Independent filmmakers often come from unlikely places. Jeff Probst is best known as the host of CBS’s hit TV series “Survivor.” It was there that he earned the nickname, “The One Take Wonder.” However the khaki-clad adventurer’s aspirations reach far beyond the top-rated show — Probst has his eye on a career as a director. His debut indie feature, Finder’s Fee, has seen that dream fulfilled.
Jeff Probst was born in 1962 in Wichita, Kansas and from a very early age was a storyteller. “I’ve always enjoyed telling stories,” Probst reveals. “Even as a kid, I always took it as a challenge to turn a routine bike ride down to the playground into an adventure that shouldn’t have been missed. I used to love hanging out with my parents and their friends because they always told such fun stories. I loved Twilight Zone because of the simplicity of the story telling. Everything that I was drawn to, seemed to somehow revolve around storytelling.”
Probst mostly grew up in Seattle, and then went on to attend Seattle Pacific University where the storyteller inside him matured. “As I got older, I began to write. I wrote a weekly, fictional episodic for my high school newspaper, which led to writing for a special high school section in the Seattle Times,” he confessed. “After a while that felt a bit confined, so me and a few buddies started an underground newspaper so we wouldn’t be censored. We had a good run until our principal discovered we were the authors and threatened to expel us for the rest of our senior year. Mom didn’t care much for that. In college, a degree in filmmaking wasn’t offered, but I did take the one filmmaking class that was offered and made a couple of 8 millimeter shorts. One was a direct rip off from one of my favorite Twilight Zones called ‘Talking Tina.'”
Probst’s professional movie career began when he started making industrial films at Boeing, where he produced and narrated sales and marketing videos. “I landed a job at the Boeing Airplane Company in their motion picture department and that’s where I really got my first taste of using images to go along with words,” Probst proudly relates. “I started at the absolute bottom. My first job was to change lightbulbs in overhead projectors. It would have been a dead end job if it weren’t for the fact that my boss, Don Ciminelli was one of those ‘angels’ that come into your life every so often. He told me to ‘shut up and listen and I might just learn a thing or two.’ After a few weeks, he started letting me play with an old VHS offline system, just turning knobs and seeing how things work. Then he let me actually use some real footage from a show to practice editing. He did the same thing with writing. At first he had me write dummy scripts, and he’d critique them, then one day he gave me a REAL show to write. It was one of the best feelings I’d ever had, cause I knew he believed in me and I believed in myself. Ultimately I was given the opportunity to write/produce shows entirely on my own. It was the equivalent of my film school. That’s when I really got hooked. I’ve had a few of those ‘angels’ in my life and I never ever forget the impact they had on my life and my career. I’m always on the lookout for opportunities where I can extend the same kind of inspiration or guidance.”
While Probst was named one of the 50 Most Beautiful People by People Magazine, he would not count that as his proudest achievement. The critical success of his film Finder’s Fee led Probst to be named by the American Cinematheque as one of “10 Independent Director’s to Watch.” That achievement is one that fills him with satisfaction. (Though the People mag thing doesn’t hurt with the ladies.)
I actually conducted this interview with the writer/director via e-mail (Probst was overseas at an “undisclosed location” in the midst of shooting “Survivor 4”) and discovered some fascinating facts about how this emerging filmmaker survived making his first feature…
Get the interview in part two of JEFF PROBST’S INDEPENDENT PURSUIT>>>