Making “The Abyss” was brutal. “It was a battle fought underwater,” one crew member said—and it was over budget and behind schedule before shooting even began. The story, about a deep-ocean oil-drilling crew called upon to prevent a nuclear catastrophe, while dealing with a hostile Navy SEALs unit and visitations from a marine alien, takes place almost entirely at the bottom of the sea. Cameron built the set in Gaffney, South Carolina, in the containment vessel of an abandoned (and never activated) nuclear-power facility, which he filled with eight million gallons of water. The principal actors and much of the crew had to be scuba-certified. As part of the production design, the actors wore helmets that were lit from within. Cameron wore a similar helmet, but his contained a one-way communications device that broadcast his every grunt and breath through underwater speakers all over the set. “He loved it,” Al Giddings, the underwater D.P., who designed the system, said. None of the crew members could talk back, or to one another, and some of them came up with their own sign language. Thumbs up meant “We’re fucked.” Thumb and forefinger up meant “We’re double-fucked.”
The crew was in the water ten hours a day; in ten weeks, the production went through ten thousand five hundred air tanks. “When I first got there, it was, like, ‘Put me in the water! Put me in the water!’ ” Vince Pace, who built the underwater lighting, said. “About four weeks into it I was, like, ‘Listen, I’ve been in the water. Put Jack in the water.’ Two, three months into it you’re saying, ‘If you put me in the water, I’m going to kill you.’ ” To break up the water surface and minimize reflection, the tank was filled with tiny black polypropylene beads, which made their way into noses, ears, and mouths. Infections were rampant, even though the water had enough chlorine in it to turn an electric-blue dive suit gray in a day or two, and bleach the hair and eyebrows of the crew albino-white. Leonard Goldberg got pneumonia after visiting for an afternoon.
Friday, October 23, 2009
Class A foam
At the New Yorker, Dana Goodyear on James Cameron. I was obscurely fascinated by the extreme diving bits, which I did not know about at all: