Nick Davis wrote about the trials and tribulations of bringing outdoor television programs into your living room in the new issue of Headwall (on stands now). But just as those programs have outtakes that didn't make the final edit, so too does Davis after speaking with scores of local producers, editors and camera operators for the story. Here he salvages a few of the best bits from the cutting room floor.
Jake Hanson - videographer, InterMedia Outdoors.
We were fishing with the actor Vinnie Jones in Chile. We were returning to camp along this big tidal river after a long day of shooting, and it was getting dark. The captain ran our boat, probably a 24-footer, onto a gravel bar. There was a little john boat following behind us and the guy driving it pulled the boat up, to try and push us off the bar. He stands up in the johnboat and somehow kicks the throttle, and the dude goes flying out of the back of the boat. The johnboat is now doing circles around this river at full throttle, and our boat has a huge gas tank in the middle. Everyone’s panicking, thinking the johnboat was going to ram our boat and blow us up. The johnboat makes three turns and comes right towards us, and then at the last second spins off and heads downriver, doing circles until it ran out of gas.
We finally got the big boat off the gravel bar, got to shore, and someone from camp came and picked us up. The next day, Vinnie refused to get in a boat with these guys. So we ended up staying in camp. It rained heavily all day, and we just got shitfaced. We drank every ounce of alcohol in that camp and got sloppy drunk, all of us.
Bob Ambrose - producer, Magnum Global Media
I was a producer on the reincarnation of The American Sportsman series back in 2004. We were in Africa, at the airport to put Greg Kinnear on a plane back to the states, and to pick up the next guest, former Redskins running back John Riggins.
His flight was delayed, so we arranged transportation for him to the hunting lodge where we were shooting. Riggins walks into the lodge wearing a pair of cowboy boots over skintight lycra pants—it was surreal. Here’s an NFL Hall of Famer, hard as nails, walking into a hunting camp dressed like a ballerina.
On the last night of the shoot, our hosts supplied us with a generous quantity of very good South African wine. Sometime around one a.m., one of our cameramen, Bear [the late, great Bryant “Bear” Blackburn] started wrestling with Riggins. They were rolling around, covered in grass, going at it pretty good, taking short breaks and drinking bottles of wine like they were beers. We had a 6 a.m wakeup call the next morning, and it was my job to get Riggins up and to the airport. I thought he was going to kill me.
Greg Davis - freelance editor
I worked on a pilot demo for History Channel on a show about wild game wranglers in Texas. This was on a massive game farm with all kinds of exotic animals from all over the country and the world, and they sell these animals, breed them, move them around from place to place. They hire these wranglers to round up the animals—zebras, impalas, whatever—and these guys shoot nets at them out of a helicopter.
They were going after a bull elk, and we had a whole army of cameras—cameras on helicopters, on the ground, on ATVs, and GoPros on everybody. They missed with their first shot, and on the second one they got the bull they were targeting but also got another bull tangled in the same net. So there are two massive bull elk, basically tied to each other at the antlers, and both of them anchored to the scrub brush. I thought, man, what are they gonna do now?
The guys didn’t even think twice. I was standing just ahead of a wrangler from South Africa, and he comes bolting past me up and over an ATV—it’s a great camera shot, he just flies into the frame. He basically grabbed the biggest bull and wrestled it to the ground. Then they had to get the bull into a trailer, and it took five guys to do that. It was the wildest thing I’ve ever seen.
There are a gazillion challenges. Generally speaking, the hunters and the fishermen we shoot with as guests generally don’t know much about television, and don’t know what it takes to make quality TV. There’s always a balance between the camera guy trying to be creative, and then just having to be in position to get the right shot — a lot of the hunting shows revolve around the impact shot. There’s not a whole lot you can do before that, a lot of times, without screwing up the hunt.
The hardest thing for me as a producer is the lack of control. It’s hunting and fishing, right? You don’t know what’s going to happen in the field. For example, we sent a crew out on a whitetail hunt a while back, and the herd they were hunting had contracted blue-tongue. How do you plan for something like that? When your crew comes back with nothing, that’s brutal. The camera guys are tired and discouraged, the editor’s schedule is disrupted, and the producer has to figure out a whole new plan for the episode.
As an editor, the biggest challenge is when the talent that you have doesn’t want to make a TV show. It’s the worst possible thing you can have. Say you’re on an elk hunt with somebody, and the hunter just doesn’t want you around, because you’ve got three other guys with you and he’s worried you’re going to scare everything. They won’t cooperate, they won’t wait for the camera guys, they won’t build any sort of story. Then you have to make a TV show out of somebody that can’t stand you being there. And as a viewer, it makes you uncomfortable to watch that. Who wants to watch somebody that’s not happy?
The biggest perk of the job is getting to travel and to see so many amazing places in the world, places I probably never would have gotten the opportunity to visit otherwise. I filled a passport just a few years. But carrying 50 lbs of camera gear up a mountain, that sucks so bad. You’re like, get me out of here, I’m not getting paid enough to shlep this stuff up the side of a mountain. But then when you get an awesome kill shot, or even just good footage of the animal in that environment — just to know that you got that footage is extremely rewarding, and it gives you an incredible sense of accomplishment.
The travel. My favorite trip was a shoot in Antarctica for a show called Photo Safari. I was able to get the outfitter and Argentina tourism to cover all our costs, so we basically did it on a zero budget. Going across the polar circle was like traveling across a different planet. Ice walls towered 1500 feet high above the ship. We’d go out on Zodiacs, and land on the shore among an amazing array of wildlife—seven different kinds of penguins, leopard seals, you name it. I’ll never forget it.
The biggest reward for me is when you come across a guy like Randy Newberg [host of Fresh Tracks with Randy Newberg, a self-guided, public-land hunting show airing on Sportsman Channel] who’s there to make a TV show, who gets the big picture, and works with you, and understands the concept. Then you can make a show. You look back when you’re done, and say that was entertaining. I would watch that one. Sometimes you work your butt off, put your heart into a show, and the result is a show you wouldn’t watch. And then you put something together you’re really proud of.