Photograph courtesy Universal Pictures
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Alister Grierson, director of the new adventure film Sanctum, had never donned flippers and an oxygen tank before he signed on to join 3-D pioneers James Cameron and Andrew Wight's underwater thriller about a cave diving expedition gone wrong. The premise (which Wight describes in this interview): The world’s largest cave system is being mapped by divers when a tropical storm dislodges rocks that block the entrance. The team, which includes two tagalongs who are not experienced cave divers, is forced to find another way out, if they can survive. This study of human behavior under pressure is something that fascinates Greierson, who made his first film Kokoda about a WWII invasion in Australia, to great box office success. Here Grierson gives a fresh take on the submersive, high stakes world of cave diving and how they replicated it for the film (yes, a 130-foot fish tank was involved).—Mary Anne Potts
ADVENTURE: What did you know about cave diving before this movie came along?
Alister Grierson: Very little. It’s one of those sports you hear about, but usually you only when someone dies in a cave. Then you say to yourself, why the hell were they down there?
Tell us about going diving for the first time?
It was before pre-production had begun. We all agreed I needed to get into a cave to have the experience and translate that for the film. But I wasn’t a diver at all, so I had to learn to scuba dive. I did a two-day intense course with John Galvin, who wrote the screenplay. He’s a master diver and he taught all the actors to drive. On day three they put me in the cave in a place called Mount Gambier in South Australia.
It must have been shocking to go from learning to dive one day to dropping into a cave the next?
I have always been adventurous and keen to try new things. So I was willing. I was very confident that it would be safe, that they wouldn’t push me to do anything too risky. I mean cave diving is inherently risky, but I knew I had a good team to look after me. I picked up on the diving pretty quickly.