Son of a Blitch

Ep. 45 - Ben Masters: Filmmaker, Author and Conservationist's Journey Through Wildlife and the Great Outdoors

December 12, 2023 George Blitch Season 1 Episode 45
Son of a Blitch
Ep. 45 - Ben Masters: Filmmaker, Author and Conservationist's Journey Through Wildlife and the Great Outdoors
Show Notes Transcript Chapter Markers

Get ready for an adventure as we journey through the life and career of Ben Masters, a filmmaker, author, and conservationist known for his profound work on nature and wildlife. Known for his incredible projects like the 'Deep in the Heart',  the 'River and the Wall', and the 'Unbranded,' film and book, this episode promises a deep dive into his passion for the outdoors, and a review of all his work through with his company, Fin and Fur Films.

Ben shares his captivating experiences exploring the US-Mexico border, where he spent three months documenting the impact of a physical border wall on wildlife migration and private property rights, when filming "River and a Wall".

Listen as he details the unique challenges of long-lensing a mountain lion for 45 days and camera trapping mountain lions in Texas, providing a fascinating insight into the importance of a mountain lion management program and the effects of land fragmentation.

He also tells us about how he journeyed form Texas to Montana with some friends, on the backs of some adopted Mustangs. (Unbranded)

Our conversation concludes with a discussion about Ben's landmark project with the Texas grocery store, H.E.B., to create a series of short films about wildlife conservation. Ben even tried to write in a lifetime supply of guacamole into his contract, but he eventually let it slide, so it wouldn't get stuck in legal for too long.
(HEB - if you see this, hook him up!).

You'll hear fascinating stories about the intersection of agriculture and wildlife conservation, the ocelot population preservation on a working cattle ranch, and the return of black bears to West Texas.

Ben also shares details about his proudest project, 'Deep in the Heart' and how he got Matthew McConaughey to join and narrate the film.

Don't miss this riveting conversation that promises to ignite your sense of adventure and deepen your appreciation for wildlife conservation.


To learn more about Ben's incredible projects, visit:
www.FinandFurFilms.com

Fin and Fur Films is a Texas-based production company that specializes in wildlife, adventure, and conservation stories. We’re a small and effective team that typically creates 3-5 short films per year and a feature film every 2-3 years. We’ve had the honor to work with numerous conservation organizations such as The Nature Conservancy and Texan by Nature, and our movies have been seen on Netflix, AppleTV, PBS Nature, wide theatrical releases, and international television broadcasts. We are strong advocates for the wildlife in our films and are most proud of our movies when they result in boots-on-the-ground conservation, directly benefiting the wildlife and wild places we all love. 


To learn more about George Blitch, visit:
SonofaBlitch.com
youtube.com/@sonofablitch
IG: "TheSonofaBlitch"
FB: "GeorgeBlitch

Speaker 1:

Hello everybody and welcome back to the Son of a Blitz podcast. I'm your host, george Blitz. Today I sat down with Ben Masters and had a wonderful, wonderful discussion about his career as a filmmaker, as an author. For those who are unaware, he runs Finn and Fur Films. You guys got to go check out that website and that is where you can see a lot of the projects he's been involved with. There's a list of all of his features and short films. Probably most recently and most well known is the Deep in the Heart film, which was narrated by Matthew McConaughey. There is also an accompanied book which I highly suggest you check out. There's the River and the Wall. Him and his some friends took a journey all throughout the Rio Grande, from the very tip of Texas down to the south. It's the whole journey really highlighting what is going on there and they talk about. You know there's this idea in 2016 about the border wall and going all across the border, and he kind of explored what would happen, what does that look like, how it's not even feasible in some areas, what that would do to the wildlife, conversations with people on both sides of the border, and it's just a really enriching film. We also talk about his film on branded, and some friends had taken a trip where they got some wild must things that they adopted and took them from Texas all the way up to Montana and they filmed that. There's also a book as well. I got both of those above me the River and the Wall, and on branded wonderful, wonderful books. So I highly suggest you check out the films and you check out the books. I think it is something that you guys will really enjoy, and we're going to be doing a giveaway here too, so I'll have some more details on that. I'll be posting on Instagram and Facebook as well, and some details below here in the comment section, but we will be giving away a signed copy of each of those books to some lucky listeners there. And there's some shorts there that you guys have to see. There's American Ocelot, there's the return of bighorn sheep, there is horse rich dirt poor lions of West Texas and there's the new HB series as well. Hb contacted him want to put out some wonderful little kind of mini shorts. That's called our Texas, our future, and there's just a myriad of projects that are in the works that you know Ben talks about. There's just some great, great films on the horizon that I cannot wait to check out. He has some incredible, incredible work that he's done over the years and you guys, I really want you to go see it. It's some wonderful, wonderful projects he's been a part of. I think you're going to go. You're going to love them. They go over to Finn and fur films and follow them there. Go check out the website and learn more. If you got any questions, leave some comments below. I'm happy to answer them, are happy to you know, forward them on to Ben as well, and you know. Thank you all for listening, for subscribing, for rating this podcast. You know it really means a lot to me that you're sharing this with your friends and thank you very much. I see the numbers growing and I really appreciate that. I love sharing people's stories, such as Ben, and getting them out in the world and yeah, so thank you all for the support. Without further ado, here is the interview and podcast with Ben Masters. All right, ben, thank you so much for joining me today. How are you?

Speaker 2:

I'm doing well, catching a little rain, and it's not 150 degrees outside, so I feel like we've turned a corner here in Texas.

Speaker 1:

I'm so excited about that I figured let's start at the very beginning. I want to talk about how you got involved in, you know your love and then a career in the outdoors. Maybe, if you can talk about, you know you're kind of your genesis of being introduced into maybe hunting, fishing outdoors, and then I kind of want to have you thread through to how you started to develop. You know your foothold in the industry of doing all this amazing travels. You know the films you put out, the books you put out. You've done so many wonderful things. I know we got a lot of new stuff you're working on that we can talk about, but maybe let's just start at the beginning. Man, talk about your genesis in the outdoors.

Speaker 2:

Oh okay. Well, my family were sod busters from up in the Texas Panhandle both sides ranching and farming and it was actually kind of cool. I got to know all four of my great grandparents and you know they lived a lifestyle that was more difficult than anything I'll ever get to understand. You know, growing up in the dust bowl in the Texas Panhandle and I got to spend a lot of time with them as a kid, as free child labor, you know, working around the farmhouse and their ranch, and my dad was in the ranching business and farming business whenever I was, you know, small and then he switched over to home mortgage whenever I was in like in middle school. But he would let me ride around on the truck with him. And you know, I think as a kid, just being outside all the time, you just can't help but just get endlessly fascinated with the world that you're in. And you know I was strongly encouraged to catch grasshoppers and go fishing and just kind of spend time outside. And then I studied wildlife biology at Texas A&M and kind of went through, kind of went through those early 20 years. I guided pack trips kind of in Yellowstone area in the summertime and then I guided elk hunts between Cody and Jackson in the thoroughfare wilderness or in the thoroughfare in the kind of in that really wild country just out the Yellowstone. September, october, then guided deer hunts November, december and South Texas and then did spring, spring semesters at school. So I had like the best six years ever, right in there. And I think I got into film. We did a movie called Unbranded that came out in 2015. And it was right after we got done with college. Some friends and I we decided to kind of take this you know six month period of our lives and before we entered into getting like a real career, be like, hey, you know, we've been going to grade school, we've been going to middle school, we've been going to high school, we've been going to college. Like, hey, let's just take some time for ourselves and just go, just go, be selfish. And we did so. We took, we took six months off, saved up some cash and went and adopted a handful of mustangs from the Bureau of Land Management, trained them and then we did a 3000 mile horseback trip from the Mexican border through Arizona, utah, touched Idaho just a little bit and then went into Wyoming and then through Montana up to the Canadian border. Now that was in 2013. Like, that trip took around five and a half months, something like that, and we decided to film it as we were going through. So we did a little Kickstarter video to raise some cash to pay for production and then it kind of grew a little bit bigger than than we had anticipated and the movie certainly turned out a whole lot better than than we had anticipated and that that film came out in 2015 and was called unbranded and the reason why it's good. I give credit to, you know, director Phil Bareboe, for just seeing a vision there and and running with it, but that that that whole experience really opened my eyes to, you know, the power of, of what a film can do. We were able to get several hundred horses adopted through that movie as well as, I think, make an impact and and raise some awareness that about this, you know, wild horse issue that we have in the West, both in terms of, you know, needing a solution to control the population, but also, you know, trying to inspire adoptions. You know if you're looking for a good back country horse or looking for a good horse for the mountains. You know we've had great success with the Mustangs and you know they're the cool animals. So, you know, doing that film, kind of one thing led to the next and I ended up deciding to start making some short films of my own. And since that, that point in time, I've gotten the opportunity to make about two dozen short films and two feature films and kind of you know, still figuring it out like the rest of us. But I've gotten about eight, 10 years or so of filmmaking experience and I love it, I absolutely love it.

Speaker 1:

Well, you, you, it feels like a second nature to you. I love watching them. You know the other two that you had mentioned, the features you got the river and the wall and deep in the heart, which is narrated by Matthew McConaughey, and both of those two are just phenomenal. I mean, as well as Brandon, you guys put together some amazing film work with Finn and Fur films. Say that three times fast, and so that is man. You guys have done so many wonderful things. I know you kind of do. You did the HEB series recently, where there's our Texas, our future, and I want to talk about that. I think let's rewind back over to, let's start with, maybe, the river and the wall, if you can kind of give everyone a little bit of synopsis. And then also, you know, for those who may not be aware too, I got both these books above me from unbranded, from river and the wall. I know you have the book for deep in the heart too. So maybe if you can also talk about how you're not only doing the film side of things, you guys are putting out a book and what that experience is like when you're doing these journeys, to make sure you're kind of putting both of those things out because you're having, you know, kind of two different vehicles. I know some of them kind of overlay with each other, but I was just kind of curious about that. Did one start the other, or was that a vision all along while you were doing these, to have a film and a book?

Speaker 2:

Yeah, well, I think you know a movie is so great for it's like, in my opinion, the ultimate form of media, but it you just can't do deep dives in a film like you can with a book. So whenever we were making Unbranded, we just realized there was so much more to that story of wild horses, of public lands in the West, of a lot of these things that we experienced, so we decided to write a book on it as well, which turned out. You know I'm quite proud of that book, oh yeah. And then you know that that kind of led to the River in the Wall, both the book and the film. But the River in the Wall that film is about. You know how gosh I think 20 seems so long ago now, but 2016 presidential election there was just a lot of people pushing for a border to border, physical border wall, and you know I've spent a lot of my time down there on the US-Mexico border, kind of around Laredo. That's where we did a lot of deer hunting, but then also out in the big bend country, kind of Sierra Viejas and the Chizos. You know a lot of that really rugged canyon country, really rugged mountain country, and then people were talking about building a wall through that stuff, but it wasn't people that had ever been out there before, because if you've ever been out there before, like it just doesn't make any sense, you know, it just makes no sense at all. But there was just this big national discussion about, you know, how we need to wall all this stuff off. And you know, I'm a pretty politically moderate person and was just like, hey, let's, let's do a river trip and let's just go and look at this whole Texas-Mexico border and talk to folks on the Mexican side, talk to folks on the Texas side and make a film on how an actual, you know physical border wall all the way from El Paso to the Gulf of Mexico would work and what its impacts would be to, like, you know, border security, to wildlife migration, to private property rights, to. You know, a big thing for us is in Texas we don't have a lot of public lands and you know, border wall would go through our largest national park, our largest state park and our largest wildlife management area. So like the costs of that would be would be really, you know, really large for a lot of different reasons. And so we decided to make that film and I think it did a lot. You know it, I think it. I don't hear as often people talking about you know a sea to shining sea wall and I like to think our film has a little bit of influence on that discussion of just recognizing there are many places where, like an actual physical wall, like a 30 foot high concrete structure, isn't going to be as big of a deterrent to, you know, people crossing illegally as the 1000 foot cliff that they'd have to go through before they even got to that wall, or you know an entire mountain range that they would have to go through to get to a, to get to a highway. So it was certainly kind of a bold film, to be honest, to make at the time. We just put it together real fast and we're like hell, no man, we don't want people walling off our big bend Like that's our, that's our public land getaway in Texas. So we we scrapped it together. We did a three month river trip, horseback trip and bicycle trip and traveled every single mile of the border. It was awesome.

Speaker 1:

Yeah, it's phenomenal. I think there's a lot to take away from that film and the book and just to be able to go and see that that the cinematography that you have in your films are really just top notch and I think it really shows the beauty of the landscape. And also, you know, like you talked about the complexities and the issues there too, a lot of that's there. There are certain areas that obviously you cannot put a wall. If they were going to try to put one, it's just physically impossible and to it would devastate all sorts of different corridors and, and you know, for for wildlife, and that's something that you kind of touched about a little bit in deep in the heart. You know, I know, and there's some really wonderful, you know cinematography sections in there, but one that really stuck out to me and I think it talked about your love of, like the ocelots and down by the border and how there are very, very few, I think you know, and maybe 100 to 150 total here in Texas. You know there's more in South America but we have a very small amount and you know, and there's some private ranches where they might have some as well too. They're kind of unknown. Maybe they're not talking about it or you know, maybe they don't even seem in that thick brush, but if you kind of maybe talk about, you know what, that idea of why we need to, you know, preserve you know, this wildlife area for them and you know, maybe we can kind of talk and you know kind of bridge that into more of what you know, inspired you to do deep in the heart. But and I wanted to kind of talk about too, I know you have a love of your heart, the ocelots and you got some amazing footage and you know your kiddo there too, man, that's just some of the best. I love that. I love that man. Tears of the eyes on that. It was beautiful.

Speaker 2:

Yeah, that was getting the go camera trap ocelots with my little girl. She has no idea how spoiled she is.

Speaker 1:

She's like oh look, look, this is normal.

Speaker 2:

Yeah, every two year old gets ocelot camera trap. And gets in the film. Yeah, so you know, I don't, I actually don't think an ocelot, I don't think the ocelot is a really good tool to or a really good species to talk about, like the importance of conserving migratory or dispersal or migratory routes, whatever you want to call it. Just you know animals moving back and forth across the river Right, primarily because you know the lower Rio Grande Valley from. You know really about the town of, or pretty much from, like Lake Falcon all the way down to the Gulf. That whole area down there has been so developed and there's so many highways and there's so many farms and there's so many towns and stuff. I do not believe that an ocelot would be able to disperse out of Mexico through all of that and then meet up with our ocelots in Texas. Whether or not a wall exists or like I, just I think that that landscape has changed so drastically from humanity that walls not going to make a difference.

Speaker 1:

Yeah, that door's already closed, then Got it.

Speaker 2:

I think so. I mean, I think you know a bigger, more important place to look at in terms of, you know, a physical border wall impeding potential dispersals or animal migrations would be like from Laredo up to Del Rio and then from, you know, del Rio west to El Paso and some of that country. I can't imagine that there would ever be a wall actually built, but some of it you could. I mean, you know the River Road right there next to Big Bend Ranch State Park. Honestly, you could do it all the way from, like Santa Atlantic Canyon, you know, all the way to El Paso and then probably from like the end of Langtree, like San Francisco Canyon, all the way to Del Rio. Like that is feasibly possible and you know what you would have issues with. There is, you know we're experiencing black bears returning to Texas right now. You know this amazing natural recolonization and you know the short history of that is during the settlement of Texas, especially during, like the sheep and goat days. You know, back in the 40s and 50s, whenever there was a ton of big mohair incentives, there was just an all out effort on predators to protect livestock and you know we extirpated our bears from the state in, you know, the mid 1900s and it kind of happened without people even realizing that it happened. And then, before you know it, like bam, they were gone and they started coming back slowly in the 1980s into Big Bend National Park. So now you see them in the National Park, you see them in the State Park, you'll see them on Black Gap sometimes, and then you're starting to see bears pop up, like in the Del Rio area, and then even down south, down closer to like Bracket, and even down there by Laredo they actually had a bear and you valedied the other day.

Speaker 1:

I saw that cross on the highway, or at least the road.

Speaker 2:

So they're out and nobody knows how many of them there are. You know, maybe there's a hundred, maybe there's 300. We don't know. There's some folks at the Borderlands Research Institute that are calling on them and trying to figure out. You know, how many bears are there and what are they eating, how are they surviving? And they're coming up, they're discovering all sorts of super fascinating things. So that'll be really cool to see. You know, bear recolonization in our lifetime in Texas, that's super exciting. But yeah, I mean one of the things if you did have a continuation of border fencing or border walls get built over the next few decades, that would certainly be impacted. Bears would be, and then also probably mountain lions in south Texas. We don't really know a lot about the mountain lion population or density or mortality in south Texas between and you know, if you like, kind of if you made a triangle between, like Laredo to Del Rio, to Freer, and then maybe expanded it out just a little bit, that's the believed mountain lion distribution in South Texas. But we don't really know. There was some studies down there in the 90s that found pretty high mortality and led a lot of folks to believe, myself included, that Texas, that South Texas population is likely dependent on disperser cats out of Mexico, but again, we don't know that. We don't know if there's 50 cats or 250 cats in South Texas, we have no idea. But most certainly if there was a border fence that was built from Del Rio to Laredo, that would stop off or bring a halt to both bear and lion dispersals and I love lions and I love bears. I think Texas is a richer place because of it. So I'd sure hate to see that happen. Certainly, a border to border wall. I think there's some research that's going to be happening over the next couple of decades. Hopefully that will show what are these dispersal corridors, what are some areas that we need to leave open for wildlife to come back and forth, and if we can find a way to secure our border that doesn't require a 30-foot high concrete fence that blocks all wildlife, I'd really like to see that happen.

Speaker 1:

Sure, no, absolutely. Let's talk a little bit more about mountain lions because you in the film deep in the heart, you have some amazing footage of them there I was curious about for those who might not have seen that yet, and I encourage everyone to go watch that you can talk about kind of how you went about going and filming those where that area was. I mean, there's a point we were first talking about doing this podcast and you're like, yeah, it's going to be about six months because I'm going to go along some mountain lions and like what? is it that you're doing when you're out there, like how long? How are you setting this stuff up? How are you getting some of this footage? I guess kind of give us a behind the scenes thing of how did you end up with this incredible footage and then we can talk a little bit more about that film. But I was very curious about that. And what does that mean? Are you just out there and tracking signs and then setting things up? I mean, I'm sure I can kind of piece some things together, but for those listeners that may be curious, let's talk to them about that.

Speaker 2:

Yeah, so I would say that Camera Trap is certainly a specialty that we have here at Fendin' Fur Films and film and lions. I used to think you couldn't do it with a long lens but we proved ourselves wrong. Last winter we ended up long-lensing a mountain lion for about 45 straight days of a female and two kittens in Utah and yeah, she didn't move outside of a couple thousand acre area and it was like this old burned area. So every two to three days we were able to successfully glass her up and film her and we got some nuts footage of her hunting elk and like jumping on their backs and riding them like a buck and horse, like it's crazy.

Speaker 1:

Where are we going to see that? What's that going to be involved with?

Speaker 2:

That'll be out in 2025. We're editing that one together now. So I used to think that you couldn't long lens them. But I think if there's some particular scenarios where you can, if you get the right cat and they're dialed in in the right type of country where you can see them frequently enough to be able to get on them. But they're really frustrating. They tend to disappear on you. Sometimes they'll be totally nocturnal and then other times you'll see them out and moving around at one o'clock in the afternoon. They don't tend to stick to a schedule and a habit, kind of like a deer does. So, yeah, I mean we started Camera Trap in Lyons and it's a hard place to Camera Trap Mount Lyons, texas. Our density isn't super high, mortality seems pretty high, the H class is pretty low. So getting a cat patterned can be difficult and we were doing that out in the Davis Mountains and pretty much consisted of going out with some cat specialists and looking for sign and then setting up trail cameras and figuring out like all right, where are they traveling and what are they doing, how are they going over this pass, how are they going down this canyon bottom, still on, and so forth, and then putting up some of our higher end Camera Traps to capture that movement. But it took us 14 months, I think, to get 16 clips, to get 16 shots of mountain lions. I think every single one of them made it in the film, so they can be really frustrating to try to film and Camera Trap.

Speaker 1:

I can imagine. Well, that means it's some of the best footage. It's amazing. I love it. There's that one, too, where there's like a trap on the ground. I know that you guys had not sprung on it like shows.

Speaker 2:

Our start cat, the one that we had gotten dialed in, and we were a couple of months into filming this cat and we had him fairly programmed on this routine and he walked through there and he'd stepped in a leg cold trap and he'd ripped out all of his toes. So he was kind of like walking through there and I'll kind of tripod like just, and then he was going through there all the time. Then he disappeared. So I don't know if he died from the injury or died in another trap or what, but we decided to incorporate that into the the sequence of. You know, this is the realities of these animals living in the Davis Mountains, as well as a three-legged bear. You know we were filming out there and we saw this bear that lost its leg, we presume again from a trap, and had chewed his leg off. So we felt like it was the honest thing to do for the animals that we filmed there to show the realities of this landmine that they live in. And you know it's it's one of those things where if you look at the Davis Mountains, you've got a lot of really, you know, conservation minded landowners and there's there's a couple of them out there that do do the trap and then they end up trapping everybody's cats because, you know, their home ranges can be 100,000, 150,000 acres of territory, so you know, and they're so easy to trap too. But yeah, texas is the only state that doesn't have any type of mountain lion management or or met monitoring at all. We have no idea how many cats we have, no idea what their distribution is, no idea what their density is. All the studies that you know have existed show extremely high mortality, you know, much higher than the natural recruitment. Yeah, we still have cats here, and there's a lot of folks that say, hey, you know there's more cats now than there was 50 years ago, but they don't, they don't have the data to back that up. And I think that, just as Texas, we just got to be honest and look ourselves in the mirror and look where we're headed as a state. Land fragmentation is going to continue to be a really big issue. Our human population growth we're expected to go from 30 million to 50 million Texans in the next three decades and there's all these changes happening to both South Texas and West Texas. And just because we have mountain lions now doesn't mean we're going to have them 20 to 30 years from now if nothing changes. So I would like to see the state of Texas have a mountain lion management and mountain lion monitoring program to ensure that the cat has a future in this state, because I think they're important. We should have them. Yeah, they're badass.

Speaker 1:

Yeah, they are. No, they're amazing. We've seen the history of so many different types of animals that used to be here and then they're gone and sometimes we've brought them back. That's a whole other discussion, but there are these amazing creatures. There used to be a larger area where you would see ocelots, and now it's more confined. There is even jaguarundis, which were at one point in time around South Texas, and now I think there was someone who's even years ago, saying I'll pay $1,000 for a picture of one and I don't know, if that was you, I'll give you $10,000 if you bring me proof of a jaguarundi in Texas. I tell you this is not a lie. 15 years ago I was out walking my dog and one came across our land in Southwest Texas, in Dimmitt County, and was about 75 yards away from me. Without a doubt, Unmistakably, I saw them. I've talked to their neighbors who've seen them. Of course there's nothing on camera.

Speaker 2:

No one ever got a game of Joe camera.

Speaker 1:

They probably think that I was drinking that day. It was in the morning, I was not, but I've seen them. I know that you've caught them on camera in South America, but as far as in Texas no one has any proof of them. So it matters not what people have seen. I know people have claimed them.

Speaker 2:

I've heard that same description about Bigfoot coming out of Lufkin County. You saw him too. Why?

Speaker 1:

didn't you put that in the film man, that's great, you're saving that.

Speaker 2:

You're saving that, yeah.

Speaker 1:

Man, the Chupa Codders. Everything's out there, right exactly. Lufkin is rich.

Speaker 2:

I would absolutely love to be proven wrong about not being a jaguarundi in Texas.

Speaker 1:

That would be awesome, but I don't think there are.

Speaker 2:

I mean we had some camera traps set up down in Tomolipas. We were doing a jaguar film. About a year and a half ago or so I went and set up I don't know 70, 80 camera traps, something like that. It's all a lot of jaguars actually. It was kind of shocking. Very similar habitat to what you see down in South Texas. And then once you get down below that lower Rio Grande Delta and down kind of beyond all those ag fields south of Matamoros and Ragnosa and stuff, you'll get into this really cool old Tomolipan thorn scrub forest. A lot of it hasn't been bulldozed, a lot of the Texas thorn scrub has Right, and now there's jaguars in there and there's Puma, there's Jaguarundi and what we noticed is in areas where there's jaguarundi, if you put up cameras on water, if you put them on cattle trails or just really well-traveled trails, they seem to be more diurnal than the other cat species and they're common observation. We saw them a lot. So I think that if we had them in Texas we would have had some undeniable photo confirmation of it by now. But I'm holding out. I'm hoping there's one out there one day and I get proven wrong one day That'll be the best check I'll ever write. My wife would be pissed. She would be so pissed if I wasted $10,000 on a jaguarundi sighting and they'd be like the best money I've ever spent Tell you.

Speaker 1:

what if I can be able to get one one day? I'm going to give it to you and it's going to be no charge, and we'll just go and make a donation somewhere not in the 10,000 mark to to be able to keep them going.

Speaker 2:

I'll save you, I'll raise your number, but it's high enough for reward where people's going to be like I'm going to prove that son of a bitch wrong.

Speaker 1:

George, is that you in a costume?

Speaker 2:

Yeah, I feel that confident about it.

Speaker 1:

That's good and bad Love it. Well, let's talk some more about deep in the heart. How did this? Was this an idea that was pitched to you? Is this something that you brought out? And then, how did you decide, or get, Matthew McConaughey on board to be the narrator? I mean, I know that I've worked with some of his family members. You know they have been a mainstay in Texas and really are conservationist minded folks. So I figured it would be a no brainer for someone like that to jump on, whose voice, quite literally, people are listening to and following too. But how did this film come about? And you know, I mean it's just been wildly successful. It's incredible. And you know, just all kudos to you guys for putting together such a remarkable film. Everyone has to go check that out. It's amazing.

Speaker 2:

I appreciate the kind of words. So we kind of hatched that idea. Let's see here Spring 2018. And there was a film series that came out on Netflix called Our Planet. That was also really good, but it kind of incorporated the human element into the genre of blue chip natural history of you know British dude describing the zebra that's getting eaten by the lion, kind of thing. And you know I really love to film wildlife and I really don't like people that much. So like the idea of making a movie that doesn't have any humans in it but it has a whole bunch of wildlife has always been very appealing to me, and we decided to try to make something similar to Planet Earth or our planet, in the Texas vein, but, you know, focusing on the wildlife that we have here, focusing on a lot of the big issues that we have in Texas in regards to, you know, water and you know some endangered species like the ocelots, and also showcased a lot of the success stories. I feel like the conservation community as a whole doesn't really properly pat themselves on the back or acknowledge all the hard work that people have been doing for the past 100 years or so. So we kind of found a blend of different stories of you know successes and failures and opportunities and challenges ahead, and decided to find these different wildlife species and behaviors that would kind of embody some of those stories and really kind of tell the story of Texas through the lens of wildlife in all the different you know ecoregions across the state. So we did an ocelot story, a bison story, a flower garden squirrel, reef story, a redfish story, alligator, gar, blind, catfish, blind salamander, mountain lion, bear there's a little bit of desert sheep in there buffalo, and so anyways, we were shooting all this and we got a couple sequences together and I just Googled to see who Matthew McConaughey's agent was popped up and I just gold, called him and said hey, you know, I've got this film. I think Matthew would like to narrate it and I'd sure like for him to narrate it, so can you show it to him? And he watched it and he was like man, this is cool, I'm gonna show Matthew. And it was like the next day his agent called me back and said he's in, he loves it, let's go, what are your terms? So I had to just like pull some terms out of thin air. You know, september 19th, 9am, five hours, and it ended up going through and he did a great job. He did a great job.

Speaker 1:

Yeah, man, that y'all really just put out such a remarkable film. I can't think of anything that has exemplified you know all, like you said too the successes, the challenges, the and just the diversity and the amazing, beautiful, wonderful wildlife that we have here in Texas. And I know that there's other species that are involved too, that you know there could be. You know kind of like a other section of these mini series as well, cause there's just so much here. We have so much amazing diversity, and you know it's that kind of call to action too that we need to pay attention, to do whatever we can to preserve what we have in this way of life before things are gone. So you know again, I'm just super happy that you put that together. You've been involved with so many other shorts Got. You know, obviously, american Ocelot that was one has its own thing. I think it was on PBS, was it not?

Speaker 2:

Was that where it was? It was on PBS Nature. Yeah, one hour special on Ocelot.

Speaker 1:

And people can still just kind of queue that up right, and I mean there's a lot of different links there on Fin and Fur films and that people can kind of be able to navigate to those. You got the Return of the Bighorn, sheep, horse, rich, Dirt, poor Lions of West Texas and then now you have, you know, the H-E-B series, art Texas, our Future. That's out. Can you talk a little bit about that, cause that's something that's kind of a little bit more recent that you guys have been working on. Yeah.

Speaker 2:

Yeah. So we got a call, I think about a year ago or so from H-E-B and they said that they really loved Deep in the Heart and wanted to talk to us about making some wildlife films for H-E-B. And I mean that was like one of the greatest phone calls in my life, like are you serious? Like my local grocery store is calling me to serve because H-E-B is not only the greatest grocery store, maybe the best company on earth. So I felt like a civic duty exactly. Yes, reporting duty, I said I will serve my butter tortillas in guacamole Exactly.

Speaker 1:

Does it come with this? You put it in the writer. Yeah, no, I understand.

Speaker 2:

I did actually. Yeah, I tried to get free guacamole for life in the contract, yeah. And then they were like, well, are we talking about 50 years or 20 years and what is the quantity and is this something that your heirs can receive and how would it be broken down over time? And I was like, whoa, guys, I just wanted some free guac, Like we don't need to go down this. So, 20 years? I was holding up the green light so I killed the butter tortillas in guacamole out of the contract. But, yeah, they were wanting to make some short films to help launch our Texas, our future line of Texas-made products, and show the intersection between agriculture and wildlife conservation and how. I think that there's a common belief I don't know if belief is the right word or misunderstanding maybe that you can't have agriculture and wildlife coinciding and in reality they have to. We have to find room for both of those to use the same acres, because if we don't, we don't have enough acres set aside for wildlife, Like they're most certainly not mutually exclusive. So we found the story of how the ocelots down there in South Texas, the largest population is living on this working cattle ranch that's doing a phenomenal job of conserving that ocelot habitat. And then we did a story on how these black bears are returning out there to West Texas and then a really cool one on redfish and how in the 1970s you had this huge redfish population crash that led to this all-out war like literally shots fired out in the bays and estuaries, and then it ended up being this big battle up in the capital and they ended up banning commercial red fishing, which allowed for the wild fish to recover and to have that thriving economy down at the Texas Coast where everybody can go down there and catch some redfish. But they were able to figure out a way to also artificially propagate those redfish through aquaculture and still supply people with delicious, tasty redfish. So it's kind of like everybody wins sort of situation. And I think it was just neat seeing a grocery store kind of dive into this wildlife conservation storytelling on stories that are kind of heavy and I had politics of the day and dealing with endangered species and to tell real stories that are happening in Texas. I thought that was really admirable of them and a big honor for us to be chosen to tell those.

Speaker 1:

Well, they are phenomenal. And again, those can be found too on the Finanfer films website. I saw some links and looked at those. There are some amazing, amazing features there, or rather shorts, but you guys have done a wonderful job featuring wildlife here in Texas. I'm so glad that you should be reached out to you. Sorry, you couldn't get your guac for life. But, hopefully they've made some amends and have worked some things out there Before we go. I had a couple other questions. As far as what are you working on right now? I know you mentioned you did some long-lensing and things coming out in 2025. What are some things that are going to be coming out in the near future that folks can be expecting to tune into? Oh, Arcane, you talk about it.

Speaker 2:

I'm hopefully kind of going into a lull. Right now We've got another big Texas Wildlife blue chip that we're looking at like 2026 for that. And then we've got another big wildlife film on the American Southwest coming 2025. And then I've got a couple of short films here and there, but trying to stay away from the short films and focus more on the feature-length stuff just because that theatrical experience and that ability to sit down for an hour and get totally fully absorbed by a story I feel like is kind of where I went ahead with my career. So yeah, 25 and 26 will be the next time we have something big come out.

Speaker 1:

Wonderful, looking forward to those you know. I really wanted to kind of also and some of the things we talked about might fall underneath this category but I wanted to ask you about your legacy and what it is that you want to leave behind in a professional and a personal setting. I've been asking all my guests this, and I mean there's, I think, a lot of it may be all the wonderful things that you've put out on film and on paper and such too, but I kind of wanted you to touch to it yourself, you know, and what's your idea of your legacy?

Speaker 2:

Oh man, that's a hard question. I'm only 35, so I don't really have that much time to really reflect background stuff. But I've seen, you know, there's been enough reflection time on some of our films to where we can look back and, you know, have a little bit of perspective on what they've done. And I do think that film is a really powerful form of media and I think that it can be. It comes with a lot of responsibility because whenever you make something, the viewer assumes that what you're saying is true, and sometimes truth is really hard to find. It's hard as a film director and an editor to have this burden of truth and to know that your form of media is most likely going to be the like baseline of information for, you know, thousands or tens of thousands or even hundreds of thousands of people that watch it. And I think you know, I think the legacy or the standard in which I try to uphold ourselves in making films is to tell things honestly and as truthfully as we can. And it can be hard sometimes because you also have to make it entertaining and you have to make it dramatic, and I just see so much media that's out there right now where you know a lot of that standard of truth isn't there, but we do a lot of fact checking and try to do everything we can to have work that we're really proud of. You know, 10, 20, 30, 40 years down the road. So I really hope that we have that legacy and I really hope that a lot of the stuff that we were producing, you know, leads to real life acres and boots on the ground, conservation, not just padding on the back. And you know social media likes, or you know, emmy nominations or awards, like all that stuff is great and it's important. But you know, the reality is we're losing our battles for wild spaces and for conservation and for wildlife in many corners of the world not all of them, and I wouldn't even call it a battle. I mean, I think everybody wants there to be wild places and wildlife. It's just how do you balance that with, you know, growing human population and all of our needs? It's hard. And yeah, I think you know, 50 years from now, if I can look back and see that our films have made a substantial difference or even a small difference to, you know, keep some acres conserved and some critters out there in the landscape. That's certainly the legacy that I'd like to leave behind, as well as two good kids. I got a little girl and a little boy. I'm not going to make them go into wildlife conservation, but they will be strongly guided in that direction.

Speaker 1:

Yes, indeed, indeed. Well, for those and those are some great answers, man. I appreciate you sharing that and your perspective. You know, and I think maybe to kind of book in that too are there are some organizations, some groups, associations here in Texas that you feel people should probably follow, look into if they are now inspired today or tomorrow to be able to, you know, want to make a difference for their generations, for our future generations, our children and the seven generations down the line. Who are some folks that you feel are doing it right that we should kind of be able to promote and look towards, for that kind of guidance.

Speaker 2:

Man, there are so many it's honestly hard to even say and I mean that's. We have so many options. In Texas, like literally every single river basin that we have has a you know group that is dedicated on behalf of the health of that river and that's unique, like that is a Texan thing. You don't find that in other states, you don't find that in other countries where you know, like my friend Romy, he's the CEO of the Devil's River Conservancy and they have an annual party and there's like 400 people that all show up to celebrate a river and you know the idea of keeping it, you know, clean and conserved and I feel like that's a really cool thing that we have is these conservation organizations that are just out doing really great work. So you know, some of the ones that I really admire is Heart Research Institute, based at a Corpus Christi Coastal Conservation Association. You know they do really phenomenal stuff, both like engaging the public but also up at the Capitol too. You know Cesar Claiborah Wildlife Research Institute. You know they've done more to make conservation cool down there in that Wild Horse Desert and the sand sheet and stuff. I mean they're doing great things. Same thing with Borderlands Research Institute out in Alpine. You know they're doing amazing research and conservation work and are really taking that approach of, you know, being an asset for the landowner of like, oh, you want more quail, you want better grasslands. Like, we can help you with that Roamplanes Quail. Like there's a lot, there's a lot TWA. You know I'm a proud member of Texas Wildlife Association, proud member of Texas Backcountry Hunters and Anglers. Nature Conservancy has done a phenomenal job of identifying, you know, these just miraculous little pieces of nature and then just buying them and saying, hey, we're going to protect this. You know Texas Parks and Wildlife Foundation and I think that's an untold story. You know, here in Texas it's not like we were just acquired through a Louisiana purchase or something like that. You know, whenever we join the United States or the United States join us, however you prefer to look at it, all of the acreage was already deeded out. So all of our public lands that we have, they've been purchased through philanthropy and through bonds. And you know Texas Parks and Wildlife Foundation is worthy of the recognition of putting together a lot of the real estate transactions and the funding to put together, you know, tens of thousands, if not hundreds of thousands, of acres of state parks and wildlife management areas where we go out and recreate and play and where our wildlife lives. So we've got we've got awesome conservation community and there's a lot of room for growth. So if you're not involved in one, you know there's a lot of good ones to pick and choose and you know every event that I've been to it's pretty much any Texas conservation organization typically has a whole bunch of good cold beer and pretty dang good barbecue as well. So it's not your grandma's funeral.

Speaker 1:

It is a celebration and it is a bunch of wonderful people gathering together. I highly encourage everyone to go visit some of those things names that you just mentioned, and I'll be having some links for people who want to kind of take action and do more. And speaking of links, if you can go ahead and tell everyone where they can find out more about you, about Fenninfer films, websites you know, social handles and where folks can follow along in your journey.

Speaker 2:

Yeah, so our website is Fenninfer Films and then my social handle is Ben C Masters. Fair Warning, I tend to just post and ghost and just delete it off my phone, because I think social media is toxic and terrible for society at large. So if you try to reach me there, you know. Sorry if it takes me three or four months to get back to you. And yeah, I would say go to fenninferfilmscom. You can see our filmography and start with Deep in the Heart. That's the one that I think I'm most proud of so far in my career.

Speaker 1:

Well, hey, once again, thank you so much for joining me today and for sharing everything and for all the amazing, wonderful work you do. I definitely encourage everyone to go check out your website, go look at all these features, all the short films, the ATB series and yes, once again, ben, thank you, I really appreciate it. I really enjoyed this chat today. Thank you?

Speaker 2:

Yeah Well, thanks for having me and best of luck with everything. Thank you.

Speaker 1:

Take care man.

Filmmaker and Author Ben Masters
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Lion Filming and Conservation in Texas
Creating a Wildlife Film for H-E-B
Texas Wildlife Conservation and Filmmaking Legacy
Fenninfer Films Promotion and Social Media Detox

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