Fly Fishing Filmmaking in Dubai and Beyond — An Interview with RA Beattie

RA Beattie
Ph: Bryan Gregson Photography

RA Beattie is one of the most important and accomplished filmmakers in fly fishing. RA has traveled the world documenting the world’s fly fishing destinations and putting notable films out one after the other. He recently took time to interview with The Venturing Angler:

How long have you been filmmaking?

Like most media guys, I started running around with a video camera as a kid. My grandfather was working in broadcasting in ski racing – commentating the Olympics and had a TV show – and I was also highly influenced by talents like Andy Mill, who used to send me tapes of his flyfishing shows on VHS. They were both storytellers and more interested in asking questions about others, than trying to be in the lime light. That left an impression on a young angler captivated by storytelling. When you see people around you achieving their dreams, dreams feel more attainable.

The ability to actually make movies materialized as technology became more available. When I was in college, the first semi affordable cameras hit the market and more importantly, we could edit on iMovie. Granted the computers we had were limited to 20GB hard drives, and the camera was shooting tape, this was monumental! This tec opened doors! My 2018 smartphone is far superior to what we cut our first film on, which is amazing. Imagine cutting a movie now on a computer with a 20 GB hard drive? Unreal.

Where did you get your start?

I was a fishing guide and filmed a ton of media while my clients ran thru the motions each day. I LOVED being a fishing guide. Well, most days.

In college – we cut a few films – but there was nowhere to play them. Tom Bie of the Drake Magazine started the first real festival, called the “5 minutes of Fly Fishing”. That was the first time the industry noticed a very small handful of “fly fishing filmmakers.” It was the beginning. Everything started there. Now there’s a full blown fly fishing film industry. It’s amazing how much the media, and the sport, has grown in a relatively short period of time! I’ve had the company since 2005, and we’ve had media in the Fly Fishing Film Tours each year, etc. It’s been a fascinating ride! What’s interesting now is Fly fishing was my escape from the masses as a kid, now it’s attracting the masses. What a cycle!

RA Beattie Dubai
Ph: Bryan Gregson Photography

Your new film focuses on Dubai — certainly a destination unlike any other. Why Dubai?

Well, why not? We’ve filmed on literally every continent, for just about every species imaginable. This is the first fly fishing film in the tour about the Middle East, which is amazing if you think about it. Everyone’s constantly looking for new destinations, and there’s just so much potential in the middle east. Americans are somewhat timid to travel to the middle east for recreation, so hopefully this opens the door to a new region, new cultures and new species. For me, I think it’s much more interesting to show new cultures, people and fish. It’s a big world, let’s see what else is swimming around! It’s also an important time, for me personally, to show the middle east and it’s people and cultures in a different light. Look, I know there are tremendous challenges in many parts of the middle east, and it’s not a pretty situation everywhere. It can be very dangerous. Tremendous problems. That said, it’s not fair, constructive or healthy to stereotype an entire region and create increased separation between groups of people. We’re going to need to solve a number of tremendously challenging global issues rather quickly, as a world community. We need to build more cultural bridges, and fewer walls. Showing that not every part of the middle east is a treacherous, war-ridden danger zone is important. Showing that people or different cultures and religions can find common ground and become friends – because of a shared passion such as fishing – is a step in the right direction. This is in no way a political film, but it shows one place in the middle east that is vastly different from the media we see every day on the news. It’s really safe to travel to Dubai, the people are fantastic and friendly. I really enjoyed Dubai.

In the trailer, you note that there is a thriving fly fishing culture in Dubai. How so?

In two ways. Domestically fly fishing is becoming a recreational interest, and people are picking up fly rods. The fly scene is being driven largely by Nick Bowles of Ocean Active. He’s the first guide in the region and really developed the fly fishing scene. It’s always interesting to see a new fishery in its infancy. In 10 years, it will be common place and a very popular activity with many of the locals. The local people have ties to the water and fishing; it’s in the heritage and history. It’s in their blood. They are a culture closely tied to fish, and fishing. Fly fishing will grow.

Internationally, Dubai is also growing as a destination. New locations and species enter the public consciousness of the angling community and become bucket list items. There’s a segment of the angling community that chases new species – bucket list anglers. That’s their deal. The Queenfish, and Dubai, are already on many people’s radar and you can see this fish trending on social media. People are posting tons of images and video about Queenfish and Dubai. This will continue, and Dubai and the Middle East will grow in popularity.

Also, Dubai is the portal to many of the legendary saltwater locations. It’s a huge hub. The Seychelles, South Africa, etc. are all accessible via Dubai. Why fly to the Seychelles via Paris, when you can stop in Dubai for a few days and shake the dust off the rods before getting to the Seychelles?

RA Beattie filming
Ph: Bryan Gregson Photography

What’s more important… fish porn or storyline?

Ha! Well, storyline is a buzz word right now – especially in the creative/media community. It’s almost overused in the way extreme was overused a decade ago. Everyone talks storyline, but when it comes to the film festival venues, the viewers seem to want fishporn with a sprinkling of story and a little humor. But that’s the nature of festivals. The films are short; the crowds are rowdy. Show some killer fishporn, throw in some humor, tell a little story – that’s a good recipe for entertainment. At the end of the day, that’s all we’re doing – trying to entertain a group of anglers for an evening. We’re not curing cancer; we’re not changing the world. The film tour should be fun, and it should get people pumped up and inspired to get outside and go fishing. That’s the point. I used to read the Fish Bum Diaries from John Gierach as a kid. That’s the media that got me fired up during the winter months and inspired me to tie flies and fish hard. I just want to get people stoked on getting outside and fishing.

The problem with fishporn and storyline, is they can quickly become too familiar with continued exposure. Show a slow-motion tarpon jump or a killer trout eat ten years ago – and people went nuts. Because it was new, fresh and exciting. Now more than ever, we’re bombarded by constant media. Everyone is glued to their phones all day, and the novelty of really cool shots are waring off – no matter how amazing the media. The same with storylines. For a long time, every storyline revolved around what I call “rich white dudes on vacation.” It’s cool to see a new species, cool to see a new location, but if it’s more white guys on vacation, the storyline gets boring. I’m not pointing fingers; we’ve told that story for years. But, my point is it starts to feel shallow and repetitive. Storylines and fishporn are going to need to enter a new age to keep people entertained. Luckily, there are more women entering the sport and the media, so the storylines are naturally getting a bit more dynamic as a result. Filmmakers are going to get pushed harder to create interesting approaches to story and fishporn. It’s a good thing for the filmmakers and the audience. Everyone will win.

What’s the secret to always making the film tour, what number is this?

I’m not sure on the number. We’ve had at least one film in the tour every year since it started. Some years we contributed up to three films. It has been a really fun and rewarding ride. The secret is to get in there and work your ass off. This is not a money-making venture. No one is ever going to get rich making fly fishing films. You have to love it, because that’s the reward. I don’t have any other secrets, other than make the film you love and don’t try to be everything to everyone. You will never make everyone happy, and if that’s your approach, then you are diminishing the only reward, which is making something that makes you happy. My media is not for everyone, and that’s 100% OK. There’s always some grumpy troll out there with a negative opinion, willing to write a nasty email or review, but those guys are usually upset with something deeper than our media.

We do connect with the majority of the crowds, and I think that is what matters. Most people find value in what we make, and I think that’s why we keep making films and getting them in the festivals.

You’ve been around the world a few times. Any travel tips for other cinematographers?

Carry a hammock on every trip. No matter how bad the s&#$ hits the fan, you will be dry and not be sleeping on the ground. Carrying cigarettes and candy can get you out of uncomfortable situations and make quick friends anywhere in the world. Ask questions and listen. It’s amazing what you can learn when you become a fly on the wall. Be nice. To everyone.

People often walk away from your films excited about a species. Will it be queenfish for this film, and what is it about queen fish that make them such an exciting species?

I really hope people are fired up about queenfish. I think they look really badass, and they’re super surface oriented. Personally, I get super fired up about fish I can see and fish to visually – and that look rad. But I’m a total fish dork. Had 17 aquariums in my room as a kid. I just can’t get enough fish. Anyway, queenfish are freaking great, and the best part about fishing for them is the waters around Dubai is super calm most of the time. Really calm. Makes is really visual and special. You can see everything happening from the bait dimpling to the fish ripping after your fly. And you don’t get your butt kicked by swells and waves while you’re fishing for them.

You have a musical background?

Well, my real job is in the music industry. I run the marketing for three brands called Breedlove Guitars, Weber Mandolins and Bedell Guitars – based in Bend, OR. If you make fishing films, you also need a real job. Just goes with the territory.

Favorite food in Dubai?

One of the super cool things about Dubai, if you need anything you call a number, it shows up at your door step. I guess we have Uber Eats and other services now in the USA which also deliver items, but you can literally get about anything you need. Live chicken, a nine iron and a new smartphone? Someone will probably be able to bring it over just about any time of day. We’d work from about 4 am-midnight each day, so the 2 am schwarma delivery guy was a real treat. But, the granddaddy of best eats was actually a South African chicken wing recipe whipped up by our South African hosts. Unreal. I’ll ask them if they’ll share the recipe? It’s killer.

RA Beattie snowboard

Ski or snowboard?

My grandfather was a US Ski Team Coach. If I snowboarded, I’d be kicked out of the family! Just kidding, they’re both great and I can do both. But, I love to ski.

I hear you have had some interesting neighbors over the years. Any comment on you’re neighbors bird?

The late great Hunter S. Thompson? He and his peacocks were legendary. I can’t tell any of the stories in print. Sorry.

Was there anything that surprised you about what you encountered in making the film?

Logistically, this was a really difficult project. Every city, state, and country pose challenges when it comes to permitting, permissions, etc. Dubai is a big city, and big cities can be challenging to work with if you want to do it correctly and obtain the proper permissions and permits. We worked hard on the logistics and permits to film, which was substantially more time consuming, challenging and demanding than any other film or location we’ve shot. So that was tough.

Also, I was just really blown away by how friendly the people were and welcomed we were everywhere we went. When you go to a market in a big city, for example, you’re not going to be treated that well all the time. We almost got jumped in a Guatemalan street market for filming someone’s beef stand, for instance. In Dubai, people were very kind, inquisitive and friendly. Especially so for a big city. That was unexpected and kind of refreshing, to be honest.

Ph: Bryan Gregson Photography

What challenges do you encounter when taking on such a big project?

The most substantial challenges originate from two factors; working at the mercy of nature and pushing the boundaries of the genre. The prior is rather straightforward. We’re at the mercy of fish, the weather and an inherent level of luck. Filming this genre is nothing like any other media creation imaginable. We not only need to find wild animals to film, but we also need to stay concealed from them, hope they are hungry and convince them to eat a fraudulent representation of their diet. If all that goes correctly, we get one shot, one chance. If they jump into the wrong light, are out of focus, etc. – that’s just how it goes. We can’t control the weather, and we can’t control the fish. You need to be a lucky SOB most of the time. And luck is not a sustainable variable.

The next challenge is trying to push the genre while at the same time being realistic about what we have to work with. These are not Hollywood budgets. It’s not even on par with ski and snowboard films. So, we need to bring as much overall value to the production because audiences expect and deserve it. This makes the production team work harder, smarter and more creative. Fly fishing films are getting really good. The production value is growing tremendously each year. It’s easy to come in for a year or two and make some media, but if you want to do it for a very long time – more than a decade – you have to get creative and keep trying to reinvent yourself.

What’s next?!

We have a great film tour project already in the works. It’s down-home, rootsy, and is all about the American West and Pacific Northwest. It’s time to stay local and dig into things in our backyard.

We’re also about to shower the fishing community with a few awesome media launches – including the release of our new Amazon Channel in April! This will be the first time all of our films (15 in total) will be easy to access on all devices, in one location! I’ll share the link when we’re ready to launch.

Also, the final full-length cut of Dubai on the Fly is going to be released for free on a few platforms at the end of April. The final film really digs into the cultural side of Dubai more than the film festival cut. We’re really stoked to get launch the long version of the film!

To check out more from RA Beattie, please click here.

And to check out RA Beattie’s films on Amazon, please click here.

Leave a Reply