Film director David M. Reynolds is obsessed with the fabled island of Atlantis. He’s so obsessed that he spent the past two years working practically nonstop (and with barely any budget) on five short films collectively called The Underwater Realm. In each of these four-to-five minute shorts, humans come into contact with Atlanteans, from a slave thrown overboard during the height of the Roman empire to a modern-day couple who are mysteriously snatched while exploring an underwater cave. They’re all now freely available on the web for anyone to see. And if all goes well Reynolds hopes that the shorts will lead to three feature-length underwater movies that revolve around Atlantis.
We wanted to recreate existing movie genres—the “age of sail” movie, the World War II flick, the modern “found footage” horror movie—and use them as familiar gateways into this new world of underwater historic fantasy, said the 26-year-old Reynolds.
Orchestrating five underwater film shoots seemed like a natural thing to do for a man with a love of mythology, an abiding affection for the ocean, and a penchant for biting off more than he could chew.
Reynolds’ drive to take on ambitious projects is evidenced by the first film he ever made. “I made my first flick at 17 with a £4,000 loan from the bank,” Reynolds wrote to Pop Omnivore in an email. “It was an hour-long sweeping medieval romance, complete with castles, knights on horseback, and a village that we [built] in a local farmer’s field.”
In film school, he ran into disappointment. “Nobody seemed to have the same desire to create on the same scale. It was all about trying to fit into a predefined idea of an industry. I knew nobody was ever going to give me the job I wanted, so I decided to make it myself.”
Reynolds dropped out after six months and started his own production company, Realm Pictures. Although the company takes paying gigs to keep the lights on, such as producing promotional videos for clients including the BBC and the 2012 Olympics, their primary focus is making the films they want to make. Reynolds’ previous movie, Zomblies, a 50-minute action flick, won Best Editing and Best Horror Film at the 2011 London Independent Film Festival.
“Zomblies was great fun,” wrote Reynolds. But he wanted more myth, more fantasy, more magic.
While trying to push his team to greater creative heights, Reynolds came up with the craziest idea he could think of. “Let’s set the whole thing underwater,” he recalls suggesting. “It was said in jest, but the idea lodged in my head like a splinter.”
The result was a two-year odyssey to create the Atlantis shorts.
“When we started, we weren’t planning on making some big environmental statement,” said Reynolds. “We were fascinated by the [ocean] and by the prospect of telling stories about it.” As the production crew immersed themselves in their new world, they saw more and more of the damage sustained by the marine environment.
Diving in the Red Sea and seeing the difference between unspoiled reefs and heavily impacted ones was an eye-opener, Reynolds said.
Crowd-sourced funds financed much of the work. National Geographic explorer-in- residence Sylvia Earle even contributed money through Kickstarter—a web site where people can contribute to projects they deem worthy.
None of the Kickstarter money went into paychecks for the cast and crew. “Most of that budget has gone on things like accommodation, catering, transport, props manufacture,” said Reynolds.
The shorts, released December 25 on YouTube, are teasers for a trilogy of feature length films Reynolds wants to make.
Reynolds can hardly contain himself when thinking about the seascapes and creatures he hopes to include in the full-length films. He’s especially taken with the football-sized vampire squid (Vampyroteuthis infernalis), which he came across while watching a BBC documentary.
“They’re terrifying. They are absolutely terrifying,” he said. “It has teeth instead of [suckers], it’s blood-red, its [got] glowing blue eyes. You don’t need to make stuff up when stuff like that exists,” Reynolds said.
Everyone involved with these films is tasked with keeping an eye out for anything to do with the oceans that might interest Reynolds and further the story. Sometimes Reynolds can’t believe how much amazing material is out there.
“Two-thirds of our planet is set in [the ocean], this world exists. Why go to a galaxy far, far away when the most amazing world is real and right here with us?”
—Jane J. Lee