Outdoors

New flick raises bar for elk hunting filmmakers

BIG-GAME HUNTING — A Bozeman man has based a soon-to-be released movie around elk hunting season and his newborn son.

Visit the online trailer and you quickly see there's some unusual depth and quality to the making of Searching for West by Mark Seacat, a 33-year-old elk hunting fanatic. As Brett French, Billings Gazette outdoor writer points out:

A preview of the film shows dramatic aerial photos of elk on a ridgeline, jaw-dropping slow motion shots of an archer releasing an arrow, all accentuated by a vibrant sound track that makes you want to be in the woods hunting. Now!

While you're online, sign up for the prize drawings. Some good stuff there.

Searching for West will premier at Bozeman’s Emerson Center for the Arts and Culture’s Crawford Theater on Aug. 16 and will be released online at noon on Aug. 22.

  Read on for French's report on the film and the filmmaker.

By BRETT FRENCH

french@billingsgazette.com

Mark Seacat has created his own job, and it’s a doozy.

He goes hunting, takes photos and writes about his adventures. By starting at the bottom and working his way up, he has turned his passion for the outdoors into a now-thriving creative business in Bozeman.

This year, Seacat ventured into filmmaking with a short piece – “Search for West” – an elk-hunting film that will debut Aug. 17 in Bozeman. A preview of the film shows dramatic aerial photos of elk on a ridgeline, jaw-dropping slow motion shots of an archer releasing an arrow, all accentuated by a vibrant sound track that makes you want to be in the woods hunting. Now!

“We’re trying to show something that everyone else understands is real and that people relate to,” Seacat said.

Love of adventure

Ever since he was a child, the 33-year-old Seacat has loved adventure – fishing, hunting, mountain climbing, you name it.

His love for nature-based pastimes was nurtured by his parents who allowed him to take a leave of absence as a youngster from his Helena school so he could go fly fishing for six months. After graduating from Montana State University with a business finance and economics degree, his grandmother thought he would finally find his niche.

“Finally? I knew what I wanted to do early, but I had to make up my own job as I went along,” he said.

So, over the years, he’s melded a love of photography with adventure and words to get gear sponsorships and promote an active lifestyle. En route he’s done blog posts for Outdoor Life while he’s hunted across the nation, he helped push Mystery Ranch backpacks into the hunting arena, and now he’s started his own creative company focusing on outdoor products.

His motto for the company could be one of his guiding principles: “You’ve got to go out and have adventures. It’s great character building.”

The challenge

Stepping into the longer film genre was a new type of adventure for Seacat. So he sought help from fellow Montanan Chris Murphy at Helio Collective of Bozeman, a film production company.

Seacat was also challenged by his sponsors not to offer up the same old hackneyed tale about fist-pumping hero shots of hunters bagging big animals. That’s been done to death, often not very well.

Wracking their brains for a different premise, Seacat’s team hit upon the focus of the film — a new father, a new son and family connections to elk hunting.

Luckily, Seacat just happened to be a new father. His son, West, was born on Aug. 19, 2011. West’s arrival forced a change in Seacat’s normally map-hopping fall hunting routine, but also gave him the kernel of the idea that the short film would grow from.

Normally, Seacat spends 120 days of the fall hunting all over North America. But last year he reined in his roaming ways. Instead, he spent about 70 days hunting close to Bozeman on public lands often pursuing just one bull elk.

Some days he would leave home at 3:30 a.m., hike into the backcountry to hunt and return in the evening. Often he was bird-dogged by a crew shooting footage for the film. Crowds of folks wandering through the woods isn’t a great prescription for sneaking up on a wily old bull elk, so Seacat also shot some of the footage himself.

 Hooking sponsors

He had pitched the elk-hunting film to his retinue of outdoor product manufacturers – like Mystery Ranch, Leica opticals and Sitka hunting clothing – as a way to reach their audiences with a social media message. Other than the debut, the film will be posted online for viewing.

The manufacturers liked the idea and piggy-backed some of the filming, such as the use of a remote-controlled helicopter that holds a camera, into footage for their advertising. That helped raise the budget of the film to about $600,000.

“The thing we’re realizing with this is it takes a significant budget to make things happen,” Seacat said.

The sponsors of the film have also collaborated on some great Facebook give-aways – close to $90,000 in products from 25 companies. One lucky person will get one of everything, a prize package valued at $30,000.

Tickets to the premier are $10. Any money left over after covering the costs of renting the theater will be donated to the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation, Seacat said.

“We’re not doing this to make money. We’re trying to draw attention to companies and groups we believe in,” he said.




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Rich Landers

Rich Landers’ Outdoors blog


Rich Landers writes and photographs stories for a wide range of outdoors coverage, including a Sunday feature section and a Thursday column. He also writes the Outdoors Blog.

By Rich Landers richl@spokesman.com (509) 459-5508


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