It’s surprising no one thought of it before — a film showing the wonders of Yellowstone National Park and surrounding areas mainly from above. The fact that no one did, however, provided an opportunity for Sam Tyler.
After touring the park last summer with his wife, Tyler thought it would be a perfect place to produce his second aerial film — “Above Yellowstone.” The first was “Above Santa Barbara,” a film of the California coastal community released in April 2010.
“As a filmmaker, Yellowstone is obviously one of the greatest subjects you could have,” Tyler said in a phone interview from Colorado. “It’s a topic that is beloved by many millions of people.”
A former producer for public television’s WGBH in Boston, Tyler quickly put together the crew, self-funded more than half of the $80,000 production cost and had the filming done in three days last October. Over the course of three months this winter, production of the film was finished and the DVD was released in June for $14.95.
The 40 minute film is now showing on public television around the country and will be broadcast by Montana PBS on Sept. 13 at 8 p.m. during the station’s pledge drive.
Narrated by actor Tim Matheson and with an original musical score by Jesse Rhodes, the film puts viewers in the front seat as the helicopter-based camera swoops next to jagged mountain tops, up Yellowstone’s Grand Canyon and dives close to the Yellowstone River just outside of Gardiner.
The helicopter was piloted by Bozeman resident Mike Carisch whose familiarity with the landscape and personal relationship with Yellowstone National Park staff as a firefighter and search and rescue pilot helped smooth the shoot, Tyler said.
“He knew the area cold,” Tyler said. “He was efficient, and he had a fuel base out of Gardiner.”
Carisch said he has flown more than 1,000 hours for Yellowstone over the past 18 years, so he’s very familiar with the landscape. As he waited to haul firefighters into a blaze, he noted that film work is much easier than his other duties.
The majority of the shots were done with a camera mounted to the front of Carisch’s Bell 206L-4 Long Ranger helicopter built for high-altitude flying. Cinematographer/editor Brent Sumner rode in the passenger seat. Additional shots were taken out the side doors of the aircraft with small portable cameras.
Tyler said the shoot was planned for early October so that there would be some color as the aspen tree leaves turned. Considering that the shoot only took two days in the air, one from the ground, the crew got lucky with the weather. The only problem, which ended up being a benefit, was a wildland fire.
“That threw us off,” Tyler said. “But then we thought about that and realized we could make the fire part of the story. As it turned out, the fire gave us an interesting segment for the film, and under the right light the smoke and haze gave us extra beauty.”
The third day was spent shooting footage on the ground. Some other film clips were purchased from stock agencies, such as one showing wolves and a grizzly bear feeding on a bison carcass.
Tyler said the hardest part of the whole shoot was when there was a battery malfunction that meant some of the footage locations weren’t logged in.
“I had to use all kinds of detective work to figure out where we were,” Tyler said. “It was a bit of a jigsaw puzzle to put it together.”
Although many people thought getting permission to film over Yellowstone must have been difficult, Tyler said it was no harder than applying for a driver’s license.
“The Park Service was very gracious,” he said. “They were easy and pleasant to work with.”
It was the Park Service that required Carisch to fly so high - 2,000 feet above ground level - because of the fire and related fire-fighting air traffic.
“Their main issue is protecting the wildlife habitat and not interfering with the natural conditions,” Tyler said.