FILMING THE EVIDENCE OF AN ANCIENT SHARK BITE FOR PALEOWORLD;

April, 1997

Copyright 1998-2009 by Mike Everhart

On Monday, April 7, 1997, we met Alex, Julian and Chris when they got off the plane at the airport in Hays, Kansas. They were the advance party of a film crew from Wall to Wall Television, LTD, in London, England. Wall to Wall Television is doing the 1997 Paleoworld documentary series and they were on location in Kansas to film part of a program about Prehistoric Sharks. Two other members of the crew were driving a truck load of lighting equipment across Kansas on I-70 from Kansas City.

They had just finished shooting with Mike Gottfried at the Calvert Museum in Maryland where the weather finally turned nice on the last day. Now they were in Kansas where the weather was about to turn nasty. A freak Spring snowstorm was on the way. According to Alex, they had two other film crews that were snowbound in the United States; one in Arizona and one in Wyoming. It was not a good start to their 1997 filming activity.

Paleoworld was interested in filming an unusual fossil that we had found in early 1995. The specimen was a 12 inch section of vertebrae that had been bitten out of the back of a large mosasaur by a very large Cretoxyrhina mantelli shark. Some of the shark's teeth had broken off and were still embedded in the vertebrae and the surface of the bone had been pitted by the shark's stomach acid.

On Tuesday morning, the skies were cloudy and a cold north wind was blowing across the Kansas prairie. The weather channel said there was a chance of snow that day, with more to come. Since most of the film crew had arrived without winter clothing (several of them were 'complaining' about having to go to the Bahamas to film real sharks later in the week!), we got a later start than we had planned. After outfitting everyone at the local Wal-Mart, we drove about 50 miles west on I-70 to the site where the specimen had been found.

Upon arrival about 10:00 AM, we met the property owners at the site and introduced them to the film crew. Once the crew had had a chance to look over the area, they began to set up their equipment while Alex, the director/producer, reviewed the plan for the days shooting. I wandered around, trying to be useful, and soon realized that most of my day was going to be spent waiting for the crew to get ready to film. That seems to be the normal way of doing things in the film business.

After filming a panorama of the Smoky Hill chalk, and the picture of a sign (above) the crew shot a lot of footage of me climbing around on the rocks. It seemed like we did the same shot over and over again from several different angles. Then we did a shot of me finding a shark's tooth and explaining about the shark that it came from, and also about the stratigraphy of the Smoky Hill chalk (an ancient sea bottom from about 85 million years ago). There was a cold north wind blowing up my backside while I was trying to talk and it didn't seem like I was doing a very good job of telling my story. I will be interested to see how the film editor makes it look good (Thankfully, he cut most of it out!)

After filming a panorama of the Smoky Hill chalk, and the picture of a sign (above) the crew shot a lot of footage of me climbing around on the rocks. It seemed like we did the same shot over and over again from several different angles. Then we did a shot of me finding a shark's tooth and explaining about the shark that it came from, and also about the stratigraphy of the Smoky Hill chalk (an ancient sea bottom from about 85 million years ago). There was a cold north wind blowing up my backside while I was trying to talk and it didn't seem like I was doing a very good job of telling my story. I will be interested to see how the film editor makes it look good (Thankfully, he cut most of it out!)

In the afternoon, we "re-created" the discovery of the mosasaur vertebrae for the cameras. After taking a lot of time to bury the specimen in a convincing manner, we set up and did one take of me digging it up again. The shot was done with two cameras, one of which was a stop action unit to show the find in time lapse motion. Again, the special effects used in this shot will be interesting.

Once we had finished with the shark bite specimen, we changed locations to a site where I had dug up a very large mosasaur skull (4 feet long). Alex wanted to use the discovery as a lead-in for part of the Prehistoric Sharks episode and I'm interested to see just how he does that. We kept on shooting things from different angles and did several re-takes of critical shots where I was talking about mosasaurs and how they lived in the Late Cretaceous. We finished just about the time the sun was going down, after spending over 10 cold, windy hours on location.

On Wednesday, we moved the filming into the historic Sternberg Museum on the campus of Fort Hays State University. The museum is in the process of being relocated to a brand new, state-of-the-art facility and is not currently open to the public. Thanks to a lot of extra effort on the part of the Sternberg Museum staff, however, things were moved around and arrangements made to set up a lab bench where the mosasaur vertebrae could be examined and the evidence for the shark bite could be "found".

Even though it was snowing outside, it was nice and warm inside, and things went much better for me in front of the camera. After several "takes" of me explaining in gory detail how the shark had gouged a big chunk of bone and flesh out of the mosasaur, the film crew went on to filming various exhibits at the museum.

Since the weather was worsening rapidly and my part of the shoot was finished, I said my good-byes about 4:30 PM and headed down the Interstate in the freezing rain. In all, I had spent almost 16 hours working with the film crew. At best, all of the footage that was shot during those two days will result in about five minutes in the documentary. But I guess that's television! It will be several months before I get to see how everything turned out but I'm looking forward to what should be a very informative and well done piece on Prehistoric Sharks.


POSTSCRIPT: In October, 1997, at the Society of Vertebrate Paleontology meeting in Chicago, Julian Hudson of Wall to Wall Productions, LTD, gave me a copy of the "Prehistoric Sharks" videotape. We reviewed the episode and liked what we saw. The chalk and the specimens at the old/new Sternberg Museum look pretty good on TV! Now if we can just find out when it will be aired on The Learning Channel.

POSTSCRIPT 2: The Paleoworld series was cancelled in mid-season by the Learning Channel, and the show was never aired in the United States. A friend of mine in the Philippines, however, saw it on one of their television networks ... go figure. I did get a copy of the tape and it has been shown numerous times.