The travel series "Over Land" premiered on NRK in the fall of 2019 and is an idea we have been working on since 2009. It takes time to develop and execute an entire series on your own.
How does one proceed to produce a TV series? How do you create a travel series on a low budget? And how do you actually sell a TV concept? In this article, we will cover all of this and share our experiences.
The concept for "Over Land" originated all the way back in 2009 when friends Torkild Bredesen and Peter Bryng, both in their early 20s, were eager to see and experience the world. Alongside two other buddies, Vegard and Carlos, they booked a round-the-world trip through Kilroy Travels. Over the course of six months, they planned to explore significant parts of the globe.
Blogging was becoming a trend in Norway, prompting the guys to start a vlog to document their upcoming journey. They invested in a camera and set up a website to publish the content they created. Without experience in either camera operation or storytelling, the vlog was intended to showcase the everyday activities they engaged in during their journey as the guys embarked on their round-the-world adventure.
No Travel Series Came Out of It Back Then
With a lack of both general storytelling knowledge and understanding of all that filmmaking entails, no TV series emerged from that trip. However, something good still came out of it. On their journey from Mongolia to China, the guys coincidentally met some individuals who had just finished their car trip from London to Mongolia. And this planted a seed! Torkild and Peter agreed right then and there. They would participate in the infamous "Mongol Rally" sometime in the future.
It's Now or Never
Years went by, and when Peter finished film school six years later, they made a decision. The time had come to begin the planning.
The ambition was to document an adventure that people back home could truly be inspired by. A series that could help dispel the fear of foreign lands and people - a series that would show that the world is not really as dangerous as the media sometimes makes it out to be.
Torkild and Peter got in touch with two more friends, Kyrre Heldal Kartveit and Lars Brødreskift TIngulum, to see if they would be interested in joining this adventure. It didn't take much convincing - the guys were in, and now the Mongol Rally adventure had turned into a reality.
The planning began a year in advance (2015). Many of the countries they were going to visit had strict rules and requirements regarding visas, which meant that the travel route had to be meticulously planned with regard to entry and exit dates. Missing these dates would risk their ability to reach their destination.
The visa application process had to be initiated well in advance, and the challenges started right from this point. Several of the countries they were going to pass through didn't have embassies in Norway, so they had to apply from England. Fearing that their passports could end up lying at various embassies for months, the guys opted to use a dedicated visa agency for several of the applications.
Pitching to the Channels: Everyone Said No
After assembling the team for the trip and securing all the visas, it was time to start pitching to the channels. With no prior experience in the field and no celebrity names in the cast, the guys presented the concept to several major TV channels in Norway, including TV2, NRK, Discovery, and TV3. Everyone said no.
Even though the channels liked the concept and found the trip meticulously planned in terms of travel route and production, the "guys-on-a-journey" vibe wasn't something they envisioned for their programming schedule in the years to come. However, they were open to reviewing the footage after the trip for a fresh assessment. So, there was no TV deal in place before departure.
The Common Thread
Every good story, film, or series has a common thread that runs through it from beginning to end. That's why emphasis was placed on the Silk Road and Genghis Khan.
The Silk Road refers to a network of extensive trade routes from East Asia to the Mediterranean region – a route believed to have been in use before Christ.
Genghis Khan founded the Mongol Empire in the 13th century, which at its peak was the largest contiguous empire in world history. Genghis Khan is known for his conquests, but also for his role in bolstering trade along the Silk Road.
With this historical context in mind, it was easier to plan the content of the series in a way that would also make it more comprehensible for viewers. By having specific points of reference throughout the journey, the series gained a consistent common thread and narrative, so that unforeseen events along the way wouldn't significantly impact the storyline.
Even though the series wasn't sold before departure, there was no doubt that this adventure would make for great entertainment. All setbacks were brushed aside as the guys set course for the adventure of their lives.
Travel Series Production: Technique, Pace, and Storytelling
Over the course of two months, half the globe was traversed while simultaneously filming and documenting. Peter's prior experience in TV productions as a freelancer and in producing web series had a significant impact on how the production was carried out. Filming during travel is characterized by a fast pace, leaving extremely limited time for directing the on-screen participants. To navigate and keep track of this, the shooting was divided into various categories. For those less familiar with story structuring, here are some key terms:
Reality: A reality sequence captures events exactly as they unfold. The challenge lies in capturing enough angles and shots to create a coherent sequence.
Sync In film language: "Sync" refers to interviews with participants about situations that have either occurred or are anticipated. This element is very valuable in the editing process to piece together reality sequences in a concise and effective manner.
B-roll: B-rolls often consist of atmospheric shots, such as drone footage of nature and landscapes, slow-motion shots, or other clips without dialogue. Without preparation, there can easily be an excess of B-roll shots, but they are essential for building up a travel series.
During the journey, it was crucial to alternate between these storytelling elements. With rapid movement, a balance between reality, sync, and B-roll is required to create cohesive sequences.
Questions for interviews were often written down during long drives. Opportunities like evening camping or waiting at border crossings were utilized for conducting interviews. Interviews take time, so allocating ample time for their execution is important. Even short reactions and responses can be crucial in post-production. While interviews can be done afterward, the result often feels more authentic when conducted on the go.
An expedition like this demands robust technical equipment. There's also always a risk of technical issues. Therefore, having extra equipment is extremely important.
The primary camera used in this production was the Sony FS5, a relatively compact documentary camera with good battery capacity. For this camera, we had an array of lenses and a wireless microphone, along with a connected camera microphone.
As a backup camera, and for border crossings or situations where we didn't want to draw too much attention, we brought along a Sony A7S DSLR. This turned out to be very practical in many of the countries. For instance, we exclusively filmed with this camera in Turkmenistan.
We also mounted a GoPro in the car for filming, hoping to avoid attention during border crossings. A USB microphone was directly connected to the GoPro for improved audio quality and to ensure that all sound was captured, just in case the bugs weren't always on.
To capture stable motion while on the move, we had a DJI Osmo camera gimbal. Additionally, we had a DJI Inspire 1 drone for aerial shots.
During a journey like this, there will be periods where access to power is limited. Therefore, in the car, there was a 12V adapter to charge the batteries on the go.
Drone was Forbidden in Several Countries
Several countries have a complete ban on drones. The drone used in this production was rather large and often posed challenges at border controls. Therefore, the drone was wrapped in a bright color and placed in a box near the car wheels, so that if questioned, it could appear to be a remote-controlled car.
It probably won't come as a surprise that there's a lot of raw footage on a journey like this, where nearly everything is documented. All the material was backed up along the way and copied to three different drives for security in case anything was lost or stolen. Drives were sent back to Norway using FedEx whenever there was an opportunity in larger cities.
The End of the Adventure
For those who haven't seen the series, it can be stated that the guys barely made it to Mongolia. The car they drove had a welded Lada clutch and many makeshift repair solutions by the time they arrived in Mongolia.
The car was parked in Ulan Ude, a city not far from Ulaanbaatar, the capital of Mongolia. From there, the car was transported by train to Europe, while the team took a flight back home.
The Path to a Finished TV Series
Upon returning, the work of shaping the series began in earnest. With limited budgets – almost no budget at all – the task of categorizing and logging all the material began. Slowly but surely, a rough cut started to take shape.
The initial rough cut was 40 minutes long and had significant gaps in the story. After presenting the series to the channels once again, the response was consistently negative. This format wasn't what the channels were looking for.
It's advisable, therefore, to thoroughly refine the material before presenting it to a channel. Often, there's limited time to present a concept, and decisions are made quickly. With only a few channels in Norway, there are also limitations on how many times you can pitch a format.
The work continued, and an episode structure was pieced together. During a presentation to Fredrik Færden at NRK, the first positive feedback came. Færden saw the potential in the series and was interested in broadcasting rights.
TV channels often have separate project groups for content. While one department, often referred to as external production, acquires existing programs, the development department works on new content. These two departments operate with different budgets. The development department usually has more generous budgets to create new content, while the external production department has limited funds. However, they can make decisions more swiftly in return. Therefore, when developing a series, it's often advantageous if it's not completely finalized, allowing the channel to be involved in shaping the show.
Even though the series didn't immediately capture the attention of many channels, NRK agreed to broadcast rights with a limited purchasing budget. This covered just the post-production costs but not the travel expenses. With these funds, a skilled editor, Alex Holm, was engaged. Animation and music rights were also invested in. NRK contributed to color correction and sound mixing, even though the original agreement was for a complete series of six episodes. Color correction and sound mixing are crucial components that many often underestimate. For linear TV, color levels need adjustment, and sound mixing needs to be tailored.
From the project's inception in 2015 to the series airing on NRK in 2019, four years elapsed. There were numerous challenges along the way, and the process was both lengthy and time-consuming. But it was worth it. Inspiring people to explore the world is a great joy for any storyteller. This leads to a deeper understanding of different cultures and might even inspire more individuals to embark on their own journeys of exploration.
The series achieved an average of 480,000 viewers, even without recognizable faces in front of the camera. For those who haven't yet seen the series, you can do so via the Vimeo link below. If you have questions regarding the journey or TV series production, feel free to get in touch.
Link to the series:
Contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org
Over Land – From London to Mongolia (2019)
Producer and Cinematographer: Peter Bryng
Stills, Drone Operator, and Timelapse: Torkild Bredesen
Editing: Alex Holm / iProduksjon
Voiceover: Lars Sundsbø
Color Correction: NRK
Sound design: NRK
Music: Epidemic Sound & EMI Music