Helpful Suggestions for Filming an Intriguing Travel Documentary

by Peter D. Marshall

by Dean Donaldson.

The documentary film holds a long and unfortunate history of being sidestepped in favor of allegedly more exciting projects in such genres as action and romance. But statistics suggest better days ahead for documentaries.

Cannes director Jerome Paillard has informed “The Economist” that as of 2013, the genre accounted for a full 16 percent of offerings at the popular film festival. Travel documentaries prove particularly popular among viewers, but, due to the complicated nature of filming, are often avoided in favor of other genres. As a director, it’s worth your while to give the travel film another chance, this time making a point of planning ahead to ensure a smooth filming process.

Narrow Your Theme

The scope of your documentary should be large enough to allow for plenty of beautiful shots, but narrow enough to give the project some sense of direction. As experts at Rain Dance point out, one of the top mistakes made by otherwise talented filmmakers involves a failure to properly focus the film. If you’re looking to film in Europe, the topic of France will be way too broad for you to create any interest among viewers.

However, by designating the film as a tour of French cathedrals or an examination of the current French hip hop scene, you’ll be better able to streamline the project and create a sense of intrigue among audience members. If you’re struggling to come up with an interesting topic, look to “home channels” on cable for travel and scenery inspiration.

Invest in Durable Equipment

Before you set out on your filmmaking expedition, you’ll need to ensure that all equipment is capable of withstanding the unique climactic rigors of your chosen location. The camera you’ve traditionally used to capture the sites of New York City will be of little use when you’re caught in a sandstorm in Egypt.

Take some time to research the types of cameras and sound equipment that hold up to various weather conditions. Modern tech developments are on your side in this endeavor, with several designers stepping up to keep traveling filmmakers happy. For example, Engadget recently announced the release of a new JVC Everio camera, built to withstand both freezing temperatures and humid climates.

Ease Into the Interview Process

Travel documentaries largely depend on interviews from locals as a source of reliable information on the unique culture of any given area. Unfortunately, the residents of many regions are notoriously tight-lipped, meaning that, even if you’re able to get past the language barrier, you may struggle to elicit details from shy or ornery interviewees. Ease the process by choosing someone who appears to be outgoing and eager to introduce you to his or her culture.

From there, the National Film Board of Canada recommends taking the time to establish a relationship off-film. Once you and the interviewee feel comfortable with one another, it will be much easier to establish the rapport needed to conduct a successful interview. You may find that, once one excellent interview is complete, other locals will come out of the woodwork, eager for their own shot at documentary stardom.

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