PASSION: New Zealand Road Trip by Karl Watson

Travelling is a huge part of Karl Watson‘s life. Over the last few years the Blueberry Editor has grown a YouTube channel of TV-style documentaries from his backpacking adventures around the world. He took us behind the scenes of his latest one, shot during his New Zealand Road Trip.

This is the latest 2-part series for my YouTube channel of travel documentaries. At the start of 2017 I returned to New Zealand for the third time to do a 7-week road trip around both islands. My main drive for making this documentary was that, whilst I’d made a video in New Zealand before as part of a round-the-world trip, my filmmaking skills had come on so much further since then and I really wanted to do justice to this country I love so much.

I had just bought a drone (DJI Phantom 4, Mavic Pro wasn’t available yet), however there was a mess up with the shipment and it only arrived a couple of days before I flew out. So, one of the technical challenges of filming was that the first time I ever used the drone was actually on the trip, hence I was learning as I went.

During the editing process I was keen not to overuse the drone footage, a mistake I think a lot of travel promos make these days. Sure the footage looks fantastic but the audience can quickly become immune to it. I always want the audience to feel like they’re on the trip with me, and I experience the trip on the ground, not flying 100 feet up in the air! 

In terms of storytelling, the first episode was super easy to edit. I was travelling around the North Island with my Kiwi friend Matt, who’s half Maori. He wanted to take me off the beaten track, away from the tourists, and show me his heritage and how New Zealanders enjoy their own country. After that I took him on the classic backpacking trail, making him a tourist in his own country and he got to experience all of the things that were right on his doorstep but he’d never done.

The second episode was a lot more challenging. I was driving around the South Island by myself. Whilst I’ve made films of solo backpacking trips before, I’ve been immersed in the culture of India or surrounded by the wildlife of southern Africa. Here, for about half of this episode, I was literally on my own in the mountains. How on earth do you make that engaging for the audience? The solution was to turn it into a very personal story.

New Zealand was where I did my first proper backpacking trip 11 years ago, which ignited my passion for travelling. That happened just before I did my post-graduate course in video editing, which set off my career path. So I made the whole episode about coming full circle. I even had to switch the order I showed the last couple of places I visited, to give the film a proper climax. It took a lot of work to get that second episode right but in the end I was super pleased with the results.

The feedback on YouTube has been fantastic, viewing figures normally grow exponentially but the 2 episodes together have already received over 50,000 views, so it’s off to a good start.

Karl Watson