Like gold prospectors, Idaho State University professor Mike Trinklein and Steve Boettcher of Milwaukee took risks to produce their latest documentary.
Three years ago, they started working on a show for public television, “The Gold Rush,” not knowing whether it would ever pay off.
“I had no idea whether it would earn back a profit or even pay for itself,” said Trinklein, who wrote the script.
“The Gold Rush,” narrated by Emmy award-winning actor John Lithgow, will air Wednesday on public television station KUID.
The documentary, sponsored by Wells Fargo Bank, chronicles the California gold rush from about 1848 to 1850. The film marks its 150th anniversary.
The gold rush attracted people from around the world to the West, forming the basis of a multi-cultural society that exists today, Trinklein said.
“It pulled so many people west and bound so many people together. Before the gold rush, hardly anyone was in California.”
It also awakened America to high-risk entrepreneurialism, a concept that our capitalistic society continues to nurture, he said.
Mass communications professor Trinklein worked with the friend he met when they attended the University of Wisconsin.
They decided to do a documentary about the gold rush as a natural spinoff of another show they had produced called “The Oregon Trail,” which aired nationally on PBS in 1995. Many pioneers followed the trail to reach the gold fields.
Having Lithgow, star of the popular television show “Third Rock from the Sun,” narrate the film has helped them promote it, Trinklein said.
Wells Fargo Bank was their first choice for funding because the bank started during the gold rush. Prospectors had a lot of money but no secure place to put it, so Henry Wells and William G. Fargo opened one in 1852.
With that sponsorship of about $300,000, they completed the documentary and have about broken even financially, Trinklein said.
In making the film, the two discovered gold fever lives on in northern California.
“Everyone’s a gold prospector on weekends. It didn’t end in the 1860s,” Trinklein said.
People still think they can get rich prospecting, although most fail.
“It’s fun to see the shiny stuff in the bottom of the pan,” Trinklein said, adding he has no desire to prospect for the mineral.
“I have my own gold fever - films,” he said.
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