Saying goodbye to Sanctum producer Andrew Wight and Cinematographer Mike deGruy

With my own thing going on overseas at the moment, and some back-end changes here on the site causing chafing, this is the first opportunity I’ve had to miss the horrible passing of producer and writer Andrew Wight.

Wight, producer of last year’s underwater thriller “Sanctum” and a long-time employee of James Cameron (Wight was going to head the local office of Cameron’s Cameron Pace 3D company), died when his helicopter spiraled out of control upon take-off on Saturday in Berry, near Wollongong. Cinematographer Mike deGruy, who along with Wight was researching a new deep-sea project for Cameron, was also killed in the accident. The men never stood a chance.

I’d only had the pleasure of meeting Wight, and only the one time, but I found him to be an intelligent, courteous and very likeable man.

It was this time last year that I spoke to the Culcairn-born Wight about “Sanctum”, a 3D flick starring Richard Roxburgh, and during that 15 or 20 minute conversation – can’t recall how long it went for; generally, I go over a couple of minutes though with interviews – got a good feel of where the man was headed. He spoke about the excitement of seeing his script “Sanctum”, loosely based on his own adventures, come to life, and really struggled to restrain himself from getting noticeably giddy about the projects he – and James Cameron – had planned for the future. There was some talk about “Titanic 3D” too, which sadly Wight won’t get to see hit theaters, and how good of a job his colleague ‘Jim’ had done on converting the 1998 blockbuster to 3D.

Cameron talks highly of the men.

“Mike and Andrew were like family to me,” James Cameron told The Daily Telegraph. “They were my deep-sea brothers and both were true explorers who did extraordinary things and went places no human being had been.”

“Andrew was kind and loyal, full of life and a sense of fun, and above all, a careful planner who stressed safety to everyone on his team every single day,” Cameron said.

“It is cruelly ironic that he died flying a helicopter, which was second nature to him, like driving a car would be to most people.”

Alister Grierson, who directed “Sanctum” (and who I also spoke to for the film), believed Wight was ahead of the game.

“He was coming at film-making from a different angle,” the filmmaker said. “He was the most entrepreneurial film maker in the country, he’s a great loss.”

As I said, never had the pleasure of meeting Mr deGruy, nor becoming too familiar with his work, but he was largely a documentary filmmaker that worked for the National Geographic. His latest documentary short was called “Heal the Ocean”.

A quick look at deGruy’s twitter page reveals his last message to be the strangely comforting but upsetting, “Been in Australia 2 weeks, one to go then off to PNG. Love this place- especially Sydney on Australia Day.”

Heartrendingly, both men leave behind young families – Wight’s son Ted is just a year old; thankfully he’ll be able to remember his day through the fine product he produced, but he’ll never get to know the man behind the picture.

To end on, here’s a bit of my chat with Mr Wight about “Sanctum” and 3D films from last year.

Interview : Andrew Wight, January 28, 2011

It’s amazing how beautifully 3D can capture the guts of a soaked fissure
Andrew Wight : I don’t think people are quite aware how much beauty and grandeur there is underground. People just think it’s dark and horrible down there. Not so, there are all these amazing environments there. I think we’ve had a good crack at trying to recreate that for audiences. The world of caves just works well with 3D.

And Jim’s initial first reaction to the dailies?
Andrew Wight : Jim admits the 3D probably even works better here than it did on Avatar. It’s those more intimate scenes in Avatar that the 3D works better in.

It may indeed, but why is that?
Andrew Wight : Avatar was a spectacle. 3D works better for more intimate sequences like we have in Sanctum. The smaller, the better. People have questioned Baz Luhrmann’s decision to shoot The Great Gatsby in 3D, but guess what? Baz will make a crackin’ 3D movie.

Indeed. And there’s those that are even skeptical about Marty Scorsese’s journey into the realm of 3D with ”Hugo Cabret”, but tell me that’s not going to be an amazing experience!?
Andrew Wight : You see, people think it’s just the action/adventure movies that lend themselves to 3D, it’s not; it’s the intimate drama – 3D doesn’t actually work beyond about 30-feet – that works the best.

Now, it’s the same Cameron/Pace Fusion 3D Camera System used here, right? Did they even give them a spit and polish for you?

Andrew Wight: No, we had to clean them up [Laughs]. They were still dusty.

I’ve heard those 3D cameras can be a temperamental little cow to work with? Did they get anyone in trouble?

Andrew Wight : Yeah, I think we were more concerned about the performers than the cameras. These actors had to spend all this time in the water, diving into caves, so they had to be taught how to do that – and look convincing doing it.
On the first day or so of the shoot, the crew – typical movie people – wanted to put lights up on the roof. That way, all they’d have to do was flick a switch and we’d be good to go. Thing is, you can’t put lights on a cave roof. We had to end up carrying all our equipment; it was a monumental effort.

R.I.P Gents.