Who and What Makes Mossy Oak Television Special
Editor’s Note: Ronnie ‘Cuz’ Strickland, senior vice president of Mossy Oak, has as his primary responsibility Mossy Oak’s video and television production, which also includes DVDs and online videos. Mossy Oak produces five television shows, including “Hunting the Country,” “Deer Thugs,” “Turkey Thugs,” “Inside the Obsession,” and “GameKeepers,” airing on the Outdoor Channel and the Pursuit Channel.
Ronnie Strickland started off his career at Rex’s Sporting Goods Store in Natchez, Mississippi. His father was the sports editor for the “Natchez Democrat.” “Besides covering stick and ball sports, my dad wrote a column on Sundays called ‘Roving Around Outdoors,’” Strickland reports. “In 1978 or 1979, I took that column over.”
Strickland’s outdoor column was syndicated in several other newspapers. Later, he sold a magazine article to “Mississippi Game and Fish.” “That’s how I got my start in outdoor storytelling,” Strickland explains. The first camera Strickland used to shoot outdoor video was a $1,000 Sears camcorder that he borrowed from a friend of his, Gary Porter. Porter had said, “Cuz, it is turkey season. Let’s take this camera out, and video some turkey hunts.” “I fell in love with that camera,” Strickland recalls.
At that time, Strickland was buying turkey calls for Rex’s from another legend in the outdoors, Will Primos of Primos Game Calls. Who was building turkey calls from home. Later, Strickland sent Primos several videos of turkey hunts that he had filmed with Gary Porter. A few days later, Will Primos walked into Rex’s Sporting Goods Store with what Strickland describes as a huge TV studio camera. “Cuz, can you film some turkey hunts with this camera for me?” Primos asked. Strickland couldn’t believe the size of that camera.
“That camera had tubes in it,” Strickland recalls. “You had to let the camera warm-up before you started videoing. When you put all the equipment together, that camera weighed 81 pounds. It was huge. There’s no telling what Will paid for that used studio camera. The video was shot on 3/4-inch tape. If it was plugged into an electrical outlet, it would shoot video for 20 minutes. But if you plugged the camera into the battery pack, the camera only would only shoot video for 10 minutes. So, we always had to carry a lot of extra batteries. That camera was a nightmare to carry through the swamps, up and down hills and through all the many places that Will and I hunted together.”
Strickland’s creativity and work ethic really began to shine when he was at Primos Game Calls. He was given the opportunity to develop videos and TV shows for Mossy Oak. Today, in his present position with Mossy Oak, Strickland is responsible for 30 different TV cameras. According to Strickland, “We have 8 to 10 cameras that I call sausage cameras that we carry in the field and use in treestands and ground blinds. These cameras provide the footage for us to use in the studio. We also have some older cameras that we use as back-up cameras, if we get into the field, and one of our sausage cameras has a problem. We also have Midland Action Cameras and GoPro cameras we use for special situations.”
Instead of being a one-man show, shooting the video, editing the video, producing the video and selling advertising, Strickland today supervises 24 field producers, finish editors and a couple dozen offline editors. Before long, Strickland realized he couldn’t continue to do everything. So, he went to Mississippi State University, met with the dean of that school and asked the dean, “Do any of your students hunt?” The dean answered, “That big boy right there hunts.” The young man the dean pointed to was Stephen Davis, who became the first editor Strickland hired. He immediately bought an Avid editing system (http://www.avid.com/US/categories/Professional-Video-Editing-Finishing) for editing videos. In 1993 or 1994, Strickland set-up a post-production room. When asked how many TV shows and videos he shot. Strickland replied, “I think we’ve produced 1,600, 30-minute episodes of TV shows, and about 50 videos and DVDs.”
Strickland approaches a TV show or a video the same way he used when he wrote newspaper columns and magazine articles. “The show has to tell a story.” Strickland says. “In the early days of my career, I was blessed to be able to work with the members of the Southeastern Outdoors Press Association (SEOPA) and the Outdoor Writers of America Association (OWAA). Plus, I watched and learned how my dad crafted stories. In 1960, my dad was the outdoor writer of the year. Many years ago, I was seeking advice from a TV producer at ESPN. We went back and forth. He was telling me how I should shoot video to make the videos interesting, educational and most of all entertaining. Finally, I looked at that guy. I thought to myself, ‘This guy may be a great TV producer, but he doesn’t know anything about hunting.’ I am pretty sure the producer was looking at me and thinking, ‘That big ole Mississippi redneck boy doesn’t know anything about television.’
Finally, he slammed his fist down on the table, after we had been arguing. He said the words that have helped to guide my career. He said, ‘Look, give me a reason to root for the person that the video is about,’ and those words have stuck with me. In our shows, we focus more on the people, who they are, where they are, why they are there, and what they are trying to accomplish, as much as we focus on the hunting itself. The people are what make Mossy Oak’s hunting shows special.”