Series hopes to hit mother lode

Duane Hicks

Will they strike it rich?
“Fool’s Gold,” a new TV program shot in and around the Straw Lake Beach Gold Mine area near here last year, will premiere Tuesday, May 13 at 7 p.m. on Discovery Canada.
A pre-screening of “Fool’s Gold” will take place next Tuesday (May 6) at 8 p.m. at La Place Rendez-Vous.
The documentary comedy series, which was commissioned by Discovery Canada and produced by Toronto’s 11 Television Canada, focuses on the exploits of “do-it-themselves” mining company Shotgun Exploration and their attempts at finding gold at Straw Lake.
The Shotgun Exploration team, which includes mine owner Todd Ryznar, local residents Mark “Grizz” Fairnington, Jason “Roj” Whitehead, and Jimmy “Big E” Easton, along with Atikokan residents Matt Wensley and Mike Strom, and Alexa Gerrish and Olivia Denhardt of Thunder Bay, are hoping to find the mother lode—both in the ground and among viewers.
At its core, “Fool’s Gold” is about a crew with little to no experience looking for gold, using whatever means they can to solve problems, in a remote setting, said Ryznar, will be in Toronto on May 13 along with Whitehead to promote the new show.
“Gold is the background but it’s the Shotgun crew that makes the show,” he remarked.
“I can’t say enough how much fun it is to work with these guys,” Ryznar enthused. “We did so many crazy things there last fall.
“The crew was so special,” he added. “We always had a creative [solution] to any problem that we had.
“We just had a great mix of guys there—one guy would always step up in any situation.
“It’s kinda my life, really.”
On top of that, Straw Lake is so remote—an hour-and-a-half drive from Fort Frances with no phones.
“You have to be creative in your solutions,” Ryznar reasoned. “You have to work with the material you have right there.
“You can’t send someone to town—that’s a four-hour trip,” he stressed. “Things have to get going again in the next half-hour.
“You’re going to see a lot of very creative solutions for a lot of problems.”
“The thing is this type of show has never been done before,” said Fairnington. “We’re kind of breaking the ice. . . .
“It’s basically telling the whole world that anybody can do it from scratch, built from stuff you have in your garage,” he noted.
“Basically, the stuff you have in your home you can throw together and go and do stuff like this.”
Part of the entertainment value comes from the inexperience of the team.
“I’ve done a lot of different kinds of work in my lifetime, but I never actually did gold mining,” Fairnington conceded.
“It was pretty much new to all of us, except Todd. . . .
“But me, Roj, and Jimmy, we’re pretty green when it comes to that stuff,” he added, joking it wasn’t unusual to hear them say, “Is that gold? Is that gold? Is this good?”
“It was all new to us—it was different but it was the most fun I’ve ever had in my lifetime,” said Fairnington.
How it started
Ryznar, who credits the late Murray “Grizzly” Fairnington for inspiring him, said he first started thinking about a reality TV show revolving around a gold mine eight years ago—prior to the more recent spate of shows such as “Gold Rush.”
He optioned his property to a mineral company in the fall of 2010, and used the money to create a pilot TV show, which he filmed, edited, and produced himself.
It was nominated for Best Pilot at the Banff World Media Festival, where Ryznar met Kevin Healey and Hilary Frimond of 11 Television—and a partnership was formed.
Last spring, a nine-minute video was produced and caught the attention of Discovery Canada.
“The rest is history, as they say,” noted Ryznar.
The show was filmed by 11 Television over an eight-week period in September and October of last year. It was shot six days a week—from morning until sometimes late at night—recording the Shotgun Exploration crew’s activities.
The end result was eight half-hour episodes, the first two of which will air on the evening of May 13.
The crew had to adjust to life in front of the camera—and let the lens capture who they really were.
“It definitely is all new to us,” agreed Whitehead. “I’ve never done anything at this level. Not even close.”
He described the eight weeks of shooting as not only “a ton of fun” but “surreal.”
“It really seemed like it shouldn’t have been me there, it wasn’t me there,” Whitehead noted. “It didn’t seem like it was real.
“But it is, it’s very real,” he stressed. “We had a great time up there.”
Easton admitted it took a little while to get used to cameras and microphones everywhere.
“You also had to get outside of your own head—you’re worried what you’re saying, how you’re looking on camera,” he noted.
“But probably about halfway through the show, you forget the cameras are there and start concentrating on your work.
“There was a learning curve, you second-guess yourself a little in the beginning stages, but it was a great experience,” Easton continued.
“I had a good time doing it.”
“I never really expected to be on camera like that but they made it really easy for us,” said Fairnington.
“There was no script or anything to go by—it was pretty much us just going about our everyday thing, just being ourselves.
“It was a little bit tough at first,” he conceded. “You were a little bit nervous, you’d never done it before.
“But after a while, they made it so easy—‘Don’t worry about it, just be yourself.’
“They talked us through it and after a while, you didn’t even know the camera was there,” Fairnington remarked.
“It was just about being yourself, going to work, and doing what you have to do.”
Perfect timing
For Whitehead, the opportunity to be part of “Fool’s Gold” came along at the right time.
“It’s basically a long shot for all of us, doing what we’re doing,” he said.
“I got let go from the mill, I was part of that group,” he noted. “I’m familiar now with the feeling of losing your job and having to make some changes in life.
“And when this opportunity arose for me, it was perfect timing.
“I had just lost my job, trying to find something to do and Todd came along at just the right time and put this crew of us together,” Whitehead recounted.
“It definitely is a motley crew, to say the least.
“It’s not like we’re all strangers but at the same, it wasn’t like we were really tight friends,” he remarked.
“We were one time back in high school, quite a few of us, and then branched apart to do our own thing, our own lives,” Whitehead noted.
“It’s kind of unique because we’re back together again and we’ve got a common goal, which is finding gold.”
While making “Fool’s Gold” was the time of their lives, Whitehead said the experience also meant a level of commitment and work for everyone involved.
“It’s been a grind, though, the whole way through,” he stressed. “Everyone’s kind of sacrificed and put their lives on hold for this right now.
“If I wasn’t doing this, to be honest with you, I could see myself seeking employment elsewhere,” he added.
But Whitehead said make no mistake, he’s proud to be a part of “Fool’s Gold.”
“I feel like I’m going to look a little bit goofy out there, and I feel like I’m going to be pretty much revealed,” he chuckled.
“People that didn’t know me, or knew me a little bit, are going to know me a lot better after watching this show.
“It’s a little gut-wrenching to expose yourself like that,” Whitehead admitted.
“But at the same time, I’m going to be proud of myself, regardless of how I look.”
Local benefits
The local economy, meanwhile, benefitted from the production of “Fool’s Gold”—and could benefit even more down the road.
Ryznar noted Naicatchewenin Development Corp. did all of the camp support for “Fool’s Gold,” which included security, food services, and even renting campers from local people for the cast and crew to use.
The 11 Television crew also shopped at local businesses and utilized local hotels and rental services.
Ryznar said a number of production assistants also were hired locally who helped out on-site.
Easton said he was happy to see local people hired and local businesses benefitting from the show’s production, and would like to see it grow.
“The more we can get involved, the better it will be,” he reasoned.
Looking ahead, Ryznar said the potential future economic benefits for the Fort Frances area are “enormous.”
Not only could “Fool’s Gold” give the area publicity the likes of which money can’t buy, resulting in investment and tourism, but the Shotgun Exploration gang could strike it rich.
“You’re going to have three or four pretty well-off local celebrities, hopefully, in the future—spending money, buying real estate,” said Ryznar, who has been researching the Straw Lake Beach Gold Mine for seven years and has no doubt it holds riches.
“We really want the show to have some success, to be honest with you, and pursue this as a future,” echoed Whitehead.
“I hope the show goes big,” said Easton. “We could use the help financially . . . to look for some gold.
“We know there’s gold up there,” added Easton, who said he joined Shotgun Exploration partially to be on TV but mostly “because I believe in Todd.”
“I think we can get some gold out of there,” he remarked.
“It takes a lot of money to do that, so I’m hoping this show gives us the opportunity to go that next step and actually make some money on gold.”
High hopes
The Shotgun Exploration gang has high hopes for “Fool’s Gold,” and want as many people as possible to tune into the show starting May 13.
“Hopefully people take to it,” said Fairnington, who compared the show to “Trailer Park Boys meets Gold Rush meets Porter Ridge.”
“I don’t know if they’re going to get our Canadian/Fort Frances sense of humour,” he admitted. “But just the stuff that happens—me, myself, I think it’s going to go over good.”
Fairnington is confident local viewers will watch the show, especially since some of the cast are fairly well-known here.
“And people who don’t know us will know us,” he chuckled.
“If you know [us], you’re going to laugh more,” Ryznar remarked. “But I think that even people who don’t know us are going to find at least one character they’ll relate to.
“There’s six guys and every single one of them is completely different.”
“It’s very informative, it’s very funny, and it’s very entertaining,” said Fairnington.
“I’m thinking it’s going to be a blast. It’s going to be a hit.”
The prospects for “Fool’s Gold” are looking good, not just here on Discovery in Canada and on Animal Planet in the U.S. but around the world.
Ryznar noted the show has been picked up by Discovery in more than 100 countries in Europe, Africa, and other parts of the world.
More than anything, Ryznar and the gang are hoping this first season of “Fool’s Gold” is just the start.
“I hope we get a second season,” he said. “What I miss the most is being at the Straw Lake camp.
“The eight weeks we were filming there were absolutely best times of my life,” Ryznar stressed.
“And I want to do it again—for as many years as we can.”
“We would like nothing more than to get multiple seasons,” agreed Whitehead, noting he and the rest of the Shotgun Exploration team are engaged in a grassroots movement to promote “Fool’s Gold” through social media and garner public support.
Fairnington said viewers will see after the eight episodes that the “Fool’s Gold” gang has only just begun, and he would love to see the show go on to not just a second season but a 10th.
“I could see myself doing things with these people for the rest of my life, if I had to,” echoed Easton.
“I’d be more than on board.”
Check out the official “Fool’s Gold” trailer at
If you like the trailer after you watch it, be sure to “Like” it on YouTube.
Read more stories from the online edition: