Local actor swims with the sharks for Discovery Channel show

Punta Gorda resident films segment for Discovery Channel's 'Shark Week'

Punta Gorda actor Shawn Genther filmed a segment for an episode called 'Killer Sharks' that will air during Discovery Channel's 'Shark Week.' Genther's episode, about shark attacks off the coast of South Africa during the winter of 1957 premieres Tuesday, August 2 at 9 p.m. Photo courtesy Shawn Genther

Punta Gorda actor Shawn Genther filmed a segment for an episode called "Killer Sharks" that will air during Discovery Channel's "Shark Week." Genther's episode, about shark attacks off the coast of South Africa during the winter of 1957 premieres Tuesday, August 2 at 9 p.m. Photo courtesy Shawn Genther

Punta Gorda actor Shawn Genther filmed a segment for an episode called 'Killer Sharks' that will air during Discovery Channel's 'Shark Week.' Genther's episode, about shark attacks off the coast of South Africa during the winter of 1957 premieres Tuesday, August 2 at 9 p.m. Photo courtesy Shawn Genther

Punta Gorda actor Shawn Genther filmed a segment for an episode called "Killer Sharks" that will air during Discovery Channel's "Shark Week." Genther's episode, about shark attacks off the coast of South Africa during the winter of 1957 premieres Tuesday, August 2 at 9 p.m. Photo courtesy Shawn Genther

Punta Gorda resident Shawn Genther's segment will air during Discovery Channel's "Shark Week." The episode, titled "Killer Sharks," premieres Tuesday, August 2 at 9 p.m.

Look for Shawn Genther in the upcoming films "Moment of Truth" and "Remedy" from 315 Films. He's also in an independent feature "Light," which premieres at the Fort Myers Film Festival's Intellectualization Mondays at the Sidney and Berne Davis Art Center at 6:30 p.m., Monday, August 8.

April 3, 2011 was a day Punta Gorda resident Shawn Genther will never forget.

Standing in neck-deep water at John U. Lloyd Beach State Park in Dania Beach, he was attacked by a shark.

He was attacked by a shark for ten hours. For television. The worst thing he suffered was a sunburn.

Genther, an actor, spent all day flailing around in the water filming scenes for an segment that will air on the Discovery Channel's upcoming "Shark Week" event.

"The piece I was in is all about the shark attacks that took place in December 1957 off the coast of South Africa," Genther, 39, said.

Dubbed "Black December" by the press, five people died in shark attacks from December 1957 to April 1958. The "Shark Week" episode "Killer Sharks," which premieres Tuesday, August 2 at 9 p.m., features re-enactments and stories from the period.

Genther, who grew up in Pennsylvania and moved to Florida as an adult, had never had a shark encounter before.

"My parents didn’t even like the beach so it was rare that I even went," he said. "Not to mention the waters up north are usually too cold, even in the summer to have sharks in them."

A longtime local actor who's been active with the Charlotte Players, the Laboratory Theater of Florida and various independent films, he got the call from his agent, Glenn Burton, asking if he wanted to be submitted for the role.

The only requirement? He had to look like a South African tourist.

"The selections were all done via picture submission so I didn’t even have to audition," Genther said. "They were simply looking for certain looks for the roles."

While Genther didn't have to prove he could swim or dive for the role - the entire shoot was in waist-deep or neck-deep water - he did have to sign a rather unusual waiver.

"You had to sign a waiver saying they weren’t responsible if you got attacked by a shark," Genther laughed.

The ten-hour shoot was anything but simple. Despite copious amounts of sunscreen, Genther came out sunburned - and his first dunking left him with water in his ears.

"The worst thing for me was that my one ear for some reason got water clogged in it and I shot most of the day hardly being able to hear," he said.

No real sharks showed up. And the fake shark was all teeth and plastic.

"They had a fake shark that was just basically a head that went down about 3 feet before if turned into handles that was controlled by me and another guy," Genther said. "It was made of hard plastic and the teeth were rubber but it was still tough to work with as they needed to have it look like it was biting me."

Genther said he didn't have to do anything special to get "into character" as a shark attack victim, even after hours in the water with pruney skin and a sunburn.

"The hardest part was just making it believable that I was actually scared of the shark attacking me," Genther said. "I was proud that the guy controlling the fake shark told me I had the best reaction to being attacked that he had seen all week."

The large team included three directors - one each for dialogue, action scenes and water stunts. The shoot also included a 20-person crew with craft services, wardrobe and makeup, sound, lighting and specialists to handle action on the beach and in the water.

Beach scenes - Genther says "look for me on the beach with fake bloody chicken parts on me" - provided one of the day's funniest moments.

John U. Lloyd Beach State Park is a public park - and the set wasn't closed to the public. One beach-goer mistook the cameras and excitement for the real thing - and screamed out in the middle of filming.

"We were shooting the scene where I’m laid out on the beach, the sand dug out and made to look like I’m missing parts of an arm and a leg, covered in raw meat and red-colored chocolate sauce," Genther said, "and this older woman is walking down the beach right as we are in the middle of the scene and everyone is reacting to my gory horror."

Her reaction to seeing a mangled, bloody man lying on the beach was predictable.

"She reacts right along with it," Genther said. "except her reaction is real! We had to stop and calm her down before shooting again."

Genther's segment will air during Discovery Channel's "Shark Week." The episode, titled "Killer Sharks," premieres Tuesday, August 2 at 9 p.m.

Look for Shawn Genther in the upcoming films "Moment of Truth" and "Remedy" from 315 Films. He's also in an independent feature "Light," which premieres at the Fort Myers Film Festival's Intellectualization Mondays at the Sidney and Berne Davis Art Center at 6:30 p.m., Monday, August 8.

© 2011 marconews.com. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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