If you ever find yourself face to face with a massive, deadly serpent, filmmaker BJ Golnick will understand how you feel.
During a scene in an episode of the National Geographic Channel’s Natural Born Monsters, the Fort Lauderdale native’s voice can be heard. “Hey guys—don’t move. There’s a snake literally right under my feet.” The monster? One of the deadliest snakes in Australia, the Chappell Island Tiger Snake.
Golnick and his crew were on Chappell Island, off the coast of Tasmania, to capture this highly venomous snake on camera. He wasn’t worried – at first.
“The whole time, I’m like ‘Look, it’s a snake, it’s still going to turn the other way…it’s not a big deal,’” he says. “So as soon as we beached our rafts, I let the snake expert know that I’m going to hike ahead to get a feel of the island before filming begins.
“But about 25 to 30 feet into it, I spot these massive, jet black snakes surrounding me. So I decide to get back on the boat.”
Little did he know, later that day he would have an even closer encounter with one in particular. “We’re hiking through the area and we’re filming our guys in search of one when all of a sudden I step right on one in this bush. They actually used it in the series. The snake expert had to grab the snake from under me.
“I would say that was probably the closest time I came to getting absolutely annihilated by an animal.”
For Golnick, hiking through venomous snake-infested terrain is part of the job. He has traveled to at least 42 countries while serving as a cinematographer and director for various specials filmed for Discovery Channel, the National Geographic Channel, Animal Planet and Travel Channel. Most recently, he traveled to countries including Argentina, Germany and Spain to film a documentary series for the History Channel, Hunting Hitler. The eight-part series digs into the theory that Hitler may not have actually killed himself in a Berlin bunker. Away from exotic climes, Golnick’s also worked in more uniquely American conditions – he had a two-year gig with TLC’s Honey Boo Boo. However, his most impressive work stems from his adventures filming wildlife in not-so-glamorous conditions.
The Pine Crest graduate has plenty of stamps in his passport, but he credits his hometown for making it possible.
“Fort Lauderdale is not simply my home, it is who I am. It has shaped me and molded me in a way that very [few] people not lucky enough to have grown up here will ever fully comprehend,” he says.
Everything from the ocean to the city’s diversity has made an impact in the way he handles situations and views the world. And even though Golnick is away for nine months out of the year (he visited 16 countries last year alone), he always seems to find his way back home.
“Being from Fort Lauderdale and basically being born on the beach, the ocean has always coursed through my veins,” he says. “No matter where I go, I will always return to the sea and in turn, return to Fort Lauderdale.”
One long-running project involves Fort Lauderdale. For the last nine years, he has worked between assignments writing a screenplay about the city. It examines South Florida’s diversity and the biggest inhabitant of all — our surrounding waters.
“It has taken me so long to write this film because this one is so very near and dear to my heart,” he says. “I want to do this place justice and give the viewer a real emotional connection to this place. Fort Lauderdale is so much a part of this film I would say that it is truly the main character.”
He describes the film as a blend of Ernest Hemingway’s To Have and Have Not and the films Drive, The Departed and The Town.
In the meantime, Golnick has also gone on to direct and produce award-winning films, documentaries and music videos. These include winning “Best Director” of the 48 Hour Film Project for Strain. In addition, he won the Audience Award for OKGo’s “I’m Not Through” short film/music video.
A photo book of his work around the world is also in the works.
“We all have a story to tell, and my story has constantly been about the pursuit of deeper meaning,” he says. “I’m a filmmaker and a documentary photographer. An observer. For years, I have traveled the world striving to produce visually stunning tales that touch upon the depths of human emotion and the collective conscious. My purpose is simple: to tell the world a story. What I didn’t expect was that learning how to tell a story would teach me how to live.”