Pensacola’s Sean Odom works on BBC film crew for ‘Life Below Zero’
Pensacola resident Sean Odom never imagined he would make a career in the film industry.
There was a time in his early twenties when Odom thought he would stay close to home, get a job somewhere near his parents, and grow old living along the Gulf Coast.
Growing up, he never even dreamed of one day landing a dream job. It just didn’t seem realistic – not to him, anyway.
But it happened.
Today, Odom, 36, is a cameraman on a BBC film crew for “Life Below Zero,” a BBC Studios and National Geographic reality show set in Alaska.
“It’s just something I want to shout from a mountain, because it’s amazing,” Odom said. “I sometimes forget how amazing it is to be there.”
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The series follows the lives and adventures of people who live in the Alaskan wilderness and survive in a rugged world of self-reliance and sub-zero temperatures.
“I rode snowmobiles at midnight in -40 degrees (temperatures) with 30 mph winds just to lay down footage where we can get them to a plane that’s going to fly them home,” Odom recalled.
The series’ film crew goes where its characters take them.
“We camp a lot. We’re tracking people who live in the Alaskan backcountry, and we get into situations where we have to figure out how to track them with all this gear we have,” Odom said.
Nick Cobb, Odom’s lifelong friend, said it was hard for him to imagine Odom doing anything other than working on TV shows like “Life Below Zero.”
“Sean has always taken photos and recorded videos etc. He’s kind of been the image historian for our group of friends,” Cobb said. “Work means a lot to him. He loves to travel. It’s just ideal for him.”
Odom’s work schedule is chaotic. The film crew spends five weeks in Alaska, followed by three weeks off – five weeks, three weeks off, five weeks, three weeks off – year round.
But Odom likes the effort. He’s excited about it and feels it’s a privilege to work in an environment like his.
“I want people to see that it’s possible, even for someone from a small town, to be able to do something like this. Everyone always asks me, ‘How did you get into the business, how it works, how does it go?” Odom said. “And, I’m like, ‘You gotta really try and believe that you can do it. I want to tell people this message. I want to give people this message. , because I have a lot of friends and family who really never did anything, you know? I never really dreamed because I didn’t think it was possible.”
Frazer Mayson, another friend, called Odom a charismatic and creative ball of energy.
“You know that phase in his twenties where people were zoned out and partying? He was in on it, but at the same time he always had his own vision. I call it ‘Sean’s World,'” Mayson said. “He’s full of energy and he can certainly be exhausting. But I always found it refreshing.”
‘Broken guy in a minivan’
Ten years ago, Odom’s life story took a dramatic turn when he was 26 and his father fell ill.
“We almost lost it,” Odom said.
Odom was living in Mobile, Alabama at the time, and his parents were in Pensacola. But he wanted to be closer to his father. Odom drove east on Interstate 10 in his van, parked it in a Pensacola hospital parking lot, and lived out of the vehicle while his father was in the hospital.
“I ended up telling myself that if he recovered, then I had to be here for my family, and if I ever had to travel, now was the time,” Odom said. “I have to move on and get him out of my system. If my dad needs me, I want to be close and not travel. That’s what I thought at the time.”
When his father recovered and was released from the hospital, Odom planned a road trip for himself. He drove all over the continental United States.
“So I get in my van and drive around the country swiping credit cards,” he recalled. “I had a couple thousand dollars in the bank. So I figured I could swipe this credit card and if nothing works for me, at least I have credit card payments for six to eight months. .”
After a months-long trip wandering around the country in his van, Odon said, he ended up in Los Angeles.
Odom had grown up skateboarding, and as part of the sport, he often filmed himself and his friends trying to pull off tricks. In Los Angeles, Odom met skateboarders who worked in movies and told his new friends about the amateur skate movies he had made back home. Before he knew it, the skaters asked Odom if he’d like to try working with them in the professional film industry.
Odom said he jumped on the prospect.
He started as a production assistant before working as a “grip”, or lighting assistance specialist. When the grip work started to dry up, Odom said he decided to learn a new skill. He became determined to become a cameraman.
But it was hard to land a job in Hollywood as an unreputable cameraman. So Odom hit the road again in his van, traveling the country, and finding work operating cameras on various film sets and for different productions across the United States.
“I was this broke dude in a van that used to drive around, and then I was like, ‘OK, now I can just stay and live in it and get by,'” Odom said. “I’m just going to go out there and stay and get those opportunities that only the locals would have.”
He ended up making a name for himself.
“And now they’re flying me out and taking care of me, and I’m getting bigger jobs, bigger opportunities and this is a really good opportunity,” he said.
In 2020, Odom received a call from Kevin Nowicki. The two had met several years earlier while working on a reality show together.
When Nowicki phoned his friend, he had a new job – working for the BBC and National Geographic as a cinematographer for ‘Life Below Zero’.
“They kept telling me I could get an assistant cameraman/camera operator, and I kept thinking about Sean,” Nowicki said. “He always had this really positive attitude and a really hard work ethic, and he was passionate about solving problems, whether it was renovating his van or fixing his sailboat and the other things he did. in Pensacola. I kept thinking about him when they said I could hire my own person.”
Odom recalled, “He thought if this guy could live in a van and work 12 hours a day, seven days a week, I’m sure he could come and live in a tent.”
Odom has now been working on the series for two seasons.
“I’m just like that normal dumb dude,” Odom said. “And doing this amazing thing. It’s amazing for me to have made this possible, being from the South and all. If I can do it, anyone can do it. You just have to be willing.”
Colin Warren-Hicks can be reached at [email protected] or 850-435-8680.