“My good buddy and shark expert Chris Fallows paddleboards with a huge great white in 2011’s Great White Invasion. This was Chris’s very first time paddleboarding.”
Jeff Kurr has been filming sharks for longer than almost anyone, and chances are if you’ve ever watched Shark Week, you’ve seen one of his specials. From the “flying” sharks of Air Jaws to the record-breaking giants of his Mega Shark specials, Jeff’s Emmy award-nominated work embodies what we all know and love about Shark Week. In May 2015, we asked Jeff to answer a few questions about his career.
Why do you film sharks — what inspires you? I feel like I’ve been on a 25-year quest of discovery, documenting animals that relatively little is known about. Being the first to capture many shark behaviors and the idea that my films may be inspiring future marine biologists and filmmakers inspires me.
How did you get started as a shark documentary filmmaker? I had a background in TV news, but my love for animals drew me to Shark Week. And luck helped – in 1991, I answered an ad in the local paper to work on a film and didn’t know at the time I would be working on my first of 30-plus shark documentaries.
How has filming with sharks changed since you started working on Shark Week in 1991? One word: technology. The cameras are so much better and easier to use, it’s been a 100% game changer for me.
Of all the innovative filmmaking techniques you’ve employed over the years, what’s the one that you’re most proud of? I think being the first to use super slow-motion to film breaching great whites. This was a technology that was just starting to be used in movies and commercials and I thought, “Let’s modify this camera and use it to shoot sharks jumping!” It was amazing.
How is your work as a filmmaker helping to advance our understanding of sharks? Really, a shark filmmaker is a shark promoter. I feel like my mission is to promote sharks by showcasing their incredible beauty with incredible footage. My hope is that people who watch my films come away with a better understanding of the animals and a better appreciation. The more people we can turn into shark fanatics, the more we can weave sharks into our popular culture, the better the chances they have for long-term survival.
What's been the highlight of your career so far? If I had to narrow down to just one, it would be my ride on the Seal Sled in Air Jaws Apocalypse and having a shark called “Colossus” breach just a few feet away from me… I still get goose bumps thinking about that. And, a close second is filming the first Air Jaws and witnessing my first great white breaching. I remember thinking, “This is going to be big!”
What’s one shark mystery that you’re desperate to solve on a future Shark Week? Well, of course that would be great white sharks mating… Actually filming that activity would be the Holy Grail of shark activities. And, I do have a plan with respect to this, don’t worry!