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Fisher Stevens

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It's About More Than Just Dolphins

Posted: 02/22/10 05:32 PM ET

About three years ago I was in my office trying to re-arrange shooting dates for an actor that I was working with. We needed to construct a day of re-shoots to try to make yet another mediocre film hopefully somehow better. Simply put, coordinating even a day in the worst of circumstances as any producer can attest, can quickly turn into the most aggravating of nightmares: agents, various schedules, hair and make-up. Amidst the stream of unpleasant calls, my assistant in formed me that the New York Board of Health was on the phone and that it was quite important.

I immediately thought it was some kind of practical joke, until the rather grave sounding voice on the other end of the line instantly sobered me up. "We need to inform you that the mercury levels in your blood are extremely high! Have you been eating a lot of sushi lately, especially in the form of tuna, swordfish and shark? There is an epidemic of mercury poisoning in New York City and your levels are high enough that we need to inform you. Are you married? Are you planning on having any children soon? If so we would advise you wait at least 6 months and cut seafood out of your diet."

The truth is I had recently become a pescatarian and was feeling sluggish so I had gone to a nutritionist to get my blood work done. I had been eating tuna 3-4 times a week. Sushi had become the main staple of my diet. Oh god! This is when it really dawned on me that we may be in real trouble. Why are these beautiful fish so full of lead? I want to have healthy kids....

Not long after that phone call, I got another call from my pal Jim Clark founder of Netscape. Jim and I had become diving buddies and I had been fortunate enough to have been invited on many incredible diving trips on the Athena, one of the most remarkably beautiful, technologically sophisticated and revered sailboats afloat today. While diving with Jim, we would often be returning to the same spots he was 20 years earlier, sometimes in the middle of the South Pacific, and even there he would see how the reef had begun to deteriorate and in some cases even die, in a short span of time. This had becoming quite alarming to Jim and because of this, along with his friend, photographer Louis Psihoyos, they started a non for profit called The Oceanic Preservation Society to wake people up to the rapid deterioration of our oceans and reef systems and how human beings are the main culprits.

So when Jim asked me to come help work on the first project for OPS, of course I said yes. Louis had shot all this amazing footage in Japan that was unique and dangerous. He had not only exposed a killing cove, where Japanese fisherman were slaughtering more dolphins in one day then anywhere else in the world, but had brought the life of a modern day hero to light. Ric O'Barry, the former trainer and capture of the original Flipper, who had now committed his entire existence to freeing dolphins all over the world. The purity of his spirit was something I had rarely seen in a human being. This is someone not only I could look up to but hopefully that everyone could look up to. A man out for a cause that was bigger then himself.

At first I dipped my feet into the project but after viewing hundreds of hours of footage on Ric's life and seeing how crazy Louis and his band of merry men were in risking their own lives to expose the cove, I dove into the film head first. With the help of editor Geoff Richman and writer Mark Monroe, we set out to make a film that was closer to Oceans 11 then a Nat Geo special. We wanted to make a film that could educate subliminally while keeping it entertaining.

The Cove is about so much more then the senseless and horrific act of dolphins getting slaughtered. As Ric says in the film, "If we can't even stop something as obvious as that forget about the "bigger" issues, there is no hope."

A lot has changed for me since those few phone calls in my office in TriBeca 3 years ago. It was much easier and more satisfying to do re-shoots on a documentary. Not having to deal with hair and make up or agents to get the actors schedules. Also after cutting out my very expensive sushi lunches or ordering cucumber/avocado rolls instead of Toro, my mercury levels have gone way down. And I look at not only dolphins, but the oceans in a whole new light. Hopefully after seeing The Cove, the world will as well. Respecting it the way you would your home because, after all, a long long time ago, it was.