The Netflix sensation Tiger King seemed to come out at the exact right time. 2020 was a wild year with the coronavirus surging in the United States and everyone going into quarantine.
The timing of these unique circumstances allowed people to stay home and experience the wild insanity that was Tiger King. In simpler terms, it became a worldwide smash hit overnight.
Many people contributed to Tiger King in order to make it come to life, people, like our own Brian Gillilland. Gillilland attended OCCC from 2006-2009 and graduated with an associate degree. He majored in Television and Film Production.
Gillilland worked on the Oklahoma unit of the audio team for Tiger King for two and a half years. He said that the Tiger King audio crew typically called him first when they would come back to Oklahoma for filming.
Gilliland said that he was hired individually after the crew found him on a registry of film professionals.
“When you’re a freelancer, you get called into all sorts of day-paying jobs. Especially if it’s a privately funded documentary,” said Gilliland. “You don’t always get all of the information other than a brief summary of the project and what technical requirements you’ll need to fulfill to do the job correctly.”
Gillilland learned from working on many true crime investigations that sometimes it’s good for technicians such as himself, to have a degree of separation from the subjects.
“In the case of Tiger King, they wanted to keep everything pretty close to the chest due to the riskiness of who we were following and investigating,” Gilliland said.
While Gillilland hasn’t seen the new season of Tiger King yet, he did say that a large portion of the season is recycled footage that the crew had collected over the years.
After Joe Exotic was sentenced to time in prison, Gillilland and the crew continued to follow Jeff Lowe, former co-owner of the Greater Wynnewood Exotic Animal Park, as they moved the zoo down to Thackerville, Oklahoma. They followed the movements of other key figures from the show as well.
“All of that was shot well before Tiger King had even been picked up by Netflix. I also know that they dive deeper into the Carol Baskin rivalry and the disappearance of her husband, but I was never on the Florida units, so I never was a part of those particular angles aside from getting responses from Joe, Jeff, and a few other folks,” he said.
Ironically, Gillilland worked with Carole Baskin, Joe Exotic’s chief rival, on a separate project called “Carole Baskin’s Cage Fight.”
Gillilland advised the crew of Carole Baskin’s Cage Fight to keep quiet that he had worked on Tiger King to maintain the trust of Baskin and to ensure that the shoot would not fall through.
“At one point we encountered Jeff [Lowe] and I had to tuck myself away in case he recognized me,” he said.
One of the most memorable moments for Gillilland was during an interview with Allen Glover, the man that Joe Exotic had initially hired to kill Carole. The producer had arranged an interview with him while he was in his bathtub.
Glover was extremely intoxicated and sat in his bubble bath while the crew interviewed him. The conversation took a spiritual turn, where he talked about his hope that God would forgive him and his battles with addiction.
“There was something very poetic about this grown man, sitting in a bathtub and looking somewhat like a toddler talking about the bad things he had done through life and hoping there was still a chance for him to make things right some day,” Gillilland said.
Gillilland said that there were a lot of questionable characters and escapades both on and off camera. He further noted that Tiger King wasn’t a typical shoot and not something that he would recommend anyone getting involved with.
“What kept me coming back to do more days was knowing that there was a chance that the investigations we were doing would ultimately help those animals and bring people to justice where it was deserving,” he said.
Gillilland said that the best advice he can give to students is to be kind, be humble, and be hard working.
“If you are kind, not just nice. That’s a different thing. People will be kind in return and be willing to help you. If you are humble, you will learn quickly and more people will be willing to teach you. And if you are hard working, you will separate yourself from those that aren’t and you will excel. If you can do those three things, you will have a long and fruitful career,” Gillilland said.