2017 OUT OF THE BOX
When I arrived in St. Louis I was concerned. Washington University, my show date, had changed theaters, I wondered if the patrons would make the shift successfully? Worry, I shouldn’t have, under the coordination of Kathy Lewis, the first show had a sell-out crowd, the second well attended. This was the first travel-adventure film presentation of their 2016/2017 season. I was shocked to learn that this was the University’s 119th year of lectures, including film, it has to be one of the oldest series in the nation.
The St. Louis audience has some of the most knowledgeable and well-traveled people on the travel-lecture film circuit today. I was showing, “A Week In Paris,” and asked for a show of hands of those who had been to Paris. Probably 75 percent of the audience’s hands went up. It was quite clear to me my presentations had to go well and it did.
I’ve been producing travel-adventure and documentary films for 40 years –from the Amazon to Zanzibar. However, I’ve only been on the live travel film-lectures circuit for six years. Being relatively “new” to this particular side of the entertainment business, I have a few observations I’d like to share. There are four critical components that must work successfully together on this circuit: the Sponsors, the Audiences and the Filmmakers and Agents.
What I have found is an number of the sponsors across the nation are active and successful in organizing their travel film shows. Still others, I feel, need some help, especially in promotion. Today’s sponsor needs to explore all media: radio, NPR, television, newspapers, flyers, mailers, posters and paid email advertising. The media is there and waiting. Also, if a sponsors has an email list, use it… inform your patrons of each show. This media is free and
effective. Then there is the theater, the show place, it is the vital part of the equation. It should be
comfortable, hopefully “inspiring” and with easy parking. Personally, I love the historic movie theaters, they are ideal venues to show travel-adventure films.
As I drive throughout the country (passing hundreds of towns), I’m wondering why there are not MORE places/sponsors/venues for our travel-lecture films? There needs to be a special people, champions – sponsors - in these towns that are willing to organize all the elements needed to present travel films in their community. Often these sponsor- “champions” are the college performing arts directors, alumni organizations even service clubs (like Kiwanis, Rotary, et al), or a firebrand person at these towns. As a newcomer I find it strange there’s not dozens of towns and cities involved in this enterprise.
My audience sizes have ranged between 100 to 700. Grand Rapids’ Calvin College appears to be the winner for the largest individual audience size. The college attracts 600 to over 1000 patrons to each show. St. Louis, Lititz, PA and Madison WI, Davenport, IA, and Omaha consistently draw large numbers as well.
The audiences are almost always 65 plus years old. Rarely do I see young people. My 15 year-old daughter Maya, she’s been to about 25 countries with me is a good example. She will go to certain kinds of movies, but she is very reluctant to watch her father’s travel features! I tell audiences I have to pay her $5 to watch each of my shows.
From my observations, the only kids that attend our travel shows are Amish or Mennonite kids – the whole family is coming out for our entertainment, in places like Lititz and New Holland, PA, and Sturgis, MI). We also need to figure out how to attract baby-boomers and the newly retired. These are the ones that will benefit most from our travel features – we show them places throughout the world they could visit, in their active retirement years. There has to be a way to get more baby-boomers out of their recliner chairs and homes, to a night of travel entertainment.
Regarding the filmmakers and agent, the last two years, I have seen a half-dozen veteran travel filmmakers go into retirement. It was inevitable. There are probably about 20 filmmakers still active in this particular branch of entertainment, we could use a few more. High-definition films are now the standard, its what our audiences’ expect. Each of my fifteen int’l travel films are HD, and I carry my own high-definition projectors/Blu-Ray discs to all venues so I can be sure to present the very highest quality possible to audiences. I have admiration and respect for our hard-working agents, so I don’t have much to suggest regarding changes or improvements there.
The four elements described above have to work well and in sync, or the entire machine falters. We have big challenges; there are no easy answers in our quest to find more sponsors. To be sure there are enough quality filmmakers in the wings, waiting. I have mighty hopes this fascinating and unique form of traveling entertainment will flourish. Somehow we have to think a little “out of the box” and make these films “retro-chic," so that sponsors can be attracted, audiences will grow and filmmakers can make a living in this exciting branch of entertainment.
Marlin Darrah is the director of International Film & Video http://www.ifilmvideo.com/marlin.html