Most of the people who meet us have questions about the television show that we host and produce, and most of the questions are about hunting or our grueling travel schedule. What some people don’t consider is that the hunting or fishing part of our job is only a fragment of what we do. The work begins long before we ever pick up a weapon or purchase a tag. We tell stories. We study the process and never assume that we already know it all, we surround ourselves with brilliant people who know more than we do, and we constantly strive to be better at everything than we were yesterday.
1. It Does Not Begin With The “Power On” Button.
There are weeks, and sometimes months, of planning before we ever pick up the camera. Developing a storyline is just as crucial as having an SD card in the camera, and without that storyline you might as well just drop the whole creative process. What message are you trying to convey? What challenges will there be? Who is your audience? Pre-planning can be a tedious process. My personal process for pre-production involves lists, phone calls, paperwork, image release forms, budgets, and production meetings with our team. I create a production book that has every detail in it before we ever put batteries in the camera.
2. Sometimes Natural Lighting Just Isn’t Enough.
Remember when I said that we surround ourselves with brilliant people? One of our incredible team members taught me something early on about lighting. Establishing a “Key Light” is where it all begins. This is your main light source, pointed directly at the subject and usually slightly above them facing down at 30 to 45 degrees. This light will cast shadows on the talent, but that’s why we have other lights to knock those shadows out. It’s lighting 101, and I’m grateful that our head editor & Emmy award-winning mastermind taught me that from the beginning. Your secondary lights, or fill lights, will be level with the subjects face and slightly dimmer than the key light. When you get the perfect combination of lighting, viola, you have a much better looking subject on camera.
3. Learn from the Obama-prompter.
We can all see your eyes moving from side to side. If you’re going to use a teleprompter, then try to position it so that the moving eyes are not visible. Now that you’ve got great lighting on the subject, we can see those small details. Knowing the material ahead of time is the key, and the person controlling the prompter should keep pace with the talent – not the other way around. We have used an iPad as a teleprompter before and it actually worked well. Most of the time, though, it’s still noticeable. This is where preparation meets opportunity… Learn your lines ahead of time, keep some notes nearby if you need to reference them between takes, and focus on looking directly into the camera lens.
4. Running and Gunning. We Don’t Have A Strategy, And You’ll Need To Keep Up.
Working in the outdoor industry requires that we have a plan, and we don’t bank on sticking to it. Many factors can change everything that we’ve planned out; the weather, animal movement, travel delays, equipment failure, cameras dropped into a lake, weapon malfunction… Planning for every possible scenario wouldn’t be a useful waste of my time, so I just don’t. This is where knowing your equipment and quick thinking come into play. If you’re running up a mountainside to catch up to a group of bull elk, and suddenly your camera stops working, what do you do? What if you drop your on-camera light into the swamp water while you’re filming a nighttime alligator hunt? Any ideas? The first step is to be prepared (I hope you have backup batteries and SD cards in your pack for the first situation, or a backup camera), and thinking outside the box (you go into the water to retrieve your light, and finish the night hunt by using your headlight as the camera light substitute). If all else fails, find a work-around and pray that they can fix the problem in post-production.
5. Follow Your Storyline.
Check back to your production book notes and go over the small details while you’re in the middle of filming. Don’t leave this for the last day. If the storyline mentions a specific shot or small detail, get it early. The final day filming could be rained out and then you have a gap in your story. Filming a show for outdoor television requires specific attention to detail so that it doesn’t look like all of the other shows out there. Many programs begin with a guy sitting in a tree. Within the first few minutes of the show all I know is that he’s a guy in a tree. The production manager or producer obviously forgot to come up with a storyline. Who is this guy? Why is he in that tree? Why do I want to watch him sitting there whispering to me? A storyline, even a simple one, would have connected me to that person and made me want to watch his show. Instead, since I don’t know why he’s in a tree, I’ll flip the channel. It’s crucial to tell a full story. We’re not here to watch “guys with goatees whispering in the trees”. (That could end up being a TV show title)
6. Do Not Put The Camera Down.
All of the good stuff happens when you’re least expecting it to. All of this talk about setting up lighting and working in a controlled environment is great, but the really good footage is usually what you get when nobody even realizes that you’re recording. The best cameramen in the industry always have a camera in hand. Eating dinner? The camera is right there. Waking up in the morning? Camera before coffee. Truck ride to the hunting location? The power should be On, even if it’s dark outside. When we work there are usually 2 or more people working cameras at all times. With the popularity of GoPros with WiFi capability some of the pressure is off and we can put a camera down now and then. But not for long. Some of our best footage has been captured when nobody realized that our cameraman was even in the room.
7. Bigger Isn’t Always Better.
We always say that just because you own a guitar, it doesn’t make you a country singer. Many of us in the production industry have the same equipment. Some of the smaller DSLR cameras are capable of capturing incredible cinematography in the field. And some of the expensive large 4K cameras aren’t worth the money. It’s what you do with the tools you have that will make a difference. Oh, you have a drone? That’s awesome… But it only matters how you use the footage from it. We all have drones now. Using an unedited 4 minute clip from it isn’t always the best move, especially if you get motion sickness. Choosing your camera and production gear is a big part of the creative process. There are a lot of forums online that will help beginners get started, and many of the larger production companies sell used cameras at steep discounts when they upgrade. Don’t be afraid to get creative and do something that the others haven’t thought about yet. That’s what keeps the industry alive and thriving, and that’s the passion we all need to hold onto.
For those of you who disagree with my opinions on this topic, I understand. I run a large production company and sometimes we can get jaded because of the poor quality of work that is submitted by others in the industry. We work hard to keep the standards up, and my intention is to merely state my opinion. If you have a different opinion, please blog about it on your own site. Trust me, it feels good to talk about it… None of my statements are meant to offend or belittle anyone. Unless if you’re an internet troll looking for something to complain about. Or an anti-hunter. Then it’s fair game.