How to Travel like a Travel Writer (and not kill what you love).

The world is being destroyed by tourism and I am the cause. There are currently 1.4 billion tourists out there and that number is only growing at an alarming rate. The world is addicted to travelling and I am one of the many pushers out there on the streets giving them their fix.

I have been travelling seriously since I was 15. An only son of two Airline parents I would hop a companion pass and take off with a few dollars in my pocket. Back then there was no internet, not smartphones, and the only information you had about a destination was what you brought in with you, usually in the form of a bent and beaten Globe Trekker guide that had 4 year old outdated information in it. It was an adventure to survive a city with every street a new possibility to have your mind blown. Not knowing what to expect was the greatest gift to travel.

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Not sure what I’m laughing about here … I’m lost in the Arctic Circle and near death.

I have watched the world, travel, and tourists change drastically over the last 20 years slowly building an acute awareness that we are destroying something that is not only a multi-billion dollar industry, but a true pure passion for most. Travel used to mean going someplace new, and more importantly, unknown. It meant discovery. It meant frequent bad meals, and quasi-dangerous hostels between getting lost, and very lost in places that simply had no use for another random person. However that environment yielded something that most travelers never even experience these days; discovery.

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Cambodian children seeing a drone fly for the first time.

For most travelers they have already taken the trip before leaving their laptop or cellphone. They have had a full blown case of FOMO from seeing it on instagram, they know what the best restaurants are and even what the food tastes like, they know all the cool spots, secret menu items, and wifi passwords before stepping out the door. At best they will be walking through a memory yet had, expecting everything, being let down often, and seldomly being surprised. They will fake excitement to everyone not watching them eat something online, and they will return unfortunately with all the satisfaction of finishing a series on Netflix. Paint by numbers travel is the status quo, and I have been doling out these colors for years. No more.

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Only getting lost let’s you find Il Matterello and the best tordelli you’ll ever eat.

I have extreme regret for what I did to destroy the world. Worse then what bankers did to our trust in economics, because I killed something living and breathing. There are so many voices out there forcing people to do this, see those, and eat that that we just seem to be running in circles of each other. Dreaded “top 10” lists are unnaturally formed, since most travellers only consider the most rated items on sites like Expedia, Kayak and Trip Advisor, which I have contributed nearly 1,000 reviews. I am the Baba Yaga of travel, and need to repent.

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Insert mandatory shot of Machu Picchu here.

Last year I experienced something that shook me to my core, how much I disliked Reykjavik, or rather, how much Reykjavik disliked me. A friend and I had won a contest to make travel films for the famed WOW airlines (which we single handedly took down) and part of the “prize” to work for them was living in Reykjavik for a few months. The experience was unlike any other, in so much as I have never felt more unwelcome in my life.

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In the lobby of WOW HQ. Still not sure if this was meant to be ironic.

 

 

 

“We are drowning in tourists,” Guðmundur, one of the only locals that actually befriended me during my time there, passionately tells me over an 18 USD crap draft beer. “We can’t eat, we can’t drink, we can’t walk down the street. We are infested with tourists. And I hate you.” Harsh, perhaps a bit intoxicated words, but true nevertheless. Iceland opens its doors to over 2 million overnight visitors each year, which is 6 times the countries population if you can believe it. “The tourists are like locust. That are loud, and fat and only go to see the stupid waterfall or sit in a man made pool to take pictures.” Guðmundur clearly has had enough but his point is made. Iceland’s greatest export is tourism at over 40% of their GDP coming from travel. With the end of WOW air, the country faced yet another collapse in their economy, one that travel tried to save. It is wholly unsustainable however, and more gravely, destroys the exact thing people are coming there for, the culture. 

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See?! Culture!

Beer is 18 dollars a glass. A $5 foot long Subway sandwich is 25 dollars. Renting a car requires a down payment of 300k dollars. That last one isn’t true, but that’s the feeling you get. When I tell you it is easier to rent an apartment in NYC then go out to eat in Reykjavik I’m not kidding.

Worse of all the people don’t want us. They don’t like us. We make everything expensive for them, we crowd the streets, and we are consuming disposable culture. “We are only interested in the 5 year friend, not the 5 minute friend.” Guðmundur tells me is the reason why no one even wants to talk to me at a bar. They know I’m just passing through. 

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Making many new mates in Mindanao

In all my years of travel I have never felt so disgusting in all my life. Despite always trying to be a model tourist, there was no salvation here. It was a wake up call, that my love in life was threatening to implode on itself, and there is no way of stopping it.

There is, however, a way to avoid it. 

There is a way to bring back the discovery, a way to bring back that original, irreplaceable feeling of wonder that I have been trying to maintain for 20 years. It takes a little work, and definitely courage, but it for the most part will ease the pain of an over-touristed planet. People are going to be irresponsible. They are going to take the easy road and top-10 themselves to death never to know the true beauty of being a professional traveler. We can only lead by example, so here are my 5 commandments to being a good traveller.

1. Be nice.

I start with this as it is the most important tool in your arsenal. Niceness will always get you the most out of any situation, period. Flight oversold and you’re stuck? Don’t yell at the poor human that is in front of you. Be nice. They’ll help you out if they can, or they won’t, but yelling is never going to make the odds of that any better. Someone purposefully trying to be a dick to you because they don’t like your accent/shoes/man-bun? Be nice, because it’s an opportunity to open their world to a new perspective, or at the very least you’re less likely to get shived if that was their plan. Just be nice. In general everyone around the world will open up to you if you show genuine interest in who they are and their culture, and if you’re nice about it, they’ll want to share. Don’t be afraid, be nice.

2. Be different.

I love Instagram. I love Trip Advisor. I love AirBnB. They tell me exactly the places to avoid writing about at all cost. If a country, a city or an experience is part of a top 10 then there is no reason for me to write about it. It’s had its moment in the sun, and I guarantee you there is better amatriciana, a better little museum, or a better secret bar just waiting to be discovered, mainly, because it will be yours, and the people there will be so happy to see you. SPREAD TRAVEL AROUND. That is your job as a travel journalist, to find NEW experiences for people to have, not to regurgitate well tread garbage. Sure some things need to be seen like Barcelona’s La Sagrada Familia or Machu Picchu, but don’t leave out Amsterdam’s Cat Museum or a visit to the oldest lightbulb in the world. 

3. Be honest.

No one fails at vacationing. Or do they? I think failing is one of the most important parts of travel, yet, you would be hard pressed to find some of the most popular instagram accounts with anything less then impossibly perfect travel shots. This is garbage. Travel is hard. Bags are heavy. Communication can be difficult. Jet lag is real. Be honest. Be honest with your travel, and you will get so much more out of the experience of sharing it. If everything is so damn fabulous then how do you know it’s actually fabulous? Share bad experiences, and more, just be real with your audience about what is happening. Do they really have to eat this donut? Will it really blow their minds? I hundreds of reviews on Trip advisor, you know how many I’ve given 5 stars to? only 3. It’s no secret people find bad reviews more telling then good reviews. 

4. Be ready.

If you like to make things to make things while you travel like me, you know that having the right gear is key. Too much and you’ll weigh yourself down, too little and you’ll be cursing yourself for not bringing “that lens”.  Be ready. While technology changes constantly, I have a pretty solid set of tools I like to bring with me on any job. Here’s a quick little film I put together before my last trip:

And here is a rundown of the gear. Mind you I’m not sponsored by any of these brands. This is just my honest opinion from my experience as a traveller.

Sony A7rIII – light, fast, proxies on the fly, dual slot, sees in the dark.
24-105 Sony lens – great zoom lens, one lens to rule them all.
Zeiss CP 50mm macro – for the fancy stuff. great for portrait and food.
Sony A6300 – small B cam – great for incognito, also underwater.
CCTV lens – slap this on the the A6300 and you get some rad art shots
Lowepro camera bag – the greatest low-fi, heavy duty camera bag out there.
Travelpro Carry On Bag – low profile, indestructible, cheap and good.
Mavic Pro Drone – I’ve shot over 30 films around the world with this little guy.
Rode VideoMicro – super compact on camera mic
Sony URX Wireless Mics (lav) – expensive, but necessary for good interview audio.
BEATS wireless headphones – don’t know how to fly without them.
Holdfast Buffalo camera straps – hipster lingerie for photogs.
Bungee Strap – this 3 dollar hack that will save your back and give you smooth pans.
iM Corona Old Boy Lighter – the ability to start a fire is what separates humans for beasts.
Manfrotto 930 tripod – light, easy, small, nuff said
BANDANAS!!! – see the film. they have 1000 uses.
Eceen bag – great portable bag that’s good for day trips
Global Entry – a must if you don’t want to spend half a day at customs
Alka Seltzer – a must if you want to not worry about what you’re eating.
Moleskine Notebook – portable, never fails, and batteries never run out.
Belkin USB Powerstrip – you got gear, you gotta charge it, you need this.
TSA locks – probably useless but good piece of mind.

5. Be lost.

Perhaps the most important tip is to get lost. Getting lost is the only way to really discover anything about a place, and about yourself. If you research everything before you go, your experience will be predetermined. It is what is plaguing the world right now, channeling millions of people to the same city to eat the same meal in the same restaurant. How very boring, and dangerous, to the travel industry. Instead, be lost. Put the phone away, turn off the internet, forget the top 10 places and explore. Try talking with people that live in the city. If you are going to use social media, then reach out to locals for their advice. That’s what we did when we made films for WOW airlines  and while TripAdvisor, Travel & Leisure and Culture Trip are great resources, we wanted what locals knew best about their city in hopes to give intrepid travellers a more authentic experience. If you are running into other tourists at places on trips, you may want to rethink your strategy.

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Stay lost my friends.

They are simple guidelines I like to follow that hopefully will not contribute to the pandemic travel malarkey that is shrouding our world. I have always believed that “Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry and narrow-mindedness” but unfortunately it’s becoming less effective. Hopefully this is a growing pain of a world getting smaller, and people will become more savvy looking for real experiences other then just virtual instagram moments.  Finally, because I love “top 5” lists, I’ll answer the top 5 questions I get.

Q: Do you ever have any trouble with the TSA with all that gear?

A: Depends. There is no rhyme or reason when they will stop and search a bag of mine, despite literally packing it the same way for a decade. I do have TSA pre and Global Entry which helps a ton, but overall rule number one of “Be Nice” seems to be the only real salvation in a TSA situation.

Q: What phone carrier do you use? Is it not really expensive traveling as much as you do?

A: Google Fi on a Google Pixel. Before Google Fi I had AT&T for my iPhone, and yeah, it sucked. I did buy a cheap Samsung that I could pop a local SIM card in, but that was a pain too. Google Fi changed all that as I can literally go anywhere in the world and my phone works for the same data rate. It’s a game changer.

Q: Do you need a permit to fly a drone in all those countries?

A: Yes. You do. Legally. Drones are amazing tools that really take travel filmmaking to a new level. The key with them, as with anything, is be professional. I am FAA and IAA certified and licensed. I never fly in dangerous areas and don’t break laws. More importantly I don’t ever fly if I’m going to annoy someone or ruin their experience. Drones are loud, and people don’t like them, so be invisible, be quick, and be safe. 

Q: Are there any specific clothing brands you like?

A: Socks I like Stance. PrAna also makes great travel gear that looks swank, great jeans and pants and shirts that don’t wrinkle. Buck Mason makes great lightweight clothes that look good dressed up or down. Duluth makes great tactical underwear. Yes tactical underwear.

Q: Do you know any travel hacks?

A: Hmm… well one thing I do is always keep an old hotel key with me in my go bag. Reason being is that most modern hotels these days require you put a key in to get the outlets to work, and if you’re charging batteries, then you best leave a key in while you’re out. 

How I Became a Travel Host.

 

Last summer Brad Stuart and I got the chance to travel around the world and make films for WOW Air, having won their global TravelGuide Contest. It was a surreal experience, somehow being chosen from over 30,000 incredible entries, and learning how to produce a full travel program on the road with just two people.

We produced over 110 films in just three months, all while traveling, which pushed us nearly to the limit of exhaustion. The funny thing about doing what you love, you never realize how truly spent you are until you stop.

Coming back there was a lot to process and learn from, and share as well. Lots of people have had questions like how did we win the contest, or what’s the best way to travel like a travel writerhow did we plan our travel vlog, or just how the experience was. This week I sat down with the good people at The Points Guy and answered some of these questions, which you can read on their site, or down below in an extended interview.

A TPG Reader Dishes on Winning WOW air’s ‘Dream Job’ Travel Contest

— As much as the gig was touted as a “dream job,” having to uproot your life for three months and step away from your daily paid work couldn’t have been an easy decision. Was there one particular aspect of the opportunity, or one thing you were hoping to get out of it, that ultimately led you to decide to go for it?
Accepting to do the project was definitely was a decision we had to think hard about. We realized that being gone for three months without working and still having to cover the cost of our apartments in NYC was going to eat up any per diem WOW was offering us. So from the start we realized we needed to really make this project something special, perhaps much bigger then WOW was expecting. We knew we had to create a diverse library of quality content that could really show our potential as travel content creators. The fact that WOW was letting us have complete control over what we produced and how we produced it meant we could make this project as dynamic as we wanted to, so the opportunity to do what we love the way we wanted to for a brand like WOW was definitely the main draw.
— What sort of training, if any, did you get for the “job?” Did you meet a lot of the WOW Air team in person and go over strategy, or did you just sort of get thrown in the deep end and go?
It was nothing less than freighting how much they trusted us, but also extremely liberating and rewarding. After a casual conversation on the phone with the head of their marketing department we were on a plane to go live in Reykjavik for the summer. We went to their offices, met briefly with Skuli the owner of the company who seemed really excited to have us there, and then they gave us the login information for their youtube, instagram and website and told us to go make some fun stuff. There was no review process or any real brand guidelines which, working in advertising, was absolutely petrifying, but again, liberating. Being able to fully control production from beginning to end was what made this experience exceptional for us. We worked together on what cities we wanted to cover, they set up flights and hotels, and the rest of the job was up to us. 
— How hands-on was the WOW team in terms of what you posted? In terms of determining what you wanted to cover in each city, did they have specific ideas in mind, was that all up to you, or was it somewhere in between? 
They chose 4 cities and we chose the rest, other then that they were completely open to whatever we wanted to cover, which I think was the purpose of the whole contest. They wanted real travelers to explore cities and get others excited about travel, which is exactly what we believed in. We didn’t want to make content that was just another voice in the echo of travel videos already out there online. There is this dangerous cycle that happens, where influencers and influential sites like TripAdvisor or Yelp will only send tourists to the “top 10” places in any one city, and then those people end up writing only reviews about the top 10 places, artificially inflating their importance and value. Whatever was the original experience that made it great cannot be sustained, since its just flooded continually with tourists, and it eventually loses all it’s local vibe. So we felt a responsibility to do the work and discover experiences that were lesser know but just as magical. In order to do so we would check the obvious resources like Conde Nast, Lonely Planet, Thrillist and even Atlas Obscura to see what each city had to offer, but then used WOW’s extensive social media platform to talk directly with our audience, which was the key to finding true hidden gems. We would ask locals where they go on a Thursday night to eat, or on a Monday to drink, and got some amazing suggestions that were largely unknown to foreigners and were truly local. While we covered some well known places that had a big draw, sharing these lesser known places was a way to ensure our audience could get an authentic experience that wasn’t blogged to death about online. There is nothing worse then going somewhere new and already feeling like you’ve been there because you’ve seen it so many times online. 
— What was the biggest challenge you faced in dealing with the company? What about from a personal level of having a limited amount of time to shoot a lot of footage: what was the biggest challenge there for you.
WOW was a pretty great partner; they didn’t demand anything from us that we weren’t willing to provide, and in the end got a lot more then they were expecting. For the most part they let us do our thing and manage our time as we needed. Any pressure we felt came from us driving ourselves to produce dynamic content. We ended up making well over 100 films for 10 cities around the world in just under three months, which was insane, but the experience of learning how to produce so many segments efficiently is something that will definitely benefit us in future projects. 
— In what way(s) did the experience most exceed your expectations?
What was most exceptional was being able to do what you love with a best friend. I think we often forget how lucky we are to be living at this time in history, and just being able to travel, make film, and lifelong memories with a friend is the real prize in all this, not to get to Hallmark Card or anything. I didn’t expect it to be so rewarding in that sense, even when we were exhausted from being up all night editing, or having walked 30 miles with a backpack of gear through a city all day, it was that feeling of accomplishing something difficult for something you really love doing that is the perfect recipe for honest fulfillment. 
— What about the opposite end of that question: Were there certain aspects that proved to be particularly challenging or time-consuming? Any aspect of the process that, if given a second chance, you’d try a different way?
Laundry. Do you know that there is not a single laundromat in all of Reykjavik? Not one. I live in NYC and there are TWO, read that, TWO just in my building. Where the hell do these people wash their clothes? We didn’t have one in our little apartment, so we ended up having to wash everything in the tub with a broken broom stick like it was 1926. Joking aside, it was a rough start for sure. We took too much equipment, and didn’t have a working strategy on how to plan our trips efficiently, but what was truly amazing is how streamlined the process eventually became from the experience of working through it. We realized what gear we really needed, how to plan our day efficiently, how to contact places and people to schedule our day, and how to edit everything and deliver, and still have time to throw a few back at Pablo Discobar before the sun set. That’s a joke because the sun doesn’t set in Reykjavik in the summer. 
— If rating the experience from 1 to 10, 10 being the best, where would it fall? 
26. Honestly. It was the most difficult thing I think either one of us ever tried to do, but because it was something we were really passionate about and loved doing it pushed us to the edge, and there we found nirvana. It was unlike any other experience I’ve ever had, and I wouldn’t of traded it for the world. I think what it gave us was well beyond the gift of travel, just merely visiting these cities, which was wonderful. It really taught us how to produce, and how to turn something we really love into something tangible and we can share. 
— Knowing things now that you didn’t know then: Are there questions you’d advise other people applying for similar travel dream jobs like this to ask of the  company providing the tip?
Make sure you really know what you’re getting into and what you want to get out of it, and make sure you communicate that clearly. Companies will dress up free work as a contest, which isn’t to say it can’t be mutually beneficial, but make sure you know the terms and contractual agreements before agreeing to anything. For us it was important that we could use all this work that we were doing to build off of, and banked on the exposure to do similar projects for other brands in the future. Also always ask if there is a place to do laundry nearby. 
— Would you recommend similar experiences to other people? Do you think there’s a certain personality type that’s best-suited for this kind of adventure?
Obviously anyone looking for adventure, loves to travel and make films are prime suspects for a good candidate, but being a good, self-motivated producer will definitely help you get the most out of the experience.  Knowing how to approach people and businesses so they would welcome us and our cameras was key for the success of the project, and as the summer went on we got better at opening doors. We set up private tours of museums, and got access to people and places that would be totally off limits to the average tourist, which made the experiences unique and profound, and in turn elevated the quality of the films from just average travel vlogs to actual curated segments. As an example we shot an entire film about Nobelhart & Schmutzig, a Michelin starred restaurant in Berlin that doesn’t allow cameras inside, so it was a real honor to tell their amazing story, not to mention one of the best meals we’ve ever had. We basically made these experiences happen for us, so the better you are at making your reality the more you’re going to get out of a project like this.
— Were you at all aware that the company was so close to ceasing operations? Were there any signs of strain or inklings about what was to come for the company?
Can’t really say we could, no. At the time they were a fluid, virile company that was forward thinking enough to send two travel maniacs around the world to make films for them. From an advertising standpoint the contest was a genius move. There is a trend happening now where brands will go direct to content creators and influencers to produce media for them, instead of working with a traditional agency, and for someone that works in advertising I really wanted to find out what was the potential of this type of work, and how far we could push the limits. It was a novel approach to a summer ad campaign and the idea was that they were going to keep the Travel Guide website up forever and have new guides each year go to new destinations. It was a fantastic concept, and I think really had the potential to connect with their consumers base.  
— If you had the chance to do it all over again, would you?
In a heartbeat, but in reality, we never really stopped. We may not be creating content for WOW but we’re constantly making new content to continually grow our own brand and channel. We’re just super thankful that we had the opportunity to do so much fun work with them while they were in business, and will definitely miss the fun little airline that did things a bit differently. 

Q&A with WOW AIR Travel Guides.

 

Over the summer we got the chance to make over 100 films for WOW airlines having won their TravelGuide competition. It was an insanely good time, and we learned so much about traveling and making travel films (which we talk about in this other film: https://youtu.be/UMZ7Fdvb3Kg)

Here we are answering some questions we got from you during the summer …

And some questions we got from you on Instagram …

 

if you have any other questions or wanna know something specific drop us a note or comment!

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How to Travel Vlog.

So we had the amazing opportunity to make over 100 films with WOW Airlines over the summer, which taught us so much about how to produce content on the road. Lotsa people asked us what the experience was like winning such a contest, and how we were able to make so many films in such a compact time.

The simple answer is not sleeping.

There was actually a lot to it, so we made a quick vid to answer some of the questions we got and what the day in/out was liker. We hope it helps those just starting out maybe not make the same mistakes we made (you definitely don’t need slider on the road, trust)

I also made a separate video on our blog called “Travel Like a Travel Writer” that goes more into detail about the type of gear and a few tips/hacks I use when going on location.

Here is a little breakdown of what we discovered:

Step One: Research

Finding the places you want to visit will lay the foundation to a solid production. For us, it was super important to find experiences that weren’t vlogged about to death online and were fresh and unique. We would search blogs like Travel&Leisure, Thrillist, Time Out, and even Atlas Obscura to find out what each city had to offer and what people were interested in, but our real secret weapon was going on social media and reaching out directly to our audience who were all locals. Asking locals where they go on a wednesday night for a drink, or where they think the best street food is always gave us places that were authentic and mostly only known by locals. It also let us meet new people and connect really to the heart of these cities.

Step Two: Plan your attack.

Now that we had a list of places we wanted to go we had to figure out how to do them all in a short amount of time. For this we would build a google map with each experiences listed and labeled as either a food, nightlife, museum, oddity, or cultural experience. Laying them out on a map was an easy way to see what we could physically cover in a day, and while we were on the road made it easy to see how to go from one location to the next. We kept all our notes in the maps, like opening hours or contact information so it was always easily at hand. We would also reach out to any restaurant, museum or cultural experience and let them know that we wanted to visit and make a film about them. This was super important as well because it often got us access that normal travelers would never get. Private tours and access to interview the people that create these amazing experiences, like documenting the Michelin Star restaurant Nobelhart & Schmutzig which doesn’t allow cameras inside. This makes all the difference between just sightseeing and crafting a journalistic story.

Step Three: Shoot.

Everyone’s style will be different here which is great; it’s where creativity comes in and separates us from one another as artists. For us, we wanted to keep the look and feel honest, authentic and fun, and be more docustyle then cinematic. To produce polished cinematic work is time consuming, and while beautiful and subversive, we were more interested in letting our audience experience what we were experiencing. We relied mostly on a Sony A7RIII with the 24-105 f4 zoom lens. This was a great camera for beautiful stills and fantastic 4k video. The camera also makes proxy files on the fly so editing could be swift. Beyond that we had two Sony Lav mics to get good, clean audio in interviews. Having good equipment is important, but remember, just make whatever you have work, that’s the key. Your content will always trump your quality. Except audio. You gotta have good audio. (If you want more info on my must haves for travel check this out https://cineclast.com/2019/04/01/travel-like-a-travel-writer/)

Step Four: Cut.

Editing is the most time consuming, but fortunately I’ve been cutting for nearly 20 years now, and can say you can get faster with practice for sure. We would back up the footage and bring everything into premiere and seperate the footage in to their respective subjects by sequence. I would then cut down the sequence of footage and craft the story quickly visually, and when it was in a good place, we would write a script. We would record the script in a homemade sound booth (i.e. couch pillow fort) on a Zoom recorder. A little color correct and stabilization of a few shots and we would output, and start planning our next city.

Step Five: Posting.

For WOW they had us run the Travelguide website which meant posting the films to YouTube, add images to Instagram, and then combine both on the website with a brief description of each video. Now that WOW is no longer unfortunately, the site no longer exists, but we are able to release the videos here on this new channel which we are excited about. I would say the way you post your videos are just, if not more important, then the content itself. This step is so involved it requires it’s own explanation, which we’ll put up on our blog http://www.cineclast.com