In this article I wish to look at five online travel video success stories and offer prospective filmmakers examples of how they too can get paid to travel the world with their video cameras.
Getting paid to travel the world
In 1760 Samuel Johnson said of travel writing,“Every writer of travels should consider that, like all other authors, he undertakes either to instruct or please, or to mingle pleasure with instruction. He that instructs must offer to the mind something to be imitated, or something to be avoided; he that pleases must offer new images to his reader, and enable him to form a tacit comparison of his own state with that of others.”
I believe this quote to also be relevant to travel filmmaking and a fine example of mixing pleasure with instruction are the videos Natalie Tran produced for the BBC owned, Lonely Planet Brand.
Natalie, Australia’s most successful youtuber, was sent around the world to produce short and sweet location videos that have proved to be very successful for Lonely Planet’s youtube presence, increasing their subscriber base from 15,000 to over 40,000, and leading to over 3 million more video views.
As one viewer commented,‘You make boring History Facts sound actually entertaining’
Getting the television series
Graham Hughes had a dream to not only travel the globe, but to also get in the Guiness Book of Records for visiting the most countries in one year without leaving the ground.
For anyone wanting to see the whole world, but afraid to step foot in certain countries like Iraqi, Afghanistan or Somalia, Graham’s blog makes interesting reading. He has so far visited 133 countries breaking all previous overland travel records.
Graham states, ‘There was always one element missing from my dream of travelling the planet: money. Working as a jobbing director and cameraman, I lived in a cold-water flat in the north of Liverpool and never earned enough money to pay tax, never mind pay off my student loan. But I would come to learn that this missing element was nothing more than an excuse to put ‘it’ off for another year. What I really needed to get started wasn’t money, it was a push.
That push came in the manner of a phone call from Lonely Planet Television. A few months earlier I had sold them the rights to a YouTube video of me jumping off the Nevis Highwire Bungy in New Zealand which, as far as I was concerned, gave me an ‘in’. Then I learnt that the BBC had recently bought a majority share in Lonely Planet. If there was a back entrance to get to The Beeb, this was it. So I made this pitch video (scattered with shots from my previous adventures) and sent it to their HQ in Melbourne.
The initial response was what I was expecting – a pat on the head, well done, let’s discuss this no more. But then… a few hours later I got a phone call asking me to come in for a meeting. Luckily for me, I was in Australia for a wedding so that wasn’t going to be problem – the friend who I was staying with lived five minutes walk from Lonely Planet HQ in Melbourne.
The head of Television Development had just one question: is it possible? I slapped my 30 page ‘how to travel to every country in the world without flying’ document on the table and said YES. I had put this dossier together by flicking trawling through the ‘Getting There And Away’ sections from dozens of Lonely Planet guidebooks – libraries are a wonderful thing.
I had done my research, I had proven I could film and present and I had travelled to many of these places before. Add to that the little white lie that I was going to do this anyway, for Lonely Planet it was a bit of a no-brainer.
But this wasn’t a millionaire’s jolly paid for by the license payer: I didn’t get a team following me around in a 4×4, I had no budget for five-star hotels or slap-up feasts – I was on my own, filming myself with the camera held at arm’s length, with a shoe-string budget and my friends and family supporting me along the way.
I already knew that backpacking was nowhere near as expensive as many people perceive, but with the advent of CouchSurfing, it just got even cheaper. Think about this for a moment: imagine you had to pay no rent or had no mortgage. At all. How much money would you save in a year? Enough to eat street food every day for a year? Of course. Enough to travel around an entire continent for a year? Unless it’s Europe or North America, I’d say so. So long as you don’t go nuts on activities or booze, a year of travel can turn out less expensive than staying at home.
So what are you waiting for? As things turned out, the TV series didn’t make me rich, nor did it even pay my expenses, but it DID give me the push I needed to get out there and DO IT. Honestly: that’s the hardest bit.
Winning the ultimate Youtube competition
Peter Bragiel’s pdrop youtube channel first caught my eye because of it’s production values. Peter was one of the first on youtube to raise the bar in regard to graphics, maps and soundtrack. His style really suits youtube, there is an immediacy about it, that makes you feel you are on the journey with him, and anything can happen in the next scene.
Peter recently won youtube’s nextup competition which is a training program that helps up and coming youtubers to make video production their main source of income. Part of the training also entails getting $35,000 to which Peter is going to use to help produce his next series, boating down the Mississippi River.
It sounds like the dream job, independently producing videos for youtube without anyone telling you how to do it.
BUT, as Peter discovered, even on youtube there are limits to what is allowed to be screened.
I would like to return to the wise words of Samuel Johnson, “He that would travel for the entertainment of others, should remember that the great object of remark is human life. Every nation has something peculiar in its manufactures, its works of genius, its medicines, its agriculture, its customs, and its policy. He only is a useful traveller, who brings home something by which his country might be benefitted; who procures some supply of want, or some mitigation of evil, which may enable his readers to compare their condition with that of others, to improve it whenever it is worse, and whenever it is better to enjoy it.”
Honest travel filmmaking informs the viewer of the good and the bad. And in the ideal of free speech, this should not be censored.
Peter made a fascinating video about cockfighting in Central America. Anyone with half a brain, after watching the video, would understand Peter was not sympathetic with the cruelty involved, but just wanted to give an overview of this aspect of local culture.
The video was removed from youtube and can only be viewed on another online video website.
Peter explains,‘As far as my “cockfighting” episode is concerned, YouTube took it down because it was too gory or something along those lines. They straight up removed it and gave me a red flag/strike on my account because it didn’t meet their guidelines.
I have a problem with travel content becoming too much of an advertising game where everything is amazing and beautiful, where in reality “travel” is an adventure which is unpredictable and needs to be broadcasted in the highest of quality. That’s our duty!!’
Producing a viral video hit
Ryan Grassley produces motorbike touring videos on his halfthrottle youtube channel. Ryan is the new breed of filmmaker who does it all himself, filming, editing, the whole shebang.
One of the great things about youtube is the camaraderie that can develop between producers. I’ve got to know Ryan quite well and we are both always discussing how we can do things better.
Ryan produced a video taking the piss out of Harley Davidson motorbikes. He had a feeling such a video could go viral and it has. But I think the main reason it has been so successful is because Ryan worked hard and getting it seen.
Ryan explains,‘Before I uploaded my Honest Harley Davidson Commercial I joined a lot motorcycle forums. Sport bike, Harley, Metric Crusier, Dual Sport, it didn’t matter everyone has an opinion on Harley. So any forum that looked like it had a lot of traffic I joined. Some of them as halfthrottle, others under a false name so the Harley forums wouldn’t know it was me trolling them. I made a few posts saying hello days in advance of the video going online, just to seem more real. When the video launched I had 15 tabs open in my browser all to different forums, and text ready to copy/paste soon as the embed code was ready to go.
Doing this helped me in the obvious way that it got my video in front of a lot motorcycle riders and generated controversy between Harley lovers and haters in the forums. Then something unexpected happened. Several large online motorcycle blogs came across my video in the forums and posted it to their site, and that was when it really took off. When that happened I googled for other motorcycle blogs and sent the link to them.
I spent more time putting that video in places where people would watch it than I did filming and editing it. And it paid off in the days after launch I received 100’s of new subscribers, and after being online a little over a year it has nearly 500,000 views. It’s also one of the first results when people search for, Harley Davidson.’
Doing video profiles for tourism business
I am going to include myself in this list, mainly because I too have the dream to see the whole world and believe I have found a way to get paid to do it.
I recently travelled to New Zealand and through producing business profiles and branded content, I managed to return to Australia with a lot more money than when I left.
Most travel programs on television are nothing but branded content, which can lead to some fairly dull one sided programs, as an Australian comedian recently pointed out.
But I don’t believe it has to be this way. I go about selecting business that are doing unique things so as there is no need to bullshit the viewer. Every business I approach are leaders in their field.
The video I wish to feature is unique in that it is an advertisement, but it is purely documentary in it’s style.
Te Puia asked me to produce a short video that not only explained the cultural significance of their carving school, but also captured the characters of the young men chosen to represent their tribes at the school.
The internet and youtube have offered filmmakers an avenue by which they can not only find a worldwide audience, and get viewership that television programs can only dream of, but also provide a substantial passive income stream via advertising revenue from the ads placed in and around their videos.
The ball is in your court, be proactive, go forth and film the world!