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Making hunters on-screen heroes, again

1/31/2006

A few years ago, I got a call from a person organizing a conference about hunting. The caller wanted to invite some celebrities. I asked what the celebs would do. The reply was to just walk around the floor and be seen.

Now I know what it feels like to be a trophy wife, like Eva Longoria's character, Gabrielle Solis, in television's "Desperate Housewives." Her husband wants her to come to business events, wear sexy clothes, don expensive jewelry … and keep her mouth shut.

At the recent Safari Club International convention in Reno, Nev., some folks from Hollywood were invited to come and to talk. And, they had a lot to say.

A couple of two-hour seminars were held on how to get a better image for hunting in mainstream TV and feature films. I was the host. The panelists were:

  • Patrick Kilpatrick — veteran actor who has appeared in more than 40 feature films, most recently "Minority Report," and made more than 60 guest appearances on TV, recently "24," "CSI" and "Criminal Minds"; and writer and producer for Uncommon Dialogue Films.

  • Diamond Farnsworth — son of the legendary actor Richard Farnsworth, he has been a stuntman and one of Hollywood's top stunt coordinators for 30 years. He is stunt coordinator for "NCIS" and is Scott Bakula's stunt-double.

  • Tom Greene — writer, director and producer; among Greene's productions are "Knight Rider," "Swamp Thing," "Six Million Dollar Man," "Thunder In Paradise," "Columbo," and "Wildside," which was Meg Ryan's breakthrough role.

    We had to shoo people out of the room because there was so much active exchange going on, and discussions went on for hours later. Here's a synopsis of some of what was discussed:


    Hunting once was popular in Hollywood. Many stars openly talked about their hunts, while movies and television featured hunters as heroes, like "Davy Crockett," "Daniel Boone," "Tembo," "The Last Safari" and the "American Sportsman."

    Diamond Farnsworth talked about how his father often hunted with Roy Rogers and Howard Hill. Other late, great Hollywood hunters include Clark Gable, Bing Crosby, Errol Flynn and John Wayne.

    Today, hunters as heroes on the big and little screen are about as common as albino deer. As a result, the role of hunters in wildlife conservation goes unrecognized.

    There are few shows and films that present hunters in a realistic manner, which makes hunters an easy target because they are not understood by mainstream non-hunters.

    Many reasons were discussed for the decline of hunting heroes in the Hollywood spotlight.

    But everyone agreed that anti-hunting organizations have an active presence in the industry. They seek out TV and film people and feed them a constant stream of their views, including misinformation about hunting. Here are but three examples of this maneuvering:


  • The American Humane Association has the contract to monitor all animal actors that appear on the screen, both the script and on the set, and to rate the programs. In the 1980s, AHA supported hunting as a way of wildlife management. Today its stance is, "American Humane opposes the hunting of any living creature for fun, trophy, or for simple sport."

    On the set, the AHA rep is the only person other than the director who can call "cut." If the AHA doles out a "Monitored
    Unacceptable" rating for a film, that will severely hurt its chances for TV, and may well cut into box office and DVD sales. One can portray animals being hunted and killed and get an acceptable rating, but only if the animals killed are done with animatronics or digital imagery.

  • The Humane Society of the United States has recently established a Hollywood office and has taken over the Genesis Awards, which are given out to films and TV shows about humane relations between people and animals.

  • People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, better known by the acronym PETA, holds large, extravagant fund-raisers on the lots of major studios and courts celebrities to appear in ads. It also gives out awards to celebrities.

    What is the presence of hunting organizations in Hollywood? Next to nothing. That's definitely part of the problem.

    In order to return hunting to its proper place in mainstream programming, sportsmen need to re-establish their presence in Hollywood. Our panel set forth a number of creative, effective strategies. I'll share three here. More will be forthcoming:

    Hold more celebrity hunting and shooting events

    Tom Greene was one of the founders of the Missouri Invitational Celebrity Turkey Hunt, which for 15 years was a major way to introduce people from Hollywood to not just turkey hunting, but hunting in general.

    A number of Hollywood actors went hunting for the first time during this event. The celebrity hunt was organized by local residents of Warsaw, Mo. (population 1,500), and the event made enough money every year to donate to a Kansas City hospital outreach program serving children in that area and other local causes.

    Missouri Invitational Celebrity Turkey Hunt no longer exists. But if a town of 1,500 can do this, why can't your town or group?

    There are some notable celebrity shooting events: including the Hollywood Celebrity Shoot, and the Irlene Mandrell Celebrity Shoot. There ought to be more.

    Awards

    Presently there are no awards or recognition given for mainstream programming that portrays hunting in a positive light.

    Films such as "The Ghost and the Darkness," "Dances With Wolves," "In The Blood" and "Escanaba In Da Moonlight" all deserve recognition for depicting hunters as heroes. Yet there are no awards, and such films usually are not shown at hunting expos or conventions. This is a crying shame.

    The failure of the hunting/shooting community to recognize actors, writers and producers reduces the success of good programs and gives the impression that the hunting community does not care. Successful screenings of a feature film to audiences of just sportsmen could make it a financial success.

    Funding

    It's not easy to find major studios willing to foot the bill for pro-hunting programs because they are flooded with anti-hunting propaganda and worry about box-office protests. Independently funded films may well be the breakthrough. If they are successful, Hollywood will become interested.

    Everyone on the panel has scripts about wildlife and hunting they are trying to get funded or produced. I know of many more. If you want to invest in Hollywood, I can suggest several worthy projects.

    James Swan — who has appeared in more than a dozen feature films, including "Murder in the First" and "Star Trek: First Contact," as well as the television series "Nash Bridges," "Midnight Caller" and "Modern Marvels" — is the author of the book "In Defense of Hunting." Click to purchase a copy. To learn more about Swan, visit his Web site.

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