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Travel Channel Academy

Okay, so the Travel Channel Academy isn't quite a travel destination, but I'm guessing there are a lot of people out there with questions about the class and whether or not it's worth the cost of going, both in time and money. I attended the 11th class offered back in February 2008, so I thought I'd share my thoughts on it.

Let me clear up some misconceptions people may have. This course isn't really designed to help you take better vacation home movies. Its focus is on getting you some experience with producing your own short-form (one to three minutes in length) videos that the Travel Channel could use for their various outlets. They aren't looking for the next show host, or the next show idea. As a matter of fact, the Travel Channel executives will tell you straight up that they aren't interested in ideas, they're interested in a final product.

Another mistake some might make (and a couple in our group did) – there is no hand-holding here. The first day of the course, you're given a camera (if you didn't bring your own) and shown how it works, you get about an hour of instruction on what kind of shots you should be getting, and you're sent out on your own to film. You're given some suggestions, but you have to decide for yourself what you're going to shoot. You've got about three hours to come back with 15 minutes of film.

Sounds easy, doesn't it? It's not. First, you have to find something you think might be interesting, then you spend some time watching to see if it actually is interesting, then you have to find out if you can actually film it. Believe it or not, that last one can end up being quite a challenge, at least for a bunch of the people in my class, myself included. The easy part of all this ends up being the actual filming, but you go through a lot to get to that point.

When it comes to editing the footage, you get a bit more help, but not a lot. There are about five students to each instructor in the editing software, so you may not get a lot of personal attention. Personally, I didn't really want someone helping me, since I ended up wanting to work through the process myself. I probably didn't get as much information as I could have if I had asked more questions, but I think I learned more. But maybe not.

I won't go through a blow-by-blow of the schedule, since that's posted on the Academy web site. I will say that this is something where what you get out of it depends directly on what you put into it. The instructors know making films requires lots of self-motivation, so they demand it from you in the class. You have to find the story; unless you're very lucky, it doesn't find you. And if you want to have your work purchased, you have to get out there and do the work to make it worth purchasing – there aren't any shortcuts.

I wouldn't say that the class was fun. But I think I learned a lot from it; I'll know for sure once I can afford to buy my own camcorder and actually start doing some filming (soon, hopefully).

Some suggestions I would have for people looking to take the class themselves:

  1. Be realistic about what you expect to get from the class. If you think you're going to be "discovered" by the Travel Channel, or you're going to be guided through the experience, you're going to be disappointed. It's an introduction to digital filmmaking. It gets you some potentially great contacts, and you'll get professionals who are willing to work with you to make what you produce the best it can be, but no one is going to make it easy for you.
  2. If you're taking the class in a town you're unfamiliar with, do some research about the place before going to the class. You're going to need two places to film, where there is something interesting going on, or someone has a good story to show (rather than just to tell). Ideally, you can find something that's different from what's usually shown on the place, but that's less important that you might think. The important thing is to cover it in your own individual way.
  3. If you have time, do some research on how to craft a story. I felt like I was a little ahead in this, since I've been writing (or at least trying to write) for years and have been to scads of writers' workshops, classes and conventions. None of them had a thing to do with travel or film, but the basic premise of how a story should flow is the same, no matter how you're telling it.
  4. Read through Michael Rosenblum's blog. You'll go into the class already having a good idea of his digital filmmaking philosophy. Plus, some of what he teaches in the class is touched on in some of his posts. You get bombarded with so much information during the class, anything you can process in advance helps.
  5. Take everything with a grain of salt. Yes, you want to produce wonderful work that makes you seem like a filmmaking prodigy, but chances are, that isn't going to happen, and nobody expects that from you except you. Michael isn't the best about being diplomatic, but don't take it personally. I know, easier said than done, but in the end, whatever anyone says in that class is simply their opinion. It may be an informed opinion, but that doesn't mean it's 100% correct. If your video gets branded as "crap" or, far worse in my opinion, "it's okay," take what you can from it and try not to make the same mistakes when you film next time. Because as long as there is a next time, you aren't stuck with that label that bothered you so much in the first place. (And this is another area where reading Michael's blog helps, since there are plenty of people out there who are very vocal in their disagreement with him.)

If you are taking the class, good luck, and feel free to drop me a line and let me know what you thought of it.

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