Friday, August 17, 2018

Part II: On the Trail of…Champ Interviews

We asked director Aleksandar Petakov to share his experience filming the first Small Town Monsters mini-series On the Trail of... Champ and his thoughts on the area and famous monster. Read on for part one of his series of blog posts. - Adrienne

Over the course of the four weekends I filmed On the Trail of…Champ, I had the fortune of interviewing countless people involved in the mystery. 

I interviewed about half a dozen eyewitnesses who all had seen something unusual in the waters of Lake Champlain. While some of the interviews were planned ahead of time, others were spontaneous but all of them were fascinating. My pre-planned phone interview with Sandra Mansi (of the famous 1977 Mansi photography) for example turned out wonderful and I believe that to have been her last formal Champ related interview before her recent passing. My interview with Frank Horton, who turned out to be one of my favorite eyewitnesses, was totally spontaneous. While I was filming the giant Champ parade float at the 2017 Champ Day event, he approached me as he lived right across from the faux Champ and we struck up a conversation, leading to an invigorating interview shortly afterwards.

Among the eyewitnesses I interviewed there was a wide variety of when their sightings took place, ranging as far back as the 1950’s up until a few weeks prior to filming and everything in between. That really helped me realize that whatever was going on was not an isolated phenomenon that occurred sporadically. Of course through research I realized sightings of “Champ” date back quite far as well. 

Aside from the eyewitnesses, by far the most important interviews were with the three most prolific Champ investigators, Scott Mardis, Katy Elizabeth and William Dranginis. These three arguably made the series what it is and more broadly gave the search for Champ human faces and plenty of personality. Their interviews were filled with years of experience searching for the mystery of Lake Champlain, endless facts about Champ and Lake Champlain as well as their own sightings and encounters. These folks exhibit some serious dedication and ingenuity in this particular quest for the unknown.

With these researchers, comprising of the Mardis-Dranginis Research team and Champ Search (Katy Elizabeth) respectively, I accompanied them as they scoured deep sections of the lake, combed through the many Champlain marshes at night and much more. It was truly adventure in every sense of the word as we battled with unpredictable weather and the simple difficulty of researching on a large body of water. Ultimately On the Trail of…Champ is as much as a story about Scott, Katy and Will as it is about the famous denizen of the lake.

Finally, for the last set of interviews for the series I spoke with local people that were involved with Champ beyond sightings or research. These were people like Lorraine Franklin, owner of Champ’s Trading Post, a Vermont based gift shop themed around Champ of course. This type of interview gave the Champ mythos a deeper meaning and cultural roots in the communities surrounding Lake Champlain. This included the Vermont Lake Monsters, Vermont’s minor league baseball team, which fully embraced the monster legend.

Combining all these types of interviews was something I felt needed to be done to demonstrate the full scale of the mystery of Champ. Alongside many historical facts about Champ and the lake, the only thing I needed to ensure was that I could truly capture the alluring beauty of Lake Champlain. Luckily I had some serious filmmaking tech at my disposal.

To be continued…

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