An acquaintance of mine has a fascinating job as a television producer who travels the world filming sports and adventure programs. He has been to over 100 countries, on 6 continents. While interviewing him, I was equally fascinated by the job details as I was by the destinations he’s reached. His journey is both geographically and intrinsically developed as he has made career choices based on fulfillment and a word I admire--“balance.”
What is your job description?
I’m a television producer for a Tulsa based production company called Winnercomm, Inc. I currently produce a variety of shows, primarily for Outdoor Channel. Over the years, I have produced sports and adventure programs for national networks such as ESPN, Fox Sports, CBS and the Golf Channel.
What was the inspiration for this job?
I went to school (University of Oklahoma) to become an advertising producer. For the first five years after college, I did just that … and it was a fast-paced, tremendous learning experience for me. However, that lifestyle was geared more towards selling products & services and increasing profits. For me, the effort versus reward just didn’t balance out .
That’s so important.
Fortunately, an opportunity came about through one of our major clients to make the transition from commercial production to national programming production and I took it! It was a launching pad into the outdoor sports production for Winnercomm at the time.
Was the travel part of your job for sports and adventure?
The planning, editing and writing happens locally but the adventures have to gathered by traveling. Based on the assignment, I’ve traveled to more countries than I’ve taken the time to tally an exact count, on every continent except Antarctica. I’ve had to add several pages to my passport.
Have you had a favorite trip?
That’s tough to answer. Based on assignments I’ve had, the travels primarily centered around adventure and the outdoors. I rarely go into metropolitan areas but rather the countryside. What’s beneficial about that is the chance to see the real culture of that area. I think one of my favorite trips has been New Zealand because it’s so American-friendly, clean, and the people are so welcoming. It has so much to offer because the geographical area and landscape varies so dramatically in relatively short distances.
While the North and South Islands are both very different, the entire country has a common cultural thread that is very appealing. The country’s epic and varied landscape has make it a popular destination for big, movie production sets. Plus, there is so much to offer for outdoorsmen. They offer hunting, fishing, sailing, hiking and back country adventure.
What is the typical New Zealand meal like?
Mostly meat and potatoes, but there’s access to amazing seafood. It depends on where you visit, I guess. If you go into the interior, it is different. The Maori culture is still very strong there. A traditional haka ceremony is a sight to behold! It’s a type of ancient war dance typically used in the battlefield, as well as when groups came together in peace. The dance and ceremony is very exciting and energetic, using facial expressions for intimidation…. strange, bizarre, facial expressions and forceful dance movements.
How long were you in New Zealand?
I’ve been a few different times on assignments. The trips are typically 1 week to 10 days.
Describe your African experience.
I’ve been to Africa several times and have had the opportunity to experience the remarkable culture and wildlife. Botswana and Tanzania, particularly. It is both humbling and amazing to have the opportunity to experience wildlife in that type of environment. Specifically, the elephants—I have a whole new respect for their power, strength and speed. To see them in the wild….they truly are the “King of the Jungle”.
Not the lion?
The lion commands another level of respect, that’s why the lions are called the “King of the Beasts”.
To see these animals in their natural habitat is an experience that is hard to describe. It’s one of the reasons that Africa has been the inspiration of so many epic tales of adventure.
I’ve been up-close and personal with a lot of wildlife over the years. Like the coastal brown bars in Alaska, for instance. You learn very quickly to respect the animals’ power and territory. There have been bizarre adventures and near death experiences. Weather is one of the reasons. The combination of wind, snow, bitter cold, extreme heat and darkness—and being caught miles from a vehicle at night are examples. Or, hanging out of a helicopter to capture that perfect angle from above. I put myself in these situations. Sometimes scary when you look back on it, but well worth the experience!
How do you set up a whole movie production set, equipment and logistics in a remote country?
It’s typically a very mobile, bare bones production in the backcountry. You can’t disrupt a natural environment with a lot of production equipment. It’s a small scale production, usually with a couple of camera guys, a local guide and a host or celebrity guest. We try to have minimal impact on the environment.
The struggles of getting there and the discoveries along the way are a big part of the storyline development.
Do you keep a journal?
Not a detailed personal journal. Writing scripts geared toward the production and overall experience is my main responsibility. It’s rarely from my personal perspective.
We have taken several celebrities on adventure trips. I’ve fished with Liam Neeson in Belize, Michael Keaton in New Zealand and hunted elk with Hank Williams Jr. to name a few.
I’ve traveled with several country music stars and sports celebrities. I’ve gone bear hunting with Herschel Walker. I’ve gone fishing with actor, Jason Priestley who is an avid fisherman. He owns a resort on Vancouver Island that is run by his father.
I’ve fished with Craig T. Nelson in Jackson Hole, Wyoming. We produced a show called New American Sportsman that featured these celebrities enjoying their passion for the outdoors.
The most difficult thing about these types of productions is that there are detailed start and end times, with an infinite amount of unknowns in between. When I plan a trip, I have no control over some of what happens with travel details, flight delays, weather delays, etc. Some details are weather dependent. If you’re hunting or fishing, the environment often dictates success or failure. Trips can be difficult as a result of that. For instance, I traveled to Mongolia during the SARS outbreak.
We landed and 2 mummy-dressed people got on a checked every passenger for signs of fever before they let us deplane – in case a quarantine was needed. We spent five days getting to our final destination in Mongolia—cancelations, delays, missed-connections. This involved a 16 hour ride in a Russian jeep with no roads. We fished for one day when the Siberian run off started. That’s when melted snow causes the rivers to flood. Huge trees were uprooted and were floating down the river. No fishing that day!
How have these adventures enriched your life?
I go in with an open mind. Because I do travel into the countryside, I have the opportunity to see people at a genuine level. To step out of the metropolitan areas and go into people’s homes and small towns, I get to know the honest culture of a place. Getting out of the city gives a better sense of their history, heritages, meals, lifestyles, etc. You get a better sense of the simple pleasures in life—the environment and landscape.
You forget about going through the difficult experiences of traveling. The amount I’ve grown from pushing myself miles and miles into backcountry carrying all of my camera equipment, cameras, food and water… in the end, they are good experiences. Even here in the U.S., places like Wyoming and Montana. You find yourself deep in the backcountry, way out in the dark, hiking 13 miles or more, one way carrying an 18 pound camera.
We pay so much money for comfort and style, but the reward of an experience is so much more rewarding than the superficial product and material thing. Material things last a moment; experiences last a lifetime. When you think about what makes you happy—-it’s our thoughts, shaped by fond memories of adventure.