DATE August 10, 2004 ACCOUNT NUMBER N/A
TIME 12:00 Noon-1:00 PM AUDIENCE N/A
PROGRAM Fresh Air
Interview: Graham Allison discusses the global threat of nuclear
DAVE DAVIES, host:
This is FRESH AIR. I'm Dave Davies, senior writer for the Philadelphia Daily
News, sitting in for Terry Gross.
As horrifying as the September 11th attacks were, my guest, Graham Allison,
believes it's more likely than not that sometime in the next decade Americans
will experience something far worse, a terrorist attack with a nuclear weapon.
Allison's new book, "Nuclear Terrorism: The Ultimate Preventable
Catastrophe," is an alarming look at just how accessible nuclear weapons and
weapons materials are and why the nuclear programs of Iran and North Korea
stand to dramatically increase the threat. Allison believes that a nuclear
terrorist attack can be prevented if the United States changes course and
makes nuclear safety more of a national priority.
Graham Allison was a founding dean of Harvard's John F. Kennedy School of
Government and served as an assistant secretary of Defense during the Clinton
You open your book, "Nuclear Terrorism," with a chilling anecdote about a tip
that the CIA got just, I think, a month after the September 11th attack. I'd
like you to describe that information and what it tells us about the state of
our vulnerability to a nuclear terrorist attack.
Mr. GRAHAM ALLISON (Author, "Nuclear Terrorism: The Ultimate Preventable
Catastrophe"): Well, this is an actual incident, not well-known because it
turned out to be a false alarm. But just a month almost to the day after the
assault on 9/11, the director of CIA went in to the president and said that an
agent named Dragonfire, appropriately, had reported that al-Qaeda had a
10-kiloton nuclear weapon from out of the former Soviet arsenal in New York
City. And there was even some specific information about the characteristics
of the weapon and the fact that it might have entered the US from Canada. In
any case, the alarm bells went off in the very, very inner circles of the US
government, and for several days people had to confront the possibility that
there was actually a nuclear weapon in New York.
The president asked, `Could al-Qaeda have a 10-kiloton weapon?' And the
answer was, `Well, yes, they could.' `Were there 10-kiloton weapons in the
former Soviet arsenal, some of which may be unaccounted for and might have
found their ways into al-Qaeda's hand?' `Yes, there could be.' `If it
entered the US, would we know?' The answer was, `Well, no, we probably
wouldn't.' `If it's in New York City, can we find it?' And the answer was,
`Unlikely, unless we get some additional clues.' So for several days people
looked very hard at the problem. As I say, fortunately, it turned out to be a
false alarm. And, in fact, they never even told Mayor Giuliani, who after he
learned of the fact later was somewhat upset about it.
DAVIES: Everyone knows that a nuclear terrorist attack in the US would be a
catastrophe. But in your book you describe, in some detail, what a nuclear
weapon going off in Times Square would do. What was your purpose in going
into that kind of detail? What would happen?
Mr. ALLISON: Well, what I do in the first chapter is imagine, as people had
to do in October of 2001 when they thought a 10-kiloton weapon was in New York
City: If that weapon were exploded, a 10-kiloton weapon, what would the
consequences be? Well, a 10-kiloton weapon is about the size of Hiroshima, to
put it in perspective. That was 12 kilotons. For the first third of a mile
from ground zero in all directions, one would have nothing. It would just be
vaporized. It would disappear. And out to a mile buildings would look like
the federal office building in Oklahoma City. Now you could imagine a half a
million people dying promptly in such an attack in New York, you know, if it
was midday and the place is crowded and over time several hundred thousand
more, maybe even ultimately a million, people dying in relatively short order.
So it's just--this is a level of catastrophic consequence that most people
DAVIES: Well, let's take some of the places where weapons might be available.
There were thousands of strategic and tactical nuclear weapons in the former
Soviet Union. Is there evidence that some of them have already been stolen?
What is the state of security at these weapons storage sites?
Mr. ALLISON: Well, now--there's a Ukrainian friend of mine who--since you--a
number of these weapons were in Ukraine. He says, `Well, you keep talking
about the good news,' which is that all the weapons were taken back from--you
know, are in Russia. `But the bad news is that all the nuclear weapons are
taken back in Russia today, where they're vulnerable to theft.' They're--in
the efforts that have gone on over the last 12 years, the security at the
nuclear weapons sites has improved in Russia in a number of the sites, and the
US has been involved in assisting that. But it is still the case that about
half of the weapons and potential weapons in lumps of highly enriched uranium
and plutonium are relatively vulnerable; that is, they have not been secured
to a level that we, in the US, would regard as acceptable. And that means
that there's 10,000 weapons that are at risk, some of them at facilities
where, as I've seen with my own eyes--when, you know, you see a fence that it
looks like it wouldn't be difficult to go through or go over or a guard at a
facility where there's even no metal check for people coming out.
And there's certainly been cases where material for which weapons could be
made was stolen, but we know of no case in which a weapon itself was
successfully stolen. Now there's one of those sort of stories that's still
out there that I've continued trying to trace down, in which a fellow named
Aleksandr Lebed, who was Yeltsin's national security adviser for a while,
acknowledged that 84 suitcase nuclear weapons, which had been made for the KGB
back during the Cold War, were unaccounted for. The Russian government
reacted rather strongly in old Soviet style by denying that there were any
such weapons and then saying they had all been destroyed and then saying none
were missing. So there was a whole bunch of conflicting stories that they
offered about it. I've never...
DAVIES: Graham, I have to interrupt and ask you to explain what on earth is a
suitcase weapon, and what was the KGB doing with them?
Mr. ALLISON: The US had something called atomic demolition munitions and
other very small atomic nuclear weapons that could fit in a backpack. And the
purpose of these was for going behind the lines, if there should be a war, and
blowing up bridges or blowing up headquarters or other--and in the Soviet
case, they had these Spetsnaz units, which were very effective, which would
go, again, behind the lines and try to kill the political leadership of a
country or to blow up major buildings and facilities or headquarters or to
blow up bridges. And small nuclear weapons were quite suited to that purpose.
DAVIES: Literally a nuclear bomb you could carry in a suitcase?
Mr. ALLISON: In a suitcase or in a backpack, absolutely. So the smallest
ones weighed about, you know, 60 pounds, and others weighed about 90 pounds.
So that's a heavy suitcase, but put it in a backpack, one person could carry
it quite adequately.
DAVIES: Apart from finding an already-made nuclear weapon, the fear is that
terrorists could build their own bomb. How much fissile material--that is to
say highly enriched uranium or processed plutonium--would a terrorist group
need to build a bomb? I mean, are we talking about something that
you'd--where you'd need a dump truck full? Would you need a suitcase full?
Mr. ALLISON: For the basic Hiroshima-style bomb, which is the easiest bomb to
build, you would need about 100 pounds of highly enriched uranium. And since
this is very dense, very heavy material, that would fit in a six-pack roughly.
So you empty out a six-pack of beer or Coke and fill it with highly enriched
uranium, and that's about how big it is, smaller than a football. The design
for the weapon is essentially a no-brainer, the Hiroshima bomb. That bomb was
never tested; that design actually the first time ever used was used over
Hiroshima. And that bomb would fit in the back of a van, like the van that
the al-Qaeda terrorist Ramzi Yousef parked in the World Trade Center in 1993
when they tried to blow it up. So you're talking about something roughly the
size of a football or a little smaller, a device which would fit in a van and
a design which is, unfortunately, rather straightforward and which has been
public information now for 30 years. So it's a 60-year-old technology,
therefore not rocket science.
DAVIES: Now you said that you could fit enough highly enriched uranium to
make a sizable nuclear weapon in a space about the size of a six-pack of Coke.
Can you transport that safely? I mean, does it give off radiation? Could
someone literally walk out with it and sell it without worrying about damage
to their health?
Mr. ALLISON: The damage to the person would be quite small since it is
not--doesn't have a big effect in terms of their health. In terms of the
ability to detect it, it does give off gamma rays, which can be detected if
unshielded. But, again, unfortunately, if hidden in a lid container, like a
camera bag, this becomes almost impossible to detect. So, here, nature is
sort of against us in advantages, the hiders vs. the seekers.
Since 9/11 there's been a major effort in research and development at the US
weapons labs and elsewhere trying to improve detection capability. But today
if a terrorist succeeded in getting 100 pounds of highly enriched uranium,
there are difficulties in--bringing it into the US would be slim. And our
ability to find it, if it's in a city, is, as one of the NEST people--these
are the people who are--the teams that are prepared to go try to search--they
say it is like looking for a needle in a haystack of needles. So we're not
well-advantaged there. The crucial thing to recognize, therefore, is that the
source is the place to lock the material down and the place where we have the
best chance of succeeding.
DAVIES: My guest is former assistant Defense Secretary Graham Allison. His
new book is "Nuclear Terrorism." We'll talk more after a break. This is
(Soundbite of music)
DAVIES: We're back with Graham Allison. He is the former assistant secretary
of Defense, and his new book is "Nuclear Terrorism: The Ultimate Preventable
What role has Pakistani scientists and the government of Pakistan played in
spreading nuclear technology?
DAVIES: There's been this fantastic story of A.Q. Khan, who's the father of
the nuclear bomb for Pakistan, who is the global nuclear black marketeer, as
we've learned over the past year, as the sheets have been, you know, sort of
pulled back. Here, this man, right at the heart of the Pakistani nuclear
weapons program, who successfully stole technologies out of the Netherlands
back in the '80s and surreptitiously built the Pakistani nuclear weapon using
black market networks, then sort of flipped the switch sometime in the '80s
and began himself going--you know, black-marketeering these same nuclear
technologies that he was developing for Pakistan.
So this is a story most people just simply haven't gotten. But as the head
of the IAEA, Dr. El Baradei, has said, you know, he created virtually the
Wal-Marts of proliferation, harnessing all the forces of globalization and the
inventiveness of the market to supply people who had nuclear ambitions. And
we learned the most about this in Libya, where now Libya, having come and
confessed and opened itself, provides just a treasure of intelligence about
how this network worked.
Khan had set up--or gotten a company in Malaysia to set up a manufacturing
facility to manufacture centrifuges, which are the machines that make the
nuclear weapons material. He had gotten money flows through a Brit and an
Israeli, who were operating out of Dubai. He had some Americans even
compromised in this process. So this was a global network of production. He
ended up getting some uranium hexafluoride, it looks like, almost certainly
out of North Korea to supply to the Libyans, more than a bomb's worth of
material which, if run through the centrifuges, these machines, would have
produced enough highly enriched uranium for a nuclear weapon itself. And then
he sold nuclear consulting services.
So all this has been going on now--I mean, he was--his markets or buyers
included Iran, Iraq, Libya and three or four more countries that have not yet
been publicly outed but who--which I suspect should happen over the next
DAVIES: What consequences, what punishment did he suffer for his actions?
Mr. ALLISON: Well, he went on TV, he confessed and he was granted an instant
pardon. And he continues to live in a rather grand house in Pakistan. He's
as well-regarded in Pakistan by the population as is President Musharraf. So
this is a very difficult tightrope that Musharraf has been walking.
DAVIES: Is that a troubling lesson to be sending to people who want to engage
in nuclear piracy?
Mr. ALLISON: You bet. And I would hope that Musharraf is squeezing him in
order to get the information from him about the rest of this network, so that
it can be rolled up. But I don't know that that's the case, and I worry.
DAVIES: Graham Allison, you write in your book that Americans are no safer
from a nuclear attack today than we were at the time of the September 11th
attacks. And the central reason, you say, is our war on Iraq. What do you
mean by that?
Mr. ALLISON: Well, this is a tough proposition, but I have tried to analyze
the situation carefully, and I would say the following. With respect to
nuclear terrorism, what we know--that there are people who would like to
conduct a nuclear terrorist attack, bin Laden the chief example but not the
only one. In fact, I give a half-dozen other groups in my book. And
that--what stands between them and a nuclear terrorist attack? Acquiring a
nuclear weapon. In the case of Iraq, there were no nuclear weapons, there was
no nuclear weapons program. So this was a false premise with respect to the
case that was made for war. But we also know that in North Korea there are
likely two nuclear weapons that were made under the previous Bush
administration, but then there's enough fuel--there were 8,000 fuel rods that
were frozen until January of 2003, since which they've been being reprocessed
to produce enough material for six additional weapons. So here we have, in
the case of North Korea, certainly more potential nuclear weapons today than
we had back before 9/11.
DAVIES: And are you saying that North Korea restarted its nuclear weapons
program because we kind of took the eye off them because we were so focused on
Mr. ALLISON: I don't think they restarted it because we had our eye on Iraq.
What I'm saying is that while we've been focused elsewhere, they've been
engaged in this activity with impugnity. So they withdrew from the
Non-Proliferation Treaty, they kicked the inspectors out, they closed--they
shut down the cameras that had previously been watching this material to make
sure that it was not reprocessed and they started reprocessing this material
to produce enough stuff for six additional weapons. Now this, a country,
North Korea, which is currently--who, in the lingo called `Missiles "R"
Us'--so they sell missiles to whoever will buy them. They've sold missiles to
Iran, Iraq, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Libya. Whoever will pay, they sell. They
are potentially going to become `Nukes "R" Us.'
And I think one has every reason to believe that if North Korea succeeds at
becoming a recognized nuclear weapons state and completes its current efforts
to have a production line for material for an additional dozen weapons a year,
they will sell nuclear weapons to other states and even to terrorist groups.
And I've written in the book and I do believe this will be judged, if this
happens, the greatest failure in American diplomacy in all our history because
a nuclear North Korea, with a nuclear weapons production line, will produce a
world that--maybe not just of one nuclear terrorist acts but of multiple acts.
The North Korean case has kind of gotten almost out of the barn while we've
been focused on Iraq; that's the first instance.
The second instance is Iran, again, in terms of potential for supplying
nuclear weapons to terrorists who could attack us. So this is the only--I'm
only looking at this piece of being safer against nuclear terrorism. Iran has
been in the past two years completing the infrastructure for its nuclear
weapons program. And this gets a little technical, but I think it's--just if
I explain it briefly, if a state is able to make highly enriched uranium,
which you make by enriching uranium ore, or alternatively to make plutonium,
which you make by reprocessing the spent fuel that comes out of a nuclear
reactor, it then has the stuff of nuclear weapons. That's what's hard to
make. That's what's hard to get. But once you have highly enriched uranium
or plutonium, the rest of the process is relatively invisible and relatively
Iran is just about to complete the infrastructure for its nuclear weapons
program as well. So while we've been focusing on a relatively minor--a bad
regime, a bad man, a cruel dictator, Saddam Hussein--so I have nothing to say
for him, except that he was not the primary target if your concern is a state
and actors who would acquire and supply nuclear weapons to terrorists who
could attack us.
DAVIES: Policy analyst and former assistant secretary of Defense Graham
Allison. His new book is "Nuclear Terrorism: The Ultimate Preventable
Catastrophe." He'll be back in the second half of the show. This is FRESH
(Soundbite of music)
(Soundbite of music)
DAVIES: Coming up, a husband-and-wife filmmaking team create terror on the
water. We'll meet Chris Kentis and Laura Lau. Their new film is "Open
Water." Also, the music of tenor saxophonist Gary Windo, and we continue our
conversation about nuclear terrorism with Graham Allison.
(Soundbite of music)
DAVIES: This is FRESH AIR. I'm Dave Davies filling in for Terry Gross.
Let's get back to our conversation with Graham Allison. His new book is
"Nuclear Terrorism: The Ultimate Preventable Catastrophe." In the first half
of the show Allison said he believes the US made a mistake in focusing on Iraq
and paying too little attention to more advanced weapons programs in Iran and
As to the notion that the United States focused on Iraq while letting North
Korea and Iran--letting their weapons programs grow unchecked, what about the
argument that the invasion of Iraq, like the invasion of Afghanistan, sent a
message to everyone that the United States will act with enormous force and
will against a state it regards as a threat? That, in effect, there is a
deterrent effect that could have an effect on a Korea or an Iran?
Mr. ALLISON: I would say I think that's a reasonable consideration, and I
remember talking to Paul Wolfowitz about this, a person whom I know well. And
I believe that was a good part of the core of their argument: that this was
going to be easy; they were going to do it quickly; it was going to be seen as
successful, and it would be a demonstration of America's unique military
power, and there's, I would say--particularly if it had turned out to be an
obvious and apparent success and if there had been a nuclear weapons program,
which, as I say, CIA never believed there was nuclear weapons program there at
this time. Their best estimate was that it was more than a decade away.
DAVIES: And you say that...
Mr. ALLISON: In the...
DAVIES: Let me just interrupt there, Graham. You say that, even though
there'd been a couple of recent reports which maybe re-examined this notion
that Iraq was trying to buy uranium from Africa, right? About...
Mr. ALLISON: Well, no, I think that--I would say that Iraq had nuclear
weapons ambitions is correct. I mean, Saddam never gave up his ambitions.
The question is: How close was he to realizing those ambitions? If he had
bought the yellowcake that President Bush talked about in the State of the
Union speech from Iraq, imagine he'd even bought it successfully, he's still a
decade away from a nuclear weapon, unless he's completed the facilities for
enriching uranium. That's the hard part. Getting yellowcake is not hard.
And in the...
DAVIES: Yellowcake is the crushed uranium ore, right?
Mr. ALLISON: It's--yes.
DAVIES: Still not enriched, right.
Mr. ALLISON: Basically, it's an early stage of--if you think of it like gold,
it's like--you know, it's gold that's been panned a little bit, but it's still
not been refined in any significant way, and you're trying to get to 24
karats. This is way at the front end of the process and is not the hard part.
The hard part is the centrifuges and--a cascade of centrifuges that are able
to enrich this to the 24-karat gold stuff that you need for the bomb. In the
case of Iran, we hadn't--everybody agreed, all the intelligence community, all
the national security community, that they were working this problem very hard
and were getting closer and closer to success. And now we even see that we
know more about A.Q. Khan's activity. He was one of their main helpers and
So I would say we get some effect, some demonstration, some positive
demonstration effect, from showing that we can crush a regime easily, like
Saddam and Iraq. But as we now see, we find ourselves left owning it and with
a bit of a quagmire. And the most important thing and this is my point: that
while we were consumed elsewhere--if you look at the amount of energy and
capital of the president, of the secretary of State, of the secretary of
Defense, of the defense establishment that was sucked into that hole, while
North Korea and Iran have not been sleeping--they've been sneaking down the
track as fast as they can.
DAVIES: You have a fairly well-developed suggestion on how the United States
should deal with North Korea, which, as you said, is on the verge of being a
country with a nuclear weapon production line and a willingness to sell it
anywhere. How should we handle North Korea?
Mr. ALLISON: I think we need to take out all the carrots that we can imagine
and mobilize them, both our own and carrots that can come from North Korea,
from South Korea and from Japan and others and, secondly, all the sticks,
including all the sticks in our arsenal, and fashion a strategy on the basis
of which we sit down with North Korea bilaterally now and say, `We're simply
not going to accept and we can't live in a world in which you become a nuclear
weapons state with a nuclear weapons production line selling nuclear weapons
and materials to other states. That's unacceptable for us, so that's not
going to happen.' We've got to have a whole series of benefits for the North
Korean regime if they go in the direction that we want. On the other hand, if
you fail to do that, we're going to explore a whole set of options in terms of
sticks, which start with sanctions but ultimately contemplate military action
to prevent this from happening.
Now playing out that hand in a careful way, in a manner that mobilizes what we
can from South Korea and Japan and China, which has got a great interest in
this, and Russia is very hard to do. But if I contrast this strategy with the
strategy of the Bush administration, it has simply been one totally
befuddling--no carrots, so we're not going to give you anything, and no
sticks. When you withdraw from NPT or are reprocessing plutonium, we don't do
anything to you. We simply tell you, `We're not going to talk to you until
you agree that you are going to eliminate your weapons program'--and, indeed,
as President Bush said, `and, also, commit suicide for your regime because we
want your regime to change.'
DAVIES: Back in the Eisenhower years the United States had a program to help
develop Third World countries called the Atoms for Peace program. I guess
it was an effort to assist countries in developing nuclear power. What's the
legacy of that program for nuclear safety?
Mr. ALLISON: Ironically, danger. Both we, under the so-called Atoms for
Peace program, and the Soviet Union under a matching program provided research
reactors to many developing countries and some, what now turn out to be,
transitional countries, some of these powered by highly enriched uranium. So,
unfortunately, as a result of that, there are now about 20 countries where one
can find research reactors, often risky and vulnerable to theft, at which you
would find more than a bomb's worth of highly enriched uranium. And these
include countries like Belarus or Uzbekistan or the Czech Republic, and even
in Ghana one's got almost enough material at a risky research reactor.
In my view and as part of this No Loose Nukes program, we would go around and
clean out all that material. And I would say it should be done not on the
current timetable, where Secretary Abraham says over a decade maybe he's going
to get the job done. It should be done this year.
DAVIES: Well, is it true now that even if one of those countries wanted to
send its plutonium back to the United States, we actually charge them $5,000 a
kilogram to take it?
Mr. ALLISON: Well, there's been this just bizarre--I mean, the stories in
the bureaucracy are just hard to believe. But for a long time--now from the
most risky ones, I think that's gotten adjusted. But for a very substantial
period of time, the folks noticed that nobody was sending the material back.
And one of the reasons why, it was they were being charged to do this as
opposed to being incented to do it. So there's been a--this has been a
backwater in the Department of Energy. Secretary Abraham is now focused on it
a little bit more clearly, and I think that he's got the right idea. He's
just got the wrong timetable. It should be done immediately. We know how to
do it. We've done it successfully now in three countries. In the former
Yugoslavia, three potential nuclear weapons were taken out finally in the
summer of 2002. Imagine that material was the stuff that powered the nuclear
bomb that exploded in an American city? What are we going to--you know, say,
`Well, it was scheduled for removal in 2007, but we just hadn't got there
DAVIES: Well, Graham Allison, thanks so much for speaking with us.'
Mr. ALLISON: Thank you very much for a great interview.
DAVIES: Policy analyst and former assistant Secretary of Defense Graham
Allison. His book is "Nuclear Terrorism: The Ultimate Preventable
Coming up, what it's like to be abandoned on the open sea with nobody but the
sharks. It's the subject of a new film called "Open Water." This is FRESH
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
Interview: Chris Kentis and Laura Lau discuss their movie, "Open
DAVE DAVIES, host:
You want a real nightmare? Picture this. You're on vacation, enjoying a
scuba dive with a recreational company, but when you come to the surface the
boat has left and you're alone on the high seas. That happened to a Louisiana
couple left to fend for themselves in shark-infested waters off Australia in
1998. The incident provided the inspiration for "Open Water," a new film by
my guests, the husband-and-wife team of Chris Kentis and Laura Lau. The movie
was shot on a minimal budget with little-known actors, but the terrifying
scenes of the couple facing hungry sharks captured Hollywood's attention and
has earned the film a wide theatrical release. It's been described as `"Jaws"
meets "The Blair Witch Project."' Chris Kentis and Laura Lau have made one
other feature film, a 1997 movie called "Grind."
Here's a clip from "Open Water," in which the stranded couple are arguing.
They're played by actors Daniel Travis and Blanchard Ryan.
(Soundbite of "Open Water")
Mr. DANIEL TRAVIS: (As Daniel) Do you honestly--seriously, honey, do you
honestly think that we got left behind because we were late? I'm serious. Do
you have any idea how idiotic that sounds?
Ms. BLANCHARD RYAN: (As Susan) Oh, so now I'm an idiot? Well, we are where
we are, aren't we?
Mr. TRAVIS: (As Daniel) Yeah, fine. Yes, because of me.
Ms. RYAN: (As Susan) You refused to swim!
Mr. TRAVIS: (As Daniel) Oh, errr!
Ms. RYAN: (As Susan) My God, there were boats all around us, and you refused.
And now look. Look around us. We are stuck in the middle of the ocean with
Mr. TRAVIS: (As Daniel) Even if we had been swimming for the last five hours,
we would not be any closer to a boat than we are now.
DAVIES: I asked filmmakers Chris Kentis and Laura Lau what happens to people
when they're out on the water with no hope of rescue.
Mr. CHRIS KENTIS ("Open Water"): A lot of things just physically happening
and psychologically. I mean, obviously you get very cold, you--dehydration,
saltwater blisters and sores. You get victimized by, I mean, Mother Nature if
she decides to, you know, throw a storm or something your way. There's sea
creatures and things that eventually will get curious because, you know, as
you're out there and you're kind of dehydrated and your body's breaking down,
you start to kind of resemble a food source of certain predators, kind of
imitating, you know, what a wounded animal would be like.
DAVIES: One of the things that struck me was that when this couple emerges
from their dive and the boat and their fellow divers are gone, they're
remarkably calm at first. And it struck me that if I were in that position, I
would immediately have a rising sense of panic. And I'm wondering how you
kind of got into the frame of mind to try and capture what that first
sensation and what those ongoing sensations would be like.
Mr. KENTIS: You can't help but draw from personal experience, and I'd
surfaced and not had the boat there, and the last thing on my mind was to
panic. It was just a given. I'm on vacation. It would have been absolutely
absurd to think it wasn't going to show up. I took advantage and snorkeled
around for a while. And then after about five or 10 minutes, you get a little
bit annoyed because you say, `I paid good money for this, and, you know, I'm
going to miss lunchtime if they don't get here.' And, you know, in my case,
you know, after about 10, 15 minutes they did show up, and that was that. So
that was based on personal reaction.
DAVIES: Did the boat mean to leave you behind on that occasion?
Mr. KENTIS: Well, what happened on that occasion is that there was--another
diver was having an issue or some kind of problem involved with safety. And
so they had to, you know, go after this particular person, help them out. I
don't remember exactly--and when you're in the water and you're just a head
bobbing on the surface of the water, you know, it's very hard to see things,
you know, even if they're, you know, a few hundred yards away at times,
depending on the seas.
DAVIES: One of the things that happens after they're on the open water for
all these hours is that they begin to see the sharks. And I gotta tell you
that the hour that they spend in the water is one of the most excruciating
hours I've ever spent in a theater. And the sharks in this movie are not
these slow-moving, mechanical beasts that we'd see in a lot of movies, like
"Jaws." I mean, these are darting, thrashing, menacing, very real-looking,
scary, tormenting creatures. And I'm wondering how you shot the shark scenes.
Ms. LAURA LAU ("Open Water"): In most movies, when you see--in every movie
that we can think of where there's a shark, basically somebody falls in the
water, and before they know it a shark is on them and rips them up. And
that's really not how sharks behave, not from our experience and from our
research. So we really wanted to portray them as accurately as we could, and
what we did was--and we were also really interested in shooting the film from
the point of view of the characters. And so we wanted to work with the sharks
on the surface, which is an unusual way, we think, of working with the sharks,
shooting the sharks, portraying the sharks. And we used an expert down in
Nassau, Bahamas, Stuart Cove, who is the go-to guy for film production and
working with sharks.
Mr. KENTIS: And just to add, one of the reasons also, I think with the advent
of Discovery Channel and Animal Planet and National Geographic, we're all
pretty used to seeing sharks under water. And, frankly, I don't find them
particularly scary. Even diving with them underwater, I--you know, they're
majestic and beautiful but not exactly frightening. I've also been on the
surface, and rather than seeing that smooth dorsal fin cutting the water like
a knife that we're so used to, it's a sudden jolt, a violent flash of a tail
or, you know--and it's quite disconcerting. So, again, we wanted to shoot it
from the point of view of those two main characters and, you know, take
advantage of--I mean, you can't really see anything when you're out there in
the water, what's under you or around you. And so we wanted to, you know,
exploit that fear of, you know, what you can't see be, you know, more
frightening than what you can.
DAVIES: How do you work safely with sharks? I mean, your actors were
actually in the water right next to live sharks who were being--What?--fed
chunks of tuna?
Ms. LAU: Yes, they were. We were very clear in the audition process that,
really, no actors should come out for the part unless they understood that
they would be working with live sharks; that they would need to be very fit
and get scuba diving-certified. There were a lot of different perimeters that
we were looking for as well as the way that we were working, which was with no
crew. So the actors were needing to do, you know, their own hair and makeup
and costumes. But as regards to the sharks, once we had a script, of course,
we were not going to spare any expense when it came to safety, and we needed
to know that we could get the sharks that we needed to get. There were a
couple of things: One is that, you know, as divers, we had done some
shark-diving before, so we knew it was--you could be in the water with sharks.
Once we were down there, the actors had on anti-shark chain mail, and they
were very restricted in their movements for safety reasons.
Mr. KENTIS: Yeah, beneath their wet suits, it's a suit made of mesh metal
rings, so the shark, if he bites down, his teeth can't penetrate. It's what
the actors had on. I tried--I was in the water as well, and I tried that suit
on, you know, and gave up on it after about an hour because it was very
difficult to grip the camera, and it weighed a lot. And the kind of housing I
was using--you know, they only design housings to take under water. And it
was heavy and working with it on the surface like I was--so I knew we were in
good hands and it wouldn't be necessary to wear that. But, you know, we had
it available, and the actors wore it.
DAVIES: And I'm told...
Mr. KENTIS: We insisted on that.
Ms. LAU: And, yes, Dave, you're right that what we did is our--what our shark
wranglers did is--we did have a big bucket of tuna. And what they would do,
in a very controlled manner, is throw a piece of bait in the water, and the
sharks would go in that direction. And then, you know, we would set ourselves
up--you know, the actors and our cameras--and then they would move, throw
another piece in, and the sharks would move in that direction. And we shot
our shots that we needed with the sharks first. We shot, really, two days
with the sharks out of a six-week production schedule.
DAVIES: The opening of the film, I noticed, had a kind of a documentary look.
It seemed to me as the couple was getting ready to go on their vacation, there
were a lot of very tight shots, you know, maybe just a little off-mike in some
cases, the camera maybe just a little jittery. And I'm wondering, were you
trying to sort of capture a documentary feel here?
Mr. KENTIS: That was absolutely the approach we were going to take. In
fact, one of the pluses about the cameras we chose, lightweight mini DV
cameras, is they're very unobtrusive. And we knew we could go into the world,
especially to the islands, and be shooting with them and capture real people
just living their lives and going about their business, and no one paid
attention because we just looked like tourists shooting home movies. And that
was the same approach with the dive boat. We filled it with extras; they were
just people on vacation who are divers. And we paid for a free dive, and they
were game to be in a movie. And the same with the crew of the dive boat; we
just used a real crew knowing that, you know, they give these speeches every
day, and we just had them do their usual predive speech. And in the beginning
of the film, certainly, yes, that was one of--that was the look we were going
DAVIES: You mentioned that you're experienced divers, and you weren't afraid
of sharks. But did anything ever happen on the water that really scared you,
Mr. KENTIS: Yeah. It was the very first day of shooting, actually. We
got--Blanchard Ryan had just finished her check-out dive and become
certified, and we were going to shoot the beautiful, pleasant dive that they
do in the film, in which case we knew we needed to make sure we had some cool
stuff to look at. And so we hired a wrangler who works with a barracuda and
feeds it bait fish. The bait fish are about the size of your finger. And we
were instructed to make sure that we kept our hands--all our fingers close
together, our hands cupped because your fingers spread out, that looks like
five bait fish to a barracuda. And Blanchard forgot this for a moment, and I
turned my head and I looked back, and there was this cloud of blood in the
water, and she was holding her hand. And my heart just stopped. And so, you
know, we all raced to the surface thinking, `I can't believe this. This is
the first day of shooting. And, oh, is she OK?' And all she was interested
in was whether we got it on camera or not (laughs). And, of course, I missed
the shot, but that was very scary.
DAVIES: Did that affect production? I mean, was she hurt? Was she OK?
Ms. LAU: She was actually OK. We were very lucky that it wasn't worse. It
was a bite, and she has a little scar from it, but she didn't require stitches
or anything, thank goodness.
DAVIES: And you didn't film her blood flowing away in the water, huh?
Mr. KENTIS: Oh, I missed it. And the second I saw what happened, the last
thing I could care less about was the movie. The movie was gone. All I cared
about was that she was OK. I mean, you know, all cameras off. We just raced
DAVIES: Well, that's great. Well, thanks so much for speaking with us.
Ms. LAU: Thank you very much for having us.
Mr. KENTIS: Yes, thank you.
DAVIES: Chris Kentis and Laura Lau. Their new film is "Open Water."
This is FRESH AIR.
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
Review: Gary Windo retrospective, "Anglo-American"
DAVE DAVIES, host:
English-born tenor saxophonist Gary Windo divided his time between England and
the US. Over here in the '60s, he studied with cool saxophonist Wayne Marsh
and played with the bebop bassist Tommy Potter. Back in England, by 1970, he
recorded with art-rocker Robert Wyatt and the big band Brotherhood of Breath.
Then he returned to America to play with Carla Bley Jazz Orchestra and with
rockers, like NRBQ. The saxophonist passed away in 1992. Jazz critic Kevin
Whitehead reviews a new Gary Windo retrospective.
(Soundbite of music)
KEVIN WHITEHEAD reporting:
Tenor saxophonist Gary Windo with jazz bassist Steve Swallow, rock drummer D.
Sharp and pianist Pam Windo, 1979. Over the years many jazz musicians have
made patronizing rock music, while rock jam bands have demonstrated their
limited jazz skills. Gary Windo was one of the rare musicians to make
convincing statements in both fields with his highly personalized tenor style.
(Soundbite of music)
WHITEHEAD: Windo's raspy overtones, vocalized inflections and shriek falsetto
came from rhythm and blues saxophone, but he really pushed for the special
effects. He used tenor almost like an electric guitar. His hard, quick
attack could sound like speedball picking(ph), and he could make the horn
screech like an amp feeding back. Windo could play, but more than that he had
(Soundbite of music)
WHITEHEAD: Gary Windo, in a catatonic state, reconciling R&B honker Junior
Walker and howling free-jazzer Albert Ayler, two of his heroes. This music's
from "Anglo-American," a new compilation of previously unreleased music by
Windo on the Cuneiform label. It takes him from London 1971 to Woodstock 1981
and shows he had more than one trick up his reed. He could be bluesy, out to
lunch, gruff and tender in the space of a few phrases.
(Soundbite of "Baxter")
WHITEHEAD: Gary Windo's tune "Baxter" performed with quintessential bar band
NRBQ, whose pianist, Terry Adams, is another chameleon comfortable in jazz and
Windo spent some years in London, where the jazz, blues and rock scenes were
closer than over here, with musicians like Jack Bruce and John McLaughlin
jumping from one to another. The London jazz scene was also sparked by a
brace of South African exiles, who brought a taste for fat, tuneful riffs and
a big, driving beat. You could hear all of that in the early '70s sextet
Symbiosis, including Windo, arty rock drummer Robert Wyatt and South African
trumpeter Mongezi Feza. On Windo's "Standfast," Symbiosis is part free-jazz
group, garage band and `What's for tea, Mum?' village orchestra(ph).
(Soundbite of music)
WHITEHEAD: Gary Windo didn't always boil over. The retrospective
"Anglo-American" includes an overdubbed piece for soft-toned bass clarinets,
where he slaps the keypads shut for quiet percussion. That's an old sax
player's trick, and the levee moan of layered reeds owes a debt to Rahsaan
Rolling Kirk. Gary Windo valued such influences, but he had his own genius
for fitting his voice into most any situation. For a freak player, he had
some kind of excellent taste.
DAVIES: Kevin Whitehead writes for Down Beat and The Absolute Sound.
DAVIES: For Terry Gross, I'm Dave Davies.
Transcripts are created on a rush deadline, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of Fresh Air interviews and reviews are the audio recordings of each segment.