Dead Calm is based on Charles Williams' 1963 novel of the same name. The 1989 film is not the first big-screen version of the novel, however. In 1967, Orson Welles started working on a film adaptation under the working title The Deep; the film starred Laurence Harvey and Jeanne Moreau in the roles assumed by Sam Neill and Nicole Kidman. Unfortunately, Welles ran out of funding during the shoot, and by the time he found the money to continue in 1970, Laurence Harvey had passed on, and the project was shelved.

Offers to work on the picture after Welles' death were turned down by his widow, who refused to sell the rights to American filmmakers. Ultimately, this worked in favor of Australian producer George Miller, who secured the rights and hired Terry Hayes to adapt the screenplay.

Other notes from the production:

  • Sam Neill met his current wife, Noriko Watanabe, during the filming of Dead Calm; she was the film's makeup artist.

  • Billy Zane met his now ex-wife on the set of Dead Calm. Lisa Collins portrayed one of the female victims on the ship The Orpheus.

  • According to Terry Hayes, the shoot was a "nightmare." The cast and crew spent over three months living on an island, with all of the filming being done on a ship out on the water.

  • Nicole Kidman is known for the almost-obsessive research and preparation she does for her roles. For Dead Calm, she not only arrived on location a month prior to the shoot in order to learn how to sail the 80-foot yacht where the story takes place, but she also interviewed navy wives, mothers and mothers who had lost their children.

  • Friendships on the set mirrored the relationships within the movie. Nicole Kidman told Australian Rolling Stone that she and Sam Neill "got on very, very well, and Billy, well, we didn't get on. But Billy and I were playing characters that were in conflict constantly, and I think there was an unspoken agreement between us that we weren't going to get on."

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