Shooting Swamp Men at Billie Swamp Safari in the Florida Everglades is an experience like no other. First off, driving the more than 20 miles into the Big Cypress Indian Reservation run by the Seminole Tribe is an eye-opener. It feels like you’ve left the United States behind, and I guess technically since it’s a sovereign nation there really are no more rules once you enter the reservation. Along the way, it’s easy to spot gators in the canals along the road. I think the highest count we’ve had is six alligators on one stretch of road. It feels like we’re driving through the Great Plains or an African savannah, and we’re constantly having to remind ourselves that we’re in Florida. But, once you pass through the gate and meet the guys who work at Billie Swamp, any bit of intimidation or trepidation falls by the waist side. These are truly the nicest guys in the world, and they would literally give you the shirt off their back if you needed it. They instantly make everyone feel like a part of their family, and that kind of heart is hard to come by these days.
For this episode, we were shooting during one of the coldest winters’ Florida has seen in a while, so we were able to see a totally different side of the swamp. It went from hot and steamy, to cold and windy in a hurry. All the while, the guys are trying to capture a Nile crocodile that escaped from a park exhibit after it was vandalized years ago. It’s a safety mission for the park’s director Ed. But, once the search is underway it becomes a matter of pride for the guys to find this elusive reptile.
In between crocodile search missions, the crew goes from being one with nature to being at odds with technology. During breaks, the crew can be found roaming the grounds looking for cell service, which is spotty at best. But, often times it’s very amusing to watch everyone running around looking for a pocket of cell service, or contorting our bodies to get clear reception. And, high speed Internet, which is normally a staple in the production business, is not even an option out here. Our best resource for Internet service is mobile phone cards that plug into our laptops, which is super slow, sort of like dial-up! Even though we’re about 45 minutes away from Ft. Lauderdale, this makes us feel even more like we’re in the middle of Africa!
But, the best part about shooting here is the real unpredictability of this environment and these guys. Every time I observe them, I forget they are working because they seem like a bunch of friends hanging around together. The jokes never cease, and I thinks it’s because these guys really do what they love. It makes our jobs easy.
While we’re shooting, the crew overnights at the Big House. Complete with a stuffed deer and alligator named Superman, this place has all the comforts of home. The guys love to tell the crew ghost stories about the house, and then leave us there to sleep. As far as I know no one in the crew has ever seen the old woman rocking in the chair that they speak of, it may because we’re all so tired at the end of the day we don’t have time to get scared.
Swamp Men: Croc Escape airs Monday May 10 at 10P et/pt