I was teaching a nature photography field workshop during August in northern Michigan when I got the call. Mary Sue Nolan who owns the Timber Ridge Motel where we base our workshops hollered out the office door for me to come to the phone quickly. She exclaimed, "Hollywood wants you now John."
I was about 50 yards away so I had a few moments to wonder why "Hollywood" wanted me. My first thought was, itís about time. Perhaps Canon Photo Safari wanted me to host a segment. Yellowstone or Michiganís Upper Peninsula would be a good location. Perhaps Hollywood wanted me to host my own photo series. I am sure I could do it. And while I was imagining why Hollywood wanted me, other thoughts occurred to me. Perhaps they wanted me to star in a movie as the love interest of Julia Roberts. (If you are dreaming, you might as well shoot for a grand slam home run.)
Mary Sue handed the phone to me, so I introduced myself and asked in the most distinguished voice I could muster, "What can I do for you?" The lady on the other end said she represented the show Animal Planet and was considering doing a segment that would involve us. Apparently, I wasnít going to star in a movie, but it looked like I might be doing a segment for them on nature photography. Then she said that Animal Planet does programs on different breeds of dogs (so I was wondering what this had to do with me) and was putting together another segment of a series called, "Breed all about it". Each segment was on a different breed of dogs. They were working on a Pomeranian segment and were looking for dogs to feature. They had searched the web for sites on Pomeranians and found our breeders site. They contacted our breeder and asked if any of her puppies had gone to an interesting home. Our breeder naturally wanted to see her puppy on TV, so she thought about it and then told them one of her dogs is owned by some nature photographers who travel with the dog photographing wildlife. The producer at Animal Planet thought this might be an interesting angle, so thatís why they were calling me-to see if I would be interested in letting my dog appear in the program.
By now I realized they really didnít want me, they wanted my dog which is actually Barbaraís dog. By now Barbara had arrived, so I gave the phone to Barbara who was far more excited that Hollywood wanted her dog, rather than us. I walked back to the lodge to lick my wounds. Barbara spoke with them for some time, but nothing was finalized at that point. Three different Pomeranians would be featured on the segment and several dogs were in the running including some owned by movie stars. However, Animal Planet wanted more everyday folks like us to be in the segment. Over the next several weeks, Barbara had many conversations with the producers at Animal Planet. Finally, our dog Yogi was selected to be one of the featured dogs, so they wanted to set up a time where they would come to our home near Yellowstone and spend a day or two filming us photographing with Yogi. It was late September and we were in a severe drought, but we knew we could pretend to find things to photograph even if subject matter was sparse. Naturally, on the day we were to shoot the video, the drought ended. It literally poured the first several hours of the day. Island Park where we live was impossible weather-wise for doing anything outside. So we drove over Red Rocks pass to Elk Lake in Montana since it normally is drier there. The skies were still angry black in color, but at least it wasnít a torrential rain, although every time we got out of the car, jagged lightening bolts pounded the mountain peaks around us. Eventually we got a two hour lull in the rain and shot the video of us with Yogi.
The light wasnít good for actually taking photos so we pretended to shoot anyway. We would set up our tripods together, talk over composition and exposure, and then fire the camera. We actually didnít have any film in the camera. Of course, Yogi was right there with us watching the proceedings. Everything we did had to be done several times, so they were certain they got just the right camera angles. Once they were in front of us shooting us pretending to take photos when Barbara hollered, cut, cut, cut! The film crew said, "wait a second, we are the ones who yell cut around here." She said, "I donít think you want to use this footage because John still has his front lens cap on his lens which is clearly visible in your footage." And she was right. Since I was pretending to take photos, I never actually looked through the lens, so never noticed my lens cap was still on.
We were filmed with Yogi the rest of the day and a little bit more the next morning. They had previewed their footage and were quite happy with the take, so they were off to Seattle to film another dog. Among their favorite footage is what they shot at our former cabin of Yogi attacking the vacuum cleaner. As a six month old puppy, he would jump in front of the vacuum and bark at it. As a five year old, he still likes attacking the vac, but employs a different strategy altogether. He barks at it as ferociously as an 8-pound dog can, but darts around behind the vac and bites the bag which had to be replaced in time due to the hole he created in it.
It was a lot of fun to participate in the project and to see first-hand how film producers work. I still wouldnít have minded hosting my own Canon Photo Safari, but at least we are now known as Yogiís People. The segment we are in airs about once a month on the Animal Planet program, so perhaps youíll see us there. Now if Canon would like to contact me about that Photo Safari.....