Back in the Big Chair – Director Kimble Rendall on his ’90-minute popcorn film’, shark thriller Bait 3D

Director Kimble Rendall on the set of BAIT 3D.

Director Kimble Rendall is under no illusions about the artistic or social merits of his ‘sharks in a supermarket’ horror thriller Bait 3D. It’s a 90-minute popcorn film,” he says matter-of-factly. “You’re not trying to solve all the problems of the world!” Which made it even more surprising when it was announced that the prestigious Venice International Film Festival had selected Bait 3D for its out-of-competition midnight screening slot.

“I was just working on my emails and this invitation to Venice popped up as an email,” explains Rendall. “I thought, ‘this is unusual – this can’t be real! A 3D horror movie being invited to a prestigious festival like Venice.’ But it was real. So off we went. I talked to the director of the festival and asked him why we were chosen, and he said they really wanted to make the festival different; change the mix and have a range of entertaining stuff.”

Which begs the question, who sent a copy of Bait 3D into the festival for consideration? “I hadn’t, but somebody had,” says Rendall. “I think it was Screen Australia, one of the investors in the film, who screened it to the Venice selector when he came out to look at all the Australian films. He picked ours, and so we became one of fifty films worldwide to be in festival. It’s very gratifying. We had a midnight screening in one of the big cinemas there and it was the first time I’d seen the film with a whole lot of people. The horror fans came and they loved it, screaming at the scary bits! The Italian press seemed really positive and now it’s a big release in Italy. It’s all over the place there, with bulletin boards and videos on railway stations. Huge!”

Which is not to say everyone is going to love this unashamedly cheesy shark thriller, which many critics are saying is not quite cheesy, gory or scary enough to qualify for full-blown B-movie glory. No matter. The film is getting a huge release on 1,700 screens in China, as well as in numerous other territories, including Italy, Germany, Cambodia and Russia. Teenage girls all over the world will get to gleefully clutch their boyfriends’ arms as they watch the stalking Great White sharks pick off the survivors from the submerged supermarket shelves, one by one. It’s no spoiler to reveal that lead actor, heartthrob Xavier Samuel, will survive to see another day.

Tall, amiable and unpretentious, Kimble Rendall is veteran of the music and film industries and over the past four decades has been able to spread his skills across a huge range of projects – from being a starting member of bands XL-Capris and The Hoodoo Gurus in the 70s and 80s, to editing at the ABC and the BBC, working on documentaries, current affairs and drama. As a freelance editor he produced and cut Essie Coffey’s award-winning 1978 documentary My Survival as an Aboriginal. Then came a high profile career as a hugely commercials director (for which he won a Cannes Lion) and a music video director for bands such as Mental as Anything, Cold Chisel, the Angels and Hunters and Collectors. “My two passions are music and film and I’ve always done the two simultaneously,” he explains, “starting from when I was about twelve, making experimental films and playing guitar. When I was playing in a band at night, I was editing during the day. Then I did music videos that led out of that. It’s kind of a stereotypical path now – to move from music videos to film, but I was doing it back then.”

Rendall’s first feature as director was Australian teen comedy horror film Cut (2000), starring Molly Ringwald, Jessica Napier and featuring Kylie Minogue. Produced by Mushroom Pictures and Beyond Films, Cut was not a critical or commercial success in Australia, but it was sold to all markets in the world, with particular success in France and Hong Kong.

Rendall’s career as an above-the-title  film director stalled at this point, but took off in another highly successful direction – as a Second Unit director on high budget Hollywood productions, from the Matrix sequels, to I Robot, Casanova, Ghost Rider and Knowing. While the first unit on a film typically shoots the key drama between principal actors, a second unit (which has its own cinematographer and director) films action sequences and pickups not requiring the key actors. Asked for his advice on second unit directing, Rendall says exuberantly, “You’ve got to love blowing things up! Boys’ toys, fast cars and all that jazz. It is great fun.”

Having said that, Rendall intially resisted the move to second unit directing. “When I was offered the Matrix work, I thought ‘I don’t really want to just go and do Second Unit on somebody else’s films. I want to direct my own films!’ Then a friend of mine, Steve Owen, who’s an AD who does all this assistant directing work on all these big films, he rang me and said ‘you’re an idiot. I’ll ring you back and ask you again. This is Warner Bros and it’s a great opportunity.’ So I went into that world of Hollywood filmmaking and it was just incredible, being on the set, working with Woo-ping [Yuen], the Hong Kong action guy who was largely responsible for bringing all that into Western filmmaking. He’s the master of this. He’s got a team of ten, and he sat next to me and I got to see how they do it. You learn how to do things on a big scale. It ended up being a good thing for me. For the last ten years I’ve just worked for Hollywood studios– haven’t worked for Australian films at all, and I’ve gone all around the world doing second unit. I worked with Lasse Halstrom on Cassanova and was in Venice for six months, and it was just amazing. A director normally doesn’t get to see how another director works, but working second unit you get to watch all these great directors and see how they work.”

Before the sharks came… Actors Sharni Vinson and Xavier Samuel play young lovers in BAIT 3D.

Rendall admits it felt very good to be “back in the big chair” as a director. “I loved it. On Bait everybody else was down in the water on the shelves and I had my own little area above it all. I got to sit up there and shout down at everyone with my microphone!” Asked whether this made the cold and wet cast feel a little bit grumpy, Rendall says, “They were wet all the time, and yes, at times a little bit grumpy. Phoebe (Tonkin) and Cariba (Heine) have spent most of their careers in the water being mermaids in television series H2O, so this was nothing new for them. We  had to keep the water the right temperature and we looked after them and paid a lot of attention to make them as comfortable as possible. They were all a great bunch. At times they’d get a bit tense, but I’d just use that – it was quite good for the characters! As time went on, and some of the characters would get eaten – because we shot in sequence – I always played a special song for them as they went. Dan Wyllie’s song was [Talking Heads’] ‘Psycho Killer’ – and then they were gone! Suddenly there was one less actor in the room.”

Dan Wyllie in BAIT 3D

Originating from an idea by Russell Mulcahy (the director of Razorback and Highlander, who is credited here as co-writer and executive producer), Bait 3D follows a group of people trapped in a flooded Gold Coast supermarket after a freak tsunami washes in, along with a bunch of trapped killer sharks. The cast includes Australian actors turned Hollywood up-and-comers like Xavier Samuel, Julian McMahon, Phoebe Tonkin, Sharni Vinson and Cariba Heine, as well as Aussie stalwarts Dan Wyllie and Martin Sacks. Various degrees of seriousness are adopted by these actors – from Samuel’s ‘straight as a die’ heroics to Wyllie’s hilariously broad depiction of a crazy ocker criminal. Speaking of actors, the animatronic sharks behave in ways that serious shark experts may question. For instance, they have inexhaustible appetites for human flesh and a tendency to leap very high out of the water to crunch a body in half.

Rendall is philosophical. “There are a couple of maneuvers that real sharks might not make.  But it’s a horror movie. It’s a supermarket where the laws are reversed; the shoppers are the food source for the sharks. The sharks in our movie had to eat people, and had to be hungry!”

Bait 3D’s main claims to fame within the Australian industry include the fact that it’s the first Australia/Singapore co-production and first 3D genre feature to be shot in Australia. “We tried to make it a 3D movie that was good to watch,” explains Rendall. “Sometimes 3D can be a bit alienating and give you a ‘brain tear’ they call it. It can give you a bit of a headache. We tried to make it very comfortable to watch. You’re totally immersed in the world of the movie and then suddenly there’s 3D elements.” It’s true the 3D effects appear judiciously sprinkled throughout and at their best they are pleasingly shocking: the dispersal of blood in the water before your eyes; or the appearance of millions of tiny crab-like sea creatures crawling in front of you.

Phoebe Tonkin and Martin Sacks play an estranged daughter and father in BAIT 3D.

“This is my first experience with 3D,” says Rendall, who admits the challenges. “Not many people in Australia have used it yet. It’s the first 3D horror feature to be made here and the first 3D experience for most of the crew. There’s two cameras one for the right and left eye. And they have to into this box that’s as big as that chair over there. Each camera weighed 64 kilos and we had to put it on a crane that could hardly hold it and then balance everything. Getting the cameras into position they have to have cable running  into them and stereographers running around and so forth, and you’ve got to have a whole entourage to set it up. But once it’s all set up, you have these big beautiful screens and you can actually see what you’re doing in 3D which is really good as a director. I can’t understand why anyone wouldn’t want to do it in 3D if you had the chance. It is a bit more time-consuming – like changing lenses takes you an hour, whereas on a normal camera you can do it in about five minutes. You’ve got two cameras and you’ve got to line them up. If they get out of alignment that causes real problems. We had these  great zoom lenses, so we just stuck on those. We had lots of clever ways of dealing with supposed problems. For instance, the problem of moisture in the cameras because we were shooting round water: we invented these little fans to get rid of the moisture. Lots of things like that. We’re just clever Aussies. We worked it out.”

One of the aspects of the film which may cause irritation for Australian audiences is the mix of local and American accents – sometimes, inadvertently, within the one performance. Rendall explains the rationale for the mix of American and Australian accents. “Originally we were going to make all the accents American. It was a directive that came from the American sales company and they said ‘It’s very hard to understand Australian accents and we cannot sell the film. Broad Australian accents don’t work.’  Most of the young actors we were casting do work in America anyway, and for them it’s no big deal to do American accents. We thought only Australians will pick it up anyway. So we did it all and then we looked at it and thought, ‘Hmm,  it’s set in Australia, some characters  could be American and some could be Australian. So we just worked out for each character and went back to having some Australian accents and some American accents. That’s how it came about.”

Kimble Rendall at the 2012 Venice International Film Festival, wearing 3D glasses. Photo: AFP

Rendall is unapologetic about the decision. “It was about selling the film. I think we should be making more of these kind of films because there’s an audience for them, and we’ve got to make films you can sell. Filmmakers  have got to think ‘how do I market my film?’ and sometimes you have to do things like this with the accents  – if it’s not going to wreck the film – to make it sell internationally, instead of just making it for Australia. We were lucky. We sort of got away with it. With some films it would just be too silly.”

So, does Rendall mind the ‘Ozploitation’ genre tag? “Hmm, people are calling it ‘Sharksploitation’ but I’m not sure about that. It is also about the drama of the characters as well, so do you call it ‘people-sploitation’? But let’s face it, it is about sharks in a supermarket, so I guess we’ll have to go with that.” He grimaces, and says slowly, “‘Oz-ploi-tation”. Then continues. “Well, it reminds me of when I did some photo shoots in China and Italy and they asked me to put on the 3D glasses for the photo, and I thought, ‘Oh no, this is going to be the only photo of me that anyone ever looks at for the rest of my life – me standing around with 3D glasses on!’ Then I thought, well, it is a 3D movie. What the hell? You can’t be too precious about all this stuff!”

Xavier Samuel with big gun in BAIT 3D.

Bait 3D – Fast Facts

  • Bait is the first Australian 3D action genre production as well as the first ever co-production between Australia and Singapore.
  • Bait was filmed on the Gold Coast at Warner Roadshow Studios.
  • The budget was an estimated $A20 million, with investment by Singapore’s Media Development Authority and Blackmagic design, as well as Screen Australia and Screen Queensland.
  • The film’s international premiere was a midnight screening at the 2012 Venice International Film Festival on Saturday, 1 September, 2012.
  • Bait is releasing in Australia on 20 September 2012 (through Paramount), as well as in other territories, including Italy, Singapore, China, Germany and the US. In some territories it is known as Shark 3D.
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Bait 3D – Key Cast & Crew

Director: Kimble Rendall
Writers: Russell Mulcahy and John Kim
Producers: Gary Hamilton, Todd Fellman & Peter Barber
Executive Producers: Chris Brown, Ian Maycock, Mike Gabrawy, Ying Ye, Russell Mulcahy
Key Cast: Xavier Samuel, Julian McMahon, Sharni Vinson, Phoebe Tonkin, Lincoln Lewis, Alex Russell, Cariba Heine, Adrian Pang, Qi Yuwu, Martin Sacks, Alice Parkinson
Director of Photography: Ross Emery
Production Designer: Nicholas McCallum
Editor: Rodgrigo Balart
Composers: Joe Ng & Alex Oh
Visual Effects Supervisor: Marc Varisco
Special Effects Designer & Shark Designer: Steven Boyle
Sound Designer: Robert Mackenzie
Costume Designer: Phill Eagles
Key Makeup and Hair Designer: Shane Thomas