If you know how to make a video, you already have the unique skills that allow you to go out and make a travel documentary. Now there’s a new course to help you raise the stakes and turn adventure filmmaking into a career: meet the newly added MZed course about “Adventure Filmmaking”.
“Adventure Filmmaking with Russ Malkin” is MZed’s newest course, packed full of wisdom and advice for any video creators wanting to take their passion on the road. Whether your goal is to send a full production crew and talent out into a specific part of the world, or you want to hop into a van and make a film of yourself exploring your region, there are some hard-learned lessons you ought to consider before you set off on your adventure.
Russ Malkin is a UK-based producer/director that has been combining travel and filmmaking for over 30 years. He’s most known for his Long Way series that follows Ewan McGregor and Charley Boorman on their motorcycle adventures around the world. Most recently, Long Way Up became the flagship documentary series that launched the Apple TV+ platform. Now, Russ wants to share some of the lessons he’s learned over the years so that you too can become an adventure filmmaker.
Behind the scenes of the Adventure Filmmaking course
Why make this course? As the founder of Big Earth Productions, Russ Malkin is on the road most of the year. He has created content for many broadcasters globally, including BBC, ITV, Sky, National Geographic, Apple, Amazon, and Discovery. He often works with high-profile personalities, such as Prince Harry, David Beckham, Ewan McGregor, and Henry Cavill (aka Superman). So clearly Russ is a busy person.
But I recall when Russ first approached MZed about creating a course. It was during the height of pandemic cabin fever when creators were itching to get back outside and explore, collaborate, and document their adventures. Russ told me he wanted to give back and teach others how to create travel documentaries, and what better time to spark the adventurous spirit than when filmmakers were coming out of a long period of isolation?
Well, that time is now, as many productions are getting back to work, full speed ahead. In fact, when we shot the course, crews throughout the UK were already booked solid. Thankfully we had the amazing Ollie Kenchington of Korro Films to lead the production, and he pulled some strings to bring in a wonderful crew to shoot the course. (You may know Ollie from his MZed courses, as well as writing for CineD).
So Russ gathered his notes, met the crew at a modest shooting location (see above), and in a few days, he managed to share practically everything he knows about the adventure filmmaking process. As you know if you’ve seen his productions, Russ appears in front of the camera from time to time, as he prefers to keep their crew bare bones while he produces, directs, and often helps shoot the documentaries. So his advice spans everything from pitching ideas, working with talent, and finding the money, to dealing with broken equipment, exhausted crews, and difficult border crossings.
The whole course is divided into three sections: Before You Go, On Your Adventure, and When You Get Home. The course is being released in stages as editing is being completed, so currently Before You Go is available to watch, and the other parts will be added to the course soon.
Before you go on your adventure – lesson topics
To give you a look into what to expect from the course, here are the topics that Russ covers for the Before You Go part of the course, which is essentially pre-production and planning.
- Intro to Adventure
- Why go on an adventure? In this first lesson, Russ Malkin talks about adventure filmmaking as a way of life, how he’s been doing it for 30 years, and what you can learn in this course so you can make adventure filmmaking your life, too.
- From Idea to Reality
- Ideas can come from anywhere, sometimes even on the back of a boarding pass. In this lesson, Russ talks about how to develop an idea and turn it into a real adventure.
- The Research
- The devil is in the details, and in this lesson, Russ describes everything that goes into the research stage of your adventure. From team dynamics and scheduling to route planning, permits, lodging, safety, and how to update family and fans along the trip.
- The Team
- In this lesson Russ lays out the roles of your adventure film, from the director, producer, camera crew, production assistant, DIT, and executive producer, to how to find and select your team, keeping an eye on team dynamics, and even joining another adventure team first to give you a sense of the roles that fit your personality.
- The Budget
- Before you can find the money to fund your adventure film, you need to create a budget. In this lesson, Russ talks about preliminary expenses during your adventure planning, insurance and safety, and how to develop a worst-case budget to prepare for any scenario.
- How to Find The Money
- Now we get to the defining part of your adventure filmmaking planning: finding the money to pay for it. In this lesson Russ provides an overview of pitching your adventure, working with commissioning editors, distribution companies, sponsors, tourism authorities, philanthropists, and grants, as well as some personal advice on persistence in the face of funding challenges.
- The Talent
- Who will be the storyteller of your adventure film? You may plan on presenting yourself or using voice-over, but Russ also has some advice on working with celebrities and other talents who bring interest and audience to your project.
- Logistics and Planning
- In this lesson, Russ guides you through the logistics planning of your adventure, from choosing your route and creating a schedule, to ensuring safety training, immunizations, and passports are checked off before you go. The key is to prepare for logistical hiccups so they don’t become major setbacks during the trip.
- Camera Equipment
- When you’re filming an adventure, Russ advises staying small, quick, and nimble. From the camera choices, and audio recording, to bonus shots using gimbals or drones, on an adventure, it’s important to be prepared for equipment failure when you least expect it.
- Last Checks
- It’s almost time to set off on your adventure, but first, you want to make sure you have everything in place. Do you have PR photos for your sponsors, or a plan to take them during your trip? Are your friends and family prepared for you to be gone for a while? Do you have all of your notes organized? Finally, you’re off on your adventure!
Who will be in front of the camera? Advice about talent in “Adventure Filmmaking with Russ Malkin”
While working on this course, I picked up a ton of wisdom on traveling while filmmaking, but for me, the most impactful part of Russ Malkin’s course is his advice about talent. Of course, for many of us with a bit of video production skills, we could quite easily go out and create a travel documentary featuring ourselves. You could go out this weekend and film yourself exploring a nearby area, add a bit of voice-over or vlog-style narration, upload it to YouTube, and see what happens. That’s already way more of an advantage you have over others who don’t know how to shoot or edit.
For many of us, however, we don’t have that magic sauce when we’re in front of the camera. And so if you want to travel while filmmaking, you’ll need to find on-camera talent. Russ has found success with actors and taking them out of their comfort zone into the wild world outside the film set.
But as Russ points out, you don’t really know if talent really clicks on camera until you try. Some people are born entertainers and can create a hugely successful brand out of themselves by going on adventures near and far. For those talented individuals, brands and sponsors may naturally gravitate toward them, turning a weekend exploration into a career.
But for you, that could mean an entirely different approach. Maybe your talent will be someone in your network or someone you’ll have to cold pitch. Someone with influence, or a built-in audience, will naturally be more appealing to viewers and funders than someone unknown. But it’s not just social media influencers who have a celebrity-like appeal. Maybe there’s a local business person, an athlete, a chef, or a respected scientist. Taking a person on the road who already has a specific background can even provide you with ideas for the trip destinations and the people you meet along the way.
Adventure Filmmaking is not just combining travel with video, it’s also the product of putting a certain person in a unique environment, and seeing what happens. I hope your brain is spinning with ideas. For more advice on how to take your ideas and turn them into a real adventure, this Russ Malkin course on MZed is a must-watch.