ƒ Curious Travelers Television: Casting for the Presenter

Wednesday, August 10, 2005

Casting for the Presenter

In travel shows everything depends upon the presenter, in fact presenters can be more important then even the script. If you are fortunate enough to find a really great one, someone that the audience will tune in to wach and travel with time and time again, most of your work is done for you.

You would be surprised at how many people think they have what it takes. Globe Trekker reported looked at over three thousand candidates when they started out. Ten years later and they really have only three top notch ones: Ian Wright, Megan McCormick and Justine Shapiro.

The real work is finding them. For the past three months, starting in April 2005, I've been casting for the ideal presenter. This is all I've done, 24/7. Casting if done right is a very labor intensive activity but well worth the effort. Also for a travel show you can't cast through casting agents or even agents, as they really don't have the right candidates. Most of their experience is casting news reporters experienced at reading from a teleprompter. This is not the same skill set as presenting on a travel show.

To find the presenters I've advertised in Backstage numerous times, on Craig's list and on the CNI Cinema site. I've received over five hundred resumes from actors, sketch comedy artists and travel writers, the three groups I draw on to find a presenter. Personally I think sketch comedy artists make the best presenter, since the work requires a good deal of improvisation and witty repartee with interview subjects.

Of the five hundred resumes I received I emailed back and asked each one to send in a five minute demo, something that Globe Trekker does and how they found Ian Wright. For a travel show you really can't judge a candidate solely from a resume and photo and it was out of the question to see all five hundred submissions.
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Ian Wright for example was cast from a demo tape. Read below how he got the job and the description of the tape:

"How did you get the Globe Trekker presenter job?

I was also doing a bit of video, which is a great medium. A friend of mine saw this ad in the newspaper for a presenter:… young, enthusiastic, done a bit of traveling. I hadtravele to Egypt for a couple of months, Nepal and India for seven months, Guyana for three months, hitchhiked though Ireland, and the whole of Europe. I sent a show reel for a laugh, Channel 4 loved it, and I've never looked back since!

What do you think distinguished you from the others wannabes?

You know, in any show reel, the first 10-20 seconds are the most important. You see, they have thousands to look at, and about 90 percent are identical. You've got to start with the biggest punch you can so that people carry on watching!

My showreel was a joke, five minutes long me in Liverpool Street Station (London) and all my bags fall over. I slip along the floor, hit my head on the camera and start the piece to camera: "Here we are in London " Then I was trying to change money on the black market, getting beaten up. There was a sequence when I was on the toilet talking about the rich food and advising visitors to take it easy. Then I was getting arrested, ended up in jail. I sent it for a joke, although part of me was hoping, Then I got the letter back for the interview!
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I got about one hundred and fifty tapes, some from as far away as California although I stated in my email to the candidates that I was doing the casting in New York City. Most of the tapes were basically boring guidebook type tapes with the prospective presenter walking around a destination and delivering facts, much like a tour guide. Anyone after all can make travel show about facts. Shows such as Rick Steves "Backdoor to Europe" and Rudy Maxx's "Savvy Traveler" are just that, guide tours on video. More interesting are travel shows that have wit, create scenes, situations and feature memorable characters.

A travel show should be more about the experience of traveling rather than just the facts about a destination, like Ian Wrights audition tape in which he changes money on the black market, gets beaten up, etc. In my opinion Ian Wright was born to host a travel program host and his tape was inspired!

I viewed all the tapes and set up half hour appointments with about fifty of the candidates, using an online scheduling program appointment quest. Without this software I would have had to hire a full time secretary to co-ordinate all appiontments and call all the candidates.

Each episode for the travel series requires two presenters . After interviewing the candidates I now have a pool of about twenty strong performers to select for the final cast. I consider them on a level with the top presenters in the current crop of travel programs and feel confident I can produce a first rate series.