I worked on seasons 1 and 2 of Man Vs Wild (aka Bear Grylls: Born Survivor) as an assistant director. While this was a few years ago now and my memory is a bit sketchy, I hope I can answer some questions about what remains one of the most enjoyable jobs of my career.

Thanks to the Mods for all their help.

Thanks for all your questions, and it's nice to know something I really enjoyed working on almost a decade ago still has a following.

Comments: 1100 • Responses: 39  • Date: 

bluesmood975 karma

Can you tell us the whole story of the time you believed a cameraman had died from a failed parachute jump?

KenTheExAD2154 karma

It's a long one, but basically it was a combination of treacherous weather meaning that the emergency automatic chute-opening thing (sorry, I don't know the technical term), which was supposed to pop at 800 feet, I think, was set in different atmospheric conditions to the ones the jumper experienced in the dive. He was jumping face up, to catch Bear jumping out behind him, so couldn't see the ground. He was supposed to be jumping from I think 3000 feet, and being very experienced was going to count and turn on 8, but because of a miscommunication jumped at 2000 feet. He didn't check the altimeter on his wrist because he was focussed on getting the shot and his hand would have gone into frame.

So when he turned on 8, he was very, very close to the ground. He pulled the ripcord on instinct and the chute got about halfway open. He hit the branches of the only tree in the entire landing zone (which probably helped save his life), and performed some sort of textbook roll on landing. He walked away from something which would have killed less experienced jumpers.

I thought he'd died because in the mountains, with only one satphone and the plane to communicate (we were at the airstrip, not the landing site), the first we heard about the jump was the pilot on landing, saying that he hadn't seen the parachute open, and that he thought Eddie had hit the ground. Without the plane in the air, we suddenly found that we had no way of communicating with the landing site (a huge oversight), and it took us an hour to drive there. The entire time I was convinced Eddie had died on my watch.

wilyuhm785 karma

Can you name some "cheat moments" on the show? Things that Bear did that weren't revealed to the viewers.

KenTheExAD1444 karma

Well, I suppose the only "cheats" per se were that whenever Bear had to do something dangerous, like jumping off a waterfall, we'd thoroughly check it out first, testing the depth, checking for hidden obstacles underwater, etc, before letting him jump off.

xurple657 karma

How much more difficult is it for the camera crew going through all those places? (Having to hold all that gear up and doing the same thing as Bear)

Did you guys prepare proper food or did you eat the same thing as Bear?

KenTheExAD1396 karma

There is not a snowball's chance in hell I would drink elephant poo juice.

We had proper food packed with us, but I would occasionally try some stuff Bear had - like live fish, or the rocks in Mexico.

Arguably Simon, the cameraman (not crew, one man) has the toughest job of anyone. He would have to negotiate exactly the same terrain as Bear (so would we all), but lugging a heavy camera which obscured his vision making it much more dangerous for him, and having to keep up with Bear (while the director AP and I would usually lag a little way behind).

We would try to control the risk where possible, though. We shot Bear walking along the edge of a 600-foot cliff in Copper Canyon, and Simon was following him with the camera, but could not see the edge because his eye was on the eyepiece and the camera was obscuring his field of vision towards the cliff. So we had our mountaneering safety guy, Dave (the other unsung hero of the series) put a harness on Simon and keep a hand on him at all times, ready to pull him back if he looked like he was getting too close.

t_hab5 karma

We shot Bear walking along the edge of a 600-foot cliff in Copper Canyon

Perfect crime. They'll never find the body.

KenTheExAD7 karma

Damnit. Knew I missed a trick.

Justjuicy561 karma

Does he actually drink piss?

KenTheExAD1205 karma

He didn't need to on any of the episodes I did, so I can't vouch either way, but having seen some of the stuff Bear would put in his mouth, I'd be confident saying that yes, I'm pretty sure he did.

TheHickman11533 karma

How often does the camera crew "assist" Bear?

KenTheExAD385 karma

Define "assist"?

Valentine96461 karma

Do you still work for/with Discovery?

What are you having for dinner tonight?

KenTheExAD761 karma

No, I'm actually out of film and TV altogether now.

Dinner tonight was roast chicken, roast potatoes, roast veg, kale and stuffing. Yum.

Valentine96195 karma

If you don't mind me asking: What do you do now and why did you get out of film/tv?

That sounds delicious.

SitnaltaPhix175 karma

As someone who ocassionally works in TV, I can tell you it's a lousy way to make a living. The jobs are inconsistent, the hours are long, you have to be unnaturally detail-oriented, and sometimes you have to deal with some narcissistic piece of shit celebrity who calls the shots. It is a very high-stress industry that has the added bonus of forcing you to be away from your family for several months.

Not saying that's why KenTheExAD left the biz, but it is a meat-grinder of an industry.

KenTheExAD21 karma

Pretty much nailed it, but in my experience the celebrities didn't really call the shots. They could make the entire set miserable, though.

brenswen452 karma

Can you describe your sleeping situation while filming? Did you have a tent?

KenTheExAD996 karma

Sadly, I have to admit that the crew would go back to a cabin every night. Only Bear stayed out.

lula2488350 karma


KenTheExAD243 karma

Thank you!

Squidward9349 karma

Any funny stories that you could share with us that weren't aired?

KenTheExAD655 karma

Hmm... Well, on a personal note, when we were filming in the Cairngorms (I think it was Glenfeshie), I was fording a river in a short wheelbase land rover while Bear, Si and Paul werefilming up on a scree slope. I managed to get stuck in the exact same place as they filmed Helen Mirren getting stuck in The Queen, and flooded the engine.

We had to get the Hagglund down in to pull the car out, while I endured 15 minutes of ribbing down the radio from Bear for how bad at driving I was.

There was another moment, perhaps no so much funny as a bit scary, when we were going down a gap in a ridge into a canyon, and Bear accidentally dislodged a boulder, probably weighing a tonne or so. The boulder smashed its way down exactly the route Bear was going to take. Thankfully we were filming from above, not below, or someone could have been maimed or worse. That made it into the final cut, but it was not in the least bit planned out.

Blurkmasterjay329 karma

How many of the skills Bear uses during his adventures do you pick up? In other words, can you take care of yourself better if you get stuck in the wild?

KenTheExAD633 karma

Well, I've never tested the skills, but Bear and our local survival experts were usually tremendously generous with their skills and knowledge.

By the way, we used locals because they would know particular flora and fauna which only a local could - Bear brought all the mountaineering skills, bushcraft, trapping, firelighting, navigation, etc. Real deal.

Personally, Bear taught me how to select the right wood for a firebow, and the correct technique to light it, he taught me how to select a spot for a snare and how to set it, how to orientate and build a lee shelter, and a few other useful bits and bobs.

I've found that most survival experts tend to be very keen teachers, because the skills and craft they have accumulated are often things lost to generations. For example, we actually brought some old firelighting techniques back to the Tarahumara (Raramuri), who had forgotten the skills since they had been introduced to lighters.

matt96146263 karma

Is it common for Bear to stay in a hotel and not out in the wilderness?

KenTheExAD498 karma

The production team back in Bristol gave us a simple edict: Bear has to stay out at least one night (hence the night reaction shots we'd try to get him to do each episode, although he would occasionally forget)

TheLordOfWinterfell211 karma

Are Les Stroud's criticisms of Bear accurate? Some examples: The first from his first AMA

"That being the case - lets establish one thing first - he acts - (they act) - I survive. As far as the survival instruction and gimmicks shown, i will speak only as a survival instructor and not the guy who first put survival on TV: many of the actual survival skills taught are bogus - It is NOT possible to squeeze drinkable water out of elephant dung - well it is when your cameraman has soaked it with bottled water. Others are pure tv stunt entertainment and do not relate to the real world of survival - so my 'professional' opinion of BG as you have directly asked is that he is a TV host - acting out scenarios based on what he and his producers dream up and glean from books and from the on-location consultants advice, they hired for an individual show. I would even go as far as to say that some of the skills if followed and attempted in a real survival situation could result in worsening the situation.

And the second is from his most recent AMA:

"he doesnt survive - he is only a tv host and i am told by members of the crew that he 'hates' survival sorry"

KenTheExAD617 karma

I don't know about that, man. I can't vouch for Les or Ray Mears, but I saw Bear do some pretty gnarly stuff, and he definitely has the skillset.

I don't have a dog in this fight, and it's not one I want to get drawn into, sorry.

Proudfinger182 karma

How much of what Bear does did you do?

KenTheExAD337 karma

Well, I didn't eat any of the bugs he did, nor jump off any cliffs, or skydive, but for the episodes I worked on, I had to navigate the same terrain as him, endure the same climates, and so on.

I did once eat some rocks that he ate. That was... interesting.

Dabee625175 karma

What can you tell me about this?

KenTheExAD251 karma

Yup, I'd seen that before.

I didn't work on that episode, but the show is about environments and terrains. If we could find what we wanted and it was accessible, great. If it wasn't accessible, we'd have to try harder. Frankly, the only way you're going to get to the bottom of a 800-foot canyon is by climbing down an 800-foot canyon, so that's what you've got to do. And then, at the end of a long and tiring day, you've got to climb back up that bugger again, lugging cameras and batteries.

mysteryxmike158 karma

Did you and Bear develop a friendship? Do you still keep in touch?

KenTheExAD304 karma

I wouldn't presume to call him a friend. I swapped the occasional text message/email with him afterwards, and caught up with him at the series wrap party a few years back, but otherwise no, haven't really kept in touch with him.

KenTheExAD144 karma

Hi all, I'm going to have to start being a bit more selective about which I reply to, or how long my answers are, because I've only got another 20 minutes or so before I need to shoot off. Apologies if I don't answer your question directly, but hopefully it will be because I've already answered it somewhere else in the AMA.

staticblues136 karma

Scariest thing you've done while filming?

KenTheExAD253 karma

Probably damn near get stuck at the top of a 10,000 foot mountain in the dark, a hundred miles form civilisation. We made it back down to the vehicles in one piece after leaving Bear up there, but it was pretty hairy getting off the mountain, especially as some of us were suffering altitude sickness.

throwaway-----------113 karma

How did you land the job, and anything interesting that only people working behind the scenes would know?

KenTheExAD257 karma

Luck. Most of the jobs I ever landed in film and TV were luck.

I'd applied for a job with a film crew in the Congo on the third series of a show following mountain gorillas but my application was a bit late. The production company was keen on me all the same because I spoke 4 languages and was a pretty active, outdoorsy, healthy and young AD (I was 25 when I landed the job).

As luck had it, this was round about the time that the first episodes of MvW were airing on Discovery, and it became apparent they wanted to shoot a second series, and not only that, they wanted to end the first series (which was already airing) with a bigger episode than they had lined up. So they scrambled a crew to do Mexico at short notice - my name was fresh on their minds, and that was that.

Mind you, I've also turned down some jobs that would later be huge, and my 1st AD on a couple of films turned down a film because he didn't fancy spending two months in Mumbai during the Indian summer. That film was Slumdog Millionaire.

ThatDandyMan109 karma

What emergency supplies did you guys have?

KenTheExAD174 karma

We were always well stocked up with water and a comprehensive first aid kit. We also made sure we had the right clothes/boots for the environment. We had a satphone on which we had speeddials to the nearest hospitals/air ambulances. Think that was about it.

Unnamedwookie101 karma

While filming, were there any injuries that were sustained to persons apart from bear that caused filming to be cancelled?

On the same note, have there every been scenes that were deliberately cut from the show because of something that happened on location (again apart from bear being injured or... Having Diarrhea) Cheers

KenTheExAD157 karma

Yup. There was always danger. I had to do the best assessment I could to minimise the risk on each show, but you can't foresee everything.

For example, in Copper Canyon, we were rock-hopping to get to a location, when our director Scott slipped and split his chin open. We had to patch him up with steri-strips and wait about 45 minutes for his nerves to calm (he'd had a serious fright), but we eventually kept shooting. I can't remember if Scott left early and we kept going, or if he stuck it out until the end of the day, but he certainly had to go on a 5-hour round trip to the nearest medical centre to get stitches that afternoon.

We had a bit of a scare with an aerial cameraman during a parachute jump once - we didn't abandon shooting, but we didn't go for the second take that we thought we needed because a few people were bit freaked out.

Alshon_Jeffries74 karma

What was the worst part about your job?

KenTheExAD126 karma

The phone bills.

Alshon_Jeffries59 karma

Long distance?

KenTheExAD122 karma

Mm-hmm. Racked up £450 in a week in Mexico, because I needed to use data on my phone for maps and booking transportation.

all_the_sandwiches66 karma

Have you ever had to stop Bear from eating something?

KenTheExAD142 karma

Ha! No. Bear will literally eat anything that isn't poisonous to ingest. I've seen him eat a live scorpion, for God's sake.

sridgeway56 karma

Tell us your thoughts of working with Bear.

KenTheExAD151 karma

A great, great experience.

The work itself, which was tremendously fulfilling, the locations we would see, the people we would meet (like the Tarahumara tribe, or local survival experts, who were usually pretty extraordinary people).

Bear himself is genial, has a fairly wicked sense of humour, loves quoting Point Break, and is dedicated, dedicated husband and father. He worked hard, and led from the front.

Fraticalirupus52 karma

Have you ever drank your own piss?

KenTheExAD237 karma

Nope. You?

Alexrock8845 karma

If Bear got injured or needed assistance, were you allowed to help him, or did you just keep on filiming?

KenTheExAD69 karma

That never happened on my watch. He was always the most capable person there. Some of us behind the camera occasionally needed help, though (I seem to remember the AP in Scotland got stuck in a bog).

Corzaman45 karma

Compared to other AD roles, what challenges do you face in the wild? What type of training is involved in getting into this side of production? I imagine mixing both filming responsibilities with the harsh conditions in Man Vs. Wild would test your skills as a film crew in any role.

KenTheExAD64 karma

Yup. But it suited me down to the ground. I was happy as a pig in the proverbial on that show. Except in Scotland. Good grief, that was horrific. Si agrees with me, and he worked on every episode:


KenTheExAD14 karma

Sorry, I only really answered half of your question yesterday.

As far as training, I think any moderately busy AD is going to be more than fit enough. My attitude, even on motion control shots, was never to sit down, always assessing where the shot, the scene, the day is at and what needs squeezing. The director might set the tone for the mood and creativity on set, but the AD's set the work ethic.

I pulled more than a few 100-hour weeks while I was in film. In that regard, MvW was fairly straightforward. We couldn't shoot much before sun up, and we pretty much had to get back to the cars before nightfall. That kept the days manageable, but intense.

Finally, I used to love working with skeleton crews. It's exhilarating. MvW had a technical crew of two - 1 camera, 1 sound. My role was the usual timekeeping and chivvying everyone along, with a fair bit of filling in the gaps (a bit of locations here, a bit of production there, etc.)

GrowerNottaShower39 karma

Did you guys have PAs? Like, go get us 3 vente fresh spring waters from that river over there.

KenTheExAD56 karma

Ha! I wish. We were our own PA's.

We had to keep the crew to the bare (pun not intended) essntials to minimise risk and keep us fast and flexible. On site would normally be Bear, Si (camera), Paul (sound), the director and the AD. Others who would join us as the need arose, but would otherwise be back at base/on the next location/etc. would be the AP, the local survival expert, Dave the safety boss, and any other extra one-offs needed (helicopter pilots, etc.)

We all had to be self sufficient, because there was no room for people to be demanding of each other out there.

biernas39 karma

What's the funniest situation you were involved with around bear and the rest of the crew?

KenTheExAD88 karma

Probably acting as referee and scorekeeper in a quote-off between Si, Paul and Bear. They looooooooved Point Break.

uberlad31 karma

What's your very best life advice?

KenTheExAD122 karma

I'm not in a position to offer anyone meaningful life advice, except this:

Do what scares you. It's exhilarating, and will better you.

SoppyTheClown29 karma

Is there anything that happens not on camera that people shouldn't see like maybe he gets stuff to cheat or is just a dick

KenTheExAD56 karma

No, the only concession is that once we've surveyed the terrain we agree a "toolkit" at the start of each episode which we think might prove useful, for example: a canteen and a length of paracord. What we didn't do was give him access to any of our stuff (cameramen, soundmen and AD;s invariably have Leathermans about their persons).

LocalsOnly_BeatIt20 karma

What is an average day for you like?

KenTheExAD40 karma

No such thing as an average day in film and TV!!!

Can be anything from going to a red carpet premiere to waking up at 4 am to see 500 extras through period costume and makeup.

The only thing that was guaranteed was an early start, a long day, and easy sleep at the end of it.

JuxtaTerrestrial17 karma

What's your favorite color

KenTheExAD85 karma

British racing green.

AnonRelay17 karma

THIS IS AN ANSWERED AMA request. We're so honored that it was answered

KenTheExAD16 karma

No man, I'm humbled that people still care about something I worked on. Honestly, 90% of the things I did, no-one ever saw, didn't make it onto the IMDb, or never even found proper distribution.

But that's totally the wrong reason to get into film and TV anyway. I met a bunch of interesting people, saw some amazing places, did some cool things. And got paid for it, mostly pretty badly.

habebna1211 karma

have you seen wolf of wall street?

KenTheExAD16 karma

Not yet, but I really want to!