Survival expert Les Stroud has made a career out of being alone in areas of the world that most people aren't even aware of. His "Survivorman" series, which ran from 2004 to 2008, documented Stroud in remote areas in total solitude (he even did his own filming) but he has shifted gears a bit with his new Discovery series, "Beyond Survival with Les Stroud," which premiers tonight. In this new series, a small crew joins Stroud in showing parts of the world that, oftentimes, have never been photographed or filmed before. Not only does Stroud show us rituals and cultures that are often 'near stone-aged' he also hopes to create some television history with what his adventures showcase. When our Jim Halterman talked to Stroud recently about what went into creating this new series, he asked Stroud about preparing his crew for what he's spent his life doing alone, what surprised him the most in doing this series and how he's been able to use his travels in his other passion - music.
Jim Halterman: I know this isn't your first TV show but did you take a different approach to the show?
Les Stroud: On one level, absolutely in a very huge way. On another level, no. The first level of no is that we recognized really quickly the magic of what I can do is to use my own personal style, the very one-to-one, working-my-own-camera kind of thing. We realized very quickly that I want to stay with that so that will be that flavor of how I produce my work. I do have a crew with me on this shoot, which is wonderful because I'm able to do all the peripherals. This is surviving and doing rituals with all these remote tribes from around the world - nearly stone-aged people - so I get the beauty of these people working with me. The final product is just beautiful.
JH: How do you prepare the crew for safety as well as how they should act with the people you come across?
LS: It actually did take some preparation. For the most part, the crew is pretty durable and rough and tough to handle what's going on. It was more a matter of going into a situation like the Devil Dance of Sri Lanka and knowing that we are going to film for twelve solid hours. I gave them a pep talk saying 'Look, this is going to get tedious and you're going to have to drink a lot of coffee but just remember that you're going to be making television history.' That's what I've always strived to do with my own work is to always try to make some television history and I really believe we did that in spades with this series.
JH: With the people you come across on your journey, how do you explain to them about cameras and people filming them. Is that difficult to communicate that?
LS: Not too bad. Many of them are shy but what I do is say the same thing every time. Through an interpreter, obviously, I say 'You know what? Forget the cameras are here. Pretend the cameras are just a bunch of little flies buzzing around. What's important is that I'm here with you, I'm here to learn from you and to experience the things you're experiencing so let's make this between you and me and forget that these flies are buzzing around." And you know what? They are not savages. They're people, too, and they're not stupid. They focused on me and it was awesome.
JH: And in the course of the show, where do you visit?
LS: We go to Sri Lanka with the Devil Dance. We go to Papua, New Guinea and that was amazing. They did a comoutin ceremony, which is honoring the bones of the dead and had never before seen and photographed and also never before seen by a white person for that matter. We go to Indonesia and I had a few new tattoos put into me with a needle and stick.
JH: What surprised you the most about what we see in 'Beyond Survival?'
LS: The original title of the series was 'Vanishing World' and then I changed it to 'Beyond Survival.' I started to see that these incredibly fascinating, nearly stone-aged cultures really are on the brink of assimilation. I thought I'd see them a little more rough around the edges but they literally are sitting on the knife edge of becoming a civilization in the modern culture but yet they still hunt with blow guns and poison tip arrows. How do they do that? You and I had 8,000 years to get to where we are. It's really bizarre.
JH: Are there still places you have yet to get to that you still want to go?
LS: Everywhere! I haven't done anything up in Sibera. I did get to Madagascar for this show and that was something I'd always wanted to do.
JH: Are there places in the US that you have yet to explore?
LS: The thing is I go around the world and see so many beautiful things but I still think North America is the most beautiful place on the planet! There's nothing like what we have here. Utah is one of the most beautiful places I've seen in my life. I'd like to go to Montana because I haven't done that area yet and all I've ever been told is how beautiful it is.
JH: How do you feel that you were initially pulled into the survival endeavors? Did you fall into it or could you chalk it up to instinct?
LS: I would say instinct. I was in my early 20s when I started to get into survival but I had been away from it in a long time because I was into music. When I was young I'd always watched Jacques Cousteau and 'Tarzan' and 'Wild Kingdom' so I always wanted to be a big part of that bushy/survival/wilderness kind of thing. I fell into it through instinct and I'm still very much in love with it.
JH: Is what you're doing on your survival journeys something that the everyday person could strike out and do if they had the means?
LS: Sure. Some of the things that you might want to attempt are dangerous and you have to do them with the proper instruction and skill set. Going back to the 'Survivorman' series it was that anyone could survive this situation and this is how you do it.
JH: A big part of your life is also music. Does what you're doing now inform your music when you find time to get to it?
LS: Oh, huge! For example, on the downtime days I was playing with world musicians and it was a fantastic experience. I brought back a lot of interesting instruments from around the world and I also played with a lot of tribes. This journey has been huge into my musical outflow, which I intend to express a lot of over the next year.
"Beyond Survival with Les Stroud" premieres tonight at 10:00/9:00c on the Discovery Channel.