Thursday, March 26, 2015

Travel video is NOT new - it boasts a long & storied history

One of the earliest "travel video" producers.
In past blog posts, I've written about some of the classic books of travel literature. There are posts all over the Internet featuring lists of the best of this genre, which is really all subjective, of course.

Now hold on, Baba Louie - before you click to another page, this is NOT a list of my favourite travel books. In fact, I won't be going on about travel writing at all in this post - at least not about travel writing in its written form.

I go to a great many professional development symposiums, conferences, workshops, etc. during the course of a year. There's no doubt that the landscape of travel writing has changed dramatically in the last few decades, first with the entrance of the world wide web into the area traditionally dominated by print media, with a bit of television and radio programming thrown into the mix. Then came social media. So it's crucial travel media people stay on top of the game.

Now, social media is seen to be a very new aspect of travel media coverage. But there is one aspect of it that perhaps is not really new - it's just, well, different.

I'm talking about video.

At most of the pro-d sessions I've been to in the last few years, one of the common themes that seems to stand out, almost like a mantra, is "Video is king."

We truly are a video-oriented society.

Choose your weapon: video cam or DSLR?
That's one of the reasons I've started putting my energy into producing some travel videos for my own YouTube channel as well as for the site TripFilms (some of which have been picked up by USA Today and MSN for their sites).

However, although it seems to be the "latest-and-greatest" way to share travel adventures and experiences. video presentation of travel stories is not new - it's just much more accessible to the average person than it was when travel films first began, almost as early as movies themselves.

You don't need a huge camera crew, expensive equipment, and almost unlimited funds to make travel videos these days. There are inexpensive video cams, DSLR cameras with video capabilities, relatively inexpensive software editing programs with which to produce films/videos, and a greater ability to travel the world than ever before.

It's certainly come a long way since the days of Nanook of the North, a 1922 documentary made by Robert J. Flaherty, a professional prospector and amateur film-maker. (No, it was NOT Frank Zappa who first used Nanook.) Flaherty made this film during two years of living in an Inuit village on the shores of Hudson Bay in northern Quebec. He didn't have a lot of other films to pattern after, so he was a pioneer - and some of the techniques he developed are still in use today. It may have also been the very first video featuring someone paddling a kayak. You can watch the movie in its entirety on YouTube.

That was made and distributed while films were still in the silent era. (For a real treat, I've embedded the full-length version of this film at the bottom of this post. Enjoy!)

Once the "talkies" came into vogue, it didn't take long for filmmakers to introduce that into what was becoming a popular topic for the "shorts" shown in theatres between the cartoon and the feature attraction. One of the first to jump on the bandwagon was James Fitzpatrick,who produced a series of TravelTalks for MGM.  You can still see some of them online, or as fillers on TCM (that's where I stumbled across them).

Just like reading the old travel literature in books and magazines from previous decades, it is enjoyable as well as instructive to watch some of these old films, and get a sense of where we've come from.

Some of them were interesting, and - judging by today's standards - not all that great. But it was an evolving art, just as the videos produced today are also an evolving art.

So as you're watching - or perhaps, producing - another modern-day travel video, take time to think back to the past and realize that what was old is new again.

Nanook goes kayaking: the first-ever paddling video?

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