Conner Orr – “Way of the Wild” – A Documentary on Wildlife Photographer Bill Schiess

“Way of the Wild” Project Summary:

Last semester, I attempted to do a documentary on the connection between man and their animal companions. However, the story never quite seemed to come together for my senior project, so I decided to re-do my senior project with a focus on finding an interesting interview subject. My mentor suggested reaching out the Bill Schiess, a wildlife photographer and columnist who does weekly articles for East Idaho News. I reached out to East Idaho News via email who got me in contact with Bill. He was happy to let me tag along on his outdoor adventures. We got together 4 times in the month of October.

When we first got together, the focus was on getting to know him. I learned that he has an encyclopedic knowledge of the animals of the local area. He has observed these creatures for many years, he knows the migration patterns of the birds, where most of these animals habitats are, and how to find them. One thing he mentioned was that he never writes a story unless he has a photograph to prove it. This was a bit of inspiration to me as I did not want to try to cover any topics in this documentary if I did not have footage to accompany it. Bill has a long career in fishing, public education, military service, etc. However, I was limited in my time with him, so I had to focus the story on what most people knew him for which was his photography, Rock collecting and wildlife columns. This was the focus, to show what a day in the life of Bill is like.

Over those 4 days he took me out to hunt for birds, and elk in order to photograph them. We followed the sound of the Elk’s bugling which led us to their watering hole. The wildlife refuge was very open, so it required hiding behind bushes and watching where the wind carried our scent in order to prevent the animals from catching on to us. Bill was on a mission to get these photos and I had to make sure that I was ready to keep up with him. The film was very run and gun, in the sense it was fast paced and that I had a very simple rig. It was an easy rig with a Sony FX3 and a 24-70mm zoom lens. Not exactly the best for these situations as I had to really watch the focus and shakiness since it was handheld. I did not have the time to get a steadycam and set it up before sunset as Bill and I had to walk miles out just to get the footage we did.

This created a bit of a dilemma in the edit. Much of the footage was so shaky it required post stabilization. The terrain was not the easiest to walk on and keep the camera as steady as I would have liked to if I had the time to set up a better rig. We were so on the go that the interview that I shot with Bill took place in his car on the way to the wildlife refuge. He did not want to stop for anything, but luckily I was able to work it out.

A separate day I was able to record Bill’s process for polishing the rocks he collects. I was able to get a good bit of footage as we went in and out of his back shop where he processes his rocks. He showed me everything from beginning to end of what it takes to polish a rock correctly and the machinery he uses.

Finally, I needed another perspective and wanted to reach out to Bill’s wife but being a bit camera shy, she suggested I reach out to Bill’s good friend and rock hunting partner, Mike. Mike was happy to let me in and do a nice long sit down interview with him. I only had a ring light on hand but was able to at least take the time to interview him with a proper stable tripod and get his insights as to what make’s Bill such an interesting guy.

As I moved into the edit, my focus was to create a story from the seemingly disconnected footage. I would like to go into video editing, so my goal for this project was to find a story in the edit. I decided to pursue the idea of creating a “day in the life” of Bill in order to keep it simple. Putting together footage from 4 days with accompanying interviews proved to be a bit challenging. I had to find transitions between story beats and I found that Mike’s interview helped a lot with contextualizing the story from an outside perspective. It helped to present Bill in a way that an everyday guy would view him. Once I knew my beats, I did a quick outline of the beats I wanted to hit and went from there. A lot of time was spent finding just the right soundbites to include. There was a lot to scrub through and it needed to fit the story.

I also found that I wanted to get more footage but my schedule did not work out so at some point I had to make the decision to work with what I had, and had to construct a story from there. This proved to be a challenge as I really wanted to get footage of Bill’s writing process. So in that sense, I had to make the decision as an editor to minimize anything that had to do with his columns, and focus on what I had footage of which was his rock collecting and photography. Another challenge was finding cuts to make when most of the footage was of Bill walking across a somewhat barren landscape. Luckily, I worked with Bill to supplement my lack of footage of the wildlife with his photos, which were captured the same day. This really helped me not only tell my story better, but was able to showcase Bill’s work alongside my own.

My job in this case was to show how ambitious of a man Bill is at 78 years old and how he will do anything to get the photo or story he’s looking for. After I realized that, the pieces started to fit together quite simply. I cut a lot out from my original idea and simplified it down to an 11 minute documentary. In the end, it was definitely a practice in patience. Many of my ideas were cut or thwarted in the process, which really made the edit all that more important in the end. In total I put about 52 and a half hours into the project from beginning to end.

“Way of the Wild” Full Documentary:

Link to Full Documentary Above.

Breakdown of Time Spent

Conception and Planning: 2 hours (40 mins spent with mentor)

Emailing and communicating with East Idaho news: (30 mins)

Calling and setting up with Bill Schiess (25 mins)

Meeting and Discussing with Bill the project plan (4 hours)

Reserving and acquainting myself with equipment for shoot (2 hours)

Writing outline (1 hour)

Meeting and Shooting with Bill Day 1 (5 hours)

Logging and Reviewing footage Day 1 (1 hour)

Meeting and Shooting with Bill Day 2 (5 hours)

Logging and Reviewing footage Day 2 (1 ½ hours)

Meeting and Shooting with Bill Day 3 (2 hours)

Logging and Reviewing footage Day 3 (30 mins)

Contacting Mike for interview (30 mins)

Meeting and Interviewing Mike (1 ½ hours)

Meeting to discuss with Mentor (30 mins)

Beginning Assembly of Footage ( laying out and reviewing footage, finding best sound bytes and cutting only the usable footage out) (4 hours)

Rough Edit (inserting sound bytes, ordering footage around, finding accompanying B-roll, finding pace to edit, creating a story, fixing sound, color correcting footage (10 hours)

Review of film with Mentor (30 mins)

Final Edit (Mixing sound, inserting effects, obtaining photos, color grading, locating non-commercial licensed music and adding to the mix, making changes to edit, finalizing the project) (8 hours)

Creating graphic and QR codes for presentation (1 hour)

Uploading deliverable, obtaining talent releases (1 hour)

Total Hours Spent: 52 ½ hours

Examples of Work and Documentation:

Editing Outline
Music License

Reflection and Thoughts Beyond…

I feel this project was a great exercise for most of my most practical knowledge gained over the past few years in video production. Not only was I able to work with tools of the trade but had to make do with a fairly tight deadline and only the footage I managed to capture despite wanting more. I think this will stand as a great piece for my portfolio.

I think as an editor, this really was a great project to focus on. I hope that it does indeed showcase the decisions I had to make with the story that I was attempting to tell. It was challenging in the ways that it had to be.

Looking towards the future, I will be looking for an internship. I feel more experienced in the post production pipeline than I am behind the camera, but I am willing to take anything that comes my way. However, I hope that I can use this to help illustrate my abilities as a videographer and editor.