Imagine this: A job that pays you to travel to the most beautiful spots on the planet. One that pays a decent salary. One where hotels put you up and airlines give you free tickets. Plus you don’t pay for a single meal.
I can tell you from experience that the job isn’t one of a travel writer (at least not in my case). No, it’s the job of a travel television show producer.
Randy Walden has worked in television for a long time. Working his way up over the years, the Vancouver-based producer/director has been able to carve a niche for himself in the world of travel.
It all began in the 80s and 90s when he co-produced the TV series Driver’s Seat, an automotive review show that aired on CBC and PBS.
Major car manufacturers hosted the show in different locations around the world, and that, Walden says, is what got him hooked on working while travelling. But all shows come to an end and he knew he had to find or create another project.
At a time when most cooking shows were done in studio with a fake set, Walden wanted to do a show about Asian food, but he wanted to do it in Asia.
That’s how Entrée to Asia was born. Working with a small crew, he travelled up and down the Malay Peninsula and surrounding areas. The show visited Singapore, Malaysia, Thailand and Hong Kong. They shot 26 episodes that aired in both Canada and the US.
By the time the show had wrapped up production, there was an explosion of channels on the Canadian TV dial, many focused on a single genre. This made it much easier to pitch specific programs to specific broadcasters.
Island Escapes was his next big show. Produced for CTV Travel (now Travel+Escape) it was hosted by Ziya Tong, who now co-hosts Daily Planet on Discovery Channel.
The concept of the show: visit the magical islands of the planet. This included places like Crete, Bermuda, New Caledonia and Fiji. Unlike Driver’s Seat, the show was pure travel.
“Most people think you’ve got the dream job of the world, and I suppose in some ways it is,” Walden says. “The office hours are terrible but the office itself is pretty cool.”
Terrible hours? You mean it’s not the perfect job?
“Everyone thinks it must be great making money and travelling and eating all that food and going to these wonderful places. Well, it is. But it is work. And it’s hard work.”
Walden says work days are rarely 9 to 5, Monday to Friday.
“It’s shooting when you get up in the morning and stopping when you go to bed. And sometimes not even then.”
While shooting Entrée to Asia the crew was riding an overnight train. Suddenly, the train stopped. There were cows on the track. Out of nowhere, little food stalls popped up beside the train. Seeing an opportunity, Walden and his crew grabbed their gear and hopped out to capture the scene.
They may have lost sleep but they got a great segment for the show.
Anyone who works in television can tell you that things don’t always go smoothly.
When shooting in Fiji near an uninhabited island, Walden directed the cameraman to wade out into the water to get some scenic shots. Suddenly, a big wave came out of nowhere and soaked the cameraman and the camera.
When they got the camera back into the boat, they discovered that electronics and seawater don’t mix. The camera was dead although the footage somehow survived.
They still had four days of shooting to do and, Walden says, when you’re in the middle of nowhere, it’s not like you can call up the manufacturer for a quick replacement.
“It turns out that the captain of the ship had a really good video camera. So we shot the rest with his camera.”
Getting a travel show off the ground isn’t easy. It’s got to be more than pretty images of palm trees or shots of pyramids.
“I think that’s why you see so many scripted reality shows. Amazing Race is a perfect example. It’s all about travel but it’s also a competition.”
Walden produced a similar show called The Great Race.
“We went all across Canada from Victoria to St. John’s,” he explains. “Nobody in their right mind is going to jump in a car and drive across Canada in 10 days. It was breathless, but it was compelling television.”
As for the future, Walden points to the Internet. He says TV channels only have a certain amount of airtime to broadcast shows, something that isn’t a problem online.
“The great thing about the Internet is that you’re not stuck to the clock. Now you can have segments that can be any length – not just a half-hour or hour.”
Everyone needs to take a holiday and a travel show producer/director is no different. Except for his holiday, he stays put.
“When you produce, direct and write travel television shows, you take time off and hang around the house. You putter, clean out the fridge and rake the leaves.”