Dusty Hulet is an adventurer, photographer, and filmmaker. He’s made a variety of films and worked with many different brands. His newest project is called Bears of Durango, a documentary that dives headfirst into wild bear dens, and exploring how bear behavior is affected by human development. We’re excited to feature him as one of Rustico’s growing list of Mark Makers.
1. Can you tell us about yourself?
Well, right now I'm in the back seat of a friend of a friend's Sprinter van, headed southeast toward Colorado. I probably shouldn't be, with how much I'm leaving undone, but who can say no to a three-day float on the Ruby Horsethief stretch of the Colorado River? I had to turn down a Middle Fork trip earlier this year, so I couldn't say no to this one.
I guess you could say I'm the type of person that wants it all. Maybe it started with drinking the Kool-Aid in my Idaho Falls elementary school's gifted and talented program, but somehow I got on this kick of pursuing creative freedom, financial stability/independence, and social/environmental impact. So I'm going on a river trip when I should be preparing for an international film festival, promoting two film screenings in Salt Lake City, and editing a sitcom.
Gotta carve out life where you can, right? I'll figure it out when I get back.
2. What made you want to be a filmmaker?
A fourth-grade teacher gave me her antique snare drum when she saw that I wrote that I wanted a drum set on my Christmas wish list. Drums led to playing music with friends in high school--the same friends who got early access to the Farrer family digital camcorder. One thing led to another, a lot of homemade explosives, fast forward 17 years, and that's what I do full time.
It's not as glamorous as you might think, but it has its perks. Just like Mr. Rogers, it's often a beautiful day in the neighborhood, as the camera opens doors to people and places that I have no business getting to meet and experience. From Everest base camp to mountain gorillas in the Democratic Republic of Congo, the access has been pretty unreal at times.
3. Do you remember the first camera you used that helped you find your passion?
My first still camera was a skinny little thing. A long, skinny, black plastic film camera. Probably the cheapest one you could get since I was in the first grade.
I was around seven years old. I still have the photos from the first roll of film. Almost all animal photos from around my grandpa's place in Boise. Pheasants, puppies, goats, and other animals.
The neighbor called me out of her cow pasture when she saw me confidently navigating their barbed-wire fence, approaching their cow with its day-old calf. It’s a good thing too. Her husband had been kicked by that cow (pictured below) the day before.
4. Is there a project you've worked on that you're especially proud of and why?
Every film that ever gets made is a miracle no matter how bad it is. If you see something in the theater, and you totally, absolutely hate it, just know that someone put their heart, soul, life savings, marriage, left kidney, and a number of other assets into it.
I'm proud of every film we've made. There are hundreds of reasons why they shouldn't exist, but they do.
As far as something I'm especially proud of, right now I'm riding the Bears of Durango wave. It's the first feature-length documentary I've spearheaded.
5. Bears of Durango looks like a really great documentary! What more can you tell us about how the film came about?
When I was twelve, my dad took me to volunteer with the Idaho Fish and Game on a deer study. It was the craziest thing I had ever witnessed under adult supervision.
We set up tall nets across a ravine, hid in the bushes, and waited. The sound of a helicopter in the distance got the adrenaline pumping until the distant thumping sound exploded over the rim of the ravine and chaos ensued.
Numerous deer, herded by the helicopter bounded down the ravine, crashing into the nets all around us. It was our job to tackle the deer and hold them down long enough for the Fish and Game to put a radio collar on them, and then let them go. It was a totally wild experience, one that really stuck with me.
Fifteen years later, when I finally got access to the appropriate camera gear, I went back to the Idaho Fish and Game and got permission to film a drive net capture similar to the one I’d experienced as a kid.
I caught wind of other seemingly crazy wildlife studies, one of which was in Colorado, where wildlife researchers were crawling headfirst into occupied bear dens. I thought the bear stuff would pair well with the deer footage and a fish study that I had my eye on. It was to be just a short film, maybe seven minutes long.
A brother of a friend talked the head researcher into letting me meet them in Durango, post-holing up a puke-steep mountain, and crawling into a den with them, where they swapped out a radio collar on a sow.
It snowballed from there, and three years later that two-day bear shoot has grown into a feature-length film. What started as an interest in a process lead to a story of important breakthroughs in science, as the researchers' work debunked myths about black bears and quantified how human development is affecting the ecosystems of the West.
6. What type of recognition has Bears of Durango received?
We're in the midst of the film's festival run. Three festivals in, and the film has won three awards: Audience Choice for Best Documentary, Best Human-Wildlife Interaction Film, and the International Wildlife Film Festival's Spirit Award.
More festivals to go, so we’ll see if we can keep up the winning streak.
7. Looking forward, what's next for this film and how can people help?
We're headed to a wildlife festival in England in a few weeks. It's a big marketplace for natural history films, where we hope to work out international distribution for the project.
I've got more festivals through the winter and spring, and then hopefully a theatrical run or film tour through Colorado and other select, mountain markets next year.
As for help, an awesome nonprofit is about to sign on as a fiscal sponsor, which will allow us to expand our fundraising efforts and make contributions tax deductible. If any readers are interested in supporting science-based conservation and science communication, the extent of the film's reach will be dictated by how successful we are with this next phase of fundraising. Those interested can reach us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Check the Bears of Durango Facebook page or follow me on Instagram (@dustyhulet) for updates. We'd love to connect and meet you at a screening.
8. Where do you draw inspiration from?
But really though, just staying on the go and soaking it all in.
Working in film makes you more observant. A photographer friend and I were recently discussing the idea (and there's probably some cool quote that I’m paraphrasing) that a camera is a tool that teaches you how to observe the world. I'd add to that my own observation that documentary film teaches you how to observe people as the complex characters that they are.
So I learn from people and places, but not just tourism. Having real conversations with real locals, and removing myself a step or two from the beaten path. I've been spoiled with experiences like that all over the world because of the access my camera affords me.
But camera or not, if you go on a vacation and you’re just checking the boxes of famous places, you're really missing out.
Beyond that, there's art. A John K Samson lyric, a screening of Elk River, catching a performance of Les Mis in London... soaking in great stuff recharges my creative batteries.
But seriously, check out John K Samson. What a lyricist!
And then there's nature. But speaking of nature, we're getting close to the river put in. Next question!
9. Can you tell us what you're working on next?
I'm currently working on a thriller comedy set at a ski resort in Idaho. I've got a dream team coming together to work on it. Watch for it in theaters in 2020.
10. What's your advice for someone wanting to go into the film/documentary industry?
Hmm... limit the scope of your early projects, picking something you can start and finish in a relatively short period of time, using the resources you already have.
Your iPhone is a great place to start.
There are a lot of shiny, expensive things in the film industry that can suck you in. They're not bad things. But, be mindful that it's harder to leverage six half-finished, wildly ambitious projects than it is to leverage two finished short films. As I've attended film festivals this year there's one thing the filmmakers I've met have all had in common: they finished something.
Take it from someone who just finished a grueling three-year feature. Progress is incremental, and time spent in the industry will open doors to more exciting projects. So limit the scope, and take shorter, more frequent steps.
Also edit your own stuff, at least initially, so you really learn how to shoot and direct well. The fastest way to learn is to sit through your own stuff (pulling out your hair) in the edit suite.
Story over production value, all day long.
We appreciate Dusty taking some time to talk with us while being on the road and in the middle of a couple of projects. Don’t forget to follow him on Instagram @dustyhulet and visit the Bears of Durango Facebook page to find out how to help this awesome effort.
Do you have a Mark Maker in mind? Send us an email at email@example.com and let us know who we should feature next!