustrophobic shark thriller, 47 Meters Down. The nail-biting adventure was
made for just $5M, but went on to become the most successful independent movie
of the summer, grossing over $62M at the worldwide box office.
However, the story behind the movie's success had just as many twists, turns,
and surprises as on screen. Originally planned as a VOD release (under the title
"IN THE DEEP"), Entertainment Studios recognized the film's full potential and
purchased the rights a week before the digital release to turn it into the
theatrical franchise it has become.
"We thought it was dead in the water, really," admits director Johannes Roberts,
who returned for the supersized sequel. "So when it landed and people were
coming out to see it, it was amazing."
Despite a slew of setbacks-- different VOD title, physical copies spread around
the world and on pirating sites-- millions still swarmed the theaters to
experience the flesh-gouging horror on the big screen. A feat that's nearly
"Audiences, no pun intended, have a huge appetite for a good shark movie," says
Byron Allen, who in 1993 founded Entertainment Studios, based in Los Angeles. In
2016, Allen created Entertainment Studios Motion Pictures to expand into film
Acquiring the North American rights to 47 Meters Down was the division's first
dip into the market. "I've always appreciated shark movies and know that the
audience appreciates them," says Allen. "We came across the movie that Johannes
had made and found it really strong. It turned out really well for us."
Producer, Mark Lane, also confesses that its success was a surprise. "But it was
a pleasant surprise!" he grins. "We don't often hear about small British films
like that working so well at the American box office. It was a bit surreal to
experience it. We knew 47 Meters Down would, at worst, be a very good home
entertainment title, and at best... well, that's what we got!"
Go Big or Go Home
With $62m in the bank and fans around the world eager to see more people get
torn apart by Great White sharks, a sequel was greenlit. Writer/director
Johannes Robert, his co-writer Ernest Riera, and the rest of the 47 Meters Down
team were excited to dive back into shark-infested waters.
"Byron had the first option and was keen to do it once the first one was
released," says Lane, before assuring us that, "47 Meters Down: Uncaged has the
whole new dimension of cave diving, which is hopefully something nobody has seen
"This movie will definitely take audiences for a ride," Allen says. "It's a lot
bigger and with a lot more action. And it's very unique: some young ladies go
diving into an underwater cave system and they get caught down there with some
very nasty sharks. It's quite interesting in how they navigate or try to
navigate, to safety. And it's a lot of fun."
Director Roberts, "trained up to be a cave diver on weekends, because [he] knew
[he] wanted to do a cave-diving movie."
He says that "47 Meters Down: Uncaged is very different from the first one.
These four girls - two step-sisters and two friends - basically take a day by a
lake in Mexico. One of the sisters is the daughter of an archaeologist working
on this underwater mine city, mapping it out, and these girls all have basic
dive skills, so they decide to go down to look at the first entrance. And then
the tunnel collapses and they're trapped." Roberts flashes a shark-like grin
before staying that, "they are not alone in there! So there's claustrophobia,
plus sharks! It's pretty fucking scary."
Allen is so confident in the stomach-churning sequel, he plans to cast a wide
net for the US opening. "We're talking 3500-plus screens," for the summer
Casting the Net
Roberts says "I started with the idea of the girls in the caves, but I didn't
have the emotional content." Roberts and Riera made it their mission to go where
many horror movies haven't gone before -- creating three-dimensional female
characters with relatable arcs. "It became Mean Girls, but with Sharks! It has a
teen vibe. You have two step-sisters who don't like each other, and one is
bullied, and it resolves itself throughout the movie to a really cool ending
that turns it all on its head. So that I really enjoyed - taking a John Hughes
template and putting it into the world of sharks."
While the sharks in 47 Meters Down: Uncaged are computer-generated, the cast had
to be flesh and blood (even if that flesh and blood would eventually be
scattered throughout the water halfway through the film).
"Casting the movie was a collaborative effort," says Allen. "We all worked
together as a team, and I think everybody's happy with the outcome. We're
introducing the next generation of movie stars."
"They're all great actors," nods Harris, before Roberts jumps in to stress just
how important it was that 47 Meters Down fed audience's emotions as much as it
fed the Great Whites.
The film gave four talented actresses the unique opportunity to star in a
leading role. Each of them brought something special to the table.
"Sophie Nelisse had just done The Book Thief; she's an incredibly talented
actress," Roberts states. "Corinne Foxx is just starting. She's Jamie Foxx's
daughter and she has real charisma. We met her and she just had this amazing...
she's quite intense, but a really beautiful, talented actress. A subtle actress.
Brianne Tju is in the TV show Light As a Feather, which is a big hit. She's
very, very talented. You turn the camera on her and bam, she's there. And
Sistine Stallone is the interesting one. She really hadn't done anything. She's
Sylvester Stallone's daughter, and she just has this incredible energy. When she
came in, she was electric. Incredibly physical. The way all of them dealt with
the underwater stuff was amazing."
The actresses lived like fish, spending most of their days underwater.
"The hardest part was the exhaustion, every day," says Stallone, whose Nicole,
is fearless until she encounters a situation where fear is 100% mandatory.
"You'll be in the water 40 minutes and it feels like two hours. It's so
draining, constantly screaming and inhaling all of the oxygen. It's exciting
while you do it, but the moment you step out [of the water], you feel like
you've been hit by a truck."
"We were uncomfortable [underwater, in scuba gear], so a lot of the acting is
done for us," laughs Foxx, whose Sasha, is the epitome of a scaredy-cat. "You
are in your own world in that little mask. You can't communicate, or get notes,
so you have to talk yourself up. In between takes, you're just sitting there in
Nelisse, who plays bullied Mia, Sasha's step-sister, agrees that "you have to
manage your breathing around when the others talk, or you can't hear them. But
you want to breathe! You all need to know each other's lines. It's a weird
However, the actresses found ways to have a good time while they worked. "We
couldn't talk in the water so we wrote stuff in the sand to each other,"
continues Nelisse. "And sometimes we just gathered together and cried because we
were all so exhausted!"
Tju, meanwhile, whose Brianne, like her BFF Nicole, is an adrenaline junkie,
drew attention to the fact that their diets suffered consequences, too.
"First week, I had a banana between takes" she recalls. "You don't have time to
digest, and as soon as I got in the water I thought, 'Oh my god, I could throw
this up', and I had to force myself not to. You have to drink a lot of water
because you're constantly moving. We'd leave the tank for lunch, but for the
most part, we'd stay in the tank the rest of the day as it's quicker. You don't
want to be walking around in wet clothes and changing and stuff. And it's cold
in London, so you stay warm in the tank. We've learned to meditate underwater.
I've nearly fallen asleep underwater a few times!"
Shooting to Thrill
Before the box office triumph of the first movie, UK production house, Tea Shop
Productions, created a Mayan city from scratch in a Basildon water tank--
filming the breathtaking exteriors in the Dominican Republic.
The Dominican Republic again provided the gorgeous backdrop for the beginning
and closing sequences of Uncaged. The warm sun, white sand, lush vegetation, and
sparkling blue waters were unparalleled. The underwater scenes were captured
back in the UK at Basildon and the legendary, Pinewood Studios.
"When we shot it in Pinewood, my trailer would look out on all the Star Wars
stuff," recalls Roberts with a child-like grin. "We had both underwater stages
at Pinewood and Basildon. Nobody had ever done this before - we built an
underwater city and had to find ways of building whole sets. We built a
staircase that was two tonnes of iron and it floated. It's like, 'How is that
Production designer David Bryan upped the ante with eye-widening underwater sets
that top the first film's. A Mayan city, labyrinthine tunnels, towering pillars,
spiraling stone staircases, imposing statues, and intricate carvings that only
look better when covered in our characters' blood and guts. The centerpiece is
'The Altar', a spectacular cave where the Mayans once made human sacrifices.
Don't worry, humans will be sacrificed here again.
"Audiences can expect a lot of the spirit of the first film, but everything's
dialed up to 11," says Lane. "Character, situation, thrills - everything's been
pumped. The first film was a calculated two-hander in a barren location. It was
deliberately stripped back to allow us to make it on a budget. This one? Well,
there's a reason the film's called Uncaged! The gloves are off. Everywhere you
look, there's something interesting, and something that both characters and
sharks are going to be challenged by."
Outpost VFX created the revolutionary computer-generated Great White Sharks that
torment our heroines. We've moved on from the old-world process of, "mixing real
footage with special effects [because] it just looks hokey," explains Roberts,
though there was a mechanical shark that came in handy for scaring the cast and
crew. The film was as fun to make as it is to watch.
Tju shudders. "In the first week, Johannes said, 'Bria, go look in the cave just
so we can get the shot.'' I look in and there's a shark head in there. I've
never felt that genuinely scared. I screamed, and all the divers were laughing
"I'm actually terrified of sharks, so I spent the whole time looking around,
going, 'Am I going to get eaten?'" says Foxx. "I genuinely feel the fear all the
time. And they had this mechanical shark they played around with, and sometimes
they'd put him places. We'd swim into the tank and the shark would be in a cave
However, the practical jokes, mixed with the weeks spent underwater, left the
actresses wary about jumping back into the water anytime soon.
Foxx says that she's, "going to have to start with a shower, and then a bathtub,
and then a pool, and work my way up to the ocean," she offers, while Tju says,
"I will definitely take a break from all bodies of water for now," and Foxx
states, "My time in the water is over." Nelisse's wide eyes and white face speak
Fears aside, everyone agreed that the cast was as professional as the veteran
actresses who proceeded them.
"Everyone did a remarkable job," Allen confirms. "It wasn't an easy shoot.
Filming is difficult, period, and when you add the element of shooting
underwater, you make it more difficult. But we've really got ourselves a
terrific film. Audiences will be very pleased. It takes it to the next level."
"The thing that was important, given the shoot they had to do, was they had to
have the right mindset," explains Harris. "It was a brutal schedule - seven or
eight weeks of diving and climbing and fighting. It would take down most
hardcore, fit, physical actors. And it's not without risk. Every safety
precaution is taken, but it's not like turning up and doing a film in a living
room. Everything is six or seven meters underwater!"
"Some of the stuff they were doing was way beyond what I've done," says Roberts,
a scuba diver of 15 years' experience. "Sophie's breathing air bubbles off the
tip of the set, with no oxygen rigs. It's pretty crazy cave-diving stuff they
"It's a MUCH bigger movie, budget-wise and scale-wise," concludes Roberts. "It's
Aliens to Alien in its outlook. What audiences will be getting is a ride. A
proper rollercoaster. These four girls are trapped in basically your worst
nightmare - in a cave system, underwater, air running out, and Great Whites!
It's definitely breaking new ground for shark movies. And it's just a lot of
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