For anyone who’s seen the addictive new Netflix series Tiger King: Murder, Mayhem and Madness, and by now a lot of us have, it’s no surprise that animal activist Carole Baskin was not happy with all of it.
Baskin took issue with the way it turned out — she said she’d been told it would be Blackfish for big cats — but she found it “salacious and sensational.” Baskin especially slammed the parts of the show in which people suggested she had something to do with the disappearance of her ex-husband.
Tiger King editor Doug Abel sympathized with the owner of Big Cat Rescue in an episode of the Hollywood Reporter’s “Behind the Screen” podcast released Tuesday.
“I certainly feel for Carole, and of course she’s going to defend herself and again, we don’t come to a conclusion,” Abel said.
However, Abel stood by the show’s reporting, just as the filmmakers had over the weekend.
“We did a really thorough job,” Abel said. “It was extensively researched. It was extensively fact-checked. We did try to, you know, make sure that any statement was made had a counter statement, that it remained balanced.”
Abel offered several other tidbits about the show (spoiler alert!):
Tiger King was supposed to be more of a nature show
Although Joe Exotic, whose real name is Joseph Maldonado-Passage, ended up being the main character of the series, he was not originally expected to play much of a part. Eventually, much of the focus turned to his relationship with Baskin and his conviction for having a murder-for-hire plot against her.
“So, originally, I believe it was a project that was being pitched to CNN,” Abel said. “It was kind of a multi-part series, and that each part was going to sort of focus on a different species or a different aspect. So there was going to be a section maybe on trophy hunting, a section on big cats, a section on reptiles, and that was kind of the idea that was being pitched, and we originally cut together something that did include other animals. There was a crazy guy who would handle snakes, but it was all in sort of the context of why is it that humans feel they have dominion over animals that they can, kind of, treat them this way.”
Of course, the series turned out to be more of a soap opera, but the people behind it are still surprised it went viral. They didn't have time to do any test screenings and they suspected it might be "too weird” for audiences to watch past the first or second episode.
The most challenging character to edit
No surprise that Exotic was the toughest to keep up with both because he said a lot — and the crew filmed for several years — and because he provided a lot of footage. He recorded plenty himself and had a lot of people record him for his partially faux music videos, for example.
“We do have a very funny scene where Joe, you know, sort of revealed he’s not actually the singer of his own songs,” Abel said. “The only reason we didn’t include that is there was a last-minute legal issue where we were worried that he did actually partially sing on some of them, and we decided to not go down that road. It was also a scene that’s very, very funny, but wherever we put it seemed to derail the story, and so that was kind of regretful that we didn’t have that in there.”
Abel explained that the main reason Exotic was a challenge for the editing team is that he often said things that conflicted with things he’d said earlier: “I think we just decided early on, let’s just establish him as somebody who you love to watch but you can’t trust what he says.”
They almost didn’t include that shocking scene
Abel almost left out the part of the series in which the audience sees one of the characters reacting to another’s death by a self-inflicted gunshot.
“We felt very strongly that we shouldn’t use that footage,” Abel said. “I just thought it seemed very exploitive, but then we learned that it doesn’t actually show the actual incident, it just showed another character, Josh, how he reacted to that happening. And then when I saw it, I realized, no, we should show this, because it’s such a haunting image.”
Abel noted that the upsetting scene marked a turning point for Exotic.
“I think that moment was a very important moment, because it sort of changed everything and it sent Joe into a real bad spiral, understandably,” he said.
What Abel would like to clarify
Again, this involves Baskin.
“People don't seem to understand that Carole has tigers in cages, because they’re dangerous,” Abel said. “It’s surprising to me that people don’t know that, of course, you can’t take an animal who’s raised in captivity and, you know, drop him into a jungle somewhere. You can’t do that. So that’s why she has them in cages. It’s in there, but I don’t think it resonates enough.”
Abel might get his chance. Cast member Jeff Lowe has teased that a bonus episode would be released next week.
While Abel didn’t talk about that, he did say that the team could have continued filming for years, if they hadn’t had a hard deadline from Netflix.
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