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Travel Films: Getting Away Close to Home

October 01, 1988|BETTY MARTIN | Martin is a retired staff writer (Travel Section) living in North Hollywood.

It's almost as good as really going there, many travel-film junkies say. There's no jet lag, lost luggage, airport delays, long lines, mixed-up hotel reservations or obnoxious traveling companions. Even the weather is predictable and--the price is right.

Each fall through spring, Southern California theaters from Santa Barbara to San Diego offer the adventurous and non-adventurous the chance to visit faraway places without ever leaving town.

This year, you can cruise the Nile, the Yangtze, the Mississippi or the Inside Passage; make a pilgrimage to Mecca; visit such exotic spots as Hunza, Atlantis or the Antarctic; explore the cities and back roads of Europe, Africa, South America and Asia; bask in the sun of the Caribbean, South Pacific and more.

Travelogues have come a long way since Burton Holmes first tantalized viewers with his pictures and slides at the turn of the century. Today's films are feature-length, in-depth studies in color, complete with musical score and narration.

Audience of 3 Million

According to Ralph Franklin, publisher of the trade news magazine Travelogue, about 900 to 1,000 travel films are shown each year throughout the United States and Canada, with audiences estimated at more than 3 million.

Dwight Long, presenter for the past 32 years of the Armchair Adventure series at UCLA and Caltech, says "as might be expected, travel-film audiences are usually mature, often retired.

"Although some films, such as the ones dealing with the Orient Express and the QE2, brought in a younger group, it's those people who have the time to travel, whose children are grown and out of the nest, who are the majority in our audiences," Long says.

As more and more young people are traveling, it's hoped by many series sponsors that audiences will increase. Because many series are presented at high school and college auditoriums/theaters, students have easier access.

"Today's travel-film audiences are knowledgeable and they expect more than they can get from a half-hour TV program," says Joan Lark, booking agent for the six film makers of Associated Film Artists in Camp Connell, Calif. "The goal is to inform as well as entertain."

Viewers, she adds, know if a building has been torn down or if a new airport has been built, so a producer can't get away with a slipshod or outdated film. "Since each of our film makers tries to keep five to 10 films available for showing, new films must continually be made," Lark says.

Booking agents have found that a good narrator is very important. According to Bunny Kamen of Kamen Film Productions in Glendale, who acts as booking agent for eight producer-narrators of travel films, "frequently the narrator is as much in demand as the subject." So if a series' sponsor wants a certain narrator, producers must plan ahead--as much as two years, and especially when they plan a schedule of 20 to 25 films. Booking by subject is easier, because there can be more than one film available that deals with the same area, Kamen points out.

Being a producer-narrator has the advantage of satisfying a yen to travel, but few get rich. They really have to love their work.

$500 per Appearance

Although a narrator can make an average of $500 per performance say several agents, and an in-demand one will present three to five shows a week during the nine-month season, there are expenses to be met. During filming, an assistant often is used, and although producers may get some cooperation from tourist offices and airlines serving the area that they are filming, production costs can range from $20,000 to $25,000.

To keep up with what is new in the world of travel films, a convention is put on every December in different cities throughout the United States by Intrafilm, the umbrella organization for the travel-film industry.

Travelogue magazine, published by producer-agent Ralph Franklin Film Artists in Van Nuys, is another source of information for theater groups as well as for members of the industry. The semi-annual publication is filled with advertisements from agents and film makers and lists available films.

The Cost of Travel

Single admission to films runs from $1.50 to $8, depending on the theater and the film. Tickets for an entire series, early order, as well as tickets for senior citizens and students, are usually less. Many series are a part of community service or continuing-education programs. Some are presented by service organizations, with profits going to their charities. Still others are offered by clubs and retirement communities for the express use of their members. While the films often depict distant travel, Ken Armstrong of Fame Ltd., a booking agency in Hillsborough, Calif., says armchair travelers aren't inclined to travel far. He says travel audiences generally will travel only about 20 minutes to see a film.

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