Brett Kuxhausen is a producer and cinematographer based in Bozeman, MT. Hailing from the heartland, Brett studied biological sciences and film at the University of Nebraska, and is currently a MFA candidate in the Science and Natural History Filmmaking at Montana State University. He has made films for a variety of institutions such as PBS, WHOI, and the NSF. His aim is to make content that educates and enlightens others on human/environment interactions, and is particularly passionate about communicating stories about land use and agriculture.
TERRA: What inspired you to make a film about the connection of ranches and watershed protection?
BK: I was hired by the Western Landowners Alliance to do this film, but it’s also of personal interest to me. I’m from a small rural community in Iowa, and agriculture is a topic close to my heart. I grew up witnessing good and bad land management practices, so any success stories that can deal with these issues (and with conservation foremost in mind) really captures my attention. With Betty, I saw so much in her that reminded me of people back home, so to tell her story in a compelling and respectful way was really important to me.
TERRA: What organizations exists for people who are interested in protecting their private property and establishing an easement?
BK: People who are interested in issuing an easement on their property should check with their local land trusts, but state agencies and local organizations can issue them as well. A great place that I suggest to read up on easements is on The Nature Conservancy website. There they have a national database that provides a great deal of general information and locations of easements around the country.
TERRA: Did you have any particularly challenging moments during production?
BK: I did have a run-in with some equipment failure, but the hardest part was that Betty had gone through the loss of a loved one the day before I arrived. So, she ended up being unavailable a good amount of the time I was there. It all worked out in the end, but it really required some careful balancing. I had to make sure I wasn’t stepping on any toes during a tough time and also ensure that I got what I needed for the story.
TERRA: What was the timeframe for this production and what advice can you give about time management when it comes to filmmaking?
BK: It was a decently quick turnaround. I had a few weeks of pre-production, around a week of shooting, and then about a month and a half to finish it in post. When it comes to time management, I’d say don’t bite off more than you can chew. I tend to stretch myself pretty thin sometimes, but I think it’s important to know your own personal limits as to how far you can push yourself yet still retain your sanity.
TERRA: On this particular shoot, what piece of equipment proved most valuable?
BK: I’m going to stray away from actual camera gear on this one and say my rental car. Because of how quickly the schedule changed when I got there, having my own independent mode of transportation really allowed me to pursue what I thought was important, and I really got to explore the area in depth with it. Without it, I couldn’t have gotten nearly as much of varying footage at differing times.
TERRA: What is your favorite part of production (pre-production, principal photography, post) and why?
BK: I’m a huge fan of principal photography. I love to get out in the field and shoot, and there’s no better feeling knowing you nailed a shot. But, I like preproduction too because I really enjoy researching a location and attempting to construct a story before I actually get started filming.
TERRA: You have been pretty busy! Do you have a favorite project you’ve worked on and why?
BK: It’s definitely been a busy year. I think my favorite project has been traveling down to Patagonia to shoot a film about groundbreaking wildfire research going on down there – it was one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever been to and you can basically point a camera at a rock and get great footage. Even more things went wrong on that trip than this one, but it was one of the most valuable filmmaking experiences I’ve ever had.
TERRA: What is next for Brett Kuxhausen?
BK: I’m busy wrapping up my MFA thesis called Pork.0, which is a film about a pig farmer who’s revolutionizing the pork industry, and plan on defending at the end of the semester. I have a few irons in the fire for after that, but I think I’m mostly just going to be happy to not be a student for the first time in my life!
TERRA: Give us a behind-the-scenes snapshot of what life was like in the field while you were making "Hannibal."
BK: Everyday, research activities would begin around 7AM on the ship, be that sub dives, operating the autonomous kayak, or the oceanographers leaving on the tinder to run tests. I would decide who to follow around for the day and tag along after, most of the time running from activity to activity.
Living on the Alucia for three weeks offers little privacy. There isn’t a lot of room, and you share living quarters with others, in my case the two oceanographers. But, the cabins were swanky and we had laundry and cleaning done for us every day.
The food was SO GOOD. I’d heard from a few friends who had done filming on research vessels that the meals weren’t usually something to write home about. Not true (at least on our ship). It was buffet style made by great chefs who had something different every day. I came back to Montana with a few extra pounds.
TERRA: How did you get involved with Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute's Panama Expedition?
BK: I got involved with WHOI after one of my professors, the great Gianna Savoie, recommended me when they were looking for a filmmaker. She facilitated contact between WHOI, Alucia Productions, and myself, and basically got the ball rolling.
TERRA: What surprised you the most about working out at sea?
BK: The weather. The bene but we had amazing weather everyday. There were only a few storms, the sea was very calm.
TERRA: What types of equipment did you use? Do you have a favorite piece?
BK: I used my Panasonic GH4 with a handheld rig a majority of the time, but also used GoPros a ton. I put them in deep-water housings for subs, on magnetic mounts I made to stick mostly anywhere on the ship, and a few other specialized types of mounts for a variety of situations.
TERRA: Did you have any particularly rewarding or dangerous moments while making the film?
BK: The most rewarding AND dangerous moment was filming down deep in the submarine. Rewarding, because it was such a unique and amazing experience that makes you extremely happy that you picked the right career field. Dangerous, because subs were acting a little sketchy during the trip. I had all my gear packed in with me, a GoPro attached outside, and a couple hundred meters of water above me. It’s hard not to be just a little claustrophobic and worried in that situation.
TERRA: What are the 3 things you’d never go into the field without and why?
BK: My Leatherman, Gaff Tape, and Bandana. I always end up needing a knife, adhesive, and rag. Always.
TERRA: What inspired you to become a filmmaker?
BK: Working at a mortuary throughout high school, actually. It’s what pushed me towards studying sciences, and then realizing I wanted to make them instead, mostly from realizing “There’s no way I’m going to end up in a casket regretting what I did with my life”. So here I am.
TERRA: What would be your dream project?
BK: The obvious: Unlimited funding, complete creative control, and the best craft services. Gots to have my food when filming.
TERRA: What’s your favorite aspect of filmmaking?
BK: Being in the field. I get a little stir crazy when editing or sitting behind a computer, and getting out and controlling what you get for the story is what it’s all about for me.
TERRA: What’s your favorite fish species?
BK: Jack Dempsey cichlids. I did predatory research with them in undergrad, and love how colorful and clever they are.