Hellish tale of lionfish

Screenwriter James V. Hart has set
his sights on Cayman’s lionfish – not for prey or for dinner, but as the basis
for an underwater horror movie he is working on. 

The avid diver is a regular visitor
to the Cayman Islands, and his encounters with lionfish here and in other dive
sites in the Caribbean in recent years has led him to cast the critters in his
new film Hellfish. 

Most of his diving group were also
writers who, after a dive, would indulge in a morbid game of coming up with
various scenarios in which one could murder a person underwater. “It was
getting weird,” he said. “We’d be on the dive boat talking about really creepy

Mr. Hart said he had wanted to make
an underwater horror film for a long time, but it was not until he was trained
to cull lionfish on a dive trip to Turks and Caicos that he began to realise
that the beautiful but venomous creatures could be the focus of his movie. 

When he returned to Cayman, he met
Brenda Gadd of the Central Caribbean Marine Institute at the Little Cayman Research
Centre and two students who were researching lionfish, and he started getting
more scientific information from them about the invasive species that has been
plaguing Caribbean waters for the past few years. Lionfish have voracious
appetites and can clear a reef of huge quantities of juvenile fish in short
amounts of time. 

The writer hopes to return to
Cayman in January, by which time he plans to have finished the script. 

Mr. Hart, who first came to Cayman
in 2007 to dive, has penned scripts for several big-budget movies, including
for Contact, based on a Carl Sagan novel and starring Jodie Foster; Hook, which
retold the story of Peter Pan and featured Dustin Hoffman as the title
character; and Bram Stoker’s Dracula, directed by Francis Ford Coppola. He is
currently working with Marvel Comics legend Stan Lee to create a new super-hero
franchise in collaboration with his son Jake Hart. 

He is a member of the Cayman
Islands Film Commission’s advisory board, after being invited to join by his
friend, producer Jason Felts, and film commissioner Dax Basdeo, who were
instrumental in setting up the commission. 

“I hope to spend three to six
months in Cayman. It’s a great place to write,” he said. 

Writing and filming a movie about
Cayman’s lionfish has the added benefit for Mr. Hart of bringing him back to
Islands. “I’m always looking for reasons to come back and dive,” he said. 

He admits he was envious of another
writer who had made his home in Cayman, Dick Francis. Mr. Francis, who died in
February, lived for many years on Seven Mile Beach. “He had the perfect
lifestyle. He loved writing, and he found a great place to write… I envied
and coveted what he had as a writer and how he chose to live as a writer.” 

Over the next few months, he will
continue to research lionfish and complete the script. 

“I’m doing research on Hellfish
now. We’ve knocked out a story line,” he said.  

“I don’t want to give the game
away, but it’s all science-based… When I did Contact, I worked with Carl
Sagan for two years. Contact was science-based, with some science fiction. I’m
going to apply the same principles to Hellfish and scare the bejaysus out of
people,” he said. 

“Hellfish will be my version of
Jaws meets Piranha meets Contact,” he said, adding: “It’ll be fun and scary.” 

His collaborators on the script are
Stacy Frank and her brother, photographer Courtney Platt. 

He hopes his movie can also
highlight the growing problem of lionfish on Caribbean reefs. “I want to bring
attention to it. It’s a real serious problem. Everyone’s heard of the oil spill
in the Gulf [of Mexico], but no one’s really paying attention to what happening
with the lionfish,” he said. 

Mr. Hart explained that once Cayman
gets established as a location where movie-making equipment, expertise and
skills are available, more and more filmmakers will come to the Islands to make

“The big issue is developing an
infrastructure so that [film crews] don’t have to bring everything with them,”
he said. 

He added that building up a film
industry by training crews and putting policies in place to make it attractive
for filmmakers to come to Cayman would help build the Islands’ economy. “This
really could be a cash cow for the region,” he said. 

He cited film industries in
Michigan and Louisiana as examples of where local governments have put in the
groundwork and created incentives and tax breaks to bring in film makers.  

Cayman offers a 30 per cent rebate
on film, video, commercial, and television productions that record on Island. 

Movies that have been shot in
Cayman include The Firm, which starred Tom Cruise, Haven, which was directed by
local director Frank E. Flowers and starred Orlando Bloom, and Cayman Went,
which was filmed mostly on Cayman Brac. 


James V. Hart is using Cayman’s lionfish as the basis for an underwater horror movie he’s writing.
Photo: Submitted

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