Behind the Camera: 2001 Series
By Rick Steves
We survived the big earthquake in Turkey, hitch-hiked with the postman in Scotland, were arrested by military police on the Iraqi border, and made headlines in Bulgaria and the Netherlands. Whatever it took, my crew and I brought home the footage for a fifth season — 16 new travel shows.
I've spent 100 days on the road over the last two years producing eight hours of travel programming for public television — the biggest project and the hardest work of my life. Why? Because, I'm a tour guide at heart. And this series, for me, is like leading the ultimate tour.
|"Scrubbing the script" — Rick edits his lines from his night train sleeping compartment.|
The first step in producing this new series was travel — and lots of it. I learned that raw barnacles are eaten like corn nuts with beer in Portugal; anyone can "toss the log" at Scottish clan gatherings; and bent old monks escort visitors past thousands of skeletons in Palermo's Capuchin crypt. From grease wrestlers in Kurdistan to the Polka King of Slovenia to robotic drink trolleys in trendy London eateries, we collected the most vivid travel moments in destinations not covered in my first 52 shows.
Watching the shows with friends, I always wish I could take them behind the scenes to show them the "glamour" of filming. I wear the same shirt for the six days it takes to shoot each episode — to minimize "continuity" concerns. I can't get sick, develop a cold sore, or even speckle my "wardrobe" (tough when slurping pasta feels so right).
Each program starts as a ten-page script and six days allotted to film it. In a good 12-hour day, we shoot what will become five minutes of TV. Producing an episode is like putting together a huge puzzle. Filming the last piece is always a high-five.
I narrate the script in two different ways. If we have interesting visuals, I do a "voice-over" (without appearing on camera). In segments that are short on visuals, I talk directly to the camera. These "on camera" sequences (which I memorize) can involve 20 takes because of all the variables. My performance, the background action, noise, light, and photographer's moves all need to be right simultaneously.
|Rick's crew chases the light at dusk on Venice's Grand Canal.|
Shooting in sunny places, like Italy, is most efficient. In bad weather we work twice as long for half the quality.
If the sun's behind me and my face is backlit, our producer whips out the big reflector — a frisbee-sized white disk that "phoops" out to the size of a hula hoop. My face becomes as bright as the sky. But, suddenly, we look like a Hollywood crew and, invariably, a crowd gathers complicating our work.
We shot this series with our smallest crew yet. Rather than a team of four, we divvied up the driver/sherpa/support duties and managed with only three: me, a photographer, and a producer.
With a tiny crew, we fit into one car and grabbed every opportunity that popped up. Driving into Scotland on a rare day off, I was on the cell phone with local tourist boards and discovered a small town clan gathering in progress. Though exhausted, we grabbed the good weather and shot the swirling kilts before even finding our hotel. Checking in late that night, we had footage that made Scotland one of our best new shows.
Producer Simon Griffith is the behind-the-scenes hero of our new series. A New Zealander living in Seattle, he was one of the original "Bill Nye the Science Guy" producers. Now, rather than toting smoking beakers, Simon lugs a 30-pound tripod in 100-degree heat to the top of St. Peter's basilica... just in case it's needed. With Simon — both a great traveler and a great writer — our script evolves as we go. Between shows, Simon and I have a tradition called "scrubbing the script," in which we spend the four-hour drive to our next destination making every word earn its keep.
Simon directs with a Kiwi flair. When we're on take 21 and getting nowhere, he hollers, "Let's knock this one on the head, mate!" And when things are going well, it's "a box of fluffy ducks!" He directed each day on the road and oversaw the editing another 100 days back in Seattle.
|A box of fluffy ducks — producer Simon Griffith and cameraman Peter Rummel at St. Mark's Square in Venice.|
Simon knows when lively becomes goofy, when travel philosophy becomes preachy, and when a hard opinion becomes a rant. If our work generates any trophies they belong on Simon's mantle.
Simon's vision becomes TV only with the dedicated artistry of our editor, Steve Cammarano. Steve's attention to detail squeezes the most out of the excellent photography of our "shooters."
In our new series, we're wowed by Europe's biggies the plush museums of Paris, the pageantry of royal London, and the newly-restored wonders of Caesar's Rome. But we also venture well off the beaten path. We ponder the spot where many believe Noah docked on Mount Ararat, ride a classic Vespa through boisterous Sicilian markets, and meet a surly Father Superior in a mountain-top monastery in Bulgaria.
Like good travel, our new series is more than a montage of great sights. It's people and experiences. We get cricket lessons from schoolboys on England's south coast, roll rounds of cheese the size of truck tires with Parisian chefs, and learn to relax in the buff with Black Forest spa-goers. Discovering the best cream puffs in Portugal, scones in Cornwall, and holy cannoli in Sicily — we balance Europe's culture with its cuisine.
As always, we learned as we traveled. We quickly updated our scripts when Rome surprised us with pedestrian streets rather than traffic jams; Dubrovnik sparkled without a trace of the recent war; and Scottish Highlanders refused to eat their haggis.
After visiting 13 exciting new destinations, this Rick Steves' Europe series practically propels you to Europe with three special travel skills shows. Today's Europe is different from Europe of the '90s. Smart travel takes more than packing light and wearing moneybelts. Travel now comes with museum reservations, bullet trains, PIN phone cards, dozens of railpasses, and thieves dressed like tourists. If you know the latest, exploring Europe can be more efficient, affordable, and fun than ever.
This series is closed-captioned, edited with the latest digital gear, and has new music composed specifically for each episode. And you can read all the scripts online.
For years, our Travels in Europe programs have been carried by virtually every public television station. This new series is topping that by breaking out of the weekend strip of "how-to" shows and earning prime time slots across the USA. (Call your station for the schedule.)
Your public television station is the next best thing to a plane ticket. And once again, you and I are travel partners. All aboard for more travel fun.