Using scuba and enriched oxygen for filming

Water Born: Episodes 1 and 2

Shooting Water Born episodes has all the elements that adventure seeking, collaborating friends working in a highly demanding, and potentially dangerous, environment could want. Water, currents, sharks, wrecks, overhead environments, high work demand, overweighting — not to mention breath holds at deep depths — plus long bottom-times and the need to squeeze in as many shots as possible in a short day, demand as short a surface interval as possible while simultaneously managing all the above-mentioned risks.

None of this is taken lightly, and risk management is a No. 1 priority during all Water Born projects. All crew and cast members share this emphasis, and all are professionally trained freedivers and scuba divers, including some who are also trained mixed-gas scuba divers and hyperbaric specialists.

While Marc Kaiser is the executive producer of Water Born and a co-creator of its lifestyle elements, Marc is the 2002 recipient of the DAN/Rolex Diver of the Year award and owns and operates numerous US based hyperbaric and wound healing centers specializing in hyperbaric oxygen therapy and diving accident treatments. In Marc’s early career with NOAA under Dr. Morgan Wells and Dick Rutkowski he was instrumental in the pioneering of nitrox development and use for hyperbaric,  commercial and recreational applications for scuba diving. Being as such, safety and risk mitigation is forefront.


Another co-creator of Water Born, I come from a lengthy and diverse diving background. Initially a lifeguard and swimming instructor, in 1988 I became a recreational-scuba instructor and then specialized in mixed-gas instruction to the instructor level by 1996, all the while exploring to depths of 550 feet. Freediving has been a lifelong hobby, and fascination with the sport eventually enveloped my life. From 1996 through 1999, I helped two professional freedivers, Tanya Streeter and Brett LeMaster train to two national and two world records achieving the impossible. During this time I was also developing educational programs for freediving while exploring my own limits and limitations.

In April of 1999, I took a type II neurological decompression hit that left me unconscious for 18 minutes after repetitive scooter freedives to 82m / 270ft. Advised that it wasn’t decompression illness but vagal nerve response brought on by increased pressure and that I should never scuba or freedive again. This didn’t make sense to me so I began a quest to better understand decompression in freediving which I thought it to be, as well as the uses of oxygen and nitrox mixtures for what should really be called technical freediving. Most immediately after my DCI hit, I discovered the work of Dr. John Battle with spear fishermen and DCI incidents. He published an article with a set of freedive tables exploring the ideas of surface intervals for freedivers, which could be boiled down to simple rules of thumb. Also at this time I began experimenting with the uses of oxygen and nitrox for surface preparation but more as a recovery/decompression gas with some interesting results. With all this, Performance Freediving International began to introduce these concepts to the recreational and competitive freediving world.

Now we fast-forward to an era when new and exciting diving and freediving adventures can be explored, documented, produced and distributed worldwide via YouTube, and the ever-growing sport of freediving is consuming the underwater world. Deeper, longer, farther…but is it safer?

Paramount to any underwater exploration and documentation by the cast and crew of Water Born is also finding, exploring and pushing new ground and frontiers in filming, freediving and scuba. With this comes not only responsibility for the health and safety of our cast and crew, but also that of our fans and audience.

During two segments of our shoots the risk-benefit analysis indicated that for workflow, risk mitigation, and to reduce environmental disturbance, it would be best to periodically utilize scuba while shooting breath-hold scenes. While on scuba, one should always breathe — never, ever hold your breath. The opposite is true while freediving — always hold your breath, and never, ever breathe. The key lies in keeping these two life-saving rules straight.

An obvious time to use scuba occurred during episode two, “And Here We Must Run,” when Shell Eisenberg drops to 90 feet in The Pit. With scuba staged at 70 feet and a targeted bottom drop with actress in tow courtesy of Negative Nigel (cinder block) to a specific zone was required. As can be seen in the behind-the- scenes footage, professional caution was evident. Not only is the actress a scuba and freediving instructor, but also her attending scuba handler is a highly qualified recreational, technical and cave-diving instructor.

Another behind-the-scenes look took place during the filming of episode one, “Wreckage: An Enemy Is Born.” First, we contended with depths of up to 90 feet (27 meters), where we sometimes worked inside a wreck, shooting multiple takes while both cast and crew were freediving. Here we employed nitrox as a surface recovery and pre-breath gas. This offered the highest oxygen percentage to reduce nitrogen while also controlling the risk of potential oxygen toxicity on the central nervous system. This additional oxygen at the surface helped us achieve longer bottom times, more managed surface intervals and avoid decompression risk.


One last, and easy, risk to identify and manage was that of the scenes with the sharks. As anyone who works with sharks knows, you’re best served by remaining calm, cool and cautious. So when shooting multiple, fast-paced engagement scenes, blasting back and forth to the surface a dozen or more times from 60 feet isn’t necessarily the wisest move. Therefore, staged scuba tanks at depth facilitated smoother shoots, where calm and calculated movements were necessary.

So while we are passionate, breath-holding freedivers, we also enjoy scuba when it best fits the job — you don’t fix a Swiss watch with a jackhammer and chisels. Using the best and right tool for the job always creates better art with more longevity. I hope you enjoy our Water Born art pieces and the lifestyle that accompanies shooting and living it as much as we enjoyed making it for you.

On behalf of all of us at Water Born…enjoy.