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Going Hollywood Part I: What Goes into Producing an Outdoor Show?

Lead photo: Matti Tackett demo-ing some of the Diamond Blades and Knives of Alaska knives that we'd be using to skin, process, and prepare the finished cuts.

By: Tom Claycomb

We all dream about hunting and fishing for a living, don’t we? You watch outdoor shows and look on in jealousy at the host. Every day he is in the Great Outdoors. His office is God’s handiwork. For wall pictures, he has aspens on the mountainsides, turning them into a fiery masterpiece with all of their fall splendor.

Instead of the angry voice of a boss, customer, or employee, all he has to listen to is the eerie bugling of a 6x6 reverberating down the canyon. His business suit isn’t a three-piece suit with a stuffy tie screwed down around his throat. It is a set of well-worn comfortable camis.

But are his days totally swallowed up with shooting trophy animals and sleeping in toasty warm tents at night?

Well, before you quit your day job and buy a camera planning a career change, let’s go over what is involved in filming a show. I am by no means an expert, but have been involved in the filming of maybe a dozen shows and will share with you the little that I know.

First off, there’s a lot more involved than I ever imagined. So next Saturday morning when watching your favorite outdoors channel, I hope you remember that a lot of work goes into the 30-minute program you’re viewing.

First off, think about the last time you saw a deer and took a pic. After getting the film developed, you proudly showed them to your friends and explained that the spec in the upper right-hand corner was the 4x4 buck you’d seen last weekend. Getting a decent outdoor shot is tough – think how tough it is to film a whole show!

Let’s imagine that you are bear hunting over a bait. The big shows will have two cameramen: one with the hunting group and one behind the host and kid hunting. They’ll have concealed mics under their shirts with super-sensitive speakers so the cameras can pick up the sound.

Usually, one camera will focus on the hunter and the other on the game. That way all action is captured to be cut and pasted together later as desired. Let me give you an example how easy it is to mess up:

One evening, a huge boar was down on the bait, and a sow was halfway up the hill. The kid shot over the top of the sow and hit the boar. The sow bolted up the hill straight at Ed, the dad and the kid. The young cameraman behind Ed grabbed a gun instead of focusing on the action (understandably so, since the bear finally screeched to a halt only eight feet from them).

As the sow got close, Ed grabbed his camera and had a bird’s eye view of it all. He was waving his arms to stop her, all the while filming. Finally, at eight feet, she slid to a stop and turned and ran 20 yards and stood up. It dropped down and ran a bit and then stood up again.

This would have been priceless footage, but unfortunately, in the melee, Ed’s camera got turned off. You can’t live through too many of these kinds of deals without becoming bear bait, so it was a bummer when we reviewed the film. Well, back to the mountains for more.

Then there are magic moments that you have to always be ready to capture. How can you duplicate the moment the kid walks up to his first bear and looks at it face to face? You have to have the cameras running non-stop to catch their expressions and comments. You cannot reenact those magic moments.

While Ed was having his excitement, 16-year-old Camille Horton was in another drainage hunting. When she looked up and saw a bear sauntering down the mountainside, you should have heard her squeal, “Here comes a bear!” Heck it got me excited, and I was supposed to be there to keep her calm, get a good shot, and make sure it was a nice bear, and so forth. She’s a sprinter, and after she pulled the trigger, she shot out of the blind like a rocket. She beat me to the bear by 50 yds. Those are magic moments.

Let’s switch gears for a bit. Either you’re a shooter, or you’re a cameraman, but you can’t be both. I’ve got a lot of faults, but not being ready to shoot isn’t one of them. Good hunters are always ready for that magic moment when a shot presents itself. When I see my quarry close up, my first response is to grab my rifle. That way if it’s shootable, I’m ready. Not so with a good cameraman. The first thing he does is start peering through his camera in case something happens. That way he is ready to catch it on film.

I’m reminded of all of this because last week I flew down to Texas to help with some upcoming shows on The High Road with Keith Warren. Starting in 2006, I talked to nearly 10 knife manufacturers about producing a boning knife for the outdoorsman. Last year, Charles Allen, owner of KOA, called me and told me that he had made the boning knife and wanted me to test it out. He sent me a prototype. It was a sweet knife. I suggested he make one little tweak on the flexibility, and then I could fully endorse it.

Shortly thereafter, he called and told me he had an idea. He wanted me to bone out a wagyu steer, hog, and a deer. The crew at The High Road with Keith Warren were going to film it.  I’ve worked in the cattle industry since I was eight years old, so he was going to let me show what I’d learned in the beef world and had applied over into my outdoor world. There are a few obscure cuts that we save on beef that no one saves from their big game. After trying them once, you won’t believe that you’ve wasted them for all of these years.

To make the show even cooler, they were going to let Matti Tackett (Keith’s daughter who is a cooking guru) and me prepare these cuts. Needless to say, I was excited. This was (and did turn out to be) the coolest outdoor cooking show produced up to date. I can’t wait to see the final version. It’s going to be a great show.

How could I not try one of every steak? Watch the upcoming show to learn how to turn your wild game into a gourmet meal.

To put icing on the cake, Charles invited Michael Scott, who is one of the top 15 chefs in America, to join us one day. Wow, it was way cool being able to watch him cook some comparison cuts. He cooked a tomahawk rib off of a steer, hog, and deer, tri-tips, flanks, etc., etc. It was a meat overload. We all about stuffed ourselves to death.

But back to producing the show. After you get back home, you have to edit, do voice-overs, and the list goes on and on. Let’s say there was problem with a mic. Then you have to redo the talking or do voice-overs. Or what if there’s a dead spot in the film? You may need to add in some audio. So actually, the hunt may be the short part of the movie. After you get back home, you have to spend 80-100 hours doing the above-mentioned items.

Keith has a young man named Johnny Piazza who is his cameraman. He is the best I have worked with. He knows all the cameraman stuff. Proper set-ups, lighting opportunities, etc. We roomed together. I think I’m pretty gung-ho and work hard. But after working hard all day, I’d crash, and he’d be up another two or three hours downloading footage.

I’ll dig deeper into the underbelly of producing TV shows in “Going Hollywood Part II,” in the next couple days. Check back here for more!

Mike Scott, Keith Warren and myself in front of the three carcasses that we demo'd how to bone them out to obtain some unique cuts out of your wild game. Watch the show and learn how to use some obscure, unbelievable tasty cuts that you've never saved before and learn how Matti cooks them.

Tom Claycomb III is a product tester for outdoor manufacturers, hunter, and outdoor writer, writing from Idaho.

 
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