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Sand Shark Or Not We See Ourselves When We See “All Is Lost”

January 18, 2014

As a USCB student I know that nothing makes a Monday more complete than having an indie film to fill the hours of the evening. Yet it would be hard to dream that a movie entitled “All Is Lost” would bring completeness to anything. However independent film “All Is Lost” did just that and so much more.

All Is Lost

Monday night, the USCB Center for the Arts became alive as the building filled with a sea of movie goers excited to watch actor Robert Redford in his performance of a man shipwrecked and stranded in the middle of the Indian Ocean. This film spoke fluently in my language which happens to be (particularly as a USCB Sand Shark) the language of water. In Beaufort we are surrounded by these magnificent bodies, and on occasion I myself have enjoyed a sea tossed adventure into the Atlantic to fish with my father. Yet sea tossed takes on another life in “All Is Lost”.

I cannot recall much about the leading up to the dimming of the audience lights that Monday night, or the length of previews, as the venture of “All Is Lost” has permanently submerged itself into all the spaces of my memory and mind. The images of this man, wading through the water sinking his boat, weighed itself upon my heart, feelings, and thoughts. And it remains almost a struggle to write about this film for its indescribable content and power. It perhaps reminds me of discovering a lovely little diner with excellently delectable pie… the best way you can share this experience with someone is for that person to go to the diner and bite into this pie themselves. 

Interview with actor Robert Redford and Director J.C. Chandor on "All Is Lost"

You may know my capability and even tendency to give a blow by blow of moments I live, eager to express and share the wonders and magnificent corners of the air we breathe. I could easily do this with the film, the story, “All Is Lost” but you would perhaps break your finger scrolling downward for a week with how incredibly long the blog would be (even though there are few to no words in the 1 hours and 40 minute about film). In addition to this it would remain an injustice both to the story and the actual experience you embark on with the character (deciphered in script as OurMan) on board...and off.

However, I will share that I found myself in two main positions through the film and that was either being pulled onto the edge of my seat or pressing back into the weight of the seat intended to support me forward! I was amazed, I was inspired, I laughed and murmured, smirked and sighed, held my face in my hands in shock, covered my mouth in desperation, and tears surfaced to my eyes in indescribable moments that inundated me into complete helplessness….

My mind whirled with the storms (Our Man) the man we found ourselves with faced. And in a single moment that I could break free of this entrancement I realized I couldn’t in my time ever recall hearing an audience so still, so quiet, so together in the story that their hearts, minds, imaginings, and lives were being pulled into. "Pulled" is perhaps the perfect word, for there was something eternally pulling about this film. It is said we are created with eternity written upon our hearts and so this entrancement came as no surprise to myself, in my own mind and my own understandings. The man on the sailboat that I saw propelled himself with each moment, he never stopped, he did not quit, he found every possibility to continue on, to have hope, to find courage and reason and ways, and he pushed to live all he could muster up in each of these moments.

One thing of this film that fascinated my passions was his knowledge, he was educated beyond books (although books did help too!), educated with more than facts but understanding, and I believe this helped propel him with the punches of the waves. This character had an incredibly rooted knowledge: he was strong in it, and was continually made strong by it, he knew what to do, and on every rational and every imaginable consequence (good or bad) that could be presented to him, or could be discovered by him-- his knowledge either appropriately acknowledged and utilized it, or appropriately acknowledged and combatted it. Yet beyond rationality, beyond imaginable fathomable consequence --something further in this film found its way to push the story to a point where every rational and every imaginable consequence of the universe ran empty, nonexistent, even senseless …or at least extremely unpredictable, and knowledge was nearly rendered empty, not worthless, but to a point where it became clear that knowledge would not be what carried Our Man through.


It makes me smile to see a movie has brought my mind onto these thoughts. After writing this piece I discovered an article that unleashes director J.C. Chandor’s hopes for the film, and I hope they may only further intrigue you:

“‘What I’m hoping,’ Chandor muses, ‘is that this character becomes a vessel where audience members are able to see themselves, or parts of themselves. That he becomes the embodiment of some of their hopes, concerns, dreams, worries, fears—all those primal human characteristics. It’s not something that I want to lay out too explicitly, but to a certain extent, I hope that he can become a kind of mirror. And if I did my job well, the film, like Our Man’s journey, is going to be exhilarating and terrifying, and, I hope, emotional and haunting.’'

chandor and redford



It was not until a short time after the movie completed did I find myself hit with a brick wall of a question, that being, “How did they do that!!!???”  This is your spoiler alert!!! I have fairly warned you! I am about to unveil some of the adventures that the character OurMan (played by Robert Redford) on the sailboat finds himself in. When I ask “How did they do that!!!???”  I am not speaking of how did they evoke everything in me and each audience member that they evoked because that may indeed be unanswerable, but I am asking how did they physically create each mind blowing scene all above, on, in, and under water?!

Robert Redford’s character OurMan finds himself in a sinking sailboat, one hit by a giant cargo container full of sneakers, we watch his ingenious procedure to patch up the boat only to be later tossed and rolled through what seem like mile high waves and glass shattering winds. Furthermore we watch Our Man spin with his boat, be thrown off his boat (hanging on by what the storm would consider a thread), and lastly be with his boat as it sinks into its water grave. We wade through the water of this almost submerged boat as Our Man collects the things of value for the rescue raft that he has secured to the almost fully submerged deck. Finally we are spooked to the core with Our Man when we here the final submerging breath inhaled by the sailboat in an eerie creaking noise, and we dart off and into the rescue raft. From here we watch the boat plunder under, and when we think the most heart breaking has already occurred we are carried into another storm by raft, underwater scenes, scenes with sharks, scenes with giant ships passing feet away from the unnoticed raft, scenes with fire, scenes so dangerous, so unpredictable, and so unimaginable. HOW?


  • The sailboats that served as Virginia Jean in All Is Lost:

“With their one-man cast in place, the producers sat down with the list of necessities for shooting the film. At the very top: a handful of sailboats, and a place to sink them. As it turned out, shooting the story of one man and his boat actually required three boats—specifically, three 39-foot Cal yachts.While all of them serve as Our Man’s sailboat, the Virginia Jean, each of the three boats was used for a separate purpose: One was for open sea sailing and exterior scenes, another was for the tight interior shots, and the third was for special effects.

Once they had them, the filmmakers put the boats through their paces—and then some. ‘We did pretty much everything that you can do to a boat on film,’ Chandor says. ‘We sunk it, brought it back to life, sailed it, then put it through a massive storm, flipped it over, and sunk it again. I think it’s paramount to have a pretty deep understanding of the way these boats work, the way they sail and sink, as well as all of the different kinds of sailing elements we use to help move the story along.’”


  • The intense physicality required of Robert Redford, and that detrimental cargo container:

“Other scenes were intensely physical for the actor, who is known for doing many of his own stunts: from clambering up the sailboat’s 65-foot mast to being dragged behind the boat to swimming underwater through the submerged sails. And then there’s the opening sequence in which the sailboat collides with the shipping container and Our Man jumps from one to the other.

‘We slammed a boat into the side of a shipping container with him on it—that’s in the movie,’ Dodson says. ‘There’s this huge jolt, and that’s Bob (Robert Redford) actually hitting the side of a boat and being okay with it. We put him in a life raft and flipped him upside down and inside out, and he was game.’

‘Whenever he did his own stunts, it was both inspiring and exciting, and it also put a little fear in us,’ Gerb adds. ‘But he is in great physical shape. He loves the water and he loves to swim. There are a lot of physical challenges in making this film. Even just being wet all day is exhausting and physically draining on any actor. But his spirit and his understanding of the vision for this film just took over. He came to the set every day and absolutely gave himself over to the process of making this film.’”


  • Filming in the water (including the captured footage of a shiver of sharks):

“Chandor’s use of digital effects was largely restricted to enhancing backgrounds and skies, as well as enhancing the waves that surrounded the boat and hammered Redford’s character. All visual effects work was handled by a team at Toronto-based SPIN VFX, overseen by Chandor and longtime VFX supervisor Robert Munroe (X-Men).

Filming in water is notoriously challenging, and that was certainly the case with All Is Lost, which does not feature a single shot set on dry land. Camera crews filmed in various parts of the Pacific Ocean and the Caribbean, including off the coast of Ensenada, Mexico, about 80 miles south of San Diego. At one point, Redford sailed the Virginia Jean into port there, complete with a patched-up hole in the side of the boat.

‘It was amazing to see the reactions of real sailors in the marina,’ says Gerb. ‘They were looking at our boat, which had clearly been through an incredible battle. It had a film crew hanging off of it and Robert Redford at the helm.’

The shots of sea life—including shoals of small fish, yellowtail, barracuda and the beautiful if terrifying shots of dozens of swirling sharks—in the Bahamas, off the coast of Nassau and Lyford Cay, where an entire camera crew dove down more than 60 feet to capture the footage of the fish.”


  • The massive passing shipping vessels:

“For the sequences involving the massive shipping vessels, the crew filmed in the ocean around Los Angeles—out of the port of Long Beach to the south, and further north near Catalina Island.”


  • The sinking of the sailboat:

“But the open ocean is no place to safely sink a yacht. For those scenes and a number of others, including the opening collision with the shipping container, the filmmakers turned to the world’s largest filming tanks. Baja Studios, located in Rosarito Beach on Mexico’s Baja Peninsula, the facility was effectively built from the ground up by James Cameron, who required a customized water environment to shoot the spectacular nautical effects for Titanic. In fact, some of the crew on All Is Lost had also worked on Titanic, including line producer Luisa Gomez da Silva, who works full time at the facility and counts herself part of ‘the Titanic generation.’

The filmmakers used three giant water tanks for different aspects of the shoot, including the world’s largest exterior tank, which sits right on the ocean and has an infinity-edge horizon line.

‘It’s the size of three football fields and it creates a very real ocean look,’ Gerb says. ‘These tanks mimic being out at sea, but in a controlled environment where we could safely pull off a lot of our stunts and special effects. It was really the only place in the world we could have made this film.’"


  • The storm scenes:

“Initially, Chandor and Goldsmith believed they would have all they needed with the three boats, but one particularly dramatic sequence, in which the storm-tossed Virginia Jean repeatedly capsizes and rights itself, called for extraordinary creativity. Although the filmmakers had thought they could use the special-effects boat for this underwater rolling stunt, after further exploration they realized they needed to better protect Redford. As a result, multiple departments pulled together to build a special rig for the purpose.

Similarly, special effects supervisor Brendon O’Dell (Training Day) had to come up with creative solutions to simulate the violent movement of the boat in the storm. ‘Typically, on a big-budget movie, you’d build a really elaborate gimbal that could move the boat in any direction,’ he says. ‘But that would have been very expensive and time consuming, so we had to rethink our approach.’

Instead, O’Dell’s team used simple rigging and hydraulic cylinders, together with the natural buoyancy of the boat working against the water. ‘We would just suck the front of the boat down with a cylinder and let the back up, and vice-versa,’ he says. ‘It also worked side to side. It looked really good.’

The complex shoot required seven weeks of meticulous preparation—unusual for a small, independent film.”

Click here to read more of the above Scuttlebutt referenced article “All is Lost: Behind the scenes making of the film”

Click here to read Carpetbagger’s Mekado Murphy’s article “Below the Line: Underwater With ‘All Is Lost’”


"All Is Lost" has been a masterpiece to my heart and surely an educational experience beyond the facts, one that pervades the temporal things of our world and illuminates the hope we forget exists...when all seems lost.

Yours Truly: This Sand Shark Heart Swept to Sea,

                                                                              Erin Dailey


PS!!!   Don't forget every Monday night at 7pm USCB Center for the Arts has an indie film awaiting your presence!!!