Wild Life: A New Generation of Wild (www.generationwild.tv) teams up a trio of actors with an award-winning nature photographer to bring the experience of travel, nature and the great outdoors to a new generation. The unscripted pilot has actors James Lafferty (One Tree Hill), Stuart Lafferty (Death Sentence) and Stephen Colletti (One Tree Hill, Laguna Beach), along with acclaimed photographer/author Ian Shive (a former publicist for Sony Studios), exploring some of America’s wildest places, in such a way that is available and affordable for anyone.
During a recent exclusive interview with Collider, Ian Shive, James and Stuart Lafferty, and Stephen Colletti talked about how this project came about, putting down their cell phones and laptops and experience the nature around them, using photography to further document their adventures, and their desire to expand from the Internet and turn it into a television series. Check out what they had to say after the jump:
Question: Ian, how did this project originally come about?
IAN SHIVE: The last few years have been so interesting because it’s evolved from just going out and doing photography to being involved in environmental awareness and advocacy, and things like that. I started looking for new ways to get my work in front of people. Being creative and coming from that marketing background really sparked unusual ideas. And then, when this came up, it really fit in line with all those types of things that I was doing.
How did you get the actors involved with this?
SHIVE: I ended up doing a charity basketball game awhile back, in Wilmington, North Carolina, with the cast of One Tree Hill, and I was able to meet James [Lafferty] and a lot of the guys then. We got to spend time together and they became familiar with my work. Nothing really came of it, at that point, but it was the beginning of our awareness of each other. I certainly wasn’t ever thinking of any kind of project together with them, and vice versa, but I ended up staying in touch with them. My career progressed, and I released my book and started getting a lot of visibility. We started doing media work, producing a behind the scenes of my last book, and things like that. And, James and those guys were all looking for other projects, to go beyond One Tree Hill. I’d been in touch with them, and it just started out of a conversation, literally. It was like, “Hey, it would be cool to do something together.” We actually talked about just doing a trip and me doing photographs, just because everybody liked being outside. That was probably a full year before we even actually thought about putting a show together. We were just exploring the idea of, “Let’s go take a trip somewhere.” And then, the idea of bringing in the media stuff came later, as I progressed in that and they started looking for other potential projects. We thought it was a really good pairing, between their audience and the type of work I do, to actually produce a real pilot. It was born out of a lot of conversation and talk, without really having the intention of doing anything, and then everything came together to do it. We put it together really fast. The whole process of the shoot, from the time we actually got there to the time it was released, was three weeks, and there was a few weeks of planning beforehand. We decided to do something during the hiatus of One Tree Hill, so we planned a week trip. It all came together in about six weeks. We’re not a television production company, so for us, that’s pretty good.
James, Stuart and Stephen, what attracted you to this project?
STUART: Stephen [Colletti], James [Lafferty] and I tried to pitch a travel show a few years ago that was more geared towards European traveling and just traveling in general, but not necessarily in the outdoors. When we pitched that pilot, everyone wanted to do it more reality-based and focus on a lot of the negative aspects that would create drama, so we just canned it. We were like, “If we can’t do it right, then we don’t want to do it at all. We had known Ian [Shive] for awhile through some friends, and we had talked about doing some photo shoots and different things with him, and working with him in some sense. Once we all started talking, we were like, “You know what? We can take that idea that we had for the European traveling and all collaborate together to create something that’s very respectable and more of an editorial documentary, as opposed to a reality show.” We all talked about it and threw around ideas, and that’s pretty much how it came about.
JAMES: Ian really wanted to do it, and he legitimized the entire thing. Going out there with him was an educational experience and, in the end, that’s what we wanted. We wanted to go somewhere together and learn, and that’s what we did. This whole thing was a couple of years in the making, but once we finally got together with Ian and we all put our heads together, we were able to make it happen within a couple months.
COLLETTI: Ian works for the National Parks system, so we talked about featuring the National Parks and great places that kids wouldn’t really look to go to. We wanted to highlight that for people. Once they came to me with what Ian was all about, and the idea of doing something here in the States, I told them I would love to do it.
Was it important for you to do a reality show that gave a really good sense of your personalities, but in a way that doesn’t play up the celebrity aspect?
STUART: Yeah, that’s exactly what we were trying to go for. James and I grew up backpacking and being outdoors, but we’re not experts, in any sense, at being real mountain men, so we wanted to show everyone the aspect of us being just regular people who aren’t incredibly knowledgeable about being outdoors. We know the basics that everyone knows, and you can still go out and do things in the outdoors, and everything is very attainable and very cheap. That’s definitely the aspect that we were trying to convey.
JAMES: We were just going out there to have a good time. The whole inspiration for the trip was that we really just wanted to get outdoors, after working on soundstages for the past eight months, and go see some places that we hadn’t seen before. We had the opportunity to do it with Ian, who is a prolific wildlife photographer, so there was really no better guide. It all just came together really well. We figured that, if we were going to do it, we could document it and raise some awareness for the National Park system in this country, and try to get people outdoors and show them that they can have a good time.
COLLETTI: I was fooled a bit, during Laguna Beach. I was 17, 18 years old and I thought they just wanted to shoot a documentary, and that it probably wouldn’t end up anywhere, anyway. Little did we know about the power of editing. I had no idea that it was going to be the soap drama that it was, but I picked up on that pretty quickly. You see people around you, when they get on a show like that, start to change and play stuff to the camera, and it just comes off like they’re trying to be dramatic. It was so painful. It’s always something that I’ve been aware of, and it’s something that I never want to find myself in again. I wanted to do something where I was going to feature who I really am, and that was more personal. I think television should be watched in a more respectable way.
SHIVE: Yeah, it was super-important and very conscious. The thing that was good about this group was that everybody was relaxed. We didn’t have to worry about checking into a hotel room every night. We didn’t want it to be a drama-filled, endless thing with people fighting about who was going to sleep where. There was none of that. Everybody was really chill and cool. We didn’t want it to be reality. What we wanted it to be was more of a travel, outdoor experience. The word “reality” has been so tarnished. We wanted an authentic experience. The thing that I’ve wanted to do as a photographer, and in doing a project like this, was getting away from what wildlife films have become, and what nature and the outdoors on television have become. It’s always this man vs. nature mentality, and what’s going to bite you or get you. In the 10 or 12 years that I’ve been going to some of the wildest places in the world, I’ve never had a problem, ever. I’ve never even felt threatened. I’ve been out in grizzly bear country, and I’ve been off the edge of the deepest part of the ocean in the world, diving with sharks, and I’ve never felt threatened. I take caution, but I don’t need to sensationalize it. A lot of people, when they first go outside, they get really scared about what’s out there and what’s going to bite them. It feels so awesome to see girls who are 14 years old saying, “I used to be so afraid of lizards and now I’m not anymore. I’m seeing lizards in a whole new way.” It’s something they see every day in Florida, but we’ve dispelled the myth and we’re making it much more accessible to people, so it’s cool.
Ian, what did you use to shoot the pilot with?
SHIVE: It was all done on still cameras. It was actually done on the Canon IV Mark II, which has become quite the filmmaker tool. It lets you do things in an incredible quality for a really good price, so that was a huge asset for making it look good.
Were you surprised at how serious the actors got about this whole experience?
SHIVE: Yes. We’d been friends and known each other for awhile, but we’d never really done anything quite like this. I was in charge of the itinerary and I knew that I was going to be putting them in situations that would probably be new to them. Some of them were new to me, so I had a feeling that they were going to be challenged. Things like paddling through a mosquito-filled swamp in 85 degree heat was probably something they hadn’t done anytime recently, and swimming with manatees that are just huge. Anytime you get in the water, there’s a mind-set that comes with it, let alone swimming next to something so large, that freaks you out a little bit. But, to be honest, everybody was really calm and mellow. No one complained. They were just really into it. I was stoked. For me, it was nice. It was fun because they hadn’t done a lot of that stuff. If I had gone out there with somebody who was an avid outdoors person, who had hiked as much as me or been as many crazy, wild places as I’ve been, I don’t think it would have been the same experience. Going out with a group of people like that – forget that they’re actors because I don’t see them like that at all – who hadn’t really had the same experiences as me, seeing them have similar experiences that I’ve had in places, really was fun. It refreshed the experience for me. It reinvigorated my own love of something that I’d gotten used to a little bit. I’m a little more desensitized than the average person.
How did you decide where you would go for the pilot episode?
JAMES: Well, Ian was familiar with the area. He had been to the Florida Everglades before and a lot of those locations, and had a lot of contacts down there. He was able to put together a rough blueprint for us, of where we would go. There were a couple of things we didn’t get to do, that we wanted to do, but that was just the nature of the trip. We tried to fit as many things in as we could in seven days, the way you would, if you just jumped in a car and tried to get out there with your friends. It ended up adding a whole element of spontaneity to the trip that was really fun.
SHIVE: I’ve always been in love with the West, but I never get East. I’ve always wanted to go back to the Everglades, so it was a little bit of a personal thing for me and it was one of the first thoughts I had because Florida has so much diversity in a very small area. We didn’t want this to be something that was watered down. In a normal television show, the manatees would have been their own episode. We did manatees, coral reef and statues, lizards, paddling into the back country of the Everglades, and we did a hike. I wanted to have it be really rich, so I wanted to make sure that we had a whole bunch of things, and Florida has that, but it also has a lot of diversity. Every time you go somewhere, you’re really seeing something very different. I wanted people who view this to have the same kind of rich experience that I would normally have. When I do a trip that’s seven or 10 days, I don’t usually sit in the same spot. I go through a whole bunch of areas and see a lot of different things at once, and I wanted to get that to translate. We also wanted it to be super-accessible to people. Should this actually become a regular series, and it’s looking good so far that it will, we did everything within an hour of a major U.S. city. The manatees were 45 minutes from Tampa, and an hour from Orlando. The Everglades were 45 minutes from Miami. John Pennekamp State Park in Key Largo was an hour from Miami. They can see something that’s right in their backyards. If they go and plan a trip with their friends and family, it would only cost them about 20 or 30 bucks to do so, and it’s right there. It makes it more real for them, which from an environmental perspective is really important.
Have you guys always been adventurous people, or was that part of the appeal of this?
COLLETTI: I’ve always been adventurous. In the summertime, my mom would lock me outside of the house and say, “Do something, and come back later.” Growing up, it was about finding a way to entertain myself outdoors. We spent all the summers on the beach, camping with my family a bunch, and traveling as much as we could. My parents wouldn’t let me watch too much TV growing up or play video games, or anything like that. I was a very spastic kid who loved to see how high he could climb a tree. That’s just the way I’ve always been.
JAMES: Being in Wilmington, North Carolina and shooting [One Tree Hill] for so many years, it was easy to fall into a sedentary lifestyle. That’s really what made us gravitate toward this. It was something that we didn’t usually do. Me, Stephen and Stuart have spent a lot of time outdoors, in our childhoods and growing up. We still go snowboarding every year. We try to do things at least once a year, but going camping in a National Park that we’ve never been to before, especially a place like the Florida Everglades, was something that appealed to us. It was a great experience.
Was there anything that was particularly memorable for you, in interacting so closely with these different animals?
STUART: Swimming next to a manatee, in general, is really cool. When I was a little kid, I swam with dolphins in Cancun, but I don’t really remember that much. The very first time you see manatees, it’s a tiny bit overwhelming. You’re like, “Wow, these large creatures are right next to me.” But, after a couple seconds, you realize how gentle and calm they are. It’s so interesting to see such different species so comfortable with you. It’s such a humbling feeling to see this thousand-pound creature swimming right next to you, rubbing up against you. I had never experienced anything like that before.
Does an experience like that give you more of a perspective of where you fit in, in the world?
STUART: Oh, absolutely. In order to swim with the manatees, you pay for a tour to do that. These creatures are so amazing that we are paying just to swim with them and hang out with them. Just that, in itself, is a pretty humbling feeling and it lets you know where you are in the world. No one is going to pay to swim with me.
Ian, with people so connected to technology now, what do you think an experience like this teaches people about themselves?
SHIVE: I think it teaches them that we don’t need to be connected 24/7, to all those things. It teaches them that to sit back with your own thoughts is a good thing. It teaches them to not share every thought that passes through in a live feed, and to listen to the world. I think we need to disconnect, but it’s tough, even for me. The problem is that, in order to keep a business running, especially in the economy that we’re all in, nobody wants to disconnect so much. Being self-employed, like I am, I don’t want to disconnect and then miss a job or an opportunity. There’s always that balance between communicating with friends and family, and then communicating with clients and all that other stuff, and then actually having time to be mentally healthy. I think this really gets that across. It’s important to have that time to unplug and listen.
When you guys were forced away from technology for awhile, did you learn things about each other or yourselves that surprised you?
JAMES: If anything, we realized that there’s a lot of different ways that you can bond with your friends, renew friendships and relationships, and just get together and have a good time. This was absolutely one of those ways, and it was one of the better ways. Nobody was on their Blackberry. Nobody was on their computer. Nobody was playing video games. There are definitely conversations and experiences that you can have, that you might not have, if you were all sitting in front of your television. It’s just about taking yourselves out of your comfort zone a little bit, and getting out there and seeing how the world around you can affect the good time you have.
STUART: I wouldn’t say I was surprised, but I was definitely happy and impressed. We didn’t bring any books and we didn’t even bring our computers out there. We were done kayaking and doing everything by five or six, and then we just looked around and realized that we had nothing to do until we went to bed. I was happy with how satisfied everyone was without having any distractions or hobbies or games to play. We just conversed with everyone, hung out and enjoyed the nothingness of being out in the wild.
COLLETTI: I definitely learned stuff. It gives you such a time to reflect. We’re constantly distracted. You wake up in the morning and check your phone, and then you go to your computer, and that’s pretty much the last thing you do before you go to bed. It was fun to be away from technology for a bit, and just have each other in conversation and your thoughts. It’s a good check point. You can go internal for a bit and reflect on yourself, and see where you’re going and where you’ve come from. I think that’s important. With the guys, it was funny for me because I’d always worked with James in North Carolina, and I’ve been good friends with Stuart in Los Angeles, when I’m home from work. James would spend a lot of time out in North Carolina, even when we’d stop working, so I never really got the Lafferty brothers together too often. So, to have them together, it was funny to see that brotherly connection. Besides holidays, they don’t get to spend too much time together, so it was fun to pick up on them experiencing it together and seeing them appreciate it. I lived with Stuart for a little bit, a couple years back, and we traveled a little bit together, but I wondered how all the personalities were going to clash. I wondered how it would be when we were in that environment, where there really was not much to do, and we were forced to converse and interact with each other and work together, but everything was really smooth. It was cool to see that. We all have very different personalities. The Lafferty brothers, especially, get quiet for awhile and zone out, and I’m more hyper and spastic, climbing trees, but then I’ll also get internal. We were just taking it all in.
When you’re able to live so free like that, is that kind of freedom something that you want to apply to your own life, in general?
STUART: Yeah, absolutely. There are certain feelings of serenity and such a calming aspect to it that a part of your mind secures that and holds that in, so that whenever there are chaotic times in your life, you can imagine that serenity in being outdoors and not having to deal with all the traffic and distractions of daily life. That’s a feeling that everyone is always trying to chase. It’s something that’s amazing to take away from being outdoors.
JAMES: For anybody, no matter what you do, whether you’re an actor or whether you have a desk job, going out and doing something like this is going to be refreshing.
Ian, when did you get into this kind of photography? Was there a point in your career where you decided that this was what you wanted to focus on?
SHIVE: I thought I’d never be a photographer, to be honest with you. As the son of a photographer, I saw how hard it is to make a living. It’s a tough business. For me, it really began out of travel and being outdoors, and going to really awesome places, like Glacier National Park or Yellowstone National Park. I wanted to share those experiences with people. I’m born and raised in New Jersey. In college, I started taking pictures and wanted to share with people what I was seeing because it was so different than growing up in New Jersey. Yellowstone National Park couldn’t get any farther from New Jersey. So, it really started out of this desire to share the experience, and then it just lingered in the background. When I was working at Sony Studios, it was a great way to get perspective. I’d go take a trip somewhere and I would be able to clear my head. I really loved what I got out of the outdoors and I just wanted to keep going with that kind of experience. And then, there was a point when I realized that I could probably make a living out of it. Probably not as good a living as a desk job at a movie studio, but there came a point when enough was enough and I had to do something different. I just pulled the plug and decided to go for it without ever looking back, and it was certainly one of the best choices I ever made in my life. I’m so much happier. I’m a very different person today than I ever was then. I’m much more pleasant.
What is your typical work schedule like now?
SHIVE: I work harder now, I would say. I worked hard then, but it’s a seven day a week job, to really make it work. I’m working every day, including weekends, and I’m traveling a lot. In the summer, when the sun is up early, your days are 16 or 17 hours in the field, and then you have hours of editing photos. You still have a boss, in a sense, because you have editors and people who hire you, but you’re also doing what you love, so it feels less like work, which makes it a lot easier to digest. It was one of those things that I just decided was for me. You first enjoy hiking, but you don’t really think much of it. And then, the more you do it and the more you spend time outside, you realize that you draw a lot from it, like that peace of mind. And then, I realized that I drew a lot from it, as a photographer. I enjoyed taking pictures of big landscape images, and stuff like that. And then, I realized that I drew so much from it, but I never really gave back. That’s when, in the last four years, I’ve really made this transition from just being a photographer who shoots great landscapes to actually trying to get other people to share that experience and understand why we try to protect things. I started turning the bend from just being a photographer to encouraging people to go outside. This project is an extension of that, so it’s cool.
Are there things you guys learned about photography, as an art form, that you found creatively fulfilling?
JAMES: We were all picking Ian’s brain and the other camera men that were on the shoot with us, to try to get our own personal best shots. He would see us making rookie mistakes, when we were out there shooting with our cameras, and correct us and help us out. That was definitely a really cool part of the trip. I’m a hobbyist, when it comes to cameras. I’ve got a decent camera and a few lenses, and I like to go out there and shoot, every once in awhile. Part of what appealed to me so much about going with Ian was that I’d be able to learn a little bit and get some great shots out there.
COLLETTI: James and I and Stuart are not really used to shooting something like this, so we were constantly asking the camera guys, “What are you shooting that with? What are you using?” And, it became a part of the show because it was an interest that we all shared. We were there to share this environment, so we also shared our experiences shooting it. We were all interested in photography, and it was something that got featured in the show. I thought it was really cool to have that. I’ve always considered myself a pretty solid amateur photographer, and now I’ve taken it to the next level. I definitely got a wealth of knowledge, hanging out with Ian.
Ian, when you started having these adventures, were there things you realized you had taken for granted, in every day life, and did you learn more about where you fit into the world?
SHIVE: Yeah, it definitely puts everything into perspective. After six days of being outdoors, we ended up going into Miami Beach. It was the end of our trip and we thought we’d go out for a really good dinner, and it was funny because we all were very hyper-aware of our surroundings. Because we had been so out in the middle of nowhere, where it was quiet and serene and everything was very simple, we went into Miami and had that first bite of a really good burger and it was like, “Wow, this is the best burger I’ve ever had.” Your surroundings become very vibrant. It doesn’t last long, but there’s this moment, when you first get back into civilization, where you really are super-aware of your surroundings, and that perspective was pretty interesting to see because we all had it and we all talked about it that night. One of the things that I really took away was how everybody managed to keep a really good perspective. I love the outdoors, but I love the city, too. I also like good restaurants and video games, and the things that come with it. The one thing that I want people to take away is that there is a good way to have both. We don’t need to go back to the Stone Age to be smart about the environment. We can have both and live both, and we need to run it so that they work together, instead of this challenge of having one or the other.
Are you hoping to do more of these episodes?
STUART: I would like to do more episodes. Hopefully, we can attract some more attention and have some good guests on. Really, the goal is just to create a show about being outdoors and about traveling in general that people actually want to watch, and that will inspire them to get outdoors and do the same thing that we’re doing. We’re trying to show the National Park system in different places in America. They are so cheap to go to and are attainable for everyone.
JAMES: We’re all putting our heads together and figuring out where we’d like to go next and who we’d like to go with next. Part of what we’re aiming to do with the show is bring other talent and personalities on and really mix it up to show that anybody, from any walk of life, can go out there and have a good time in the National Parks and the places that are really in our backyard, all over America. We have a lot of work to do, but we’re looking forward to mixing it up and painting the show with a few different shades. The goal is to reach as wide an audience as possible. None of us are really trying to preach anything. It isn’t really about that. It’s just to remind people that this stuff is there. Everybody knows that there’s National Parks. Everybody is going to be familiar with the states that we go to and the scenery that we experience. But, to actually throw ourselves and throw people into those situations and document it, really just reminds people that, “Hey, you can do that, too.” It’s not that difficult. It doesn’t take that long to get there, and it doesn’t cost that much money to do it. We’re just trying to have as much fun as possible while we do it.
Do you have an ultimate goal for this series?
SHIVE: Being able to share this series with so many people on the web was pretty awesome, but we would all love to see it go onto television and reach millions more people. That would be the ultimate goal for us, and we are definitely exploring how that will work. But, we’re not just limited to that either. We also want to make sure that the message stays the right message. We don’t want it to change because somebody else feels like something else will make more money for them. We’re actually looking at all options, including keeping something going just on the Internet, on our own URL. The experience has to be done right. This is not just something to do, to make money on. For us, we want to make sure that we keep the vibe going. But, I would love it. I think it would be awesome. To be able to reverse the man vs. nature thing with something that’s more reverent and has man actually working in tandem with nature would be pretty cool.
Are you hoping that this series both teaches and inspires people about what’s out there, and shows them the experiences and adventures that they can have, if they just step away from the laptop and put down the cell phone for a little bit?
SHIVE: Absolutely, 100%. I hope that this gets people outdoors, especially a younger generation who we really want to expose to it. The average age of somebody in an environmental organization is over retirement age. I really wanted to get it to a younger generation, so the absolute goal was to get everybody, from eight to 80, to put their shoes on and go outside. There was no other purpose than to do that. And, that’s the same thing for all of my work. My whole career has been based on that idea of, “How do we make people realize how cool it really is, and that it’s not just a bore fest?”
COLLETTI: For me, the number one goal of the show is to get people interested in the outdoors. Growing up, I always had a great time and always looked forward to those trips. I definitely lost touch with it myself a bit, in the last few years. It’s important for people to be able to do that. It’s good for the soul, more than people understand. It’s easy. Everything is so accessible and so low-cost. It’s all right there. You literally just have to get in your car, go there and step outside. The rest will take care of itself.
Ian, have you thought about where you would like to go next with your career?
SHIVE: I want to reach out to people, in any form, whether it’s through books or apps. I want to use technology to reach out to people about the environment and share my work and just the love of photography. I love the technical side of photography and sharing that with people. I never would have thought I’d be where I am now, so I’m just along for the ride, at this point. Hopefully, this will become something bigger and I’ll be able to see where that goes. If it just keeps going and going, then that’s great. I’ve been involved politically, with presenting my images to members of Congress. I did a presentation at the U.S. Capital in November of 2009, after my first book came out. I’ve been able to do things on a lot of different levels, and I just hope to keep that momentum going and use the environment as a tool for communication in the world.