Nuku Hiva has always been the most magical and mythical of the Polynesian Marquesas islands, attracting Herman Melville and Robert Louis Stevenson to its idyllic shores over a hundred years ago. Today you can still find much of the magic tucked away in its dramatic coastline, or through its misty plateau called To’ovi’i, which is covered in a pine forest, giving it much the appearance of the lower Alps in Germany rather than a paradise island of the Pacific.
Nuku Hiva’s history is rich, dating back at least 2000 years when the first people came to colonize the island. It has been a magnet for many cultures including Tahiti, Hawaii’i, the Cook Island and even New Zealand, and this melting pot has created a robust living and truly unique culture on Nuku Hiva. Dancing, woodworking, and a fantastic cuisine are all the product of having these many people bring their cultures to this largest island of the Marquesas.
One of the more controversial historic points is that Cannibalism was practiced on the island by the first inhabitants, more out of necessity then for ritual purposes. Since there is no written history but just accounts and verbal history to take in account, many have chosen not to include it in modern studies of the island and its inhabitants. True or not, the current locals of the islands are perhaps some of the most lovely and welcoming in the world, and obviously do not practice cannibalism in any form today. Rather, they have amazing feasts!
Pig roasts, or Umu, are a ceremony in Nuku Hiva, and no one does it better then Yvonnes in Nuku Hiva. Whole beasts are put in a wire cage, with breadfruit, taro and other veritable delights, covered with banana leaves, and placed under hot coals. There they are slow roasted for hours, before being unearthed, prepared, and served. Pisson cru (raw tuna with coconut milk), various raw fish, crabs, shrimp, taro, manioc, breadfruit, umara (sweet potato), several types of bananas, and tons of sauces and mashed stuff. It’s a total taste bud overload. And then there is fafaru, which you should just read about here because it’s a bit hard to describe.
The darling down of Taioha’e is to be relished, with it’s colonial and indigenous mix of architecture and culture blending together in an island setting. There you will find the Notre Dame Cathedral, a strong reminder of the far reaching Catholic influence even here in the middle of the Pacific ocean. This beautiful structure is covered in some of the most lovely wood carvings you have ever seen, with cartoonish poses in religious settings. Regardless of your belief or feelings about religion, it is worth a visit just for the craftsmanship.
Before Catholicism was injected into the culture, Nuku Hiva’s original inhabitants had a very strong and complex religious and cultural beliefs. Indigenous religion was strongly dualistic, postulating a living world of light ( ao ) and a world of ghosts, deities, darkness, and night (po). The presence of deities ( etua ) in this world was believed to be vital for making work efficacious and for securing life and prosperity. There was an extensive hierarchy of deities, ranging from the founding originators of the cosmos to their particular expressions in the gods of occupations and places, and there also were apotheosized shamans and chiefs, often linked with local temples ( me’ae). The aggrieved ghosts of major shamans were often propitiated to relieve famine, and many lesser figures were associated with illness and other misfortunes. Since the late nineteenth century, more than 90 percent of Marquesans have become Catholics, most of the remainder being Protestants descended from Hawaiian mission teachers. Modern Marquesan religion has not been adequately investigated, but syncretic elements appear to persist, including belief in a range of evil spirits, such as ghosts of women who have died in childbirth. Archeological sites are all over the island, and it is common to be able to find and explore Marae, which are Polynesian temples. Nuku Hiva has some of the most preserved temples in Polynesia, some next to ancient sacred trees that really impress upon you the power of this place.
Overall no trip to the Marquesas is really complete without visiting Nuku Hiva, which has intrigued visitors from around the world for centuries. Herman Melville wrote Typee there in 1846 and Robert Louis Stevenson‘s first landfall on his voyage on the Casco was at Hatihe’u, on the north side of the island, in 1888. Since then many an intrepid traveller has ventured across the Pacific to witness the gentle marvel that is Nuku Hiva, and I was just so happy that the Aranui was able to bring me there in comfort and style to enjoy it’s boundless beauty, and fascinating culture.
This was taken a few years ago when drones just hit the market and I was working on a documentary in a small village named Anuk Lang. There is no electricity, no TV, no internet, and no real connection to the modern world there, so when I brought out this little drone the kids went absolutely bonkers. They never had seen a cell phone let alone a flying quad copter. The look on their faces are priceless, and reflect the pure beauty this extraordinary country offers.
This is by far my most popular drone film, the (longer) original version
Vimeo https://vimeo.com/82292117 – but we wanted to share this rare view of Cambodia’s lush back country with you today, which we find absolutely stunning. You can read more about it on this Huffington Post article
Last summer, a friend of mine and I won a contest from WOW air to travel the world and make films for them. Half a year later they abruptly cancelled all service. Coincidence?
Dear God I hope so. One thing I can say having worked closely with them is that WOW certainly did things differently, for better or worse. There were aspects of their corporate culture that were mind-blowing in how relaxed, open-minded, and forward thinking they were. They had all the flexibility and energy of a kid right out of college, and were a company that acted on passion and creativity, which is exactly what this contest embodied to me.
The question I get the most from colleagues is “why the hell would I want to win such a contest? You’re an established commercial director, and you are basically making content for a brand for free”. They have a point; this type of contest was perhaps geared toward a much younger, novice filmmaker/traveler, but fortunately for me I have a standing mentality of a 25-year-old, which comes from a serious amount of meditation and training (e.g. I still drink Car Bombs on dates). I have always been electrified by travel, with the same level of excitement as a 16-year-old Robby going to backpack through Europe for the first time, however, what I had now is the experience and skill ofprofessional working in advertising, which was really driving my curiosity to see how this project would work.
Brands going directly to content creators is a trend that is seriously disrupting the advertising industry, and this contest was. This type of “direct to source” work is as interesting to me as it is frightening. As a content creator it’s liberating; to be able to take a vision without compromise to completion, without the sometimes sluggish weight of an agency weighing you down. At the same time the structure and machine that is an agency or creative production company is an extremely important resource in creating top quality content, as is the support you get in bringing an idea to life. Either way this trend wasn’t diminishing any time soon, so I was eager to see exactly what it could produce.
It was clear to me from the beginning that the real prize of this contest was being able to create a large body of work for a global brand without compromise. WOW gave us full autonomy, to a concerning point even. They gave us the login information to their Instagram, YouTube, and Website, and told us to post images and videos when we wanted, without review. No review? It’s like I had died and went to editor heaven, which scared the bejeezus out of me a bit. Regardless it was clear that we could make this project anything we wanted it to be, so we decided to push it right to the limit.
As a travel writer I am acutely aware of how the internet has created this echo chamber for travel experiences. As soon as something “hot” hits the scene, there are thousands of articles and videos about it, creating an unnatural surge to that destination, be it a city, restaurant or even dish on a menu (I’m looking at you Burger at the Brindle Room). This is the dark side of travel journalism, a power so great that it can destroy the very thing you wish to share with the world. So, in a conscious effort to bring something novel but equally amazing to our audience, we wanted to focus on experiences that were more enigmatic and authentic. To do so, we reached out to locals through WOW’s extensive social media network which proved to be our golden ticket.
Being able to be in direct communication with our actual audience is a dream any marketer or creative wishes to never wake from. We were able to ask actual locals where they go, eat, and see, places and experiences that you won’t find (yet) written up about on giant opinion generators like Yelp or TripAdvisor. This was the real deal, and would allow us to create a library of unique quality content so prolific that it could be the answer to any travelers query, covering must sees, must eats, must drinks, oddities and tips and not be just an echo of what was already out there.
HOW WE WON A “DREAM JOB”.
Last June, while doing research for a travel show that partner Brad Stuart and I were producing in NYC, we came across this contest from WOW Air. The prize was an apartment in Reykjavik for the summer, 140 USD per diem, and hotel accommodations in the 8 cities they would fly us to making travel films for them. I had just bought the new Sony A7rIII and wanted to field test it for the show we were working on, so we entered. 30k other people did as well. We ended up winning with this film:
To say we were surprised is an under-statement. There were so many fantastic entries, from so many fantastic hosts, many of which with Instagram and YouTube followings well beyond ours. We were so shocked that when we got the call from WOW the first question we asked was why they chose us. They said they were not looking for a large social media following, but rather for a team that had a real passion for travel with the ability to produce high quality content. Flattery will get you everywhere WOW.
While we were extremely grateful, we still had to give it a good think if we should accept; it would mean leaving our lives for three months, not being able to work on paid projects, and would leave our NYC apartments vacant while still having to pay rent. Boo hoo I know, but realistically the per diem they offered would only cover basic costs on the road, not living expenses or rent back home, so. if we were going to commit, we really had to do something special with the opportunity that would be valuable to us.
We decided we would need to produce a large catalogue of quality content that would explore places and experiences that were different from all the other travel films out there. The style and personality of this films would be unique as well; a mixture of comedy and reverence, grit and polish to keep viewers surprised and tapped in. These films would be intimate, authentic, and most importantly fun, and collectively would become a well branded showcase to model future work from.
We accepted the prize knowing that this was going to push the limits of what we had produced before, but with the electric excitement of being fueled by doing something you truly love.
SO … NOW WE LIVE IN REYKJAVIK I GUESS?
Just a week later Brad and I were living in Reykjavik, which was incredibly exciting. Packing was an interesting endeavor; squeezing items to live somewhere for 3 months and produce an entire summer campaign into two bags and a personal item really pushed my limits of economy packing. It was such a learning lesson I ended up making a short film for the travel mag I write for that goes over my absolute basics needed to get the job done:
The apartment we were given was a modern, minimalist AirBnB in the “God’s Quarter” right down the street from the outstanding Hallgrimskirkja Church. They furnished the fridge with WOW beer (do I trust an airline that makes beer? Yes, I guess I do) and something called “Hardfisker” which is fish jerky and is as disgusting as it sounds (but somehow better with butter, obviously).
Reykjavik is a fantastic city. Great food, beautiful bay, dynamic culture. Iceland as a whole is a marvelous gem, unique in the world. The locals are a bit over the tourist invasion with good reason, and can be a bit cold at first, but like any culture, with enough smiles (and buying of libations) they would shed their protective husk to reveal their true, friendly character. While we loved going to the public pools, and eating a Hlöllabátar after a night dancing at Pablo Discobar (great name), we really didn’t have much time to explore our new home as the travel itinerary was aggressive to say the least.
Our main objective was to not be an echo of what was already out there; we wanted to highlight lesser known experiences that defined a city, that actual locals enjoyed. The travel writer in me has a love-hate relationship with the craft; I want to inspire people to travel, but I don’t want to kill the very thing that does the inspiring, which a flood of tourist can easily do.
So we would research the usual suspects like Thrillist, Time Out, Conde Nast, Trip Advisor, even Atlas Obscura for the must-see attractions, but most of our focus came through WOW’s far-reaching social media platform, asking locals what their favorite places were. This got us directly in touch with our audience, giving us unique and really fresh results that hopefully separated our content from the cacophony of ordinary that was already out there.
One asset working with WOW was having a global brand to produce from. There is something very empowering to travel with purpose, meaning, experiencing a foreign culture because it is your job. Being able to call a restaurant, museum or night club and tell them that you’d like to do a travel segment on them for WOW airlines gives you greater access, allowing you to go much deeper into the experience than if we were just a tourists. Experiences like getting the VP of Media Relations to give you a private tour of the Getty Center, learning pole dancing from a world champion, or filming a Michelin Star restaurant that has a staunch no media policy, was much easier with WOW opening the door, and Brad’s confident producing skills. We would end up making hundreds of fantastic connections, and be able to talk with the minds behind the life-changing experiences that make travel magic.
Once we had our list of targets, ranging from food, to nightlife, to cultural experiences, we would plug them into a Google map like this, labelling each one in their respective category. Terribly boring I know, but this way we could see where in the city everything was, and logistically figure out how to do as much as possible in one day. I really have become my father.
RUN AND GUN WITH PURPOSE
A.B.C. Always Be Capturing …
Coming from a documentary and editorial background, I relied on his type of high energy shooting and logging to guarantee we could produce all the films we set out to. The more cities we accomplished the more streamlined our process and gear became, and ultimately the less footage we would need to capture. To give you an idea, for Boston, our first city, we captured around 350 GB of material. Our last city, Stockholm, we topped out at 160 GB. It was like being on that show “The Biggest Loser” but instead of lbs it was kbs (I really have become my father even in humor, it’s official).
Each night we would dump and back up the media, and bring it into Premiere. The camera created proxies on the fly so we could easily deliver in glorious 4k while editing on a Macbook Pro. We would then write scripts for each episode, and record them into a pillow fort/sound booth on our Reykjavik kitchen table. I would mainly be cutting any waking hour we weren’t traveling, and Brad was in charge of producing, and distributing content on-line. We had fever dreams, never knew if it was day or night (mainly because the sun doesn’t set in Iceland in the summer), and forgot where we lived many times, but really could not have been happier.
10 cities, 3,149 photos, 2.5 TB of data, 1 tattoo, and 38,675 miles later we really couldn’t be prouder of the work we completed over the summer. We successfully produced over 100 full films for WOW Air in just over 3 months. If you’re doing the math that’s around 3 films a day. Some will say #shopped but the proof lives on the website travelguide.wowair.com – and we will be launching our own YouTube channel TravelClast this year with these films and many more.
For two people who love to suck the marrow out of the world of travel, I don’t think we left a morsel on the bone to pick. It saddens up deeply to see WOW air be gone in a flash, and really cannot believe that the “happy Icelandic low-fare airline” is no longer around to shuttle bargain savvy travelers to destinations usually unobtainable at such low costs. To us they were a visionary company that for better or worse moved boldly toward novel innovation without hesitation or remorse. They were spirited, and every employee we had the opportunity to work with lived with this passionate credo, which was truly refreshing to be part of. We’re just so thankful to have had the opportunity, and hope the work lives on like personal memories that can be enjoyed by anyone with a desire and passion for travel.
It’s time to become YouTube famous. I feel like I’m the last person on Earth who isn’t.
How do you become YouTube famous? Well, there are A LOT of ways people suggest to do it, so I went through the top 20 most popular articles and combined them ALL in one place, like a cheat sheet, mainly because there are A LOT of steps, and I’m lazy.
So here we go, the ultimate guide to becoming YouTube famous (in 13 steps).
Subscribe Watermark: Instead of uploading a watermark of your logo, upload a subscribe icon as your watermark so it’s on the screen, discreetly, all the time. Located in Creator Studio > Channel > Branding
Check your stats: Each week check your video stats to see where viewers are leaving your videos. Add a YouTube card at that time code inviting viewers to watch different content on your channel to help retain viewers.
Branding: Brand your content and channel consistently. Use branded thumbnails. Here are some tools to help you.
Add featured channels: parter with other YouTube Content creators. Click Modules > Other channels > Save changes – Then add a few like-minded channels and save.
Keep “related channels” on: this will keep you in the YouTube recommended network of channels.
Link your website: go to Creator Studio, then hit the channel settings link to add your blog or website URL, and hit link your associated website.
Interact: Ask questions for your audience, like other videos, leave comments.
Sub Confirmation: when linking to your YouTube Channel add “?sub_confirmation=1” to the end of your URL. This will prompt the viewer to subscribe immediately upon clicking the link.
Consistency: Post once a week, Thursday, at 2pm, for a year, at a time when your demographic of viewers typically consume your type of video (check other similar channels to see when this is) – check your analytics monthly, and adjust your release time to 3 hours before your peak time.
I’m not going to mention you have to make good content, or how to make good content, or any of that business because that’s like telling someone in order to learn how to swim you have to get wet.
I have issues with the word tourist. In this travel soaked world we live in where cross continent airfares are often less then the cost of a good meal, the idea of tourists infiltrating your city can be a harrowing concept. When I accepted a long term project that would move me to Reykjavik, my immediate priority was to blend in and be a local. It would prove more difficult then I could have imagined, but with the help of local Guðmundur Einarsson, I would get a rare inside look at this heavily touristed city.
“Reykjavik is quite small. There is just over 100 thousand people that live here,” Guðmundur tells me with a smile, “then we receive about 2 million tourist a year. So, you can understand we are drowning a bit in foreigners”. Having 20 times your population be tourists can make it difficult to have anything authentically local, but luckily Guðmundur lets me in on a secret, “90% of all tourists only go to the same 3 places, so, if you stay clear of that, you can see the real Reykjavik.” So here is a perfectly local day through the eyes of a perfect local.
Our first stop was coffee, which lead us to Reykjavik Roasters (Kárastígur 1, 101 Reykjavík, Iceland). “It’s definitely well known”, Guðmundur says with a sigh, “but it is the best, and if you go early, you will beat the line. Better yet, there is a second location in Brautarholt that is not as busy” The coffee here is rich and delicious, and they import the bean and roast it locally which gives it a unique savory taste.
Taking our coffee to go we swing by Brauð (16,, Frakkastígur, 101 Reykjavík, Iceland) which you need no directions for, as you can just follow your nose. The butter-sweet-and-salt filled fragrance of this tiny bakeshop will lure you in like a siren to a rock. While they are famous for their cinnamon buns, we also tag on two croissants per Guðmundur’s suggestion “I’ve been to Paris many times, but I still always crave my Brauð.”
We head down toward old town, where we duck down a side street and into a little house with a single key for a sign. This is Fischer (Fischersund, 101 Reykjavík, Iceland) which is more then a cosmetic/parfume store, it is a sensory experience. Here hand made scents and botanicals are created from local ingredients, offering you a local experience like no other. “When I visit friends overseas I always stop here, because these gifts are truly unique and truly Icelandic.” Says Guðmundur.
Keeping on a truly Icelandic path we head down to the newly developed Grandi section of town, down by the wharf. “This is my favorite part of town,” my host tells me quietly, “they’ve reclaimed this industrial area, and really none of the tourist have discovered it yet. Theres a great brewery, some really cool shops, and many places to eat, but I like to come here for the chocolate.” When I think Iceland, I don’t immediately think chocolate, but that was about to change quickly. Omnom Chocolate Factory (Hólmaslóð 4, 101 Reykjavík, Iceland) is located at the very far end of the district, but you can smell it a good kilometer away. “We are the northern most producer of Chocolate from actual fresh cocoa beans,” Óskar Þórðarson one of the founders tells us. “We know our providers personally, and we roast our beans in house. That’s what makes it like no other chocolate.” And he was right. Madagascar dark chocolate with black volcanic Icelandic salt is something that needs to be tried to fully understand.
Next we hopped a bus just outside the city to visit G man’s favorite distillary, Floki (Lyngás 13 , 210 Garðabær. Phone 6989691). “I’m going to give you true Icelandic whiskey, it’s unlike anything you’ve had before. It’s smoked with sheep dung!” He says with pride like a mother would say “its made with real butter” offering a cupcake. Surprisingly the sheep dung whiskey was sublime; smooth and complex, and unlike any other spirit I have subjected myself to before. “Alcohol was banned in Iceland for many years,” explains Páll one of the distillers, “so most Icelandic people have been distilling in their homes since forever.” Floki takes that mentality and scales it up, making traditional homemade whiskey only with truly all Icelandic grain. The result is a whiskey like no other.
At this point it was time for a rest, so we headed down to Reykjadalur hot springs. “This place is magic,” Guðmundur says with a tipsy smile, “most tourist head straight for the Blue Lagoon, which, between us, is man made. Reykjadalur is totally natural, beautiful, and best of all, free.” When we get there there is a pleasant 45 minute hike through the countryside which terminates and a picturesque serpentine stream shrouded in steam. There is a well manicured boardwalk and changing areas, and you can see people here and there climbing in at various points, the higher up the stream you go the warmer it gets, so you can drift up and down all day if you like. This was pure natural pleasure.
After our soak we headed back into town for dinner at ROK (Frakkastígur 26a, 101 Reykjavík, Iceland). “This place is new, but the food is excellent.” Guðmundur assured me. The restaurant’s interior is sleek and modern in a positively ancient building, and this beautiful contradiction resonates in the menu. You can try classic dishes like reindeer but with the modern twist of it being served on a bed of local blue cheese foam, or local salmon prepared in sweet mango sauce with avocado. Rok truly will rock your palette.
Afterwards we needed something sweet and the only place to go is Valdi’s. “This place has been here forever. My father used to go as a kid.” Valdi’s longevity obviously comes from the fact that their ice-cream is absolutely delicious and their flavors wild. Guðmundur insists I get the salted licorice which sounds like a punishment to an Italian raised on gelato, but I’m sure glad I committed to it, because it was extraordinary.
Next it was time for a little entertainment. “The bars here can get crazy, and usually packed with tourists,” my Icelandic Virgil warns me, “Pablo Discobar, B5, Kiki’s, Kaffibarin, are all amazing good times, but, packed. Best to go to them at 5am, that’s the golden hour.” We had some time until then, so Guðmundur took me to a Poetry Brothel hosted by Reykjavik Kabaret. “The burlesque scene here in Reykjavik is actually quite amazing,” he confides, “and the shows are not to be missed. I won’t tell your girlfriend you went to a brothel either, that is not the Icelandic way.” He says in all seriousness. The brothel was like walking into a Bar Luhrmann fever dream. The host Miss Mokki greeted us at the door in a hurricane of pears, beads, and feathers. “Gentlemen. Right this way to have your minds blown.” She said grabbing my hand and whipping me into the main room. The show was all around us, cabaret, singing, poetry recital, anything artistic you could imagine with a thick patina of sexual energy over it. As the drinks flowed freely the night heated up and the acts became more boisterous. “Many people think Icelandic people are often stiff and very cold,” Guðmundur says, “most people are often very wrong.”
In need of something salty and fatty to soak up the fun of the evening I was brought to the greatest secret of Reykjavik. “You have to promise not to tell anyone about this place. It’s special.” Here inside a little dive bar that will remain nameless, there exists the greatest burger north of the 60th parallel. It is not on the menu, and you have to ask for it by name, but if you do you will receive what has been called “the hangover cure before the hangover”; Icelandic blue cheese, gold onion, and soft bun holds this perfectly grilled patty, that is just perfect to wrap up a perfect day.
Full from all the delights from this gem of a city, I walked home in the still lit summertime hours of the early morning. Guðmundur had one more surprise for me, a little sculpture park that is always open, adjacent to the Hallgrimskirkja (Eiríksgata, 101 Reykjavík, Iceland). “People walk right by this park, and never know it’s here. It’s my favorite place in all of Reykjavik.” This is the life’s work of Einar Jónsson, all from the early part of the last century, are unlike anything I’ve seen before. Half deco, half Phoenician, all crazy, they were particularly moving in the glow of the midnight sun through the morning Icelandic mist. Here you can sit or stroll, or perhaps meet another wandering stranger, and share the experience that you had, which if you were lucky, were truly local, and truly Icelandic.
“Roberto, please just do me one favor,” Guðmundur quietly says with a deep gravitas.
“Of course Guðmundur. What?”
“Please change my name for the story. I would hate for anyone to know it was I that let the cat out of the bag, so to speak.”
I’ve seen a few unique bars in my life … there is Harley’s Hard Rock in Yellowknife, the northern most strip club bar in the world. There is the Caverna Antica in Ischia which is in an old Roman wine grotto that you have to spelunker to. The one that might be the most mind blowing is simply atop the I’m Hotel in Manila, where a thousand jellyfish wait to drink with you.
I didn’t know that Jellyfish could be such a rewarding drinking buddy. Their, wandering, devil may come lax attitude makes sipping a cold Singapore Sling while watching their slow mo dance a lot like sharing a cold beer with the Dude. It’s pretty chill.
Turn around and you are afforded perhaps the best view of Manila that the city has to offer. 360 panorama’s that come alive as the sun sets and the city becomes electric.
Theres lots of great sitting areas, a cool lit wall, and even a pretty decent menu to get your nosh on. Down below the insane Makati streets are teeming with traffic, prostitutes, and hawker stalls, but up here, closer to heaven, it’s just you, your cold drink, and the Jellyfish ballet.
Want to visit NYC but have close to ZERO bucks … as we say here on the island “no prhablehm”.
Enter Brad and Rob, two (spunky) New Yorkers here to give you some invaluable tips on how to not only save some money in the Big Apple, but how to do it for zero dollars.
NYC for zero dollars? Like sleeping on the sidewalk?
Not exactly … the homegrown duo take you through some pretty spectacular sites that cost absolutely nothing … some of which I cant believe, but are true … here are a few that stuck out to me:
• Free bike rental at Governors Island.
• Free admission to the Natural History Museum.
• Free kayaking in the Hudson river
They even have a few great tips on cheap eats and some of the best all you can eat buffets for sushi, indian, even pizza???? (All you can eat pizza sounds like a medical liability. Well so does Indian for that mater.)
But maybe cheap all you can eat is STILL too expensive…. how about… free? Yeah, if you can believe it there are places in the city where you can eat free Italian hors d’orves, free pizza, and even free hot-dogs.
How everyone doesnt way 500 lbs in this city Ill never know. Anyway check it out, its pretty funny, and you can find out where you can sleep in a cab for under 40 bucks which is more then it costs to take a cab from Queens to the East Village. Trust.
What I do want to discuss is why some of my films become Staff Picks, and other’s perhaps not.
I have upward of 600 films on Vimeo. Each unique pieces of work, a mixture of client driven and personal projects. Somewhere along the way I left the ranks of an office worker and dedicated my full-time to being a filmmaker. I say filmmaker because I direct, shoot, and edit. It’s totally consuming, and even when I’m not “working” I’m still working. Like they say however, if you do what you love, you never work a day in your life. That is true.
Even though I have some compelling work with famous athletes or well-known actors or insane SFX, there are a few films that really resonated with the Vimeo staff. What I find interesting is that they are all projects I did on my own dime, with my own crew, and were totally self-produced. I think this is an important point for any filmmaker.
This last film, “Heretic” is a short documentary about Douglas Little. Douglas is an amazing guy; he’s one of the creative visual geniuses behind sleep no more, an award-winning designer, but what put him on my radar was actually my girlfriend. She forwarded me an article about this guy who makes personalized perfume in his baroque upper west side apartment. He sounded absolutely mad, and I really wanted to meet him.
So I wrote him an email.
I basically said I was a filmmaker, and make short docs about people I find interesting. I asked if he would be interested in shooting a short doc in his apartment. He said yes.
I’ll pause here for a second to explain why these short docs are so important to me. I love narrative work, both commercially and otherwise. Docs though hold a special place in my heart. Living in a city like New York you are literally surrounded by people whose stories are always as or more interesting than most narratives. These are real people, who are your neighbors, your office mates, your friends even. Their stories are already written and all you need to do is record them. For me the short doc is an easy day at the filmmaking gym; just bring your gear and work it out.
For Douglas, along for others I’ve done, I like to keep the crew real small. Just 3 or 4 people. Maybe two lights if any. Good sound. It makes it fast and easy to move around, and easy on the subject too. I’m sure Douglas was open to having 5 people in his living room instead of a crew of a dozen.
I also move fast and cover everything. I have a set list of questions, but really just want to have a conversation with my subject. I find out what’s interesting about them on the spot. What’s fantastic is there is no consequence; there is no client, no one paying you, so it really doesn’t matter if you get something or not, you’re there to experience someone and no more. It’s the going commando of filmmaking and it’s amazing.
Finally you must have fun with it. The crew I roll with is all other filmmakers and shooters. Since there is no client it become professional playtime, meaning we get to use all the toys we never do on paid sets because we’re not exactly sure what they will do. Russian anamorphic glass you bought on-line, a weird 360 camera you want to cut your teeth on, even an old 8mm film camera you found at your grandparents. We get weird, really weird with it, and it makes for some very interesting footage. Weird angles, strange lighting, you name it, the weirder the better. Leave it to the editor to figure out.
That’s me also. I love and hate editing like most editors do. When it’s tedious, it’s life sucking, but when its good, it’s mind-blowing. When I do a personal project like this because there is no consequence to anything we’re doing, it becomes extremely enjoyable. I make some editorial decisions that are frankly horrible and I love it.
In the end what happens is a few things. You get to meet someone who is very interesting. You get to learn and invent new techniques and gear, and you get to try something new in post that may or may not make sense. It’s basically the Jackson Pollock style of filmmaking; throw it against the canvas and see what sticks.
Now I’m sure some people will say that a planned line of attack is a much better use of a filmmakers time, and yes, there is a time and place for that. However if you consider that it takes half a day to shoot, and maybe a week to edit one of these films, it really isn’t that much of a risk.
The result has always been rewarding, not just from accolades, but from the experience of meeting new people and working with my core crew. One film we did together about master mechanic Peter Boggia went on to win a few great festivals and even brought Peter and I over to Italy for a month-long, once-in-a-lifetime motorcycle trip. This latest film about Douglas has spurred a bunch of new work from new clients, which I wouldn’t have even know how to approach otherwise. What I’m saying is that while paid work is great, it’s usually the personal projects that stand out, and often get the new work knocking at your door. What’s more it doesn’t really cost anything to produce, other than some lunch for your friends.
So how do you get a Vimeo Staff Pick? No idea, but if you know please tell me. In the meantime just email someone interesting, grab a camera and a friend, and go make a short doc, you won’t be disappointed.
Man. You know when something is so good you hate it cause you’re petty, small, and have very low self esteem?
I hate this show.
Travel Man, AKA Richard Ayoade, AKA Moss from IT Crowd, AKA Casey Neistat of Travel Shows, AKA my dream/nightmare, has a dope show where he does 48 hours with famous people in famous cities.
Why is this show amazing? One cause Richard is a genius, comedic and otherwise. Two because they take a piss out of the travel show format, and three because look at that beautiful fucking hair.
Do a favor, watch an episode. Some are better than others, mainly because the guests are sometimes a little more entertaining than others, but Richard always brings the goods. So far the NYC episode is one of my faves. Start there if you dare get sucked in to a travel time suck.
(Here it is on YouTube if Channel 4 doesn’t play in your country)
If you travel as often as I do your luggage is most likely your best (or worst) friend. I personally have gone through many phases and dated multiple varieties of bags. When I was young, I would hang out with big, bright backpacks with large 30 lbs capacities that I could take and do anything with. Roughing it, with little compartments to hide weed, and lots of loops to hang water bottles and charms off of. Wild times. As I got older and perhaps more refined, I started courting more modern, sleek models, with wheels and multiple compartments that were a little more complex. These weren’t bags, these were luggage, luggage that I didn’t feel awkward introducing to my boss or taking home to my parents (just to be completely honest, I still am friends with my old backpack online and yes, we do send travel shots to each other).
No matter where you are on your luggage journey, choosing your satchel, your case, your vestibule is a very personal matter. Only time, experience, and many miles will forge some sort of bond with a bag. Here are, in my opinion some of the best, and most iconic bags from my past. Lets start at the beginning.
THE TREKKING BACKPACK
The backpack, other then your basic bindle which is only used in deep Williamsburg, is your most elementary vessel to carry your junk in. I have gone through many iterations of backpacks, from your classic Jansports of high school, to your rust-orange nylon specials from REI that roll through Europe with you in your 20’s. Now, I’m a little bit wiser, a little bit more sophisticated, so I opt for the hard to find Partner’s & Spade VSTR.
This pack is the tits. Waxed waterproof canvas, side opening, removable day-bag, and lots of compartments so you can say “oh, that’s where I put that” when you get home from your trip. Best of all… it comes with a goddamn hammock. Yeah. A hammock. Nothing says pro traveller then your own personal hammock.
THE BASIC BACKPACK
Sometimes you need to get away, but not too far, so you need something a little smaller, a little lighter. Maybe you need it to possibly expand incase you stop at the grocery store, or maybe don’t want to carry your winter jacket all around the Mediterranean. Maybe you need a slick side pouch for you 15 inch laptop, and a front pocket with more compartments than your girlfriend’s purse. Maybe you need the Cotopaxi.
City? yes. Mountains? yes. Stuck at the airport? yes. This bag goes everywhere with its thick canvas shell and rawhide bottom, and damn that’s sexy when I even write it. Side pockets for water bottles, totally inconspicuous yet still a good looker. It feels real good on from its padded supports and even a waist belt that holds you like a needy lover. Buying it even makes you feel good because cause part of the proceeds go to fixing the earth and the people on it. It’s basically like a blowjob for your back, that you can carry things in.
THE CAMERA BAG
Camera bags are tricky. You need it to be portable, comfortable, and versatile. I also don’t like it looking like a camera bag because it’s like your 17 year old daughter’s virginity at a UCSB frat party; someone is going to steal it. Seriously, it’s like a super rapey school, keep your daughters away. It’s taken me years, and many varieties, but I think I found the be-all-end-all of camera bags and her name is the Lowepro Fastpack.
I mean look at those two in the picture. They’re talking about train schedules, and no one is getting in an argument! What couple you know is that chill? Could it be that they have all their expensive dope gear on their backs, plus a shit ton of personal effects, AND their laptops, and aren’t worried about it in the least? Yeah, I think so to.
The 250 is what I have, it’s the perfect size for a 5D with a 28-300 lens (yes, it exists, and it is the best lens for travel, story coming soon) plus two other lenses, and all the do-daddery that goes with cameras. Laptop in the back, toiletry bag and schtuff in the top pocket. Secret compartment for condoms and passports inside. You can even strap a tripod to the side if you’re one of those people. It’s a great bag best ever.
Most people live for their carry-on. It is by far the most popular type of case, as well it should be, since it is used by pretty much everyone and their grandmother. For me a carry-on is all about space. I want space for my shit, and I want it to fit in the overhead space with ease. Throw in some wheels and you got a deal. You might be surprised, but this time it’s the good ol’ Travelpro Crew that takes the cake.
See, it’s not always about being flashy; sometimes you just need the right tool to do the right job, and there is no other bag more tool-like then the classic Travelpro. Used by cheap fucks the world over, the Travelpro is bar none the best carry-on a person can buy. Why? Cause it’s a bag, and it is indestructible. Oh, nice Rimowa Aluminum case … what’s that? They lost your luggage? Wow, weird, considering it was a 1,899.00 dollar suitcase, and it was carry-on checked plane-side. You would think no one could “lose” that. Oh this? This is a Travelpro. It’s 70 bucks. I’ve had it 12 years.
I decided to get one when I saw that every flight attendant around the globe has one. If you want the best, look to the rest my friends. Front pocket for a laptop, top handle for easy pick-up to hit the stairs. What? you like spinning wheels because you’re too weak to drag your 20 lbs bag on the archaic two-wheel system? Well I hope you enjoy them for the week they work. I also hope you enjoy loosing an extra 2 inches of space (that’s a whole pair of shoes people) and also it not fitting into the overhead bin of a puddle jumper. This little succulent bag can practically fit under my seat, and hold all 9 seasons of Seinfeld … on VHS.
Or, of course, there is this:
I mean, it’s fucking sexy.
I hate checking-in luggage for two reasons; I don’t believe it is right to make human’s wait for things they already own, and two, airlines are seemingly better at loosing your luggage then actually getting you to destinations you paid to go to. That said my criteria for choosing a check in is as such:
It needs not to attract attention because luggage just doesn’t go lost, trust me, I know guys on the ramp.
It needs to be expandable because wherever I’m going half my shit is either staying, or I’m planing on bringing back twice as much crap.
It needs to be indestructible and easy to roll (that’s two things, I know, but I believe in the trinity).
Polycarbonate, under 10 lbs, expandable, and with a dinky little lock that can be opened with a well cooked french fry to give you that extra false sense of security. This bag is amazing; you can run it over, throw it down stairs at your in-laws house, or stumble drunkenly down a cobblestone street and it will easily trail behind you. Best of all is that when those amazingly easy, but weak-ass spinning wheels break, you can buy a replacement, and with two screws be rolling again. It’s like you’re your dad, and can fix things that break instead of buying a new one you silly millennial!
That’s the whole story folks. I’ve been traveling for a long time. I travel for work, not as in my job sends me places to do my job in other places, rather, my job is actually to travel. I’ve worked for the airlines, I’ve seen what happens below the ticket counters, and I’ve gone through more bags than I have abusive relationships. This line up, at this moment, is the result of years of frustration, broken zippers, and miles and miles of tears. I hope it serves you well, and remember this, no matter what bag you choose, you will definitely always forget to put something in it.