Reality Television: Don’t Go for the Hype!
A veteran photographer/filmmaker-turned-ag pilot has seen firsthand how easy media manipulation is to pull off and how powerless subjects can be to stop it
Wednesday, March 14, 2018
by: By Jason Colquhoun, Hummingbirds Inc.

Section: July/August 2011 Issue

PREFACE: Video Poorly Portraying Industry Reminds Us that Reality TV is Drama We Don’t Need

MARCH 2018 — A few years ago, a cover story in Agricultural Aviation magazine highlighted the harmful impacts reality television can have on the ag aviation industry. Several operators had been approached about being part of a reality show, and the article, written by a veteran photographer/filmmaker turned ag pilot, explained how easy it is for production companies to manipulate footage to portray anything in a bad light.

NAAA is circulating this article again because a video is currently being circulated on the Internet poorly portraying the ag aviation industry. As such, bringing forth the article will remind the industry to be aware of the risks involved with being the subject of a reality TV program. The scripted and artificial drama that comes along with reality TV is not something that can benefit your operation or the industry. While NAAA wants to expose more of the public to the ag aviation industry, the tone, perpetuated stereotypes, and conflict-oriented focus of reality TV greatly overshadow any positive message or publicity.

Things in our industry that make television producers salivate, such as accidents, injuries, chemical spills or issues with drift, are already very serious issues that do not need to be sensationalized for entertainment.

NAAA encourages all members to consider the warnings in this article and be extremely guarded if you are approached by a production company about taking part in a reality TV series. The thrill of seeing yourself on TV is far outweighed by the harm Hollywood has the power to inflict on your business and the ag aviation industry with a few simple editing techniques.

If you have questions, concerns or are approached about participating in a reality TV program, please contact NAAA’s Jay Calleja at (202) 546-5722 or
Reality TV: Don't Go for the Hype!
As many of you are aware, reality TV is everywhere on the dial these days, and several production companies have been courting aerial application businesses across the country. As we saw recently, a Canadian TV production company has begun airing such a reality show on our industry and judging from the trailer, things don’t look good. The principal characters involved fit the public stereotype of us all … enough said. I find myself cringing more than most, though, because that world is all too familiar to me.

Before becoming an ag helicopter pilot here in California, I lived and worked in the film and photo industry in New York City, and that career took me around the world, and to every corner of this great country. Most of the work revolved around the entertainment industry, working with athletes and celebrities and the likes. As a young man it was quite an adventure, but for the most part, I always felt out of place. Besides it being a rather superficial business, the people I worked with on a daily basis just seemed different to me, and until I began to follow politics very closely, I had never understood the reason. I had grown up around agriculture in a small, conservative town, so moving to New York City was a major shock to the system. New York life is either feast or famine, and I experienced a bit of both with some good people and with some I’d rather forget.

All reality shows have one thing in common: drama. In our industry, the only things that could create drama are the very things we strive to eliminate: accidents.

Sometimes we get involved with the wrong group of people without knowing it at the time. In 2003, I journeyed to Washington, D.C., with a well-known photographer to assist in a portrait for a “high brow” publication of U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft at the Justice Department. Security clearance was intense in the preceding days, with full checks done by the Secret Service and the FBI. I was looking forward to meeting the Attorney General, but on the way to Washington, I had to listen to a barrage of political insults of Ashcroft and the party in power at the time, from a group traveling with me which included the photographer, who were tragically misinformed on various U.S. policies. They were fueled by emotion and partisanship, and it was clear that an agenda was in place to make the photo subject look bad.

After gaining secure entrance to the Justice Department building, we went about setting up lights and cameras in Ashcroft’s office and waited for the Attorney General to arrive. He showed up on time, and we all exchanged greetings, and he was very pleasant and professional. He sat down for a head shot the photographer had planned on doing with his 8x10 camera, and after a few clicks, the photographer said, “General Ashcroft, I’d like you to look more serious in the next few frames.” Ashcroft took a long look at the photographer and said, “I just saw a cover photo of me on a magazine, where they put devil horns on my head. You get one of two looks, a little smile, or a big smile.” The room was tense and silent. Clearly dejected, the photographer agreed and the shoot went as planned, and Ashcroft was a pleasure to be around.

A few days later, the photographer and I were making test prints in the darkroom, and he was very upset. When I asked why, he replied, “He looks too dammed good.” Usually, that is the objective of any portrait session, but as I had mentioned earlier, the photographer had an agenda. After studying a print of the Attorney General, the photographer pulled out a black Sharpie marker, and proceeded to black out the little highlights in the subject’s eyes, those little speckles created by the flash that make our eyes look lively. Instantly, Ashcroft’s image became lifeless and cold and void of any warmth or appeal; he actually looked evil. Even though Ashcroft had seemingly taken control, in the end, the photographer got his way. This is the power of editing, whether it be with the stroke of a Sharpie, or a video editor cutting footage together, changing context and adding sound bites or music to create their own rendition of recorded footage.

As aerial applicators, we are negatively cast into the spotlight on a regular basis by a media with a genuine agenda. Several applicators have been approached in these past few years about doing a television reality show. When it comes to the never-ending lineup of these programs, they all have one thing in common: drama. In our industry, the only things that could create drama are the very things we strive to eliminate: accidents. Whether it be an aviation accident, a pesticide spill emergency, worker injury or drift issue, these are not things we as applicators take lightly and definitely do our absolute best to avoid.

In America, there is an overwhelming desire by many to become famous, and this is the draw to such a show that may have some applicators going against good judgment and actually considering taking part. Don’t. I can assure you, you are not going to become famous, and your business will not be aided in any way by such an involvement. These film crews, producers and editors do not care about you or your business, they are out to serve their own agenda like our photographer with Attorney General Ashcroft was. Do not let them succeed. They are big-city people who do not understand our role in agriculture. They thrive on drama and ratings, and they will get these at your and our industry’s expense.

Ask yourself: Do you want to be the ag pilot responsible for dramatic TV ratings and potentially casting our industry in a negative light?

Think twice, and when these TV producers come calling, tell them thanks, but no thanks. By sticking together in promoting our positive image and our important role in American agriculture, we ensure a prosperous future. ♦
Based in Valley Center, Calif., Jason Colquhoun works for Hummingbirds Inc. as a helicopter aerial applicator. Prior to becoming an ag pilot, Colquhoun worked as a producer with numerous photographers and film directors while based in New York City. As a photographer, he worked with publications such as Sports Illustrated, Entertainment Weekly and Esquire Magazine as well as HBO. Looking for a more fulfilling career, Colquhoun was introduced to ag flying by a close friend and now employer, Bob Hoag. In 2008, Colquhoun and Hoag produced the video “The Modern Aerial Applicator: Partners in Agriculture” for the California Agricultural Aircraft Association. When he’s not flying the crops, Jason can found surfing and enjoying California coastal life with his family.