What is – The Sea Siren?
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
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.
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 comic 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.
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.
A Reversal of Fortune
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
The Sea Siren Art Film
My First Professional Effort as Filmmaker
Film: Making-of The Sea Siren
The Sea Siren Marketing and Advertising Campaign Begins
Marketing Poster Designed
This is my first draft of a promotional poster
Artwork for Sea Siren Merchandise commissioned
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
What’s Next – The Final Chapter