Wildlife Wrangler

By Veronika Janik

Army officer, stunt actor, forest firefighter–he’s done it all. President of TVnewmedia.com, Matthew Todd Paproski has led an engaging life, and the excitement is not about to stop any time soon. With his newest endeavour–a Canadian wildlife series airing in October–Paproski is on the leading edge of Calgary’s film and new media industry.

A Saskatchewanite at heart, Paproski first discovered his path when he floated west after high school. He attended Simon Fraser University, where he became a regular writer/photographer for the university newspaper. Towards the end of school, he took up acting classes, with no intention of one day making and starring in his own productions. However, critical circumstances in his life led him to his ultimate passion–film-making.

“I didn’t know what I wanted to do and throughout all this my dad was really ill with cancer,” says Paproski. “That’s when I decided to do what I really wanted to, which was make a movie.”

And that’s just what he did. His first film, Fire Attack, was about the trials and triumphs of forest fire fighters and took six years to complete.

Though he’s very proud of his first project, Paproski knew that this was only the beginning and when a friend suggested wildlife stories, Paproski was thrilled about the idea. As they began to film cougars in the wild, they were introduced to a baby cougar cub, which inspired his next mission.

“That night after filming the cub, we went out and I had a profound emotional experience,” explains Paproski. “And after a few too many beers, we decided to make this our next project.”

Paproski and friend Glenn Taylor started a wildlife group and began making connections with individuals who had extensive knowledge about wildlife and animals in North America. They were informed that the zoos in Vancouver were full and there were two cougar cubs, abandoned by their mother in need of accommodation. Amidst all this, Paproski had just lost two friends to HIV and was shocked to learn that cougars had the highest degree of feline immunodeficiency virus (FIV) of any other cat species on the planet. This struck a chord with both Paproski and Taylor.

“That was the click,” recalls Paproski. “That gave us a human connection with the cougars and I knew I wanted to pursue this.”

They decided to foster and raise the cubs, and use them as actors in their upcoming picture, Cougar Crossings.

“The whole film was about how they come down from the mountain top, after being abandoned, and end up in our backyard and all the factors that make that happen.”

Paproski describes it as a combination of National Geographic, 60 Minutes and Disney, with a rock and roll soundtrack.

The film took six years to complete and aired in 10 countries–a fact that makes co-writer Paproski, extremely proud.

“The wildlife film-making community is really awesome because it crosses all cultures and boundaries,” he says.

“I went to festivals and you can get Americans, Cubans, South Africans and Chinese people all in the same room, and they’re all there for the art and the animals.”

and they’re all there for the art and the animals.”

With his second movie finished, Paproski returned to Calgary and spent two weeks relaxing and watching outtakes of his freshly finished film. It was at this point that his entrepreneurial instincts took hold and he decided to undertake another project, this time a short behind-the-scenes movie using footage from the creation of Cougar Crossings. He submitted a trailer to ACCESS and met with Programming Director Jill Bonefant, who proposed a different approach.

“Jill watched this trailer and asked me if I wanted to do a series and I just about shit my pants,” says Paproski.

He began working immediately on his series, Wildlife Wranglers, comparing it to the Australian Crocodile Hunter, but less loud, and instead of saying “Crikey”, they say “eh!”

Besides revealing how they made Cougar Crossings, the series will also show what they’re doing in preparation for season two–the story of a lone wolf pup raised by Paproski and his crew.

“The message we are trying to send with these movies is if wildlife survives, we survive,” says Paproski. “I think students can get a lot out of this just like we get a lot from hiring students.

“For one it will give people hope on a personal level that what we’re doing is possible because we were once students too. Secondly, it’s all about educating people, and those interested in high technology, biology, wildlife, filmmaking and entrepreneur opportunities can learn a lot from it.”

University of Calgary Professor Dr. Kenneth Fung strongly agrees with Paproski on educating youth. Fung, who teaches Computing and Information Systems in the Faculty of Continuing Education, has been working with TVnewmedia.com for the past two years.

“I work with them in case there’s a need for student practicum,” states Fung.

Fung’s program fits TVnewmedia well as it focuses on web design, high technology with regards to media and PC game programming, among others. Fung describes Paproski as very entrepreneurial and a real role model for students interested in the industry.

Similarly, Paproski declares that his future plans include the integration of several forms of media and involving students in his work.

“Right now the series is coming out and I am excited about that,” says Paproski.

“We have big plans but right now we have to take small steps to get there.”