New Canaan is ground zero for Whitetail
overpopulation. Car accidents and the destruction of pricey landscaping is commonplace. As a result, hunters in Connecticut can harvest virtually unlimited amounts of deer.
I first experienced suburban hunting back in 2005. I was living with my grandmother Edie Andronaco at the time, and after work one night, I came home to find the living room filled with cigarette smoke.
In 2009, I was accepted into a new Social Documentary Film MFA program at the School of Visual Arts in New York City. My thesis was a short verite documentary about my larger than life blue collar cousins from Vermont. Every fall, they hunt in New Canaan, Connecticut, a wealthy bedroom community an hour away from New York City.
A cross between Fargo and Leave it to Beaver, the film's premise is rooted in the unlikely union between blue and white collar folks who share a common enemy...The Whitetail Deer.
I heard a familiar voice. "Hey Petey! Want some venison?" Through the Marlboro haze my cousin Mike Andronaco emerged with an outstretched hand and a fresh cigarette dangling out of his mouth.
I saw that my other cousin Lou Andronaco was there, along with their other hunting friends John Basset and Mike Vaughn. They were all in their long johns, laid out in their sleeping bags, watching Jeopardy with my grandmother.
Anyone who goes on a hunting trip away from home needs a place to camp. My grandmother's living room was their "Deer Camp". From then on through the fall of 2005, I came home to see deer after deer hanging from my late grandfather's apple tree. One night, Mike asked me for a hand with something. I went outside in the dark, and he asked me to hold his flashlight while he gutted a deer by the driveway. Later that night, I heard a lot of frantic commotion outside. Mike said, "Oh those are the coyotes sticking their noses in the deer guts." The former CEO of JetBlue lived next door. It was a nutty time.
By knocking on mansion doors and asking permission to hunt, Mike alone killed 69 deer that season. To put that into perspective, the average hunter might take 8 to 10 deer in one season. Mike's gift of gab, coupled with his skills as a hunter made him a local legend.
I knew that Mike's suburban hunting adventures had the potential to be a great documentary. But with a full time job at the time, I knew embedding both myself and a camera with Mike for months on end would be out of the question.
My opportunity to devote that kind of time came when I went to the School of Visual Arts in 2009. Only this time around, Mike and his friends had a different place to stay. It was now located on the property of my other cousin, Dave Andronaco. Dave is a jovial landscaper in New Canaan. With a long beard and magnetic smile, Dave and his family have lived in New Canaan for generations. His property is surrounded by mansions, and his neighbors know little of what goes on the other side of their bordering hedge rows.
The barn in the back yard, chock of full of tools and lawn equipment, is Dave's blue collar fortress of solitude. Mike and his friends slept in the hay loft. This was their new "Deer Camp", and it would become the perfect set for a future reality show.
I started shooting for my thesis film in the Fall of 2010. For weeks, which turned into months, I found myself in the thick of suburban deer hunting.
My film came together in the spring of 2011. This was during the rise of "Duck Dynasty", one of the most popular reality shows on television at the time. Networks were looking for blue collar buddy comedy shows to compete. I always knew that suburban deer hunting seen through the eyes of my cousin Mike was a unique concept that might play well on television.
I cut together a sizzle reel and reached out to a few production companies to gauge interest. Leftfield Pictures, the company that produces "Pawn Stars" wanted to partner up. I was elated that such a successful company like Leftfield, took interest in the concept, and my comedic sensibilities. We started the pitch process, and History greenlit ten episodes in 2012.
I was a very active Co-Executive Producer on "Chasing Tail". Between casting and location scouting, I continued my role as a camera operator. Twice a day, right before sunrise and sunset, I donned camouflage and a harness, and climbed into trees to film Mike and his friends (they hunt from tree stands). When they placed an arrow on a deer (that's PC for shooting them), I filmed their tracking routine, which brought us through mansion yard after mansion yard. You never really knew where the deer would end up. Mike would be pulling a deer off a property in the front yard, while home owners played tennis in the back yard. Between sets, residents would give Mike enthusiastic thumbs up.
Would we encounter people who were pro or anti hunter? Would people freak out and call the police after watching guys in camouflage pass through their yard?
Yes and Yes. That's what made the concept so interesting.
Working with Leftfield was a really great experience. I met and worked with some really nice and talented people. I learned a ton. And in April of 2013, "Chasing Tail" premiered, and a million people per week on average tuned in.
For a guy with a passion for comedy and good characters, working on something that many people enjoyed, and that I helped create, really was a dream come true.