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Talking Travel with the Filmmakers of PBS's new travel series, Roughing It
Their half-hour documentary, Roughing It: Mongolia, will be making its premier later this summer on PBS, and they'll be turning it into a series, called what else but Roughing It, coming out in late 2009. Here's more from our interview:
What traveling experiences have you guys had before setting on this documentary?
CHRIS: My first real adventure travel experience was with Keith during the summer of our sophomore year in college. We had arranged jobs as English teachers in Guangdong, China. But the morning we were supposed to leave, we got a frantic call from the Chinese school administrator: "The children have been poisoned and the school is closed. You cannot come anymore. I'm very sorry!" But, luckily, they didn't cancel our airline tickets. So we went to China with no plan whatsoever. We ended up as extras in a Chinese rap music video, hitchhiking 19,500 feet up the Himalaya in the back of a dump truck, and steamboating down the Yangtze River with thousands ofThree Gorges Dam refugees. We were hooked. From that trip, we realized there was a really good chemistry of us two on the road. Almost effortlessly, we met fascinating people and found ourselves in fascinating situations
CHRIS: It's simple, but my best advice is to be curious. I'm surprised at how many people I see who spend most of their day finding the cheapest hostel, hunting down the pizza place in the guidebook, and getting drunk with the Australians at the backpacker bar. You have to think like a journalist--meet people, ask questions. Get over whatever timidity you might have. Hunt around in the strange parts of town, ask to go along with people. If you're respectful and genuinely interested, they will welcome you into their lives and culture.
CHRIS: A lot of phone calls, e-mails, and pestering the Ambassador-- plus some tactical exaggeration. We had a paper-thin resume at that point, so we had to stretch it. I think the president was a little surprised when two kids showed up for the interview in running shoes and wrinkled polo shirts.
CHRIS: Mongolia is a challenging place for independent travelers. There are less than 1,000 miles of paved road in the country, which complicates the logistics for getting anywhere. In the first week of filming, we had to sneak around a Bubonic plague quarantine. I broke three ribs after getting thrown off a horse. Keith and I both puked after a dozen bowls of distilled yak milk--yak vodka--at a traditional wedding ceremony. And I would guess everyone who travels in Mongolia would have similar experiences. It's the kind of place where adventure finds you.
CHRIS: Like starting out in any of the arts, you have to pay your dues. I was working as a night security guard in Sacramento, editing the show and making phone calls during the day. Eventually, if the project has potential, some kind soul will take interest. We found some amazing support from KVIE, our local PBS station. Particularly two guys, Mike Sanford and Tim Walton, who spent a lot of time giving us editorial guidance and advice on the business end. They helped us craft an interesting travelogue into a polished PBS program. It was a long process. It was our first show and a steep learning curve every step of the way.
KEITH: Roughing It: The Great Pacific will take you through some of the most exotic and remote countries on the planet. We're in the process of mapping out a rough path through Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore, the Philippines, Papua New Guinea and East Timor. Chris and I will definitely be packing our pepto bismol and dramamine as we island hop across Oceania and delve into the indigenous cultures that have successfully fended off Western influence.