JT Barnett [Interview]


Hello Everyone! If this is your first time stopping by to check out our digital pages, welcome! And welcome back to all of you fine regular readers. Today we have a pretty incredible interview to share with you all! If you have Netflix and/or eyes, you are probably already pretty familiar with the global phenomenon that has taken the internet by storm over the last couple of months. Which would be a little documentary series entitled The Tiger King. It’s a series that certainly didn’t escape our fascination, and I was personally excited about the prospect of gaining even just a bit more insight into the events that took place during the timeframe depicted in the series. And Folks, I feel like we have been given a wonderful opportunity to do just that. Our guest today is a creator who was highly involved in all things involving Joe Exotic and the GW Zoo. It’s producer JT Barnett, Everyone!

Barnett worked for a great deal of time on the original reality series based around the wild and fascinating times of Joe Exotic, creating some of the content that was featured in the Netflix series. He has also continued to work within the Tiger King world since the series was released. JT recently worked on a TMZ/Fox Tiger King investigative special. It aired on primetime this last Monday and is available on the Fox Now app. He gave us some wonderful insight into his time working at the GW zoo, the impact of The Tiger King since its release, and of course we talk a bit about his other work outside of the TK world, which includes an almost decade long stint working in the early days of reality television on the popular series Cheaters.

So Folks, I know you are all eager to get right into these questions, so how about we just jump right into it? Please enjoy some wonderful words from producer JT Barnett!




What inspired you to get into the world of entertainment? Was it something that you have wanted to do since your youth, or did you happen to find yourself in this world one day?

From a young age I was inspired to write. I became interested in photography later in life, another passion of mine. My father is a welder and his father was a watchmaker. I think that’s where I get the appeal to the technical side of camera work. I find comparisons in our craft as in a finely tuned watch. While I dabbled as a youth, I did found myself working at the age of 18 on what was a then new concept show, Cheaters.

What was your first paid gig in the world of entertainment? And were there any sort of lessons learned from this experience that still affect your work to date?

My first gig was on the show Cheaters. I was introduced to Bobby Goldstein, the series EP, thru my friend Harold Helm. Back then, other than The Real World, there wasn’t any type of reality TV. Bobby Goldstein and Tommy Habeeb were the original founders of this concept. I started out as a PA, I got coffee and ran errands. I moved on to camera after awhile, then to field producing. I was trained by a great set of professionals. The lessons I learned from these men is invaluable. I learned the values of teamwork as well as how to work under pressure. The high stress, rapid production style of shooting this series would prove to be an excellent learning platform. The most valuable lesson I carry to this day is…. Filmmaking is a collaborative art, you are only as good as your team. 

You worked on Cheaters for close to a decade. I am curious to know what this experience was like? The show feels sort of dangerous in a way, so how was your experience getting this footage?

Some of the best days of my life were spent field producing this program. I will always be thankful for this time as it set me on my journey to today. While the show is reality TV, there were many instances when we were in dangerous situations. Anytime you’re dealing with people’s significant others or their emotions… it can get volatile. From busting people cheating in night clubs, to the street races and at fight nights… shooting this program was always an adventure. 



Now, I understand that you were a part of a recent phenomenon that the world can’t stop talking about, which would be The Tiger King. Can you tell our readers a bit about your experience working as a producer & photographer for the GW zoo and Joe Exotic’s original reality series? And making the infamous “I Saw a Tiger” video? How did you come to land this gig? And what was your takeaway from this experience?

I left Cheaters in 2009 to explore personal projects. A few years later I would meet Joe Exotic through a friend. He was working on a reality TV concept. I helped him develop this reality show and my role from the beginning was as a producer. In 2013 Jason Carbone’s production company, Good Clean Fun, took an interest in our show. I started working with GCF producers Matt Wrablik and Nick Lee on the concept. I field produced and directed the sizzle reel to Joe Exotic – The Tiger King. At the same time Danny Cotton started working with us as a producer and in marketing. He broke dozens of viral clips with millions of views. The sizzle pushed into pilot with A&E that summer. Tragically we were filming the pilot when Saf had the accident in October of 2013. This accident coupled with pressure from radical animal rights groups caused the network to back off. I continued on for many years after this, working as a consulting producer. I worked remotely and on site for a week or so at a time. I will always cherish this time. I also shot a lot of still & motion photography over the years with The Tiger King. I’m glad I was able to be at this place, during this time in the world, to capture these moments. 

In your opinion, as somebody who has been involved in the Tiger King world, how accurate would you say the series got it? Would you say that this is an accurate depiction?

I think Eric Goode, Rebecca Chaiklin and Chris Smith did a tremendous job on the docuseries. It paints a fair picture and brings some shocking discoveries to light. Although, everything the series does get right there are some discrepancies with the truth. Joe was not an animal abuser, I do not support or condone that. If he had exhibited that type of behavior, I wouldn’t have worked with him then, nor would I support him today. One big thing the series gets right is that Joe was setup. He was led down a path by con artists, railroaded by a biased judge and convicted in a failure of justice. I applaud the producers of the series for having the courage to present the facts they did. One massive inaccuracy in the series, is the story of the internet show producer. Rick’s story is largely fabricated and highly dramatized. He takes credit for trying to do something, we successfully did years before. In the end lots of great things in the series outweigh the inconsistencies. I’m happy the two main takeaways from the docuseries are: Joe was setup and Carole did it. 

Are you at all surprised by the reactions that people are having to Tiger King? Is it surreal to you, or does it all make sense? 

It has been a little surreal with all the attention. While we knew it was a hit when we were shooting the pilot 7 years ago, I don’t think we could have ever anticipated this concept would go on to be a #1 Netflix sensation. I think the program grew into something larger than anyone expected. While The Tiger King is an entertaining hit, I also think it’s the perfect storm of the world being quarantined and this program you can’t look away from.

Whilst scrolling through IMDb, I came cross a project you have in the works entitled Bound that is very intriguing, and will feature our dear friend of the site Tina Parker. Can you tell us a bit about this project? What should we be excited to see upon its release?

I haven’t been working with this team lately, although I did work with Guillermo years ago. Unfortunately, I didn’t get the pleasure of working with Tina Parker during this project.

Instead might I recommend the TMZ/Fox Tiger King investigative special. It aired on primetime this last Monday and is available on the Fox Now app. I was a consulting producer on this project and got the opportunity to work with Harvey Levin. (Thank you Danny Cotton for introducing me.) Harvey did an awesome job being fair and unbiased. If you liked Netflix’s Tiger King you should definitely check it out.




What else does the future hold for you? Anything you would like to plug to our readers?

While I had my tenure in non-scripted, my passion lies in scripted works. I have a lot of great partners from New York to Texas. In NYC I’ve been working closely with veteran producer and partner Mark Lipsky. He’s producing my first feature film, The Scarecrow Bandits. We are also working on several other reasonably budgeted, independent films at WOF Entertainment. The Scarecrow Bandits is based loosely on actual events and written in conjunction with my longtime friend and collaborator Chris Pettie. The film currently stars Jason Mitchell as well as some other well-known talent. Back in Texas, I work with an excellent production team. I am partnered with executive producer Radio Rajeem on the Never Satisfied Studios in Dallas. Readers can follow me on all social platforms as @jtbarnett45. 

What was the last thing that made you smile?

I have several dogs and love animals. While my German Shepards brought a smile to my face today. The thing that makes me smile everyday is my son. I feel truly blessed to have him in my life and to be able to chase my dreams by doing something I love.



Check out some of JT’s original content via his own YouTube channel:


About rontrembathiii
write. write. write.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: