Eight Seasons in and PRODUCER and DIRECTOR Nick O’Meally takes a look back at making the very first season of the now legendary Discovery series, Gold Rush.
Finding TV gold is an elusive thing. As a producer you can come up with hundreds of ideas but only a tiny percentage ever see the light of day and make it onto the TV screen. So when you get to be part of what becomes a big hit it’s really an exhilarating experience. And if it literally involves finding gold – that’s even better!
I remember getting the call back in 2010 from a friend at Raw TV, the UK production company behind the Gold Rush series. “There’s a bunch of miners and out of work guys intent on heading into the wilds of Alaska to look for gold. Just as in the old pioneer days, fancy coming along to document their story?” While the rest of the nation was struggling from the recent financial crash, these men were taking matters into their own hands by seeking their fortunes in America’s last great wilderness frontier. Who could pass up an opportunity to follow them into the unknown?
I signed up for the opportunity, and found myself, a couple of months later, on a small plane, flying over pristine wilderness that seemed to stretch on forever. I caught glimpses of glaciers and bears running for cover on route to Hanes Alaska. Today the Gold Rush miners are household names and the series has become Discovery Channel’s highest ever rated show, but back then the guys were just a rag tag crew gambling the little money they had on a genuine and gutsy idea. The project was raw and exciting and nobody quite knew what would unfold.
I joined the crew at Porcupine Creek a couple of weeks into the filming. I was one of several self-shooting Producers/Directors whose job was to record the stories as they happened in the mine. The machines were up and running and the now legendary glory hole was underway. Todd and his Dad warmly welcomed me but there wasn’t much time for long introductions. I was just another guy with a camera and they had fortunes to make. Just as the miners were learning on their feet, so were we, the TV crew. My first day of filming was brutal and chaotic in the cold and driving sleet. You learn quickly that the ground on an open mine is constantly shifting, like sand dunes on a beach. Scrambling up and down gradients while staying on your feet with one eye in a viewfinder was tough. It’s also a dangerous dance with heavy machinery and you learn quickly where the blind spot of a 15-ton excavator is. If you get it wrong you lose more than your camera lens.
For my first hour of shooting, I captured everything with the wrong colour temperature so all the footage had a blue wash on it. I was lucky we didn’t find a gold nugget in those first few hours or I’d have been on a flight home. It was a rookie error and not a good start, but I soon found my feet and started to learn how to navigate a working gold mine with a camera on my shoulder.
To Be Continued on Part 2...