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There are so many outrageous aspects of Tiger King, it’s hard to say what the wildest is. Is it that Carole Baskin’s husband might have been tiger food? Is it that Joseph Maldonado-Passage, aka Joe Exotic, might have hired a hitman? Directors Eric Goode and Rebecca Chaiklin followed them to uncover the story behind their big cat zoos, and they stumbled into so much more. A reporter even asked President Donald Trump if he would consider pardoning Maldonado-Passage.

Joe Exotic with a tiger in Tiger King
Joe Exotic | Netflix

Some of the subjects contest Tiger King. Baskin has spoken out about feeling misrepresented by the show. Maldonado-Passage hasn’t seen it because he is in prison.

The Hollywood Reporter interviewed Goode and Chaiklin by phone and published the interview on April 1. The directors revealed how they persuaded their subjects to participate in Tiger King.

Many ‘Tiger King’ participants were skeptical of the directors from the start

Goode’s reputation preceded him: a conservation activist and founder of The Turtle Conservancy. So some of Maldonado-Passage and Baskin’s associates were skeptical.

“Of course these people would Google me and they would see that I ran this organization,” Goode told The Hollywood Reporter. “They would see that I obviously knew a lot about animals and they were wary because there is a war going on between animal rights activists and people that want to keep exotic animals in the United States. And they were worried that we were coming in and maybe infiltrating their operation and would portray them poorly.”

Kelci Saffery in Tiger King
Kelci Saffery | Netflix

While Goode’s conservation work initially put him at odds with Maldonado-Passage and Baskin, it ultimately helped him earn their trust. They were all in the animal world, even if they were on opposite sides.

“Fortunately I spoke their language to a large degree and was able to get a level of comfort,” Goode said. “Oftentimes it just took multiple tries.”

Joe Exotic and Carole Baskin said yes to ‘Tiger King’

Goode said the two main subjects of Tiger King were the easiest to get. Baskin and Maldonado-Passage both wanted to talk.

“Joe and Carole were easy access,” Goode said. “Joe wanted any attention, all attention. He was an open book, and Carole obviously wanted to get her message out. But people like ‘Doc’ Antle and Mario Tabraue and Jeff Lowe and Tim Stark and others were very guarded.”

They never pitched ‘Tiger King’ as ‘Blackfish’ for big cats

Baskin’s Big Cat Rescue organization posted a blog post refuting the Tiger King documentary. The Hollywood Reporter asked Goode and Chaiklin about the claim that they pitched her a documentary akin to Blackfish, a film that exposed animal abuse at Sea World.

I don’t think we said it,” Chaiklin said. “I think she said it — and to be quite honest, our intention was to tell a story with these colorful characters that focused on the issues that we both cared a lot about. There is a big-cat crisis in this country and we wanted to highlight that there are a lot of incredibly cruel practices that are taking place.” 

Carole Baskin
Carole Baskin | Netflix

Goode added that they never intended to make Tiger King a show only about tigers.

We knew that we didn’t want to make a film that was strictly advocacy and that was depressing. The bludgeoning or the torture of these animals — people have a low tolerance for that. And in other films that have been successful — even The Cove that won an Oscar — it’s hard to watch the killing of dolphins. So we wanted to figure out how to make this film interesting and really look at the psychology of the people that were involved… but at the same time dive into the issues of the ethics of keeping animals in captivity.

Eric Goode, The Hollywood Reporter, 4/1/2020

Joe Exotic and Carole Baskin just happened

Goode and Chaiklin didn’t know who they were dealing with. And when the events of Tiger King unfolded, they had stumbled into something they never could have predicted.

“We had no idea when we first started filming with Carole that she had the history that she had,” Chaiklin said. “As we filmed a lot of things unfolded — but we hoped that people walked away from this with a understanding that their big cats don’t belong in captivity and they belong in the wild and if we want to protect them that’s where we should be focusing our resources to protect them in the wild.”

Joe Exotic with a tiger
Joe Exotic | Netflix

Goode agreed that he hopes the message of Tiger King remains: “don’t keep tigers in captivity.”

I think the most important thing is that we wanted people to see this series,” Goode said. “Fortunately, I think that’s the silver lining. We have this captive audience in this bizarre time right now and I hope that people come away really understanding that this process of keeping big cats in captivity is exploitative and is something we didn’t advocate.”