By Jeff Collins
I'd never heard of a Hutterite before, I was familiar with Amish and Mennonites but not Hutterite. Trever kept telling us how open and friendly they were and how much they like to have a good time, which certainly didn't hurt given previous experiences, I'd had been visiting Amish families who were all lovely but weren't nearly as open. Everybody in my office thought I was crazy, but I gambled on this one and gave Trever and his producing partners a sizzle reel budget and sent them off to get the goods with a strict outline of what we needed them to bring back. I knew instinctively the Hutterites wouldn't necessarily trust me or any other " Hollywood types " but Trever grew up with them and as far as they were concerned, he was just going to shoot some footage for a possible TV project. He was the kid the ladies bounced on their lap as a baby and the young man the men had taught how to hunt when he was a teen -- he was family and our passport to their world. We drew up a very simple LOI as a show of good faith and trusted we would be able to work out all the details if we found a buyer.
My plan worked. Trever, his dad and his two producing partners spent about a week with the Hutterites and really captured them in their natural state, being themselves, comfortable in their own skin and what we saw when the footage started coming in was pure magic. We cut the tape immediately, took it to market and had multiple offers. I decided to go with Nat Geo because of the brand and because of David Lyle. I'd met him several times before and found him to be a very enchanting, worldly, wickedly smart man. Mainly, I trusted him and I knew he would understand this material and treat it with the respect it deserved. Mind you, he wasn't interested in me brining back stories about them growing corn, but he did understand that I didn't want to do anything that the Hutterites might regret later. When we landed and were ready to shoot the atmosphere was very different. Now it was actual and there was crew members, equipment, trucks, and it was suddenly actual to the Hutterites that they'd signed up to expose themselves to the world. We took our time; we went very slow and for four or five weeks we probably burned a lot of footage that never saw the light of day because we just wanted to follow them around and let them get comfortable with the cameras and with the crew. I was extremely careful about choosing the crew, and I was not about to plant any jaded, " been there, seen that, done it all before " types who as a byproduct of doing so many of these shows come off a big burned out. I wanted fresh bodies, the best I could find who would be passionate about figuring out how to tell their story.
The biggest challenge was trying to figure out who the main characters would because we had so many choices going in. Bertha was a standout from the very first minute I laid eyes on her. He soul is as big as the ocean, and she carries the weight of the entire world on her shoulders, yet she still has room in her heart to take on more. I've never met anyone like her before in my entire life. We were all memorized by her, even the network, from the very first frame of footage we saw so everything kind of started with Bertha and Rita, who was our guide into the Hutterite world from day one, and branched out from there. There were some people on the colony who didn't want to be part of the TV show, so we were respectful, and we didn't focus on them. Others needed some coaxing but the characters you see in the finished series are truly the ones who stepped up to the plate and truly wanted to be part of the process. They wanted to tell their story in their personal words on their personal terms. There is conflict on the colony, and they have disagreements and differences of opinions like any family. They've been struggling with modernity for 100 years now, and their opinions and feelings change about how much or how little to embrace all the time. I think of the family in terms of liberals and conservatives. The liberal side believes in educating the children, and the conservatives want to cling to their old traditions and pull them out of school after the 8th grade.
Wesley, who is one of our main characters, is a living experiment that education and knowledge don't necessarily make one want to leave behind their way of life. Wesley went to college online -- straight-A student with two degrees all the while still managing to keep up his chores on the colony. He's extremely smart, and he wants to use his education to make the colony a more successful business, yet Wesley is very conservative in his beliefs. He's living proof that a Hutterite can be educated in the modern world and yet maintain the traditions that are dear to their culture. Wesley believes they must adapt to the world around them because it's changing so fast, or else they may be unable to compete (as farmers).
The only things that were really off-limits to us were shooting inside the church because they just didn't feel good about bringing cameras inside their place of worship. The Canadian elders ask that we not film the minister -- the call him Uncle John; Uncle means a position of leadership in their community. We talked to them a lot about their religious beliefs and their faith in God. If we do our jobs' right, which I believe achieved, viewers will get to the end of the ten hours, and some will feel embracing too much of the modern world could destroy their way of life, and other viewers will feel that if they don't they won't survive. That's my desire as a producer and story teller. I hope husbands, and wives are debating after every episode and that this series provokes conversation about religion, culture and most shines a light of these wonderful people who having been living right here in our backyard for 150 years and most of us have never heard of them.