DE-MYSTIFYING OPEN WATER
As everyone has probably heard or read, a new independent movie titled ‘Open Water’ opens today in limited release in the U.S. (wide release August 20). The movie tells the story of a married couple who while on a dive trip in the Great Barrier Reef is left behind by a careless boat crew. And so ensues their “shark infested journey.”
With regards to the movie, perhaps its biggest negative for the Industry is that it claims to be an accurate film about diving, produced by divers. This presentation, which is a significant aspect of the film's current media positioning, may lead non-divers to believe it is, indeed, accurate and truthful in its portrayal of the dive experience. In reality, the producers of the film based their story on what presumably happened to an American couple, Eileen and Tom Lonergan on January 25, 1998 off the coast of Queensland, Australia. The filmmakers explain they did not research the actual incident and chose to base the movie on the concept not fact.
What we actually know about the incident on which the movie is based is that a couple was left behind by a dive boat. In reality, the couple simply disappeared - their actual fate has never been determined. Everything that happens in the movie after the point of the couple’s disappearance is pure speculation resulting from a healthy imagination that makes for good entertainment.
In the days leading up to the movie’s release the filmmakers were on a media tour as guests on numerous TV news and talk shows. Prior to the release of the movie many industry professionals were invited to a screening. Subsequent to the screening, DEMA distributed a release to these same media outlets pointing out the diving reality versus the cinematic fiction portrayed in the movie and media, and emphasizing that the movie is loosely based on true events but is not a true story. Statistics were provided as well as the measures that are in place throughout the dive industry to prevent something like this from happening. The release has enjoyed wide pick up, including:
CBS Market Watch http://cbs.marketwatch.com/news/newsfinder/newsArticles.asp?guid=%7B293CCB7B
A number of significant news services have also requested and received interviews to address our concerns, including:
Additionally, today, a photo and caption referring consumers to www.time2dive.com for the name of a dive retailer close to them is being distributed via the wire services. See the release with photo and caption at www.dema.org.
DEMA along with many prominent member companies and Industry leaders have also made available to its members, sample Questions and Answers in order to help them field inquiries from consumers. DEMA continues to ask that any questions from the media be referred to DEMA’s official spokesperson and Executive Director, Tom Ingram.
Even though we are being exhaustive in our efforts to get the facts out, no one will be able to predict how the movie will impact new diver acquisition. A lot depends on the movie’s success, how audiences react to it and, perhaps, how the dive industry continues to respond.
Below, for your information, is the Question and Answer document that was prepared by DEMA.
Questions and Answers
(DEMA extends its thanks to Bob Coleman at PADI for his assistance in these responses)
Q What’s the best way to respond to questions about this movie and diving?
A. A neutral or positive position regarding the movie is recommended. Avoid speculation and stick to facts. However, point out that this is just a movie.
Q. How could a boat leave a diver behind?
A. First, acknowledge that accidents do happen; in sports, driving, or even walking down the street. The vast majority of accidents happen when people don’t follow procedures. Scuba diving is no different. Then, point out that in order to leave someone behind, it is necessary for the crew or the diver or BOTH not to follow the standards and/or training procedures.
Remember that non-divers will not be familiar with boat diving procedures. Tell them how roll-calls, headcounts, sign-ins, etc. work and point out that when this is done it is very rare to leave a diver in the water.
For instance, in Open Water, the crew relies on marks on a piece of paper to count the number of divers. When two divers re-enter the water the crew doesn’t catch it and this results in them being double counted when they return giving the appearance on paper that everyone is back on board. A simple headcount or roll call would have shown that two divers were missing.
Point out that one of the reasons the diving industry places an emphasis on proper training is to avoid anything resembling this situation. Properly trained dive leaders and professionals perform a head count/roll call and perform a visual verification.
Point out that most divers carry signaling devices, such as whistles, inflatable visual marker “sausages,” or mirrors.
When both the crew and the diver follow their training, the likelihood of being left behind is practically non-existent.
Q. What’s the best way to respond to questions that arise regarding the shark scenes?
A. First, remind those asking that this movie is not about diving with sharks, which is a completely different issue than being lost at sea. Then, there are some facts about sharks and divers that may be useful in the discussion:
a) Shark attack is not a common threat that divers face
b) Consider the number of divers, swimmers, surfers, waders, etc. in the world, then consider that only three shark attacks resulted in fatalities worldwide in 2002. There were no fatalities that resulted from shark attacks in the US in 20032
c) Contrast three worldwide shark attack fatalities to 42,815 fatalities in the US alone due to car crashes. There is an exponentially greater chance of a person being killed going to or coming from the theater to see Open Water versus a shark attack as an Open Water diver.
d) Literally thousands of people each year travel to various locations around the world and pay to take part in a “shark dive.” These dives typically consist of attracting and feeding the same varieties of sharks depicted as man-eaters in the movie. The shark dive operators have enjoyed an outstanding safety record.
1 Burgess: G.H. 1991 Shark Attack and the International Shark Attack File
2 ISAF Statistics for Worldwide Locations of Highest Shark Attack Activity since 1990