This young male cub, photographed here in The Trails, will also be featured in the new episodes. He and his brother, who lost their mother at a young age, are affectionately known as “the knuckleheads.” (Photo Lynch)
Crew returns to film more episodes of “The Bear Whisperer”
“The great thing about working with Steve [Searles],” jokes ‘The Bear Whisperer’ Executive Producer Eric Schotz, “is that he’s never come to me and asked for makeup.”
Schotz, Director John Jopson and Mammoth’s own Bear Whisperer, Steve Searles, sat down over coffee at the Looney Bean on Tuesday to discuss Mammoth’s current bear season as well as the summer production schedule of “The Bear Whisperer.”
For those not in the know, Animal Planet commissioned a two-hour special last year from Schotz’s company, LMNO Productions. The program, which aired on Jan. 7, was wildly successful. “As soon as it aired,” said Schotz, “there were calls for pick up [of future episodes] the next day.”
Searles, who serves the Town of Mammoth Lakes in an official capacity as its Wildlife Specialist, is a self-taught bear expert who’s been working with bears for nearly three decades. He helped formulate Yosemite National Park’s initial bear program and also invented the “Scat” kits which are now routinely used for bear aversion/conditioning.
For the first special, LMNO provided Searles with a single cameraman, Michael Slee.
This year, LMNO has signed a deal with Animal Planet for three, one-hour episodes with the option for three more.
As Schotz said, “It’s hard for the networks to order too many episodes [at once] without knowing the story.”
The storyline this year, says Director Jopson, will have the Town of Mammoth Lakes brought more into the show as a character, particularly the Mammoth Lakes Police Dept. and new Chief Daniel Watson.
In addition, returning bear stars will include Half Nose, Ace and Big Red.
“Those who saw the first show ask me about particular bears,” said Searles, “and they’re relieved to know that their favorites made it through another winter.”
How’s the season been thus far? In a word, busy. You’ve still got two dozen bears living within a 20-mile radius of town. On Monday night, one young cub was killed following a hit-and-run accident on Lake Mary Rd.
Jopson said Searles is the most complex person he’s ever worked with. Schotz agrees that it’s Searles personality which drives the show.
“He’s not just someone who’s great with bears whose personality is otherwise flatline. Steve’s an emotional character. There’s a lot of up and down.”
As Jopson added, Searles is able to maintain his composure and do the job required and then reflect on what’s happened and reveal his feelings afterward.
LMNO began this latest shoot about three weeks ago, although Searles has been filming independently for the past three months.
The shoot will continue until the bears den for the season in October.
Instead of it being just Searles and a cameraman, this year you’ve got another hand on deck in a Director who can also double as a second cameraman during “bear events.”
Jopson, whose next project will be an indie feature he’s writing and directing called “The Absinthe Drinkers” starring Tim Roth, John Hurt and Keith Carradine, says the toughest thing about the shoot is conveying that so much of the action is happening right in town.
Okay, quick reason why to call Searles versus doing it yourself:
A person who’d had his cabin busted into repeatedly by bears decided to put a board with nails in it outside the door to discourage the bear’s access to the door handle.
The bear apparently reached down and removed the obstacle at his feet with one easy swipe of a paw (“I didn’t witness it with my own eyes, but bears are not dumb.” -Searles) and loped inside.
A person camping nearby observed the break-in, rushed over to chase the bear out, and … stepped on the nail-filled board.
Quick reason why you might save the call for yourself:
An individual called Searles saying that she’d observed a bear “about 45 minutes ago” that was lost in the woods somewhere in between Mammoth and June Lake.
Searles: What made you think the bear was lost?
Caller: I could see it in his eyes.