Is it possible to make a living doing what you love AND travel the world at the same time? Mark Shea of Overlander.TV is proving that it is indeed possible to follow your passion and have a location independent lifestyle. He shares his experiences as a traveling videographer and offers some great advice in this interview.
Please tell us about Overlander.tv.
I got involved in video in the mid 90’s when the advent of mini DV cameras opened up broadcast quality TV production to everyone….supposedly. I bought my copy of ‘Rebel without a Crew’ and set out to learn how to do everything from script to screen. I cut my teeth filming weddings on the weekends.
In my 20’s, I traveled a lot and wanted to find a way to continue doing this. From the time I was a young boy I had this desire to see the world, to understand it. I always had my head in the encyclopedia reading about some far off tribe.
I watched a lot of travel programming and found it dull. It was just like ads for resorts. Another beautiful presenter in a bikini, once again telling the viewer, ‘This is my favorite beach!’
I thought I could do better and decided the way to do this would be to tell the stories of local people. So I set up the ‘Meet a Local’ series with the hope of getting a television deal. TV wasn’t and still isn’t open to the idea that one person can do it all.
Not long after I finished my first ‘Meet a Local’ program, Lonely Planet produced a show of the same theme. I realized then, if I was going to make this work, I had to become my own TV station, raising my own advertising and sponsorship funds.
Before Youtube, in 2001, I envisaged the internet as the next great broadcast medium and set up an online travel video channel. I was lucky to get in early and get a head start, but even now, I am still fine tuning the various revenue streams, and it has only really been since the advent of Youtube, that the profile of my work has grown.
Video seems to be the way of the future, have you discovered that video is more popular than blog articles?
After music, I think the audio visual medium is the most powerful storytelling tool to get across emotion. Look at some of the videos coming out of the Middle East, the Egyptian Uprising, from the people, by the people, such powerful narrative.
This is what I love about video on the internet, the truth can prevail. People outside powerful media organizations, can have a voice.
In the travel industry, I think video is still largely an untapped resource. There are so many people writing travel blogs but very few really nailing it with video.
I think the problem is people just copy what they see others doing. They see someone running a blog, selling an ebook and do the same, not really thinking outside the box.
The way I make money from travel videos is not the only way, and maybe not even the best way. I think the main thing is to follow your passion and build on that.
I’m seeing more and more clever tourism operators include video in their online marketing campaigns. In the same way most tourism businesses now have web sites, I see a time when all business will have videos on those sites.
Your videos are very high quality, do you lug around lots of expensive gear?
It is now possible for one to carry a broadcast quality kit, in their carry on luggage. I made a video recently of my current kit.
I’m always trying to lighten my load and next plan to buy and even smaller broadcast quality camera (1kg) which I am quite excited about as it will mean I will be able to film in more places, without attracting too much attention
How do you earn an income now?
Video production is my main source of income. When I am in Australia I do commercial video production, business profiles, videos for tourism regions, etc. I also make online ad revenue from my videos, and sell DVD’s and video downloads on Overlander.tv.
Recently I filmed in New Zealand. On this trip I wanted to test whether I could get paid to travel with my camera. It was a great success. I had money coming in from my monthly Youtube ad revenue payments, and did a number of tourism business profiles.
I made a majority of my money doing the profile videos. I usually find clients by approaching them and telling them the benefit of online video. I always try and deal with innovative businesses as it makes it easier for me to tell their story.
I think there is a lot of smoke and mirrors on the internet, a lot of people writing their own copy, making out they are better than they are. In business, face to face is most important in closing a deal. And with online video, it doesn’t matter how fancy the production, if it doesn’t get seen, the campaign is a failure. My online social network (Youtube, Facebook, Twitter) ensures any video I produce gets views. This is an important selling point to business.
Youtube ad revenue has picked up quite a bit in the last 6 months, but only provides me a part-time income. There are Youtube partners making six figure incomes. I can’t reveal the exact amount I make from Youtube but currently I get about 600,000 views a month just on Youtube, and also have a revenue deal with another site Blinkx. I have tried all the major video sites and can tell you there are a lot of cowboys out there. Some, despite 1,000s of views have never paid a red cent. Youtube is the current king, but you need a lot of views to make any coin.
So with my model of production, it is a matter of balancing several streams of income, both passive and active.
What are your plans for the future?
I am currently planning a round the world trip to really test the ‘get paid to travel the world with your video camera’ idea. It will be interesting, as some countries are more open to video than others.
I was interested to see the success of ‘Eat Pray Love’ and my next series will explore travel for personal growth. My most honest and popular film was my Camino de Santiago pilgrimage.
So I want to get back to that really raw portrayal of travel, the good and the bad.
I have been researching how to legally work in foreign countries, and have found some amazing information, particularly with regard to how corporations do it, all these schemes like the double Irish and Dutch sandwiches. The five flags theory also may be of interest to your readers.
I’m also looking at ways to cut travel expenses, secure sponsorship and deal with foreign languages. Many of these issues I will probably end up video blogging about.
Do you have any advice for aspiring travel videographers?
The main thing is follow your passion. As I mentioned before, my way of doing things is but one of many. There are numerous ways people can make money and travel with a video camera.
There are a lot of sites set up to distribute stock footage. With the right equipment and a good eye, one could film beautiful locations around the world and sell the footage, earning a nice passive income.
If you have a passion, whether it be permaculture or pristine wilderness, with the right marketing, you can find an online audience. Don’t narrow your distribution options, by just listing on your blog, get it into bookshops and amazon etc.
Get a broadcast deal:
Don’t want to do it all yourself, wise move! I can think of two individuals, Community Channel and Graham David Hughes, who have got broadcast deals on the strength of their ideas and Youtube profiles.
Set up a website highlighting all the best travel videos on the internet.
This one seems like a no brainer, but I’m amazed only one site is doing it: MatadorNetwork.
Given that Youtube embeds, run ads for their producers, most would be happy having their work displayed on another site. And the owner of that site can collect any additional ad revenue from ads on their pages.
So always be willing to look outside the square. Take from what successful operators are doing, and build on it, the space is always changing ( remember myspace!)
Try and find your own voice, feed on your passions and when you do start getting noticed, read contracts carefully and try and not get locked in to exclusive deals unless the rewards are enormous. You don’t want to be paid yesterday’s prices for a growing market.
Marrying commerce and art is never easy so try and stay true to what people like about your work. Branded content doesn’t have to dull and obvious.
Finally, if you want to get paid to travel the world, become a flight attendant, video is only but one means. 🙂
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Make a Living with YouTube Videos on JetSetCitizen