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 What is – The Sea Siren?


The Sea Siren is a TRUE romantic story of how top-model Nikki du Plessis was sent by the Greek God Poseidon to underwater photographer Edmund Papp so that he could finally complete a 15 year-old quest.

Nikki du Plessis was sent by the Greek God Poseidon to underwater photographer Edmund Papp so that he could finally complete a 15 year-old quest.

Greek mythology often portrays humans as amusement for the gods in Olympus. Like pawns on a chessboard our destiny is determined by the whims of Zeus, Hera and Poseidon. If Zeus is angry and has you in his sights; your day, perhaps your future, is not going to go well. However, if a god takes pity on your mortal frailness, good things might happen. Such an occurrence happened to me and this is my odyssey – join me.

The Sea Siren is a true story about an aging, underwater photographer who, for 15 years, battled and endured set-back after set-back to complete his opus titled: The Sea Siren – Until the Greek God Poseidon, smiled on him and sent him a real sea siren.

Join Ed on this voyage and remember the final chapter to this adventure has yet to be written.


How It All Started


 

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Ed Papp, owner of Mermaid Hunter Films.

I moved to Key West, Florida in 1999 but in early spring 2012 I ended a life-long career in underwater photography. In its place I transformed my waterfront home into a Bed & Breakfast. It was not an easy decision; you might say I was forced – I just could not endure the frustration and heartache of failing to complete my underwater opus; a photo-essay titled, The Sea Siren. This personal odyssey started 15 years ago when I discovered a sunken boat near my dock. The boat was fully intact but in a perilous location. It was covered with razor-sharp barnacles and a layer of microscopic silt that plumed with the slightest motion. Nevertheless, I knew immediately I wanted to create a body of art featuring a nude model as she swam around and even inside the wreck. I knew it would be difficult. In fact, my friends, underwater pros themselves, said it was impossible… to deep, too dangerous, too unpredictable. “Good Luck” they said finding a top model who could freedive so deep, naked, and without SCUBA air sources or safety divers.


This wreck is 35 feet deep. For the show Nikki must dive down and swim inside it and pose while holding her breath with no SCUBA air sources or backup safety divers.

This wreck is 35 feet deep and will be the primary location for The Sea Siren. It is located at the mouth of a busy residential canal that is port to many boats. The water here is a very dark green color. The wreck also has a layer of microscopic silt on it that plumes at the slightest water movement.

Well, it appeared time might prove them right. Setbacks and failure came in many forms; hurricanes, health issues and boat theft come to mind but the main challenge was always finding the right model. For 13 long years I auditioned and trained scores of models for this project. I brought potential candidates to Key West from all over the world – even Russia. But, for one reason or another, all but three failed to get past the audition; which admittedly was tough. Was I asking too much from these women… they were models not athletes after all.


 1999 – 2010
Setting New Goals and Priorities


Since moving my company, Mermaid Hunter Films, to Key West I always had creative projects cooking on the stove. Daughters of Poseidon, a Sci-Fi series was (and remains) the most promising and ambitious project I have ever tackled. This project caught the eye of a Hollywood producer who made an offer to buy the concept for feature film treatment. A Mark Daughters of Poseidoncomic book company also showed intense interest in my mythological characters. I knew I had a tiger by the tail here so it was only logical that Daughters of Poseidon took priority over The Sea Siren project. Production of DOP was (and continues to be) an exasperating stop-and-go process. Throughout the new decade DOP endured several false starts – hurricanes being the major source of setbacks and a transient Key West talent pool being a close second.  Through the years there were occasional bright moments that kept The Sea Siren Project alive. Kammeron from St. Louis, Ruby from Tampa and Brittany from LA were true water-babies and their efforts gave me hope of completing the photo-essay but each model developed health problems during filming and could not finish the job. I had to keep reminding myself The Sea Siren was not your typical modeling or acting gig – the girls needed weeks of training; and weeks filming in the open ocean for such long periods took a toll on any healthy person.

On a positive note casting and auditioning for Daughters of Poseidon was active and produced good candidates for The Sea Siren project. The slide show below features images from the talent discovered in audition & casting sessions.


May 2010
The Doctor will See You Now


January 2010, it was now a new decade and I still had not filmed one episode of Daughters of Poseidon or taken one image for The Sea Siren photo-essay. My transition from still photographer to filmmaker was a failure. And an old friend: Depression, came back to see me and didn’t want to leave. It was time to do something drastic. The turning point was discovering I had cancer. Depressed and defeated I resigned myself to the fact that I was 63 years old and it was time to settle down and do something easy.

I needed a course correction in life so I decided to turn my waterfront home into a small 1 bedroom Bed & Breakfast that catered exclusively to Big Shot photographers and filmmakers. This would be fun. So, after making major renovations to the home I went about creating an advertising campaign to showcase my new venture. That required putting out a casting call for a spokes-model. I would need her services for a week.

This is when Poseidon, the Greek god of the oceans, took pity on me and smiled.


November 2012
A Reversal of Fortune


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A major concern was not knowing if a top model like Nikki would accept the hardships and dangers of a continuous 30 day shoot.

Enter Nikki du Plessis, a stunningly beautiful 23-year-old model from South Africa. She was on her first USA tour and contacted me regarding the audition. We talked and agreed on a 10 day shoot in late November 2012. Nikki arrived with her fiance, a hulk of a man named Jaco – a guy I took an immediate liking to. The shoot was not complicated or fancy. I needed photos and video showcasing my new B & B… simple enough. Within a day Nikki seduced me. Underneath all that beauty was genuine charm and graciousness. The shoot was going well. To showcase my shallow (but heated)  pool and Nikki needed to swim underwater for several scenes. OMG! ONE LOOK AT HER UNDERWATER; SO NATURAL AND BEGUILING, I KNEW IMMEDIATELY I HAD FOUND MY SEA SIREN. Nikki was THE ONE. We completed the scenes I needed but I knew my future had changed right then and there.

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I was giddy with anticipation as I presented The Sea Siren Project and all its ramifications to Nikki over dinner. When I was done her answer was simply, “I’m your girl”. We discussed nudity; came to a financial agreement and OK’d the entire month of August 2013 to create Sea Siren. I offered her the job with one stipulation; tomorrow she had to prove she possessed the all-important breath holding ability to do the job. I knew to freedive 35 feet she would need to hold her breath underwater for at least 2 minutes. It was almost December so the ocean was already too cold for any credible testing. Next day in the pool the challenge given to Nikki was simple, hold your breath three times in a row with each breath-hold longer than 2 minutes. Nikki’s only concern was “Ed, can I take my bikini top off ? I think it’s restricting my breathing”. UGH, OK… and with that she went to work… it wasn’t easy and took all her willpower but Nikki completed the three needed breath holds.

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Without a doubt the most important of all water skills Nikki needed to do her job was holding her breath for more than 2 minutes underwater. Without that skill she would not be able to project what was needed most – a facial expression and a body language that said “the deep ocean is my home.”

 My plan of a Bed & Breakfast ended the instant she surfaced.


 Let’s Get to Work


I knew Nikki was THE ONE – BUT SHE DID NOT.  So with the remaining few days left on her visit I felt I had to be honest and make her aware of the challenges and hardships that lay ahead. Fifteen years of auditioning models for the Sea Siren project had taught me a third fail because of physical reasons (unable to equalize ear pressure or poor breath holding ability) a third fail because of mental reasons (mainly claustrophobia and/or fear of deep, dark water, and a third fail from fear of big fish and sharks. I also learned that the more models trained and conditioned themselves to face the hardships success increased dramatically.

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Claustrophobia is the second biggest killer of talent when auditioning for the Sea Siren. A 10 foot pipe tunnel was created and placed in the pool. Nikki had to sit underwater for 2 minutes BEFORE she went through the pipe.

 

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Where is Nikki you ask? She is inside the water-filled barrel. No Joke, she underwater inside the blue barrel. I truly thought this challenge would give her pause. Nikki actually had fun with it – she took a camera with her when locked in the barrel. I had found THE ONE.

Overnight the old me returned. I was renewed with a tsunami of creative thought and ambition. Before Nikki I was slowly making the transition from a photographer to filmmaker. Learning the editing process was my biggest hangup – it was my weakest link. So I presented Nikki with a challenge – let’s shoot a music video before you leave. It would give me the incentive to learn and master the basics of professional editing software. She was game and we shot the video below.


 December 2012
Ideas and Concepts Flow


After Nikki returned to South Africa I began preparing for the shoot in August 2013. As an old advertising and marketing man (owner, Papp & Williams Advertising) ideas and concepts on how to promote The Sea Siren began to flood the brain. Poor Nikki, every week I would call her and tell her how The Sea Siren project was ‘evolving’ from this to that and back again. But one concept stuck – The Sea Siren Reality Show.

The premise of the show was simple. Could Nikki and I overcome all the creative, physical and mental challenges in the making of The Sea Siren. And do it all within 30 days! Underwater professionals said it was impossible.

10 Reasons professionals said Sea Siren was doomed for failure.

* 30 continuous days of filming is too demanding on the body and spirit. Fatigue would set in and cause unpredictable behavior
* Sickness and infection is sure to hit one of us
* An accident causing set-back and delay is a given in these types of shoots
* Nikki leaving a SA winter season to Key West’s summer season is too great a change on the body and needs time to adjust.
* August in Key West is prime time for Hurricane and violent weather. Water conditions would suffer and set back production.
* Equipment failure on a 30 day shoot is a given
* Too much silt for an amateur freediver like Nikki. Not enough time for her to learn buoyancy control. Daily production would shorten due to silt conditions
The overhead boat traffic would be too disruptive and dangerous
* The tidal flow changing every 6 hours would severely limit shooting conditions and times.
* The water at this location has a green tint – too green for color correction in even the best of video editing software
* Sorry Ed but you are just too old for this

 


The Sea Siren
A Vision Turns into Reality


After much ‘evolving’ the objectives for The Sea Siren are finalized – they are:
1. An art gallery show containing 20 black & white images
2. An artistic film titled: The Sea Siren
3. A how-it-was-made film-short
4. Six episode reality show to be hosted on Vimeo.com as a pay-per-view series

The six reality show episodes are:
a. The Sea Siren – Concept – Casting – Crisis
b. The Sea Siren – Freshwater Training Begins
c. The Sea  Siren – Saltwater Training Begins
d. The Sea Siren – The Fine Art Shoot Begins
e. The Sea Siren - Promo and Marketing Begins
f. The Sea Siren – Epilogue

With all the creative goals finalized it was time to get down to business and strategize a work plan for August and Nikki’s arrival.


July 31, 2013
Nikki returns to Key West


Nikki and fiance Jaco had a good flight and came ready to work. A good meal, a bottle of wine and a good night’s sleep were done in that order. I told Nikki the 30 day reality show had to have ‘footage’ every day so tomorrow we needed to get to work right away. With a yawn, she said ok. What a  girl !


August 1, 2013
Let the Adventure Begin


The month-long shoot was divided into two major time blocks; August 1 through August 14 was devoted to Nikki’s conditioning and training. First order of business – getting the breath-holding ability to levels of a professional freediver. Nikki NEEDED the confidence to know she could hold her breath underwater over 2 minutes ANY time she wanted… so the goal was to have Nikki hold her breath underwater over 2 minutes – three times in a row within a 10 minute time frame.

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Nikki’s breathhold training was coupled with weight-training. Reps were slightly increased with each breathhold.

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NOBODY likes getting water up their nose. Nikki was no exception and hated doing this routine.

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Another view of the above routine; Nikki would ALMOST surface like she is here but – back down she went… again, and again, and again!

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Water filling your sinuses; lungs on fire from lack of oxygen; muscles aching… and straining to reach 2 minutes underwater.

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This is the look of raw determination. Nikki had 10 minutes to complete 3 breathholds… each breathhold had to be longer than 2 minutes. This is her 3rd breathhold and she is really straining to make the 2 minute mark – Nikki shot to the surface at 2: 05 minutes. It took Nikki almost 3 days of training to do this feat (she started smoking again) but Success!

 


August 4, 2013


Next was getting Nikki used to Key West heat by sweating out all of those tobacco poisons she was putting into her lungs and body.

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As expected, Nikki found the Key West summer heat almost overwhelming. Care also had to be taken when suntanning because Nikki literally had tan lines after 10 minutes – which was unacceptable for the model work.

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Nikki was no stranger to weight and strength training; she worked out regularly in the gym.

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Hitting the BAG however was new and she took to it like Smok’n Joe Frazer – until she broke a nail !

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After a sweaty work out Nikki had two choices… take a dive into the ocean OR… see below

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The outdoor shower!

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In addition to be a gym rat back home Nikki was also into healthy eating. Nikki shared several of her favorite recipes. They are on the right side of the page.

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When Nikki broke a nail hitting the bag; we found a work-around – underwater shadow boxing.


August 6, 2013


Nikki was training and conditioning herself with conviction. But being physically able to swim to the shipwreck was only part of the challenge that lay ahead. Water pressure at 35 feet does strange things to the brain especially when it’s dark and foreboding. Add to this knowing you will have to ENTER the ship’s sleeping quarters through a small hatch. Entering a structure that puts a barrier between you and the surface makes some models quit right then and there. Success depended on Nikki being MENTALLY prepared to enter a dangerous and DARK enclosure so deep and far from the surface. Panic causes injury and there would be no immediate help if Nikki suddenly needed assistance or assurance that all was OK. Bottom line – she would just have to calm herself and work through the panic attack. So to prepare Nikki mentally I devised an underwater obstacle course that would condition her mind (and body) to reject panic and rely on training and conditioning to overcome whatever problem might develop.

 

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Next up was tying together the bamboo frames from a …. chair like a clamshell… with Nikki inside it. Hoist her up and then dunk her underwater (until I saw the effect on her face and then 15 seconds longer) Nikki was truely at our mercy here and she began to realize and feel what being trapped underwater would feel like.

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I wanted Nikki to feel and understand what pros called oxygen deprivation. After forcing her to remain underwater longer than she wanted we would raise her up very, very slowly. Nikki knew breath was coming but she would have to control her anxiety and panic levels to get there.

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As luck would have it my neighbor was discarding his large aquarium. I fabricated a top with hinges so that Nikki could be LOCKED inside. Convincing Nikki that being underwater in a locked water tank was safe and harmless took some doing but eventually she agreed to do this challenge.

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For the Sea Siren project four GoPro 3′s were purchased. I also used my Sony Nex-7 in a waterproof case. Here, a GoPro was attached to a lid and captures Nikki’s reaction to being locked inside a water tank – up close and personal.

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I have to admit Jaco and I did something mean to Nikki… but I have my reasons. After locking Nikki underwater we literally walked away from the scene and out of Nikki’s blurry sight. Locked underwater in this deathtrap we watched her searching for us. Holding your breath underwater for 2 minutes takes physical and mental preparation but we did not give Nikki any warning before locking her in and leaving. I wanted to see how Nikki would handle this situation. There was high anxiety in her face but she controlled panic and emotions enough to make 2 minutes underwater. btw, Nikki did not appreciate this and let us know it !!!!

 


August 8, 2013


Now that Nikki was mentally toughed up she needed to put some of that toughness towards her underwater swimming skills. We went to the Key West Community Pool very early for 4 days. The goal was to swim the 100 ft length of the pool underwater on one breath. And, to take some promotional photography and footage for the reality show.

One of the benefits of arriving early was having this big, beautiful pool to ourselves. Second was the pumps and filters  had all night to scrub the water clean. It was crystal clear all four days.

One of the benefits of arriving early was having this big, beautiful pool to ourselves. Second was the pumps and filters had all night to scrub the water clean. It was crystal clear all four days.

Once we got wet it was right back to breathholding drills... only this time it was on the bottom of a 10 foot pool. A big shout-out to the KW pool staff for keeping this facility in great shape.

Once we got wet it was right back to breathholding drills… only this time it was on the bottom of a 10 foot pool. A big shout-out to the KW pool staff for keeping this facility in great shape.

One of the greatest gifts Nikki gave me by being THE ONE was having the swimming motion and style I needed. Most underwater swimmers use the frog kick which would open up her private  parts to the camera as I followed her underwater. That would be too graphic and unacceptable. Nikki kept both legs straight behind her as she kicked.

One of the greatest gifts Nikki gave me by being THE ONE was having the swimming motion and style I needed. Most underwater swimmers use the frog kick which would open up her private parts to the camera as I followed her underwater. That would be too graphic and unacceptable. Nikki kept both legs straight behind her as she kicked.

It took Nikki only a day to conquer the 100 ft underwater swim. As Nikki was overcoming all the challenges I threw at her I could see the confidence level rising in her... and it was a beautiful thing to witness.

It took Nikki only a day to conquer the 100 ft underwater swim. As Nikki was overcoming all the challenges I threw at her I could see the confidence level rising in her… and it was a beautiful thing to witness.

Promotional footage and photos were taken in this crystal clear water.

Promotional footage and photos were taken in this crystal clear water.

After watching this footage we decided something had to be done about the hair color. Nikki had more highlights put in and an overall brighter shade of blonde. Another minor but major plus Nikki brought to the job was no underwater eye blinking... trust me, it's very rare and so welcomed for a project like Sea Siren.

After watching this footage we decided something had to be done about the hair color. Nikki had more highlights put in and an overall brighter shade of blonde. Another minor but major plus Nikki brought to the job was no underwater eye blinking… trust me, it’s very rare and so welcomed for a project like Sea Siren.

Underwater modeling was brand-new to Nikki so she welcomed the chance to perfect her movements and style.

Underwater modeling was brand-new to Nikki so she welcomed the chance to perfect her movements and style.

An important underwater skill Nikki needed to learn and perfect was maintaining neutral buoyancy. The shipwreck was covered in silt and Nikki would have to  keep her body in the center of the boat without disturbing the silt.

An important underwater skill Nikki needed to learn and perfect was maintaining neutral buoyancy. The shipwreck was covered in silt and Nikki would have to keep her body in the center of the boat without disturbing the silt.

Nikki was determined to learn how to blow bubble rings. Looks like she got the skill down pat.

Nikki was determined to learn how to blow bubble rings. Looks like she got the skill down pat.


August 13, 2013


Nikki’s training was progressing wonderfully and on schedule. Next up was interaction with marine life in saltwater. Chicken Bone Reef would be perfect for this. Only 5 feet deep and featuring a short swim-thru tunnel it nevertheless was filled with all critters… from fish, to lobsters, to crabs, to stinging anemones and jellyfish.

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While ‘comfortable’ underwater Nikki did have justified reservations about all the marine life she would come in contact with. Remember, everything in the open ocean is fighting for its life each and every day. Most use toxins to fend off being eaten. Just about everything in the ocean has some level of toxicity and touching must be avoided.

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Water pressure puts ‘body parts’ back into place underwater.

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Controlling buoyancy was critical to Nikki not getting stung or cut. She needed to adjust the amount of air in her lungs to the depth and action needed in the scene.

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Nikki was a human contradiction. When I told this glamorous model I knew where to find sharks 100% of the time she wanted to go there. But do you see this small lobster, it “stalked” Nikki around Chicken Bone Reef and really freaked her out. Sharks -OK; small lobster – WTF. The video footage of the lobster approaching Nikki and her reaction is priceless and a “blooper” reel is in the making.


August 14, 2013


Saltwater in the eyes/nose – no problem. Interacting with marine life – check. OK it’s time to introduce Nikki to the shipwreck.

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Nikki was given two days to completely familiarize herself with the wreck. She needed to wear a dive mask to see where to go and what she could touch… look to the middle right of this image -do you see the shells? They have razor sharp edges and cut skin like a hot knife through butter.

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Water pressure affects people in different ways. On more days than not Nikki could not see the surface from where she is now. It scary stuff for someone not used to it.

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Nikki gets a look at the hatchway for the first time. The sleeping compartment had to be checked for “critters” before filming began. In the past sharks and barracuda were found ‘resting’ inside.

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During this prep stage Nikki needed to know just what she could do and how long she could stay down with each breath hold. In the past models would hurt & cut themselves by staying down too long and getting careless when exiting the wreck – brushing against the barnacles and sharp metal edges.


August 16, 2013 … 8 am Training and Conditioning is Complete
I gave Nikki the morning off so she could sleep in


August 16, 2013 … 2 pm
At 2pm I awakened her – It was time to go to work


 

Work begins – for 14 straight days Nikki was diving and swimming inside the wreck.

In this image Nikki is deeper than a 2 story building! Poseidon smiled on us during the filming of Sea Siren. The weather was perfect and the seas relatively calm. The sharks and big barracuda stayed away as did the jellyfish. Nikki performed like a pro – getting the sleep she needed and staying away from all the “distractions” Key West offers young, vibrant visitors. A big shout out to Nikki’s fiance Jaco for keeping her healthy and her mind-set focused on the job.

 


 A Labor of Love
An Artistic Vision Fulfilled


I call this gallery of prints “1st Edit” as it contains all the images worthy to be matted and framed for the art gallery show. From these 50+ images only 20 will make the final cut.

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The Sea Siren Art Film
My First Professional Effort as Filmmaker



October 2013
The Sea Siren Marketing and Advertising Campaign Begins


I hired Bulgarian computer artist, Stan Mikovich through Elance.Com to create a Nikki caricature for transferring onto Bumper Stickers and Tee shirts… etc. Stan did a great job in capturing Nikki’s facial likeness and body shape. His work only included the figure and the water splash behind the figure. I added the rest of the art in CorelDraw 6. I also purchased Typeface LHF Scriptana Slant for use on all Sea Siren Signage and Graphics. Nothing has been finalized yet with much more design work needing to be done

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What’s Next – The Final Chapter