Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Becoming Sirena...Part 2

We filmed my part in Sirena last Tuesday, and I'm feeling pretty relieved that I didn't have time to write about it before we left for our amazing trip to Mauritius Island (definitely more on that later) because it was a catastrophe and after filming my spirits were completely crushed. Luckily a long weekend in a 5 star hotel cured all of my feelings of inferiority and embarrassment and now I can tell you the story without the soul-crushing anguish.

Where to start, where to start...

Ok so let's just go back to where we left off. I got the part, knowing full well I was not a synchronized swimmer, and realizing already that I would need a lot of practice to hold my breath for as long as it seemed I would need to. Actually, looking back, and knowing what was in store for me, I have no idea why they chose me. Why didn't they search for a free diver? A competitive swimmer? Maybe they did and no one could make the schedule. Maybe they figured since I'm American I'll have some secret Hollywood connections to show the film to later. Who knows. All I know is that I said yes, and I told myself I'd figure out how to make it work. 

So I immersed myself into the world of mermaids. I practiced deep breathing exercises every night. I started going to the ocean to train as much as possible after work..three, four times a week. I dragged Elena along with me and asked her to film so I could see and perfect my mermaid swim.  I researched EVERYTHING mermaid and found this:

Girls (actors) with really high-tech, hand-made fins, performing around the world and swimming with marine animals. They call themselves "professional mermaids" which at first made me laugh but then I got kind of inspired. Maybe this is an idea I'll revisit one day haha....

And then I enlisted the help of my Dive Guru/Ocean Master, Wulfy, from Wulfy Diving (the best dive instructor in Reunion, by the way, and the ONLY one that speaks English...among many other languages!) Wulfy met me as often as he could to teach me the basics of free diving (it's actually really complex, did you know??) He found me a mermaid fin to borrow and was very patient as I learned to hold my breath a little more every time we rehearsed the scene. 

Wulfy is pretty much my guardian angel of the ocean.
My very supportive best friend is always up for sharing adventures with me....

On Saturday mornings, I would meet with the film team in a small closed off natural pool where we would be filming (or so I thought.) Mostly it turned into talking about costumes and trying different things on in the water. At first they were going to stay very simple and abstract, with just a transparent cloth to cover up top and a long blue fabric attached to both sides of a nude colored bikini bottom. I thought it would look beautiful. With the long, eerie flowing fabric, you couldn't see my legs, but there was no obvious mermaid tail. It seemed artsy and just perfect. 

The small little natural pool we were supposed to film in is to the right...
During these meetings, I would delicately my concern about how long I could hold my breath. They brushed it off...telling me that we'd just film a dozen times and they could cut and paste together what they needed. We practiced with my partner in the scene only once, for a hurried ten minutes. I had to swim up to him, then make a turn around him, keeping eye contact, and then once I circled around him, I'd go in for the "mortal kiss." For the kiss, it would have to last long enough for him to kiss back, then start losing his breath, and then we'd drift apart slowly. 

I couldn't make it around him in one breath. They said it would be ok...but my other problem was that I'm super buoyant. I can go down, but I float back up to the top rather quickly. This is normal, and divers usually wear weight belts to keep them stable under the water. But I'd have nothing. No weights, no fins, no mask...

Then on the day before filming, everything changed. The time, the location, my costume, the way we would be filming...EVERYTHING changed. I got really sick. Ear infection, fever, the works. I had drugged up nightmares about drowning all night...

I got up bright and early and headed over to the beach house where they were filming for make-up. 

I was nervous, stressed, sick, coughing, but I started to come alive despite everything. That's how it is with your passions. They light you up no matter what else is going on.

Two hours later, the whole crew (about 20 people) headed over to Cap La Houssaye, where I usually go scuba diving. So I felt kinda at home, but I knew it would be nothing like diving, or even the rehearsal in the natural pool. The current at Cap La Houssaye was strong, and of course it's the real ocean, so all the friendliest little sea creatures are hanging out there...stone fish, sea urchins, and yeah maybe some sharks...

There were three scuba divers in the water with us at all times, one was a look-out for sharks, and the other two were there to give us air, something to hang on to during breathing breaks, and to generally help with filming. 

And then the costume changed to this...

In my opinion, the simple abstract idea would've been much better , but I'm not the director so I don't really get an opinion. But the train of the dress was 20 feet long and when wet, weighed probably around 25 pounds. If you can imagine wearing that, then jumping in the ocean with a strong current without a mask or fins, trying to swim strong, gracefully and slowly, while acting like you breathe underwater...maybe then you can imagine the incredible panic I felt for the next three hours while filming. 

That's me in the dress on the left..
 It was just awful. I couldn't really advance while swimming in the dress...there was 20 feet of fabric wrapped around me like tentacles, relentlessly trying to pull me down into the depths of the salty water.  At first they wanted to just film me swimming, but I couldn't move forward and instead just floated to the top while desperately trying to keep to my mermaid swim. I spent most of my energy/breath fighting the dress, so not much was left over for acting. In fact, I honestly did not do ANY acting. My thoughts were mostly on just trying not to drown.

Then they told us they wanted us to descend to 10 feet with the scuba diver's second air, let go of the oxygen, let the divers swim away, and then start the scene from ten feet down. This freaked me out for many reasons. First, as a scuba diver I was always told that compressed air is kind of dangerous, as is going up and down multiple times. Second, Wulfy himself told me to never accept air like that because if you don't remember to blow it all out before going up, your lungs could explode. Third, I wish I could really explain to you the horrors of going down without a mask....trying to breathe through your mouth when you instinctively want to breathe through your nose, the stinging red eyes, the burning salt water up your nostrils, the air bubbles choking you, trying to calm yourself...wanting pop your ears, but oh yeah, you're sick...so instead they just throb painfully...

Scuba diving without a mask is advanced, scary, and takes practice. And I couldn't do it. I just couldn't do it. I tried twice, and I just couldn't do it. The film guy seemed frustrated. He even said: "you just need to calm down, and slow down your heart beat!" (Duh! What the hell was my problem?!?!) 

After realizing that I physically could NOT do what they wanted me to do, I basically gave up. I did the absolute best that I could...but I wanted to just cry. 

She can't do it. I imagined all of them up there, watching, talking...

Everyone looked so disappointed. They even canceled the next location so we could finish and get this right. It was because of me, I know it...If I could've just preformed like they wanted, and on time...If only I had known before what I would've had to do...I could've practiced more...better...differently...

So we did like a zillion versions of the kiss, until we both couldn't breathe anymore. We filmed the circling part separately. That was the hardest. The film crew went down first. Then Alexis and I looked at each other. Ready? Ready...We sucked in as much air as possible and dove under. I swam to him, trying my hardest to pull this heavy load of fabric behind me. I tried to have a peaceful look on my face. I tried to not use my arms, as it was "too human" for what they wanted. I tried, I tried, I tried....

We'd go up, gasping for air. 

"ENCORE (again) !!" Someone would shout.

The film crew was staying down, we just had to keep repeating...So again, we'd make eye contact. Ready? Suck in our breath...fight the dress, swim, swim, explode out of the water, gasp for air. ENCORE. Eye contact, breathe, struggle, explode, suck in air. ENCORE! ENCORE! ENCORE! ENCO----

I couldn't do it anymore. I flung myself on my back, heaving, trying to catch just one deep breath. I just needed a few seconds...I'll try again after I catch my breath....

But suddenly there were hands on me, pulling me out of the water, dragging out the dress. Towels and coke and cookies were thrust at my face, I was trembling and white. 

"Good job," they said. 
But I knew I had failed. 

I went home in defeat. I bought myself an ice cream. I think I must've been giving off some pretty pathetic vibes because even Mowgli tried to comfort me, and usually he's pretty much a jerk. 

Now that I've had a week to get over my bruised ego, I can say that I'm really happy to have had this experience, despite everything. Hopefully it didn't go as badly as it did in my head. Hopefully they got enough footage to make something cool. Hopefully the dress looks cool underwater!

And you know what? I'm not afraid of the ocean anymore.

Also I learned that there is a such a thing as a Professional Mermaid. 
Maybe I have a future as Sirena after all...


  1. There's always hope: http://www.theguardian.com/film/2014/mar/18/sofia-coppola-direct-live-action-little-mermaid-adaptation

    1. Hehehe!! PERFECT~~~ Gotta keep practicing then!! And get in contact with Ms. Coppola of course. Minor details ;-)