You need to be careful to stay out of Charlie’s line of sight,” Steve said to me. “I want Charlie focusing only on me. If he changes focus and starts attacking you, it’s going to be too difficult for me to control the situation.”
Right. Steve got no argument from me. Getting anywhere near those bone-crushing jaws was the furthest thing from my mind. I wasn’t keen on being down on the water with a huge saltwater crocodile trying to get me. I would have to totally rely on Steve to keep me safe.
We stepped into the dinghy, which was moored in Charlie’s enclosure, secured front and back with ropes. Charlie came over immediately to investigate. It didn’t take much to encourage him to have a go at Steve. Steve grabbed a top-jaw rope. He worked on roping Charlie while the cameras rolled.
Time and time again, Charlie hurled himself straight at Steve, a half ton of reptile flesh exploding up out of the water a few feet away from me. I tried to hang on precariously and keep the boat counterbalanced. I didn’t want Steve to lose his footing and topple in. Charlie was one angry crocodile. He would have loved nothing more than to get his teeth into Steve.
As Charlie used his powerful tail to propel himself out of the water, he arched his neck and opened his jaws wide, whipping his head back and forth, snapping and gnashing. Steve carefully threw the top-jaw rope, but he didn’t actually want to snag Charlie. Then he would have had to get the rope off without stressing the croc, and that would have been tricky.
The cameras rolled. Charlie lunged. I cowered. Steve continued to deftly toss the rope. Then, all of a sudden, Charlie swung at the rope instead of Steve, and the rope went right over Charlie’s top jaw. A perfect toss, provided that had been what Steve was trying to do. But it wasn’t. We had a roped croc on our hands that we really didn’t want.
Steve immediately let the rope go slack. Charlie had it snagged in his teeth. Because of Steve’s quick thinking and prompt maneuvering, the rope came clear. We breathed a collective sigh of relief.
Steve looked up at the cameras. “I think you’ve got it.”
John agreed. “I think we do, mate.”
The crew cheered. The shoot lasted several minutes, but in the boat, I wasn’t sure if it had been seconds or hours. Watching Steve work Charlie up close had been amazing--a huge, unpredictable animal with a complicated thought process, able to outwit its prey, an animal that had been on the planet for millions of years, yet Steve knew how to manipulate him and got some fantastic footage.
To the applause of the crew, Steve got us both out of the boat. He gave me a big hug. He was happy. This was what he loved best, being able to interact and work with wildlife. Never before had anything like it been filmed in any format, much less on thirty-five-millimeter film for a movie theater. We accomplished the shot with the insurance underwriters none the wiser.
Steve wanted to portray crocs as the powerful apex predators that they were, keeping everyone safe while he did it. Never once did he want it to appear as though he were dominating the crocodile, or showing off by being in close proximity to it. He wished for the crocodile to be the star of the show, not himself.
I was proud of him that day. The shoot represented Steve Irwin at his best, his true colors, and his desire to make people understand how amazing these animals are, to be witnessed by audiences in movie theaters all over the world. We filmed many more sequences with crocs, and each time Steve performed professionally and perfected the shots. He was definitely in his element.
With the live-croc footage behind us, the insurance people came on board, and we were finally able to sign a contract with MGM. We were to start filming in earnest. First stop: the Simpson Desert, with perentie lizards and fierce snakes.