by Sharon Petzold
How Rocky Got His Name:Every film starts with a great deal of research. For me it’s an exciting time in the project, because everything is possible. A single phone conversation yields different perspectives and imparts a great deal of information. Each piece of information—every detail—is followed up with more phone calls and research. It’s not a time for editing. It’s a time to learn as much as possible. For me it’s a time to entertain including even the most mundane or far out pieces of information in the final film. Reality sets in later, during the following months, when telling a story within an hour becomes more limiting, and we have to exclude details that so enraptured us during our initial research.
For this film, one of those details is how Rocky got his name. When he came to Randy he was a young cub, not much bigger than a Labrador Retriever puppy. He came from a sanctuary, and he came with a name: Snickers. Randy raised and trained him as Snickers. On set and in front of cameras, Randy could be heard saying, “Come, Snickers,” and Snickers would come. They were successful as Randy and Snickers, earning roles for television and print advertising. So why did Snickers become Rocky?
As a cub Snickers was a cute name, but as a larger grizzly the name Snickers didn’t seem to capture the action Randy and his burly bear were capable of delivering. When the role of “wrestling bear” in the film ‘Semi-Pro’ came up, Snickers wasn’t exactly a name that would convince Hollywood producers that he could act ferociously. So Randy renamed him Rocky, a well-known name in the ring—and of course in Hollywood.
To trainers who knew him as Snickers, the name change didn’t alter the bear’s performance or behavior. To them he was still the same sweet bear—just with a new name. To the outside world, the grizzly had become a seemingly more dangerous bear known as Rocky.
Rocky’s First Day Out:
We had beautiful weather during the two weeks we filmed at Predators In Action. Every day was sunny and warm- except for one: the day we planned to film Rocky out of his cage for the first time since the accident. It was the biggest day of the shoot, and it was cold and windy. One of the best camera crane teams and their 60’ crane had traveled 6 hours up into the San Bernardino Mountains. They had arrived the night before, and were scheduled to work with us the next day before traveling to their next job. We only had that one day to make the shoot work.
On the morning of the shoot the camera team assessed the wind and decided to set-up the crane, but not to its full 60’ feet. They would build it to 40’ and see how it would withstand the high gusts. At 40’ we could still get the shot, but there was another snag in the plan, and this one was not one we humans could solve. It was Rocky. He wasn’t acting like he had during the other days we filmed with him. Randy explained that the sound of the wind blowing through the compound could make the bear act differently. From his 30 plus years of experience, Randy knew when he woke up that morning that the wind might be an issue for Rocky. Randy had already spent an hour watching and assessing the bear before the film crew even arrived. It was Randy’s call whether the shoot would proceed. If he felt it was unsafe for bear or humans, he would call it off. To avoid further distractions, the crew gave Rocky his space. We waited while Randy kept a close watch on the grizzly. Over an hour later, with the wind still roaring through the compound, Randy made the call. What happened next can be seen in the final film.
My Predators In Action Experience
I wasn’t sure what to expect when I arrived at Randy Miller’s Predators In Action. I had met and filmed with Randy before, and I certainly knew his work with large predators from numerous film and television appearances, but I had never been to his compound. Nothing could have prepared me for what I walked into.
During filming Randy shared his 55-acre compound with two large, adult, male lions, two adult tigers–one male and one female, a massive 800-pound grizzly, an elderly black panther, a cougar, two tiger cubs, a female lion cub and, of course, Rocky the bear.
It was a rare opportunity to safely see these predators close up. Entering and filming in the compound required an escort by Randy, or one of his trainers, Joe Radtke and Katie Massey. Even though the animals were inside their enclosures, the trainers always carry pepper spray. It was a reminder to all that these were potentially dangerous animals.
Randy gave us a safety briefing and laid down the rules, which included not getting too close to the animals. He reminded us that a single swipe could do great damage. Still, when I stood a few feet away from a purring tiger or a lazy male lion napping in the noontime sun, I felt a great temptation to reach out and touch them. That feeling was quelled when I watched the male lions at dinnertime and witnesses the ferocity with which they guard their meals.
I always felt very safe inside the compound—especially with an experienced trainer by my side! There was, however, one moment that made my heart skip a beat or two. It happened while I was watching Katie feed the tiger cubs. The cubs meowed with delight as they gobbled up their food. It was an adorable scene, and I couldn’t take my eyes off of them. Then, Katie told me to look at Tara, Randy’s female tiger. I turned my head to the right and saw a massive tiger crouched down, with its eyes locked on me. Tara was stalking me! She was in her enclosure some 15 to 20 feet away. I knew I was safe, but it sent chills down my spine. I couldn’t speak. I slowly backed even further away from the tiger. I only took a breath when I heard Katie’s voice reassuring me that I was, in fact, safe. After that I never lingered near Tara again, and I made sure to keep my eyes on her whenever I walked by.
Video Preview: “Confronting a Killer” — After his trained gizzly bear killed a loved one, an animal trainer attempts to work with the bear once more.
Don’t miss “Grizzly Face to Face“ premering Sunday, August 29th at 10P et/pt.