My life as a Travel Filmmaker

When I was a teenager the old nuns at the Catholic School I attended let us watch the Matinee of a Movie called ‘World Safari’. It featured a bare chested adventurer called Alby Mangels who galavanted around the world with a mongrel dog and a penchant for models in bikinis. For me, watching this movie set me on a path, I too wanted to see the world, film my adventures and have a girl in every port! Well, probably not as a 13 year old, but his escapades did look damn exciting, a lot more exciting than the small country town I felt stuck in!

So I bought my Dad’s old campervan and planned a trip round Australia with two mates. When we finished school, the two mate’s pulled out! I think their families hassled them to ‘get a real job’. I didn’t give up that easily and set off up the East Coast by myself. I stopped in at different places along the coast, doing odd jobs here and there, until I hit Cairns in the rainy season, got homesick and scuttled back home to spend the rest of the year regretting my decision, working as a roustabout!

It wasn’t until the mid 90’s that I rehashed my travel video dreams. Technology meant broadcast quality digital video cameras became affordable. So I bought a Sony VX700 and set off round Australia with my brother, both of us sleeping in the crowded confines of the back of a ute! I’d learnt to use the camera filming weddings and looking back, Paul was maybe a better interviewer than me. Or maybe it was more to the point that I wanted to interview all the pretty young girls, leaving him all the interesting older guys to interview!

I ended up getting a job in television, working as a sound guy. I realised the television industry compartmentalised people, if you were a soundie, you could never hope to be a producer. I didn’t like the idea of this. I’d previously done everything; find the story, do the interview, film the interview, record the sound and then edit the bloody thing! And books like ‘Rebel without a crew’ gave me hope that there was another way.

So to the displeasure of my mother, I quit my well paying sound production job and set off round Australia to make my own travel series. I wanted to do things differently, I disliked the host lead travel shows that didn’t really get under the skin of a location, or even meet a local. So I devised a concept called ‘Meet the Locals’. It must have been good because Lonely Planet copied the format a couple of years later! But what could I do, I was some young punk, outside the industry, doing everything myself. As I already knew, tv didn’t work that way!

Then came online video. I could see the opportunities, a world wide audience, no regulation, anyone could become their own tv station. So I set up a travel video website in 2000, five years before youtube. The bandwidth at the time wasn’t really conducive with playing video. The videos had to be compressed so much, one nearly needed a magnifying glass to see them! In fact the first project I did with the ABC was done in flash with some moving images to give the appearance of video!

I didn’t find a lot of support from television stations to buy my programs. They still couldn’t comprehend one person doing everything. So I sold DVD’s and just continued having fun making videos.

l watched the online video space very closely, youtube wasn’t always the front runner. I originally thought blip.tv would rule the roost. Who you ask….exactly! Youtube managed to establish themselves as number one and mainly because they helped nourish a new form of video content – video blogging.

I won’t lie, when I first saw people talking into their webcams in their bedrooms, I thought, what is this crap, this isn’t film-making! But it’s funny, because in the end, I had to start vlogging myself, out of necessity.

I got on the youtube bandwagon, uploaded some of my older programs into destination sized snippets and ended up being noticed and added as one of Australia’s first partners in 2006. It really wasn’t until 2011 that ads took off on youtube and I started making enough money to consider setting off on a travel video adventure.

I was lucky to have traveled all of Asia and most of Central America in 2011 and 2012. I was on a crest of a wave, money was coming in, I was traveling in cheap countries, I was completely cut of from the normal bounds of society. It was a recipe for disaster!

I realised on the road I really had to change my style. No longer did I have the time or resources to do grand productions of each location I visited. So I cut things right back, I simplified shit. I became….a Vlogger! There was so much amazing stuff I was seeing that I wanted to share it all, and I didn’t really pace myself. After the first location I visited, Bali, I ended up with so much footage, I just didn’t have the time to edit it all. I was exhausted, I needed a break, so I took refuge in a cheap hotel in Kuching, Borneo.

You’ve probably seen Apocalypse Now, the film based on Joseph Conrad’s book ‘Heart of Darkness’ The Westerner cut lose in the foreign country, left to face their own demons. I became that man, a libertine, with too much money and too much time, and no one to tell me to pull my head in. Beers for breakfast..why not! Party every night…let’s do it! On the backpacking trail you will always find someone willing to join you in the debauchery of being free of the normal rigours of Western Life!

Understandably my videos took an interesting turn. I’d like to call it my experimental phase. And there are only so many weird videos one can make before people start tuning out!

Believe it or not, despite my good fortune, I started to question what I was doing. I started to question social media and my role in it. Something inside me just didn’t really sit well with the cult of celebrity.

And I think subconsciously, I started to try and destroy everything. I know it probably sounds ridiculous, that here I was, one of the biggest travel channels on youtube, getting paid to travel the world and yet I wasn’t satisfied!

I missed not having a girlfriend, I missed having people around me who knew me and could tell me I was out of control. I was alone in the wilds of Borneo, engaging in ever more risky behaviours. Mixing with alcoholic expats, outlaw activists and indigenous shamens. And I was angry, ‘This is my dream God Damn it, why aren’t I enjoying it!’

I found ways to deal with it, the constant moving, the two day romances that ended in the next town. I think I hardened my heart. There is something about time in relationships, we need time to truly know another. And as much as it was fun to meet people along the way, I needed stronger bonds. I was still the outsider, just passing through.

I’m now back in Australia and another adversary has raised their grizzled hand, age! I’m now in my 40’s, a whole new generation is now bearing the torch, they appeal to the next generation (tweens) and I don’t! I’m more like the quirky uncle with some good stories, but much like Dad! Youtube is essentially an advertising algorithm, and when you realise this you can understand exactly how it works!

The wheel of life keeps turning, I must accept I am not Peter Pan. And in the process my interests have changed, the topics I choose to cover. I recently visited the USA and Canada, and I’d say my favourite story was in British Columbia, not featuring the stunning natural beauty but the squalid conditions of the street people of Downtown Eastside Vancouver.

I remember being in Squamish, a beautiful town. I’d spent the day down by a river, surrounded by nature, and I felt drawn back to the harsh streets of Downtown Eastside, I felt compelled to tell it’s story.

My next adventures will feature motorcycles and yachts, the toys of middle aged men, arise and fall, the circle continues. I find it funny now to see people on linkedin called ‘Social Media Experts’. Who really knows what the hell is happening online! I find it sad to see instagram accounts of young girls made up of nothing but scantily clad pictures, it’s like a needy call for attention. When l see these things, l make that noise that only older men make, that low gutteral grunt. All kids know that grunt, it’s the ‘stop bullshitting me’ grunt. The ‘l’ve seen it all before’ grunt!

So what did I learn from my travels, from my time cut free from the normal bounds of society. Well, I think a man or women can be a maverick, a prodigy, a genius, a pioneer, but without other people, we’re nothing! And no matter how much you fight it, that old humdinger ‘love’ always raises it’s flawed human heart!

So would l change it all if l had my time again? Well, l don’t know if l could! I couldn’t be a tourism puppet all the time, pushing some bullshit about ‘living the adventure!’

Because sometimes travel IS hard, you are made to face yourself, to learn what you can overcome. And this my friends is what can make travel so rewarding, stepping outside what you know, and embracing the unknown. Buen Camino!

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8 thoughts on “My life as a Travel Filmmaker

  1. Now this is a lovely summary.You where clever enough to foresee future trends,brave enough to leave your comfort zone,curious enough to fathom out your limits,sensible enough to realize beeing alone is not enough.If by any strange coincidence you haven’t found your special lady yet,it should be at the latest now,provided she reads your blog.

  2. Thanks Sal, l had this story in me for a while, finally sat down and wrote it, as l see a new phase beginning

  3. Great to watch the story Mark and I hope you find what you’re looking for. Never give up what your heart desires. There is no timeline for happiness. It happens at any age.

  4. hi
    love your work
    we should do some adventure together

  5. Wild and free, going where the wind blows you! I wish I could go to!

  6. Can’t believe in all the time I’ve known you .. You have never swayed from your dream! You are the overlander! You have risked , gained and lost but never ur enthusiasm! My hats off to ya mate! Happy travels and…. KEEP WRITING!!!

  7. The Overlander, the man who dares to live the dream.

    I’m a video producer and sure wish I could tell a story with so much front and intellect like this Overlander dude.

    I really like it when “he’s on” like you can always tell when he’s in the zone and really there.

    Interesting times with where YouTube has been, is now and where its going.

    Just do your thing Overlander and everything will take care of it’s self.

    Ps Bring back the Akubra?

  8. Wow, your passion Is your gift.

    How incredibly talented you are living many of our dreams, leaving your imprint on so Manys memories.

    It would be a waste to even wonder if given the chance you’d do it any different

    Captured are those who only dream of these places, and enhanced are their desires to invisige themselves along your journey.
    Your journey into the culture that makes each place unique, not only drawing us in but feeding your need for more……….
    And so the next journey begins

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