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home : arts & entertainment : arts & entertainment November 17, 2018

1/9/2018 1:07:00 PM
Sam Pyke - getting the shot
Sam Pyke, left, has built a career as a filmmaker. photo provided
+ click to enlarge
Sam Pyke, left, has built a career as a filmmaker. photo provided

By Eileen Chambers

"OMG moments?" Sam Pyke laughed at the question.

"Plenty of them. Last year, in Azerbaijan, I was filming a hunt for Dagestan Tur sheep, incredible animals that live at about 10,000 feet. To get up that high, you have to use pack horses. Well, I was filming while riding my horse and seeing the 80-degree cliffs on both sides, I realized that one wrong step by the horse and I would be dead. Crazy dangerous. I was basically terrified..."

"Terrified" is not a word one would readily attribute to this rugged cinematographer who seems quite at home in places so remote that you have to search Google to find them. Back in Sisters for the holidays, Pyke was sitting outside Sisters Coffee Co., a place where everyone seems to know him, catching up on his latest adventures.

Sam was raised in Sisters by parents who let their four sons watch movies such as "The Terminator" and "Lord of the Rings." When Sam's father bought the boys a VHS camera, the homegrown movies began.

"We made silly little videos but that camera and the unwavering encouragement of our parents became the impetus for three of us to get into video production."

One of Sam's brothers, Eli (of Zion Pictures) is a producer living in Sisters. Another, Casey, is a lead animator who worked on "Star Wars: The Force Awakens."

And, Sam? He travels throughout the world, often with Pacific Northwest outdoorsman Gary Lewis, shooting their show, "Frontier Unlimited" (which airs locally and on the Pursuit Channel).

"When I was a junior in college, I interned for Eli, who was producing the show at the time," Sam recalled. "That year, I spent 2,000 hours editing and 600 hours in the field. Very rigorous. Typical of a small production. And our work ethic. After that season, he offered me the show itself. So, I took out a loan for equipment and, as a senior, produced my first season of television and never looked back."

That was seven years ago.

Unlike some sportsmen shows, Frontier Unlimited engages a viewership not necessarily into hunting. "With Gary as our writer and historian, together we bring the story behind the story into each episode. Sure. We showcase technical information, for example, why we are shooting with such and such bullet, but we are on the same page regarding the depth of the story we want to tell and the quality of the production. Ours is not a show for those who just want to see something get shot."

Growing up in Sisters allowed Sam to learn mountaineering and how to deal with the harsh snow, rain, wind, and extremes of temperature inherent in shooting in the wild.

"My philosophy about cinematography is to get every shot in the field without lighting or setting something up," Pyke said. "My view is that God made this world in a certain, amazing way and, if I can't capture a frame without having to use artificial light or some modification, then I am simply not being observant enough. Although I enjoy putting up a 2K light and making a great image, for me, the quest creatively is to catch a frame that is completely natural."

Which comes in handy when you are in Yellowstone, and the nearest electric outlet miles away. That's where Sam was this winter. Deep snow. Minus 30 degrees.

"This hunt was historic because, since the Treaty of 1859, the Yakima Nation has not been allowed to hunt bison," he said. "However, the buffalo completely outsmarted us! No one got anything, but we will be going back."

What has Sam learned in these last seven years?

"When you have been to some of the countries that I have been, you realized that, although we have a lot of problems in the U.S., compared to places where poverty and chaos are the norm, we in America are obnoxiously blessed. I no longer whine about traffic or the speed of my Internet connection."

And for 2018? New Zealand. Northern Territories. South America. Pyke's work shows no sign of slowing down this year, but there is something else (or rather, someone else) he is looking for on the horizon.

"I love this adventure and what I do every day. To be this far at my age is very humbling. However, my own story is that I want to meet my wife and have a couple of kids. So, as I continue as a cinematographer, building this business that will support a family, I know the time is coming when the camera will not be number one anymore."

To see more of Sam Pyke's work, visit

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