TV travel documentary or Online travel video – where to start?

by Heather Cowper on December 28, 2010

This article will give you advice from the experts on how to break in to making adventure and travel TV films, although you may then decide as I did that it’s much easier to break into online video. The article was originally published at and is based on a meeting I had with a couple of female producers experienced in the field of making adventure film documentaries for TV. But let me backtrack a bit.

Women Film makerYou may remember I wrote an article entitled Where are all the female Travel presenters? where I complained that I was fed up of watching TV travel documentaries fronted by middle aged men and was longing to see an adventurous lady out there doing daring things in far corners of the globe. Having decided to get off my soap box and find out more about how to break into this world, I contacted a couple of seasoned director/producers from the world of adventure documentaries. For the benefit of this article, let’s call them Miss Film Bristol and Miss Film Brazil.

Miss Film Bristol arrived frazzled after a near disaster at work when a system crash nearly left her film crew without the filming or contact details that they would need for their shoot the next day. Miss Film Brazil had recently returned from a trip to the Amazon basin in South America, where she was researching a forthcoming documentary. These were ladies who had previously worked for the BBC but were now freelance, working with independent production companies making adventure and travel documentaries. I was sure to get some good advice from them.

Women Film maker in  India

I presented some of my ideas to them along the themes of travel, female interest, blogging and social media. I even had some links from the internet to illustrate the sort of things I enjoyed and admired. What quickly became clear though, was that while I was very tuned in to the on-line world, the world of TV is a whole different ball-game, in fact it’s practically a parallel universe.

This is a world where it costs big bucks to send out a film crew and where ideas can often only be funded with the input of American film money. Consequently, there needs to be a ‘Wow’ factor in whatever idea you come up with that will convince not only the independent production company who will sell your idea, the Channel 4 or BBC editor that may fund it, but also their possible partners who may buy and screen the finished product around the world. There’s little room for the quirky, self indulgent little films that work so well on Youtube.

Saudi film-maker Danya Alhamrani

Saudi film-maker Danya Alhamrani

I learned that it’s not enough for our heroine to go to some exotic locations and meet some interesting people. She needs to be canoeing the longest, diving the deepest, climbing the tallest, searching out the wierdest, following in the footsteps of the bravest. Where’s the jeopardy? Where’s the drama? Where’s the hook? cried Miss Film Bristol and Miss Film Brazil in unison. It was clear that my ideas as they stood were far too vague. I needed to find the hook and the drama and come up with something a lot more detailed with a strong elevator pitch. I needed to practically write the whole film, identify the gorgeous locations, seek out the characters and situations and identify a seasoned adventurous female presenter who would create some drama. In fact I may as well do the trip and film it myself.

Miss Film Brazil, who clearly knew the business inside out told me of the number of times she had put together and presented film proposals with no success. One of her friends had presented an idea around social networking only to have it rejected out of hand. So what chance was there for a complete beginner? You sure have to be thick skinned in this world of TV documentary.

Jacki and Julia filming in Ecuador

Jacki and Julia filming in Ecuador

The other problem was how one could make any money to compensate for the hours spent researching and working up a proposal, then refining it to the point where a film crew could get on a plane. With the big bucks funding required, every member of the crew has to pull their weight and there’s little chance for the ‘ideas’ person just coming along for the fun of it.

Another issue is that the TV film business is notorious for people stealing your ideas and developing them without your involvement. You have to be cautious who you share your ideas with, guard your contacts and locations and protect yourself against being ripped off. I could see how easy it would be to come up with a great idea, spend loads of time researching it and then come out with no money and no trip to show for it.

I concluded that be best way in to this world might be through the back door. Blogging is a great way of creating back door opportunities by creating a low cost showcase for your work or ideas which can open up doors for you. This was brought home to me recently when a tourist board offered me a sponsored blogger’s trip after only 18 months of blogging. This would never have happened in the mainstream media where you’d need to be a seasoned and published journalist with a commission from a national newspaper before getting such an offer. So rather than spending fruitless effort working up ideas for others to translate into film I’ve decided to take a different approach. I’ve decided to collaborate with others to make short film clips for my blog and see where it leads.

I’ve seen the future and it’s video.

Resources to get you started in making video

If you want to get started making video for your blog, here are some useful resources; – Six free videos from Gideon Shalwick to help you get started with making videos for your blog.

Vimeo Video School – Video 101 short tutorials for complete beginners and other short video lessons contributed by members.

A series of articles from Collazo Projects

How to boost your blog with Video Part 1
How to boost your blog with Video Part 2
How to boost your blog with Video Part 3
How to boost your blog with Video Part 4

Photo credits: Pedrosimoes7

This article is published at My Blogging Journey, but originally appeared on my Travel Blog at Heather on her travels where you can find travel tales, videos and podcasts from Europe and around the World.

You’ll also find lots of great travel stories, videos and podcasts at our travel blog at Heather on her travels .

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