We reached out to our Jackson Wild Media Awards filmmakers to ask them five questions about the experience of making their films.
What inspired this story?
Director/Producer Josh ‘Bones’ Murphy: Even though I don’t believe in destiny, Artifishal seems like it was destined to happen. I was directing a short piece for 1% for the Planet, a non-profit started by Patagonia founder Yvon Chouinard and friend Craig Mathews that encourages businesses to give 1% of their gross receipts to grass roots environmental organizations making change, and over lunch someone asked Yvon what he was working on. He replied that they were just beginning a film about what he likes to call ‘the arrogance of Man.’ He went on to say it was about the way we’re mistakenly trying to control nature and manipulate salmon, one of the most iconic symbols of wild. Through fish hatcheries and fish farms we’re trying to make up for the degradation of rivers and waterways by producing manufactured salmon instead of protecting wild salmon and the environment that supports them. The effects are devastating, and salmon continue to slide towards extinction.
I nearly dropped my sandwich in my lap. Filmmaker/environmentalist Jacques Cousteau was my childhood idol, and before a career in film I earned two degrees in fisheries biology and worked on a fish farm and managed a hatchery. I understood the issue inside and out. We shared food and stories on the tailgate of an old Toyota pickup, and talked more about the film and issues before getting back to the shoot at hand. At the end of the day Yvon asked me for my number and said he’d call. I was flattered, but I never thought I’d hear back. Two days later a producer from Patagonia Films called and said Yvon wanted me to direct the film. That casual lunch began a 2 1/2 year journey that just culminated in a month-long Patagonia store tour that began and Reykjavik Iceland and Oslo Norway before returning to the States and premiering at the Tribeca Film Festival.
Describe some of the challenges faced while making this film/program?
JM: Every production has it’s challenges. From the outset we knew we were going to be upending a story that most had been told was a positive one. For the large part, most people see fish as something they eat or play with while angling and not as wildlife with an important function to an ecosystem. Fish hatcheries and fish farms were seen as a good thing. They helped restore fish where we failed nature through habitat degradation and provided needed, and some say delicious, food. Why would anyone question that? Oh right, then there’s that darned science stuff that proves we’ve been fooling ourselves for a long time.
Our producer Laura Wagner was from NYC and was a perfect gauge of someone who had no immediate relationship with fish. Actually they kind of grossed her out. This was key as we recognized that most viewers knew nothing about the topic and therefore probably wouldn’t care unless we created a connection that they could understand and appreciate. Collin Kriner edited the film, and while he’s from Montana, as an NYU film school grad it never really hit his radar. Both of these close friends were integral collaborators, and their varied perspectives were the key to making the film work. They balanced my obsessive research and endemic knowledge to land at a story that works for a larger audience.
When finally embraced the idea that we could trust the viewers by showing more and telling less, we found the film. It became clear that the sheer absurdity at hand would be enough to make our point. We just needed to see it all and that’s what we set out to do.
We largely shot on RED Epic Dragon in 5K—to save on data and not give away much field-of-view—and some on Alexa, and used refurbished SLR Leica R prime lenses throughout. The combination makes a rich organic picture and cuts a pretty slim outline without big cine lenses. We trimmed the package way down to make ourselves less conspicuous so hesitant subjects would open up more and have fewer questions about how much the camera must cost. We even dropped the follow focus and pulled focus on the lens barrel and lost the matte box in favor of screw-on filters. All additionally good strategies for the intense soaking we got while shooting much of the film outdoors, on the water, in the winter, in the Pacific Northwest.
The most rewarding part of making the film was first the amazing people who contributed their creative best, too many to list here but I’m thankful to each. Beyond that it’s been the deep connections the film has made with audiences and the issue. Confronting viewers with something they have never seen on film before has a powerful affect in our image-crazed culture. Having people ask ‘how is it possible I didn’t know this was happening’ cut right to the quick.
As a filmmaker you want people to feel something, as an environmentalist I want people to do something. The future of wild is too important not to.
What impact do you hope this film/program will have?
JM: I hope the film creates and appreciation of fish as wildlife and wild fish as worth our attention and protection. In a lager sense I hope we recognize the outsized impact humanity is having on the natural world and our failings when we continue to control it. With all of our technologic advances we still can’t build a flower.
Wild is a powerful force, and nature’s ability to heal should not be underestimated. When we protect wild we have a chance to save many of the things the make this world beautiful. As Yvon says in the film ‘A life without wild nature, a life without these great iconic species is an impoverished life. If we loose all wild species we’re gonna lose ourselves.’ We agree.