MANEATER Interview: Producer Daemon Hillin Goes Behind-The-Scenes Of The Killer-Shark Movie

MANEATER Interview: Producer Daemon Hillin Goes Behind-The-Scenes Of The Killer-Shark Movie

To mark the theatrical and digital release of Maneater, producer Daemon Hillin sat down with Fear HQ to discuss how the shark film was made.

By DanielKlissmman - Aug 30, 2022 09:08 AM EST
Filed Under: Movies

Maneater, Saban Films and Hillin Entertainment’s new independent shark thriller, came out August 26th in theaters and on demand. The film, directed by Justin Lee, focuses on Jesse (Nicky Whelan), a woman who decides to go on an island vacation with her friends following her broken engagement. But unbeknownst to them, the island is being stalked by a great white shark hunting people for sport. 

Stranded in a far-away piece of land, Jesse and her companions are forced to fight for their lives as the shark stalks them. Luckily, they are not alone in their plight. Sea Captain Harlan (Trace Adkins) is on the hunt for the shark, and he teams up with Jesse to put an end to its rampage. 

To mark Maneater's release, we had the opportunity to talk with producer Daemon Hillin about the behind-the-scenes process of bringing the movie to life. 

Crafting A New Shark Thriller

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Independent filmmaking is a struggle, and it becomes even more challenging when adding an island setting and a killer shark into the mix. As Hillin explained, filming on the beach brought on a whole host of challenges normally not present on a regular set: 

"Logistically, it was one of the hardest movies ever. We were in the elements, there were high winds. The ocean is only calm for a certain time of day, where we were shooting in Maui. So, we had like, maybe five hours of calm water, and then, from there, the winds hiked up and the currents started, and it was hard to hold the boat in place. We had so many moving factors in the water. We had a huge safety team. [...] We were shooting in elements. It was beautiful, [...] but logistically, it was a very hard movie. [...] When you see all the boating stuff, we had actors on a catamaran, we had support boats, we had chase boats, we had safety men in the [water]. We had drones in the air. We had so many different factors, and so many different moving pieces. And it was hard. Just getting sound, like, trying to mic people and all these small details that you have in making a movie, it just increased [their difficulty]. So, it was a very trying movie. But [we] had a team that came together. They did it; they persevered. [...] It was an 18-day shoot, and everybody just hung on and got through it, and I’m very happy for that."

Then, there was the matter of creating the movie's titular shark. The initial plan was to use an animatronic creature: 

"Our director, Justin Lee, had a brilliant vision that I completely supported with trying to make a practical-shark movie, because there’s not a lot of them. Everything's CGI. So, we invested heavily in manufacturing and creating a mechanical [shark]. This shark was huge. It was six feet by six feet, and had all these working mechanisms to it. [...] It was very expensive for a very little budget. [...] So, when you take a physical shark—we had a great idea to do this. Now, implementing this great idea is another story. So, when we have to time tides, when you have all the forces of nature bearing down on you, and there’s a symphony of people running around trying to put this huge, mechanical piece in the water, it is daunting." 

Once in production, however, the team discovered the prop would simply not be practical with the type of action required from the creature:

"We had two to three puppeteers; we had a whole grip team running around; we had safety divers; we had all sorts of mechanisms running. And we found out that, when we're running the fin in the water, you really want that speed, but because of the water and the current, the fin's slower than you want it to go, or you find aspects in production that weren't conducive to how the scene was. So, you could only use bits and pieces of the physical shark, because [it just] wasn't coming across. And what we had to do was [replace] some of these aspects with CGI. It turned more into a CGI [film] than a physical-shark movie. [...] But we tried. I want to say we gave it our all to make the best practical-shark movie that you could. [...] [Everybody] on the team tried so hard to make something one way, and then we had to go kind of fix it another way."

Finding The Right Project

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The killer-shark genre is famously prolific, with films like Jaws, Deep Blue Sea, The Shallows and The Meg being some of its most famous offerings. Such a revisited genre may make finding original or captivating stories in it a challenge. Hillin, however, was attracted to make Maneater for two different qualities: Its premise and its setting. Regarding how the film was pitched and how its shooting location played a factor in picking it to be produced, he stated: 

"In putting together this film, we had one of our go-to directors, Justin Lee, and he had a very good sense of what we're looking for from a sales and distribution side. So, we felt very confident in going to Justin and [he] would provide us what we needed; multiple loglines to choose from, like a menu, that we could then, in turn, go and speak to our distributors about, [...] and hone in what's so special about this. And one of the things that drew us in was, of course, you want to go make a movie in a beautiful location.  [...] We thought we were gonna go to the Bahamas; that's what it was written for. But then, we ended up in Maui. So, we see these pieces, locations, were we wanna go in the world, and we define with location and with story what could sell commercially. That's what it was about."

As mentioned, the movie's premise also proved attractive to the producer. A story split between the plight of a group of friends fending off a shark, and the efforts of a mourning hunter to kill said creature hooked Hillin:

"[Maneater] had two stories going. We had the Harlan story, which is a gentleman [whose] daughter was brutally murdered by a shark. And then you have Nicky Whelan. Her character [just] broke up with her fiancé, and [she] and her friends go out on this beautiful boat, and then they start getting hunted by a shark. So, you have these two storylines merging. [...] It was a very cool concept, what Justin thought of these two stories converging in a beautiful place, getting hunted by a shark. We loved the idea, and we ran with it."

One of Maneater's standout aspects was its handling of the nature of the shark’s vicious attacks. The film made an effort to emphasize the fact that its antagonist's behavior was not common among sharks. The producer stated this piece of information was important for him to get across in order to respect the culture of their filming location: 

"[There are] also things we have to deal with when we shoot a movie, [such as] cultural sensitivity. [When] you're making a movie, and you're making it in an area where sharks are sacred, you have to make sure that you're following and working with the locals, [and] that you are culturally respecting [them]. Cultural respect is very important. So, we really needed to make that statement that this is a rogue shark. It's not a shark that is acting normal; it's out of the normal; it's killing people, and that's not the behavior of sharks. [...] [It] was very interesting; the balance. That's just another factor in producing."

Maneater is currently available to watch on demand. The film stars Nicky Whelan (Hall Pass, The Wedding Ringer), Trace Adkins (I Can Only Imagine, Old Henry) and Shane West (Gotham, A Walk to Remember). 

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