Lights! Camera! Real Action!
Alumnus earns Emmy for ‘Deadliest Catch’
- By Thomas James Weaver
Gritty men, brutal conditions, lives and big money on the line — it’s all part of the dramatic mix on “Deadliest Catch,” the Discovery Channel docu-reality program that takes armchair adventurers into the world of Alaska crab fishermen. There’s sometimes a moment when watching a show of this genre — say, while seeing a fishermen hit the deck of a wildly pitching boat — when one peeks behind the dramatic veil and thinks, “wait, there’s a guy in the middle of that mess holding a camera?”
Matt Getz is that guy. And the class of 2005 UVM alumnus, who majored in outdoor recreation management, has proven he has the grace under pressure to produce great work in challenging circumstances. Getz, an associate field producer/cameraman, is part of the “Deadliest Catch” production team that just received a 2012 Emmy Award for cinematography in reality programming. (The Creative Arts Emmy celebration honoring the production side of television takes place a week prior to next weekend’s star-studded prime time awards.)
Getz gets a laugh out of a question inquiring if the “Deadliest Catch” crew has special cameras for shooting in a downpour. “Yeah, special cameras that break all of the time,” he says. Just keeping the equipment alive is first priority and one of many jobs that a multi-tasking production crew takes on in the middle of the Bering Sea. Miles from shore, there’s a certain amount of jerry-rigging required. Cameras are wrapped in plastic bags, secured with Aquaseal and plenty of tape, Getz says.
The cameraman himself is harder to protect. “The boat is rocking side to side 30 degrees and going up 25-foot waves; the deck is covered with ice,” Getz says. “I took spills all the time. Falling into crab pots, missing thousand-pound crab pots swinging by.”
Authenticity and rawness are key to the show’s success, Getz believes. “It is actually much more intense than it looks on TV,” he says. “The extreme danger combined with the high level of responsibility as a producer/shooter are what make DC so unique. There are a lot of shows that build up the drama. You don’t have to build anything for ‘Deadliest Catch.’”
Matt Getz’s first experience documenting fishermen was decidedly less dramatic. Living the young dude good life in Jackson Hole, Wyoming, Getz worked a variety of jobs through the years. His future started to fall into sharper focus when he joined with his brother Tom ’00, Greg Van Gilder ’04 and Greg’s brother Brad to make adventure-style fly-fishing videos of their own escapades out west.
“We were all self-taught. None of us had any shooting experience, producing experience, editing experience,” Getz says. “The effort was immense. But we, as a company, didn’t have all the pieces; we didn’t have what it takes.” He offers that they earned “maybe about a hundred bucks” and comp tickets to the Telluride Bluegrass Festival over the course of their venture.
But it was one of life’s “can’t always get what you want, but you get what you need” moments for Getz. It taught him camera skills, tested his chutzpah, showed him the sort of work he truly wanted to do and the sacrifice it would take to do it. “I love Jackson Hole. I’d been there four years and it just got better every day. But I saw that I had things I’ve got to do in my life and that was going to take me to Los Angeles…probably the last place on Earth that I thought I’d live.”
Sleeping on the couch at a high school buddy’s place and one-day jobs as an extra on random shows followed as Getz looked for a way into the television and film business. The path opened through Original Productions, the company behind “Deadliest Catch,” “Bering Sea Gold” (which Getz also works on), “Ax Man,” and other programs. A single-day production assistant gig led to a second day, led to a third day, led to getting hired.
“For some people, it’s their experience that takes them to the next level,” Getz says. “For me, I think it was my drive. There are a lot of kids out here just out of college; well, I’ve been around for a while so I know what it takes to do a good job. I applied that and worked my tail off.”
Having seasoned people skills from those years in service jobs and recreation management in Wyoming also came into play. “Part of my job, and just what I like to do in general, is meet new people, just figure out what makes them click,” Getz says.
Weeks together in the tight conditions of a crab boat, eighteen-hour work shifts, and the hard-edged character of Alaskan fishermen presents it’s own special interpersonal challenge. “There are some guys you’ll never be friends with no matter what you try,” Getz says. “With all of them I’m civil, and with some of them I formed really good relationships.”
While the fishermen are typically skeptical whether a TV producer from L.A. can hack it in their world, the St. Johnsbury native thinks his roots in the woods of the Northeast Kingdom and his years of varied work experience earned him some credibility. Getz says, “In the beginning, they might not really trust you, but they respected where I was coming from, and I think it gave me a little step up.”