For the last several months, we’ve been working on a project that’s been almost 3 years in the making— a television documentary on fur trapping.

The premise actually hits very close to home, since one of our main protagonists is my father, Chuck Karney, a trapper of more than 20 years, and, well…me the son of a trapper for more than 20 years. For years i’ve been fascinated with trapping and the romantic notions that swirled around it— spending time in the wilderness, being one with nature and so on and so on— but I could never come up with a unique angle on telling the story. That is, until, I thought of myself as a character.

The film is about me spending time with my father on his trapline in the Duck Mountain Provincial Forest, about 25 minutes north of Roblin, Manitoba, where I learn over a season, what it takes to work the line and really how to be a man. It goes without saying that it’s been rather gruelling. Most of the work is done out in the elements in bone chilling cold that can dip below -40 degrees where cameramen get frostbite in a matter of minutes and the cameras they use sometimes refuse to work.

For me, this project is somewhat of a deviation since I am by trade a director of photography and all-around behind the scenes guy. Though, I do have quite a bit of experience as a director on various corporate and documentary projects, this is the first time I’ve had to place my mug in front of the camera, and needless to say it has been an interesting and challenging experience.

There have been two obstacles that I’ve had to overcome: First, is trusting my crew, in particular the other DOPs that I’ve brought in. I’m used to being “the man” in the camera department— choosing lenses, deciding on composition, handheld vs tripod etc. It has been a challenge, but I have to keep reminding myself that I brought these people in for a reason. They’re all at the top of their game and in every case, are close personal friends of mine and don’t mind the cold!

I have taken it upon myself to grab a camera throughout the production to keep myself sharp!

The second, and largest, challenge I’ve had to face is directing from in front of the camera. Directing, alone, has its own inherent challenges, but when you’re also dancing for the camera, there’s a whole new level of stress involved. How do you make sure you’re getting what you need, while also staying in the moment? How do you stay natural, while making sure the story is evolving and moving forward? I’m learning to trust the people around me a little more and to delegate some of the directing duties to my business partner and field producer, Andrew Wiens. If we both know what is needed out of a scene, I can sink a little further into the world of fur trapping, knowing that he is making mental notes and prodding me along when things are getting off course.

Another valuable thing about having another director in the field is for interviews, where my presence may colour the answers. For example, any on-the-fly interviews with my father, can’t be done by me because I want an authentic and truthful answer that isn’t pandered to me. I want my father to express genuine emotions and give genuine truths about my performance on the trapline.

All said, it’s been a wonderful experience thus far, and I can’t wait to share the finished project with the world!