We had the chance to sit down with Sanctum Writer/Producer Andrew Wight in Atlanta recently to talk about his new film with James Cameron. Sanctum is an epic D underwater adventure which follows a team of underwater cave divers on a treacherous expedition to the largest, most beautiful and least accessible cave system on Earth. When a tropical storm forces them deep into the caverns, they must fight raging water, deadly terrain and creeping panic as they search for an unknown escape route to the sea. Check out our interview with Andrew below!
I know you had a pretty intense caving experience, and that’s where a lot of the inspiration for this project came from. Can you tell me a little bit about that?
Andrew Wright: Well, I was leading a cave diving expedition, and it was on our last day. We were hauling gear out of the cave, and a storm came through the area and dumped a whole lot of rain. What started off as a trickle into the cave, which we got a camera and started filming, ended up flooding the cave and collapsing the cave entrance trapping 15 of us below ground for 2 days. I was one of the 15.
That was one of those life changing moments where you think, well this is going to be my last day on planet earth – it doesn’t quite turn out that way. Given the intensity of that experience, years later I thought not just the entrapment but the whole drama that plays out – that’d make a great movie one day. So I just held onto that thought for about 22 years [laughs], and here it is.
The relationship between the father and son, was that something that came from the same experience?
Andrew Wright: That didn’t come from that experience. That came from working with Jim (James Cameron). He was going through some trials and tribulations with his stepson at the time, who is about the age of the character in the movie. And he’s done lots of relationship-based stories which have mostly been male-female, but he’d never done a father-son story.
What’s fun about it, is that you can delve into these subjects and explore them in a way you can’t in real life. It’s like “let’s workshop this, let’s turn it into a movie and share it with everyone!”
So that’s kind of how that played out. When you’re making a documentary, you’re faithfully capturing everything that happened. What you can’t do is capture the interesting bits that you may have not filmed. What was hard about filming in the cave collapse was that it was pitch black dark and basically all this human drama going on – but nothing to show for it. So when you have the opportunity to make a movie about it, you don’t want to recreate that, because you’re not going to see anything. What’s interesting is to take the characters and explore them, so that other people can have a vicarious experience.
After your experience with cave diving, did it turn you off to it, or do you still do it?
Andrew Wright: I still do it. It absolutely didn’t turn me off. I probably did more of it. Because what happened from that day, I was then able to make a career out of making films. That dramatic event, although it nearly ended the lives of a lot of people, actually defined the film that we were making. If the collapse hadn’t had happened, then the documentary would have been “ah… that’s interesting, so what?” Whereas people getting trapped and might die “wow that’s interesting.”
So people kept saying to me, “Well what’s your next film?”
And I said “Ahhh… what do you mean?”
“Well you’re going to make another film aren’t you? You’re a filmmaker.”
And I really hadn’t thought about it, so that kind of started the whole filmmaking thing which eventually lead me to meeting Jim, and here I am making a movie.
Now the freak storm element, is that something that is common and how much preparation can you do to make sure you don’t end up in that situation?
Andrew Wright: Zero. That’s Mother Nature at work. We are in the driest continent on earth – the last place where you expect to really have a big rain storm. It just doesn’t really factor into your thinking at all. Always expect the unexpected.
What was the most challenging scene to shoot?
Andrew Wright: We did shoot some in real caves, and that was cold and challenging because I did a lot of the diving myself. I think all the underwater shooting we did was all very challenging for a number of reasons. Only one of the actors had ever dived before, so they all had to be taught how to dive. They all had to use very advanced diving equipment, so even for experienced divers – not very easy stuff. So they had to do that and also look like real cave divers, and they did a fantastic job at doing that. There was also a whole lot of safety considerations. People will say ‘oh if it’s in a tank…’ It doesn’t matter. You can drown in 10 feet of water. You don’t have to be out in the open ocean. In fact, it’s more likely to have an accident in a controlled environment, because people let their guard drop. They don’t pay as much attention.
Now you guys have this awesome screening truck you’ve been touring with and showing clips from the film. What have people’s reactions been thus far?
Andrew Wright: Very positive. I think they’re really surprised with the content of the story, and the fact that the 3D just immerses you in that world in just a more profound way – I think people are going ‘wow, this is a movie I really want to go see.’
Now speaking about the 3D aspect of it, it does make you feel like you’re in the environment. I think it could be a little intense for people that have claustrophobia issues. Have you see any of that?
Andrew Wright: I think there are people that will find that part of it a little intense, but it’s not deliberately made to be claustrophobic. It’s not like we’re making a film about spiders to scare the bejesus out of you. It’s just part of the experience. If it gets too much, just shut your eyes for a bit [laughs].
What are you future projects? Will you be doing more of these types of films?
Andrew Wright: Certainly more 3D films and certainly more adventures with Jim Cameron that’s on the horizon.
Sanctum hits theaters on February 4th, 2011
Interview By: Emma Loggins