BEING PAID to travel the world with your camera, filming exotic locales and meeting interesting people, sounds great. But what is the reality of travel filmmaking?
We talk to Mark Shea of overlander.tv, one of the new breed of filmmakers exploring the internet as a medium for displaying work.
MN: Can you tell us about your own videos Mark, what you like making?
MS: I’ve always enjoyed documentaries, real life, knowing how things work.
I was sick of seeing celebrity driven travel programs that were nothing more than ads for the hotels etc featured in them. I wanted to get under the surface of a location, so I devised the ‘Meet a Local’ concept, whereby I interview a local person.
I think the media portray certain regions of the world with unfortunate stereotypes. “Poor, war-torn” Africa. The Middle East, “full of terrorists.” What I want to do with my ‘Meet a Local’ concept is show viewers the wonderful diversity of the world’s cultures, but also how we are all still the same, and travelers can find hospitality anywhere.
You call your style ‘backpack filmmaking’, a one-man crew who does it all. How do you go about finding your stories?
I arrive in a location, and usually set myself a challenge of finding a story within 3-4 days. Sometimes I might have a theme related to the location, but other times I have no idea what I am going to do a story about. I really love this aspect of my work, leaving it up to chance, just seeing what eventuates.
But your work is based so much on meeting locals, how do you go about meeting people in locations where you don’t know anybody?
I get out there, in the bars and on the streets. I talk to as many people as I can, trying to get a feel for what story would best represent the location I am in. I also use the internet, sites like couchsurfing.com and hospitalityclub that encourage friendships between locals and visitors.
This is particularly handy in countries where I don’t have a good grasp on the local language. Because people on these sites list the languages they speak, so I can seek out bi-lingual locals, to help me in my search for great stories.
Your concept is quite unique. Do you think there are opportunities for wannabe travel filmmakers to do their own shows?
There is probably no better time to try your hand at travel video or any video endeavors for that matter. Technological advances have made it easy, all you need is a laptop and a video camera, an internet connection, and you can upload your work to YouTube or other online video sites, and you have an instant worldwide audience.
Be creative, follow your passion, if fishing is your thing, try your hand at doing stories about fishing; if it’s food, do stories on local cuisine.
The hard question, how do people make money from their films?
Remember online video is all fairly new, a developing market. YouTube is the king of online video with the biggest audience. They like serial content providers, and are willing to support them by featuring their work.
If you take a holiday and film hours of footage, and then edit it into short 3-5 minute films, uploading a video once a week. It won’t take long until people notice you.
Once you have a bit of a following, you can join the partner program where you share in advertising revenue from the ads featured on your video channel.
As an independent, it is then really up to you to take it further, sponsorship deals, free trips, providing your content to other websites or mediums (e.g. television).
And the best thing about YouTube, is that straight away you will know whether people like your work or not, by their comments, ratings etc.
So you use YouTube as a litmus test for your videos, to work out what people like?
Certainly, I usually know within 24 hours whether a video sinks or swims. And sometimes the comments people make about a video, will lead to me making subtle changes.
As a filmmaker I have always been envious of musicians, who can perform live, and really interact with their audience. The YouTube community now provides this for filmmakers, feedback on your work.
I love watching creative user generated content on YouTube. At first the technology lead to people doing webcam vlog style content in their bedrooms. But thankfully people are leaving their bedrooms and doing stories on their neighbourhoods, and the natural progression of this, on their holidays.
What about video gear? Can you give us any recommendations?
Basically, you get what you pay for. For me, I try to get the smallest, lightest broadcast quality kit available.
I don’t want to recommend any particular brands but my current kit includes a Canon XH- A1 High Definition camcorder, a MacBook Pro laptop using the Final Cut Pro editing suite software.
I’ve used a Sennheiser ME66 XLR professional shotgun microphone for sound, a lightweight Velbon CX-586 tripod and a small on camera light kit, the paglight C6.
Work out what you want to do, and get a kit to suit your needs. My kit isn’t the be all and end all, but it currently suits what I am doing.
Biggest tip I can give up and comers is to not forget that filmmaking is an audio-visual medium. Don’t forget the sound, even if you have a small video camera, if you are doing interviews, it might be wise to invest in a hardwired lapel microphone.
I imagine filming around the world, you have found yourself in some hairy situations. How do you keep out of trouble?
I think it is important to be aware of local customs before pulling your camera out and filming. In some countries you can get in trouble for filming government buildings, for example.
I try to be discreet. If I’m filming street scenes I want them to look at natural as possible, so generally I don’t want people knowing I am filming them.
To do this I use the tripod and my camera’s long zoom lens, and if I see something interesting, I’m ready to put the camera to the shoulder quickly, and record, and sometimes, just as quickly move on.
Have there been any times you have had difficulties filming a story?
On numerous occasions, I remember when I did my Nimbin Story, Australia’s Alternative Capital, a current affair program had just done a story on the town, looking at it’s drug problems. There was one part of the street where dealers sold drugs. I was informed in no uncertain way, that if I filmed anything, my camera would be smashed.
I approached the biggest, meanest looking guy–who had his shirt off and was covered in tattoos–and told him what I was doing, that I wasn’t interested in filming any drug deals. He appreciated my honesty, and agreed to act as my body guard while I filmed, stipulating I don’t film the laneway where the drug dealers congregated.
So I got my shots, but I couldn’t use the audio, there were a few choice words being thrown my way, by the dealers in the laneway!
Video on Nimbin
Are there any legal requirements filmmakers should consider when doing travel videos?
If you interview someone, get them to sign a release form. A release form states that an interviewee has given you permission to use their interview how you see fit. There are some standard release forms floating around the internet, so just do a search and make any changes depending on what you need.
Also, if you use any music in your videos, you should have permission from the artist to do this. It is also handy to get a release form if you are filming in a special location, like a museum, or at least ask whether they have restrictions on you using your footage.
Programs like Garageband allow one to make their own music. It is great fun to use, and sometimes a video segment may only need 30 seconds of music, so worth playing around with. (For an indepth tutorial on working with Garageband to polish audio clips, check here.)
Any final words Mark, advice for budding travel filmmakers.
Like anything, the more time you put into your films, the better they will become. But if you are going on a holiday, be aware, your travel videos may become all encompassing, taking up all your time and energy. This is not always the best formula for a happy holiday, especially if you are traveling with your partner or spouse!
Travel filmmaking sounds quite glamorous, but it is a bit like those who work in hospitality: you are working, when everyone else is having fun. When I’m traveling, I don’t really get much time to just relax, I am constantly working.
The best part is returning home and having a video reminder of my trips, the people I met, and the places I saw. Because of my work, I have to learn and the culture of the country I am filming in, so it pushes me to meet locals, which is really what the true essence of travel should be, to understand the other, the tribe over the hill.
Thanks for your time Mark.
You can view Mark’s video’s on his website www.overlander.tv or see his YouTube channel by searching his username, overlander.
* Find out what it takes to become a travel filmmaker — enroll in MatadorU’s Travel Filmmaking course today.