The third Travel Video Blogger to be featured on Travel Yourself is the lovely Robert Reid. I was first introduced to Robert somehow through Twitter and I started following him and quickly learned that he is one of the nicest down to earth people on the planet. Robert is currently Lonely Planet’s US Travel Editor, he has written 2 dozen guidebooks writes articles for big papers like the New York Times and is also the creator and host of the 76-Second Travel Show. (aka SSSTS)
You should watch: The 76-second Travel Show – Marco Polo, overrated? (The one that started it all the 76-Second Travel Show episode #001)
You should read: Robert Reid’s travel picks for 2011
In the News: Aside from frequenting YouTube you can occasionally find Robert on your TV!
It’s Mexico’s fault. On a family trip to Mexico City at age five, we visited Teotihuacan, a real-live pyramid, and my dad bought me a sun god idol which is still on my bedroom wall in Tulsa, then took a boat ride down Aztec canals at Xochilmilco. And it was pretty much sealed at that point. Kind of like what Obi-Wan says to Luke in ‘Star Wars': ‘You’ve taken your first step into a larger world.’ But without the light saber.
2. Why did you decide to incorporate video into your website and blog?
To see if I could do it, because it’s fun, because photos didn’t seem like enough, because I wanted to do period-piece skits, and I wanted to hand-draw graphs and signs. Mainly because it’s fun. Pretty much everything I do is to entertain myself.
3. I’ve watched a few of your “76 Second Travel Show” videos and rarely has one actually been that length. Can you tell us the story/concept behind this idea?
I always had a theory that any rock song could be two minutes and five seconds. It could be crap. But you, as a listener, couldn’t complain — because it didn’t ask that much. Just 2:05. After that mark you have to earn every second — if it’s self-indulgent whininess, the listener has a RIGHT, even duty, to complain. Sure, Rush’s ‘Cygnus X-1′ breaks the 10-minute mark. BUT the journey into a black hole EARNS IT.
For video, 76 seconds is the mark. I picked it impulsively. It suggested brevity without being over too quickly. And not being something round like 120 or 100 or sales-oriented 99. Also, it’s a faintly American number, as well as an alternative starting point for a countdown… to TRUTH… rather than the usual 18.104.22.168.1. The New York Times’ City Room blog wrote about it once and even looked for meaning of 76 in Biblical verse, which I found hilarious, and flattering.
I had hoped each one really would be 76 seconds, but gave up after I failed the first time. I do like that the Billy Joel one is 7.6 minutes long.
To be honest, I don’t watch that many. Sometimes I see them that use jazzy royalty-free electronica music — something I refuse to do out of principle. Some I can’t stand, some I think are fantastic, then I get depressed that I don’t know how to do them better.
5. What has been your favourite travel video that you have made to date?
I did one to bounce off President’s Day weekend last year on Chester Arthur, the obscure US president with the huge sideburns. Apparently he was REALLY into pants — wore eight pairs a day or something — and was one of only two presidents to be inaugurated in New York City. His former home, where it happened, is now an Indian spice shop. I went and had a sandwich made for the occasion… in the shape of pants. The video tells the tale, plus has a black/white reenactment of President James Garfield’s assassination. That’s a lot for two minutes. It’s one of my least successful by far.
6. Did you have any previous film-making experience?
Sort of, but it’s all DIY and very untrained. Most of what I do with 76 is a spin-off of the type of stuff I did for a failed blog called the Failed Bands of Oklahoma. I made videos attacking opinions regarding pet nomenclature, videos pleading for REM to be likeable again, plans for fictional war reenactments from wars that never happened. Before that, long ago, I had a public-access TV show in New York with a band I was in. Lots of skits and fictional lacrosse results. Much more time was put into that than actually making songs.
7. Do you have any tips for other people that are wanting to start making their own vlogs / travel videos?
Digital cameras mean people without photography training can take 1000 photos — and get better. Video’s not really like that. It’s harder to improve without learning some skills. But you have to try — and prepare yourself to happily fail at first. Keep videos short, and look for a sort of template you can use again and again. Then call it a ‘show.’ I can’t tell you how much more seriously people take something when you have a consistent format and just call it a show. (They really believe it is one!)
Don’t try to tell too much. Think: Sidewalk-to-skycraper. How can something you see — like a laundry shop or guy who makes balloon animals — stand for something bigger in a place? Fasten onto that one microcosm of a place, and let it stand for the whole.
Get video of places you’re in. Even if you’re not sure how to use it. The girl vomitting atop the Empire State Building? Yes! You will be able to use that. Or just little details. Snow, rain, wind, heat. Pedicabs in Lubang Prabang. Horses in Asuncion. A line at a post office in Valencia. I archive all sorts of things I’m still not sure what I’ll do with.
8. What equipment do you use? Camera? Editing program? Type of computer?
The first 20 or so episodes were done by FlipVideo. But it finally crashed, plus I was ready for better audio. So I upgraded to a Sanyo Xacti — still very portable, but with a much better lens and built-in mic AND the possibility to add an external mic. It’s not that expensive — I only want to use typical travel accessories any traveler would use. I sometimes incorporate hand-drawn graphs and signs — in fact, a lot. It’s mostly from my own impatience with computers, and my fondness for crayons, and I like the home-made, throw-back feel it gives too.
It’s all edited with Mac’s iMovie, which is surprisingly versatile — the double audio track enables me to pipe in some of my own musical creations, OR to double-track a low audio mix for a boost. Lastly, it’s very useful to carry one of those Quik Pod Pros. It’s an extending rod so that you can to hold out the camera and get self shots walking down Park Avenue without straight-up nostril shots. I’ve been made fun of using one, but the shot’s a lot better. And secretly the hecklers envy you.
9. Most people who make travel videos, shoot tons of footage and then edit it all down to a small portion of their trip. From experience / or preference do you have a suggestion for people as to how long a video should be? 2mins? 8mins? 76 seconds?
I give very bad advice on this, apparently. You’re supposed to know exactly what you want. And shoot the bare minimum, to make editing easier. Don’t do a shot of a market. A shot of the vendor. From front, behind, side. A shot of their action — slicing up sausages. Then a shot of customers. And the guy packaging the sausage etc. Get 3-5 second steady shots, don’t move the camera. Then any talking-head pieces of you, or interviews of the vendor. Then go, get out of there.
I don’t do it like that. I shoot heaps. Way too much. I do pans often.
Also, if you’re interviewing someone often the most interesting part comes at the end, when you look up from the camera, and ask a casual question, or just make a comment. Keep it rolling — always let it roll — and you get the best responses. I did a video on a new African Burial Mound museum in Manhattan last year for a two-minute video. I had about 15 minutes of footage of people seeing the museum, the building/site outside, some exhibit close ups, then about 25 minutes of interviews with three park rangers there. But I only used one quote, maybe 20 seconds. The last thing an African American ranger said, when I simply asked casually, ‘what does this all mean to you?’ She was candid, emotional. It was perfect. The rest of it informed what I said/wrote about the museum, but none made the video.
10. How much advanced planning do you put into your videos?
I put as much thought and research into a two-minute video as I would for a 1000-world article. Lots of poking around online for obscure facts I can make a graph for, reading a book for a single quote, or to track down an author (‘expert’) I interview by holding out the phone to record the audio on my Mac. I always have a few things brewing. I’ve been trying to make a show on ‘travel pants’ and ‘sandwiches’ since I started over a year ago. I probably spent 40 to 50 hours on Billy Joel video, the same for Monopoly Travel. Others are off-the-cuff based on something new and brewing — like one on taking shoes off at US airports during the body-scan hysteria.That was maybe five hours total.
Planning is good, but I like being open to whatever experience, theme, destination, conversation I’m going into. I guess making videos is just like travel, isn’t it?
Thanks Robert for the wicked interview! I’m happy that you are a go out there and film tons kind of guy, because I do that too so I have tons of options but then also have footage possibly usable later down the “road” Stay tuned for more great interviews by other Fellow Travel Video Bloggers. If you have any suggestions as to who you think I should interview next let me know, and if its you let me know that too!