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Much work goes into the creation of a documentary.

Marshall Stouffer, now a Sedona resident, started filming wildlife at the age of 13 with his older brothers, Mark and Marty. They started out in the mid-1960s in an old truck with their father’s 8 mm camera.

From those humble beginnings the Stouffer brothers became the premier wildlife documentary filmmakers in the industry.

The brothers produced 120 films for PBS; films for National Geographic, 10 one-hour specials for King World Productions; four John Denver specials; four wildlife specials narrated by stars including Robert Redford, Henry Fonda and Martin Sheen. Marty Stouffer presented the series “Wild America” for television, and, in 1997, the brothers’ beginnings were the subject of a film, “Wild America” starring Jonathan Taylor Thomas as Marshall Stouffer.

Cinematographer Marshall Stouffer started filming wildlife with his brothers at an early age and has since produced 120 films shooting all over the world. His films include wildlife documentaries for National Geographic and PBS along with other specials narrated by stars such as Robert Redford, Henry Fonda and Martin Sheen.Marshall Stouffer was usually the cinematographer. As such, he found himself in some strange and dangerous situations.

“My brothers seemed to find the most dangerous assignments for me to shoot: flying ultralights, climbing trees, swimming with tuna or walking up to wild animals.

“In the process of shooting ‘Dangerous Encounters,’ I got bit by a cougar, stepped onto the back of an 800-pound alligator and was nearly killed by a mother moose,” Stouffer said. “You don’t mess with an animal’s young. We didn’t know that then. We were kids.”

After the alligator encounter, Stouffer said he would wake up in the middle of the night thinking he was in the water with alligators. Yet, when the crew was filming an alligator attack at night, Stouffer baited ropes with raw liver to get the shot.

“As soon as it [raw liver] hit the water they grabbed it. During that shoot, I reached over the side of the boat to wash the blood off my hand and jerked it back. I realized they could have bit my hand off. It still tingles at the thought,” Stouffer said and shook the hand in question.

Once behind the camera, Stouffer said he loses a little of the reality of the animal he is filming. Once he was to film a copperhead snake.

“I was so concentrated I forgot it was poisonous and picked it up and moved it,” Stouffer said. “I’ve planted metal rods to get shots of lightning strikes, spent two nights on a ledge in Colorado when I crawled up and couldn’t get down, [been bitten] on the back of the neck by a kinkajou; I was kind of kidnapped in Bogata [Columbia] and got chased by a guy with a machete in Mexico. My brothers and I have had most tropical ailments — all to film wildlife.”

The Stouffers have filmed all over the world. Many of their films have helped endangered wildlife like “Elephants of the Desert,” “Tigers of the Snow” and “The Wild Panda.”

“We did the pandas in China and our work helped save a forest from destruction,” Stouffer said.

When filming in foreign countries Stouffer studies the local customs and mores. He buys local clothing and stays in hotels the locals stay in.

“I don’t want to stick out,” he said. “I also don’t want to end up in a Third-World jail.”

Another rule: Do no harm.

“If you disturb a nest or den the parent often abandons the young. That you don’t want to do,” Stouffer said. “What our films do is teach people about these creatures and it helps protect them.”

Stouffer said he and his brothers were in the golden years of documentary filmmaking. There were only four television channels, Stouffer said.

“It’s funny. In the midst of doing this I didn’t realize what we were doing was anything special,” he said. “We basically did pioneer a lot of documentary filming styles and techniques that are being emulated now.”

Each of the brothers are filmmakers on their own, but they still collaborate on projects.

“If I wasn’t a filmmaker, I would have been a geologist or meteorologist — anything to do with earth science outdoors,” Stouffer said. “My brothers and I got to do what nobody had ever done before.”

 

Lu Stitt can be reached at 282-7795, ext. 122, or email This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.


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  • Gina Rocca

    What was the point of this article? While I find this man's life interesting, I don't see a point to what's written. If it was the intention of the author merely to highlight the life of a Sedona resident, then he needs a column like "Residents Among Us". Or at least somewhere in there say, "We are living among many interesting people here in Sedona."

  • 27 year resident

    Thankyou for your dedication to bringing the natural wonders of our world to the eager imaginations of all children, young and old.

  • MBWilson

    I do home Mr. Stouffer is continuing in his efforts to save wildlife and habitat. Through his work he may have helped many animal species. We are lucky to have him in our community.

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