Next up on the Behind the Lens feature of F3T we had the pleasure to sit down with our good friend Chris Kitchen to discuss his new film, The Return. The film follows the story of Dave Sweet and his efforts in helping to bring back the Yellowstone Cutthroat from the brink of extinction. Along with his daughter, Diana, a fisheries biologist, he will travel into the infamous Thorofare area of Yellowstone, the most remote wilderness in the lower 48, to see if his efforts have been successful and if the trout has returned to its native spawning runs.
The trek in is two days on horseback through some of the most rugged terrain in the west. Not to mention the highest concentration of grizzly bears outside Alaska, combined with extreme weather and unrelenting mosquitos among other challenges. Working with multiple environmental groups and government agencies, Dave has spearheaded the fight to save this native species that is said to impact over 40 species in this pristine ecosystem. Once there, he will get to witness first hand if these native fish have returned.
Flylords: Tell us about who KGB Productions is.
Chris: We’re just an outdoor focused commercial production company. We started in snow sports when we moved to Jackson, and from there we’ve just kind of branched out to all sorts of commercial video work. Definitely with a focus in the outdoor and action space, because that’s kind of where we live and that’s what we enjoy doing, and the stories we enjoy telling.
Flylords: Tell us about the first time this video idea came to mind.
Chris: It was probably like four years ago or so. Talking with a friend of mine, Pete Lynn, who’s an outfitter. I’d kind of been hearing about the Yellowstone trout and the little bit that was going on. Then another friend of mine is a horse pack outfitter and we were talking about trying to do a trip out there. Do a little story on the how remote the Thorofare is and a little thing on the cutthroat trout; just kind of never came to fruition. We were doing the Find Your Water Series with Redington and we kept trying to pitch it to them this idea. They didn’t want to pull the trigger on it, because it was going to be more expensive than the other episodes. We kept pitching it around, but nobody was into it… I just kind of let it go.
Then about two years ago, we were doing some other work for Trout Unlimited here. Doing before and after drone shots of creek restoration. I got to talking with the local chapter and Leslie Steen. I don’t know what her position is, but I was telling her about how I always wanted to do this trip into the Thorofare and film something. She was like, “Oh my God, we’ve been trying to do this trip for two years with Dave Sweet, a Trout Unlimited volunteer, into the Thorofare.” I got in touch with Dave and started talking about the film a bunch.
We didn’t really have the permits or any money, but Dave was like, “Hey, I’m going in with my daughter in June. These are my dates. You guys are welcome to come, but we’re going whether you’re coming or not.” We just hustled and got the permits, some money, and put the trip together. It’s kind of fortuitous, but I’m glad we didn’t do it three or four years ago, because we wouldn’t have had Dave, this great story, and Dave’s wealth of knowledge of the issue. Teaming up with Trout Unlimited and Dave made it so apparent of what we need
Flylords: What was it like filming in Yellowstone?
Chris: Filming in Yellowstone … It was pretty incredible. I mean the terrain there is beautiful… It was a haul in there, but luckily, we had horses to carry a lot of our gear. We were riding horses with the camera pack, which is kind of annoying and you’ll notice most people don’t ride horses wearing a backpack and there’s a reason for that. It hurts the shit out of your back.
I mean such a wild place out there … It’s the furthest from the road you can get in the U.S, which is kinda crazy. It’s not even that far, but it felt really remote, like really wild, you know?
Flylords: What were some of the challenges the crew faced?
Chris: The biggest thing to contend with was the weather, it’d be raining, thunderstorms would come in and change to extreme heat. Then there was the river, but other than that it was just swamp and creeks everywhere. Being in your waders all day carrying around these big camera packs was a challenge.
The mosquitoes were pretty bad at times and trying to hold a camera still with like 700 mosquitoes buzzing around your head sucked. And that’s literally all you can hear…
There were grizzly bear signs every single day; even though we didn’t see them there’d be fresh scat or there’d be prints. It would rain and then an hour later we would see prints in the mud by our camp, and like, “Oh, this bear came in the last hour…’ So that was definitely a concern.
Flylords: Was the fishing as good as you expected?
Chris: There was a little tension the first day because we started pretty high up on the creek and we weren’t seeing any fish at all in the river. Dave’s like, “Man, I’ve been hearing the fish are coming back, but are they really coming back? Maybe it’s really low numbers, maybe we missed the spawn, maybe we’re just doing this trip and nothing’s gonna happen.” Later that day we went further downstream and we came around a corner, saw a couple fish. Everybody got excited and breathed a huge sigh of relief; however, we weren’t really able to catch any. Then we came around two more corners and it was like the heavens shown on us and there were maybe 15 fish stacked up in this little run. That’s when we started catching fish, everybody was cheering.
Once we started catching fish and he got into that, it was like, okay, the fish are back. We’re gonna have some time, we’re gonna get this.
Flylords: Do you have a favorite moment from your film that comes to mind?
Chris: The creek is freakin’ cold because of snow melt. So I brought my wetsuit, underwater camera, flippers, snorkel mask, and I swam a stretch of the creek. We got some good shots and seeing all the fish, insect life, and little reds everywhere was just mind-blowing.
It reminded me of a salmon run. They were just everywhere you went… You’d come over a little ripple then there’d be fish holding on the left and right. There’d be fish moving up and down the creek. That was really the moment where I was like, “holy cow, this is a serious run.” Crazy to think that just five years ago it was almost not even there.
Flylords: What did the crew look like and what were you guys using to shoot everything?
Chris: The crew was me and Matt Hines, who is our other main guy. We were like the main filmers. Then we had Sam Pope who was taking photos, third camera, angle whenever we needed, time lapses, and audio. We had kind of three main camera sets. We had a RED Epic, a 287Rs, with one of those in the underwater housing, and we had a 5v as photos and time lapse. No drones… You can’t drone wilderness area.
Flylords: Was there a low moment on the trip that comes to mind?
Chris: There is, and I guess in the trailer we kind of allude to it, so it’s okay, but there was … Day two going in, five minutes out from camp we had a horse break its leg, and that was pretty intense. You know, you always hear that saying when a horse breaks its leg you gotta go shoot it. It’s one thing to kind of say that and think it’s funny. To actually have to be there when it happens, it was pretty intense.
At that point, I thought the trip was over. I was like day two, we’re done. But then again, Pete and Dave were pretty strong and kind of dealt with the situation. Cause that was one of our pack horses we had to put the load on a different horses, so then me, Matt and Sam just switched off walking the rest of the trip. Actually when you’re talking with no backpack, no water, anything, you can kind of keep up with horses.
Flylords: If people wanted to learn more about the conservation efforts going on with these fish, where is a good place for them to look for that stuff?
Chris: Save the Yellowstone Cutthroat. https://www.yellowstone.org/what-we-do/native-fish/
Flylords: If you guys have a message that you are trying to convey through this short movie. What would that message be?
Chris: I think the one messge of getting involved in conservation. As outdoorsmen it’s up to us to keep these places wild and as pristine as possible. The message to me is that never doubt that a small group of concerned citizens or individuals can really make a difference. You know, Dave didn’t really know what he was doing. He just thought that hey, this is something that’s an issue to me, I don’t want to see this fish disappear, I’m gonna help out wherever I can.
As he got involved, he started to figure out more and more things he could do. So hopefully this inspires people to either do more and get involved, even when they feel like there’s nothing they could do. Or at a minimum at least donate some time or donate some money here and there about issues you care about. It doesn’t necessarily have to be the Yellowstone Cutthroat, it could be something in your own little backyard stream.
The older I get I realize the more that you can’t just buy a fishing license and go fishing and say I’m doing enough. You gotta kind of put your money where your mouth is. Whether that’s with time or just sharing information.
Then really, it’s a success story. You don’t hear that many success stories in the conservation movement these days. Most of its doom and gloom and I think that this film will resonate with people because it is a success story. It does show that if you get involved, you speak up and you do some stuff, you can actually make a difference. And I think that’s gonna be Dave Sweet’s legacy.
Flylords: Are you excited to see the films?
Chris: Yeah, I’ve seen the film tour and I saw every film in there. They did such a good job of kinda putting that together and taking the good, diverse selection of film. I really liked “Movements” and think that was visually cool.
Special thanks to for photos. Follow his adventures on Instagram @chriskitchen!
Also, follow along with the film tour @flyfishingfilmtour to see where they will be next!
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