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Tiger King Cameraman Talks Working With Joe Exotic

Written by on March 30, 2020

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Nico Marchetti was a crew member on Netflix’s hit series “Tiger King.” Jill Hopkins spoke with the cameraman about his first hand experiences at G.W. Zoo.

The story of Joe Exotic, Carole Baskin, and the rest of the (no pun intended) wild cast of “Tiger King” is one of the hottest pop culture references right now. The show has been trending #1 in the U.S. for several days and its addictive quality is assisted, largely, by its outlandishness. Jill Hopkins spoke with Nico Marchetti, one of the cameramen for the docuseries and an old collegiate classmate, about what Joe Exotic is really like, his first few days on the job, and how he ended up surrounded by tigers in Oklahoma.


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How did you find yourself on this gig, making what started off as a documentary about an eccentric guy who had some tigers in Oklahoma?

I was just looking for a job after I did some freelance stuff. Went on Indeed and just applied for the job because it sounded cool. The guy wrote me back, we video-chatted, and he told me that I have the job.

Within three days of talking to him I was in Wynnewood, Oklahoma. It’s a small town, I think about 2000 people. Coming from Chicago, it was definitely a culture shock for sure. There was one Italian diner restaurant that was attached to a gas station. That was fine dining.

So that kind of explains why something like the G.W. Zoo would be such a big attraction because your options are somewhat limited. But tell me about day one of this job. You just got to the zoo, what’s going through your mind?

When I got there, the parking lot was empty. It was just a dirt parking lot. The gate was locked. I thought, “Oh, did I make the right decision coming here.” And then, maybe five minutes later, a car pulled up and it was the guy with whom I video-chatted, his name was Mark. He opened the gate, we went in, and I saw the trailers that we’re gonna be living in – the mobile homes.

He told me that Joe wasn’t going to be in that day, so I didn’t even get to meet Joe. Turns out Joe was in Tampa, at Big Cat Rescue, flying that helicopter over the zoo.

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That was the first day I met Saff. Mark had told me about someone whose arm got ripped off by a tiger like, “Are you sure you still want to work here?” And I was like, “Yeah, I don’t care.” But then I found out that Saff was the person who got [their] arm basically ripped off. I saw the video – the uncensored one – and it’s brutal.

But yeah, that first day I was just kind of in awe of the zoo. There’s these huge, 30-foot cages and fences they call “Tiger Alley.” There’re probably 10 or 12 cages with all these tigers in them. There’s railing that’s just two feet from the fence and the cage. So I mean, you’re right up there, and the tigers come up, and they brush against the fence, and they make this noise it’s called “chuffing.” That’s the noise they make when they recognize each other.

How would you describe the mood at the zoo when Joe was in good spirits versus the mood at the zoo when Joe was not in good spirits?

It was pretty rare that Joe was in good spirits. He was usually in a bad mood with the animal crew a lot. They were always getting yelled at. He treated us really well. And I think that’s because he saw us as helping him get notoriety. Whereas, the cat crew, the animal crew, they were dispensable. He could replace them in an instant if he wanted to.

The whole situation between him and Carole Baskin, that’s a rivalry that like WWE writers could not write. And at the end of the series, we really don’t have a definitive answers as to who did what. Was that the driving factor behind Joe’s zoo or do you sense that there was a true love for animals there that was driving his whole thing?

Rick said at the end that he believes Joe started the zoo with good intentions, and I believe the same thing. I think he started it as a way to help animals and help people who bought a tiger as a cub [then] realized that’s a lot of work and they can’t take care of them.

But I’ve been telling people, what you see from Joe in the documentary is what you get from Joe. He was like that when the cameras were rolling and when the cameras weren’t. He created the character of “Joe Exotic” to get people to notice him, to get people to follow him, and he kind of got lost in that role. I think that led him down the path that landed him in prison.

You know, I see a lot of people feeling bad for him but you can’t feel bad for him. He’s where he is for a reason. He scammed a lot of people out of money. He abused people. I never saw him abusing the animals – unless you consider keeping them in cages as abusing them – but all the cats, all the animals got fed.

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He claimed he had cancer and took money from people but he never had cancer. I went to the hospital with him and when we got to the hospital, it was a plastic surgeon’s office. And the guy goes, “Alright Joe, you ready to get these benign tumors removed from your leg?” And I was like, “Are you serious, man?” So he does that, and then he gets Botox, and then we went furniture shopping. He would also lie to people who sponsored animals telling them that their animal was at the zoo when it either died, or he sold it. But he was still taking money from them.

So, you know, he got what he deserved. He’s where he is because of his actions. He’s entertaining. He’s definitely entertaining but I’ve been telling people don’t feel bad for him. He got what he deserved.

Watch the full interview:


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Edited For Length and Clarity By: Shelby Kluver