First attempt at making a travel documentary.

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    • #37268

      Hi there,

      I am looking for some advice as to howto go about making a travel documentary of a six week trip our family will be taking as we travel from Perth (Western Australia) to Uluru (Ayers Rock) and back.

      We will be travelling alone, totally self sufficient in our off road vehicle, towing a camper trailer, through some quite remote country.

      I want to make it as informative and INTERESTING (most important!) as I can , aiming it at people/families who perhaps have never explored much of Australia’s “off the beaten track” tracks!

      While Uluru will bethe highlight of the trip (absolutely MAGICAL place!) there will also be some fascinating country to explore along the way.

      I want to SHOW how worthwhile it is to actually travel by car TO Uluru, rather than simply hop in a plane and fly there.Just NOT the same!I also want to highlight the importance of being adequately prepared for such a trip, and just how VAST central Australia is.

      I have never attempted anything likethis before.My experience with video is limited and I have only used SD camera’s before – now Iam purchasing a HD camera and have two months (yikes!) in order to learn how to operate all the manual features of this new beast in preparation for the trip.

      I WILL have a tripod and of course I know that the most important thing will be to get good steady USABLE footage.

      Six weeks is a LOT to encapsulate into one video though, and my major concern is to capture the most interesting footage that I can whilst on the road!

      So, any advice, experience or stories with this kind of thing is MOST welcome…even the basics.



    • #165012

      get a window mount also. a good high powered halogen flashlight, (12 volt rechargable) will double duty as a video light.

      sign posts and welcome signs are great for closeup shots to make wipes/transitions from scene to scene, as you document each location.

      and using stills (and a video editing program that allows you to mix them in with the video) will also help with the story telling (ie- panning a still image and pasting it over a section of video where you want the audio, but the video is something you’d rather cut out.)

    • #165013

      Since you already have an excellent answer about the technical side – I’ll promote the story side.

      I think you can drive yourself crazy, and not enjoy your holiday, trying to capture everything on tape (or DVD or whatever). Having a story focus, perhaps the Uluru heritage and importance of Ayers Rock to them – and how your family interprets that (compare/contrast?) would help you know what to record. Sure, Hwy signs, especially if you can say, or they illustrate, how much further to go to your focal point. If the focal point is how your family survives in the dessert, make sure you get little interviews ahead of time asking what each family member expects. They make great contrast inserts when things don’t go as planned. Whether it’s your life, or a culture you are, or aren’t, familiar with, it’s the STORY that you document.

      If you have a focus, you’ll know the shots you need when they occur and you won’t end up with reams of stuff you’ll feel compelled to use producing a documentary that’s far too long to capture and hold someones attention.


    • #165014

      Thanks Don and Bruce. πŸ™‚

      All good advice.

      Actually I think it was here on this site that I read of someone wanting to know how to film a campfire at night. Mentioned was utilising the cars headlights for additional lighting. I thought, duh….why didn’t I think of that! We will have to experiment anyway (We have a camping trip coming up shortly) but yes additional lights will be a must. Most of the filming will be done during the day but the ambience of the desert “nights” would be great as well.

      We are thinking, because of the duration of the journey, that we may end up having to break it up into four parts – focusing on four separate locations of significance, as WELL as doing one video encapsulating the whole trip aiming it at the novice at remote travel.

      The reason for this is that with fuel prices soaring over here a lot of people simply cannot afford to do these HUGE trips and may just want to travel to ONE significant place of interest.

      We’ll be filming it all anyway so as long as we’ve got the relevant footage then when we get back I guess we can better decide on how to edit it.


    • #165015

      Please, please don’t go out shooting a bunch of random video then expect to be able to edit into something. Using the tips from Don & Bruce, plan out what sort of show you would like to see. Watch as many examples of travel shows to get an idea of what you think makes a good show. Then deconstruct the program to figure out what was shot before the trip, on the trip and after the trip. Identify the critical shots for making the program you’re hoping to end up with. Then make yourself index cards for each day of the trip. listing the shots you think you’ll need. You should be shooting both primary video & cut-aways every day for continuity. It isn’t hard. Shoot a minute or two of each driver while they’re on the road. Shoot video of the landscape out your window. Shoot people enjoying the scenery, not just the scenery. It is also very handy to shoot a video diary each morning and/or evening that details the day’s plans and what happened on the road that day.

      I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard folks say they’ll shoot a bunch of video on the trip and figure out the editing later. And it turns out they don’t have any of the shots they need to tell a story. And if you don’t have a story, you’ll have a hard time getting viewers. On the other hand, the folks that went out with a rough plan and a list of essential shots made videos of near award winning quality. Be a planner and make videos that don’t start out with an apology for not being exactly what you’d hoped for. After all, as you said, this trip isn’t gong to be something you’re likely to do again.

      Good luck with your production. And I hope you won’t need luck to get all of your relevant footage.

    • #165016

      Thanks Barefoot.

      Yes, a LOT of thought will have to be put into this.I am still trying to decide how best to do it and to be honest it’s seeming like more and more of a mammoth task the more I think about it! πŸ™ Like I said, my main concern is the duration of the trip. Six weeks is a LONG time to encapsulate into one documentary.

      The documentaries we have seen seem to focus on individual tracks. (40 minute documentary on each track)This makes sense to break it up likethat as not everyone will be doing the exact same route as us but may be interested in particular tracks.I’m not sure if I’m explaining myself well here πŸ™‚ (Some of these remote tracks can take up to 16 days to travel across and are pretty “famous” in their own right among 4 wheel drivers here.)

      That’s what I meant by saying we will be filming everything anyway ( the whole entire route WE take is what I meant)I didn’t mean just randomly filming “everything” πŸ™‚ But yes, to be focused is a must. I understand what you mean about beingable to piece it together.It can’t just be random footage.

      I will have to give this all some serious thought and yes, watch more – watch everything I can that is in a similar vein.

      The main thing I have found so disappointing in what I have seen so far – and bearing in mind the most recent has been of the more amatuer documentary, is the lack of…..well, “enthusiasm” in a lot of these films.More like a home movie type thing ( though they have been sold on DVD and the footage itself IS quite good!) The narration especially has been what has made it dead dull BORING!

      I kind of figure that it needs to be made more appealing.

      I want to “sell” my PASSION for the outback to others. Just froman entirely personal perspective ( and forgetabout making this a way to make money because that is not really my true intention, but if it happens, GREAT πŸ™‚ ) I want people to WANT to see what is so amazing about this part of the country.

      The first time my husband announced we were going to “the outback” I thought…..”What? The DESERT! How bloody BORING!”

      To my amazement it was FULL of colour….FULL of some of the most fascinating geography that changes from hour to hour in some cases. From red undulating sand dunes to desert oasis’s with PALM tree’s…to gibber deserts….to absolute nothingness! Nobody told me that there would be places where suddenly when one feels the need to pee there ARE no tree’s….not even BUSHES for one to pee BEHIND!I wasn’t prepared for THAT (especially when traveling with a 4 wheel drive GROUP!) You just gotta hang on until the geography changes sometimes! πŸ˜‰ (Or carry a portable bush, lol!)

      Nobody told me of the sensation of the earth out there…..the very ground beneath your feet, seeming to vibrate with some ancient energy. Almost as though all who have lived and died out there have somehow left their essence behind in that ground! The eerie sensation of being “watched” at times (reported by more than a few)….and the sensory deprivation……leaving all the lights, the billboards, the traffic and noise behind, and suddenly the sky seems startlingly BLUE…and your eyes pick out every tiny bit of colour that there is and it all seems so much more vivid!

      It is such a harsh unforgiving place, yet filled with such extraodinary beauty……and it pulls you back there again and again.

      Hmm…in fact…now that you have got me going it is giving me more food for thought.

      It’s all THESE things I have just writtenabout that I want to portray in this documentary. Not just the ordinary day to day..”on the road again and this is what you can expect to see” things.I want to somehow capture my own passion for the outback.It’s all THERE waiting to be captured….I just have to find the way to do it.


    • #165017

      Definitely, you should plan how your movie will look before you go. I made a doc of my families three wekk trip to Europe. I shot all the europe stuff first, anything that looked interesting and had a good story. Then when we got home, i shot interviews with my family of what they thought Europe would be like, what they liked/didn’t like and what they think now that we’re home. I also shot random travel related stuff around our house to portray us as the Ace Travelers that we are. Then, i narrated withthe voice I used forradio commercials. The movie was amazing. Everyone liked it.

      Also, you will end up shooting 3 times morefootage than you use, whether you mean to or not. That is the standard Documentary ratio and it was certainly truein my case!A pro documentarian told me that’s how it works.

    • #165018

      Hi Chris, thanks for sharingyour experiences. Sounds like it was a success all round!

      Yes, I know I’ll end up with LOADS of footage. :)I’ve dabbled a bit in the past with putting together little amateur music video clipsand it’s astounding how much footage you DON’T use…..and that’s with even planning it out to start with!


    • #165019

      without knowing how advanced your camera skills are…..

      here’s a tip on getting the best shots possible….

      plan your travel so that you get your filming done: 1/2 hr before sunrise to 10:00 am, and late in the evening to 1/2 hour after sunset..

      get your driving (with the ac on) during the hottest parts of the day (10:00 am, to four in the afternoon).

    • #165020

      Thanks Don, yes we always get up at the crack of dawn when camping πŸ™‚ The nights and mornings are a bit chilly out there in the desert in winter at that time – we’re talking ice on the tent some mornings – brrrrrrrrr!…but the days are usually quite warm. The light out there is very harsh and bright during the day so I know the best shots will probably be when the light is a little softer, but it really depends where we ARE enroute, as to when and what I will film. Because of the vast distance we will be driving a lot of the stop overs are only one nighters, but significant places like Uluru etc we will have three night stays. We have allowed a few spare days because we realise, unlike other trips, that overall travel time will take us a lot longer due to stopping more frequently to film.


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