Monday, June 22, 2015

Interview with Justin Hoffman, Wildlife Videographer Behind the Teaser Trailer for FX's Fargo

Everything about this is great.

The first season of Fargo on the FX network was a great watch, and a big hit (it won the Emmy for Best Miniseries, doncha know). Last week the network gave us its first glimpse of the show's second season, in the form of a twenty-second teaser trailer. Check it out:

Not only a great show and a creative trailer, but the star is a black-backed woodpecker! 

Exciting for a couple reasons. First, black-backed woodpeckers don't get a lot of love. Lots of birders have never seen one, and they've got virtually no name-recognition among the general public. I bet it was temping for the producers to go with a pileated or hairy woodpecker (the populist woodpeckers!), so it's nice to see the black-backed get some screen time.

Second, this is what I'm talking about when I talk about movie and tv producers doing a little bit of work to get something right. The folks who put this together didn't just choose some random bird, they picked a black-backed woodpecker, a perfect choice for the forests of northern Minnesota. It's an indicator of quality: if they made a thoughtful decision on this aspect, it leads me to believe that the rest of the show was crafted with similar care. Reading too much into it? Probably, but it's nice for someone to get it right for once.

Anyway, I saw the trailer and wondered where they got the footage. Easily enough, the first result found when typing "black-backed woodpecker" into YouTube's search engine is this video, shot in Ontario by Justin Hoffman.

Clearly, it's footage the Fargo folks used to make their teaser. Very cool. Seeing that Justin has his own website, Justin Hoffman Outdoors, I reached out to see if he wanted to talk about shooting the video and how it got into the hands of FX.  Turns out Justin is a great guy, and has experienced something that every wildlife photographer must dream about.  Here's what he had to say:

How'd you get the BBWP footage? Were you after those birds specifically?

Being a wildlife photographer and nature nut, I spend a great deal of time exploring the outdoors. Of course, my camera gear is always with me on these adventures. Earlier this past winter, I had found three separate black-backed woodpeckers in the Ottawa area. Although not a rare bird, they can be quite elusive to find. My only other spotting of a black-backed was in Algonquin Park a few years earlier. All birds to this point had been females. 

On the particular day I filmed the male black-backed footage (December 20) I was bush-whacking off a of a popular hiking trail on public NCC land; only ten minutes from my house in Ottawa. I wasn't necessarily looking for birds this day, but wildlife in general, as we had had fresh snow the previous evening. Approximately 1.5km's in, I heard the faint 'pecking' sound of a woodpecker some 30 feet from me and instantly recognized it to be a male black-backed woodpecker. This bird was very comfortable with my presence and I set up my tripod less than 15 feet away from it. 

I photographed the willing model before deciding to capture some video footage. I shoot a variety of wildlife and nature clips for my YouTube channel and the clip was posted there later that day.

How were you contacted by the Fargo people? Did they let you know what they wanted to use the footage for?

I received an email in late February from a promotional person that works for the FX US Network. He mentioned that he had found my black-backed woodpecker footage online and that it was the best they had come across to that point. They were interested in licensing the footage in order to use for a promotional teaser clip for Season 2 of the television show, Fargo. He went on to mention that they had a very short deadline on this and for me to give him a call.

I called later that day. The promotional person took my call in the middle of the California desert, as they were on a film shoot. He explained the concept of the promotional piece to me at this point, which revolved around a woodpecker in the woods and mysterious gunshots. Of course, I was intrigued and excited with the thought of my footage being used.

A fee was negotiated and within a day I had uploaded my footage to the FX/FOX Network servers. Three days later the crew traveled to Winnipeg to shoot the other footage to complete the project.

Were they looking specifically for a black-backed woodpecker?

I am unsure if they were specifically looking for a black-backed woodpecker. I believe it fit the criteria of what they wanted, in so far as being a close up clip, shot in HD, with a winter and 'cold' background. I was also told that the 'pause' that the woodpecker makes mid-pecking is exactly what they wanted to go with their concept. It should be noted that the black-backed woodpecker is found in Fargo, North Dakota - where the show takes place. The show is actually filmed in Calgary.


Were you able to see the teaser as it was being put together (I notice the color is a lot colder in the teaser than in your footage)

I was not able to see any of the teaser until early last week, when it was shown for the first time on FX US during the premiere of the show, Tyrant. At the time of negotiations, non-disclosure contracts were also signed, so I was not legally allowed to discuss any part of the deal, nor the concept or the fact that they had purchased my footage.

The colour is colder in the teaser clip than my original footage. I believe this was done to match the secondary clip and also to go with 'dark' theme of the show.

Anything else about the process you'd like to say?

It has definitely been a fun and exciting moment for me. When I originally filmed this footage, it was to add to my YouTube channel and share on social media. Never did I think Hollywood would be calling. It goes to show you that you never know who will see your work or when that phone call will come.

It was definitely hard to keep this secret for four months, but was great to finally be able to share it last week - and the response and exposure has been very positive and exciting so far!


Congratulations, Justin, and let's all watch Fargo when it returns to FX in September.


Robert Aughenbaugh said...

I loved the original Fargo movie, the mini series and I'm looking forward to seeing the upcoming program. I'll be watching it during the winter though. I'm far too busy with all my activities in the yard during the spring, summer and fall to watch TV.
I love wildlife of all sorts but I'm really into song birds. We've had a bird sanctuary in our back yard for several years but I've never seen the black woodpecker mentioned above. We get the hairy, Downey, red headed and red bellied woodpeckers on a regular basis. A red belly has really taken a liking to our safflower seeds, and it's pretty amusing to watch.
All four types eat the black oil sunflower seeds on a regular basis, and of course the suet. But the smaller safflower seeds are a bigger challenge. It gets a seed then hops to the tree next to the feeder and spends a few minutes getting into it. All the other birds get back onto the safflower feeder while he's banging on the little seed. Then when he hops back onto the feeder all the other birds scatter.
At the feed and seed store where I get a lot of my seed they seemed surprised that the woodpecker would stay at the feeder for an hour at a time eating safflower.
Every day is a new experience with them. I hope to finish up our 8 thousand gallon fish pond this summer, as it has a large shallow area with its own filter set aside for smaller birds to clean up and get a drink. Im hoping a full time misting head will bring in the hummingbirds. They love to fly through the lawn sprinklers, but each station only stays on for 10 minutes a day, so they aren't always there when the water comes on. This way all the birds will know it's going to be on all day.
My wife and I really love the birds and we're looking forward to attracting many more when our koi pond comes on line.

NickL said...

Thanks for the comment, Robert! Glad to hear your feeders are getting so much action. It's unlikely a black-backed woodpecker will show up, however. They have a very limited range in the US - northern Maine and Minnesota, and down through some of the high Rockies. I have also never heard of them taking food from a feeder, they stick instead to trees. Keep your eyes peeled, though! Good luck with the koi pond!

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