(Tina Sjogren) The wildest thing about Tyler Young's productions is the mix. Foodie shows blend easily with balsa raft adventures and big houses on wheels. Anything goes with this climber - as long as the spirit is strong.
Tyler started out as a cameraman and went on to producing, big and small projects, often on the cheap. He sees huge opportunity in new tech. Shorter formats and mushrooming distribution channels spell a new dawn he thinks, while the web already leads network programming.
Trends are not in favor of adventure films right now, the producer told ExplorersWeb, but offered ideas how you can monetize them.
After checking in on Canada, South America, Italy and Poland we're back in US to try and find the future of adventure film. Here goes Tyler, ending the series.
ExplorersWeb: You're a producer, cameraman as well as writer - what's your favorite part?
Tyler: I began in television as an adventure cameraman documenting expeditions. My passion came from the adventure, and getting hired on as a cameraman was often the only way I could join the party.
But, I always preferred the producing side of the process. To me, producing was the most exciting part because that's where you could really make things happen. I love pulling together all the pieces of the puzzle to make a doc or reality show a success. It's the most challenging too, as I'm usually the guy putting out fires.
I get a tremendous amount of satisfaction out of overcoming impossible odds. I attribute that to my climbing background where I nurtured my capacity to suffer, and enjoy it.
ExplorersWeb: Adventure documentaries can be slow and boring. Do we need a change of pace?
Tyler: Most people's experience with adventure documentaries comes from a long line of long winded films produced in a traditional old school format of man against mountain. In the beginning, these films were exciting because the stories were so rare and unusual. With the advent of inexpensive digital cameras and editing systems, adventure films are everywhere now, over saturating the genre with mountains of new media.
The films are getting better though. I've seen quite a few new projects in the last few years with incredible passion and emotion coming through. There is less explaining of what the characters are doing and how, and more of an experimental sensitivity to the true spirit of adventure.
Overall, I don't think we need a change of pace, just stronger characters. In fact, I hardly care about the story or subject anymore, I just want to watch really exceptional characters pouring their hearts out on screen.
ExplorersWeb: People's attention span is shrinking. Has Youtube made an impact on adventure film making?
Tyler: Absolutely. It's opened a tremendous amount of opportunity for adventure film people. A decade ago the only distribution you could get for a film was through film festivals that you had to pay to be included in. In my opinion TV has never fully embraced adventure docs because the audience was so small.
Now you can make a living producing short films for sponsors and online distribution portals. And this market is exploding. Even the networks are producing shows now that only exist online. Given the short length of web video (most watched at 2 minutes or less), even long format projects can be presented in a series format.
ExplorersWeb: Yours The Red Helmet was created in 48 hours and won a film festival. Are short films the future?
Tyler: Oh yes, without a doubt, the short film format has been revived. I could never sell The Red Helmet to any network as it was just 5 minutes in length. But online, it thrives.
While the budgets and notoriety are much smaller online, the opportunities are way more than television. I think we will be seeing a lot more short films, and serialized longer form stories.
ExplorersWeb: Really cool, live videos posted by expeditions on YouTube and Vimeo often have very few viewers. Why do you think that is?
Tyler: It's a question of marketing and distribution. Most expeditions are really small in their marketing and distribution budgets. Mostly because their intended audience is so niche and small.
I think for the most part that live videos are not the most effective way to reach an audience because people are so busy with their day to day lives.
But, the recent live YouTube event of Red Bull Stratos with Felix Baumgartner proves if you have millions to spend, you'll get millions of viewers.
ExplorersWeb: Old media routinely created heroes, now regular people increasingly make their own fame and spectators have gone from "them" to "me". Is
there a similar change in film, and if so will documentaries have to be more participatory?
Tyler: Many of those old media heros were just great characters. Often they were larger than life, and often unrelatable. I think what we are seeing now are characters with a more intimate side and a more relatable side.
Reality TV has proven audiences are fascinated by the minutia in other people's personal dramas. I think adventure documentaries are following suite with a more intimate portrait of their characters and personal challenges. While large audiences may not relate to an Everest climbers physical challenges, they will relate to being away from their husband, wife or kids for a long period of time.
ExplorersWeb: There have been many attempts at adventure reality shows (you just shot a pilot for a big network) do you see a future for this genre?
Tyler: Using the word "adventure" in any pitch a network executive will kill the project immediately. Large audiences are not lured by this genre at this time.
There is a continued interest in survival shows like the one I am currently producing for Animal Planet. Given the tough economy and fears of terrorism, programming trends have favored domestic shows driven by money topics like Shark Tank and Gold Rush, or favored comedy like Modern Family and Duck Dynasty.
Other programming trends are heavily formatted competition elimination formats or straight up character follow docs. I do have a sense that the pendulum will swing back to adventure genres, but not any time soon, and I think it will prove itself online before any network will take it seriously.
ExplorersWeb: Timing seems important.
Tyler: It's the pendulum effect, and the zeitgeist of pop culture. Tastes change quickly, and trying to predict programming trends is extremely difficult. Producers and networks have huge investments in researching these trends. Once a trend is identified, it takes about 18 months to see it on the TV screen.
That is one reason why the immediacy of the web is starting to lead network programming. Often the trend will hit online before it hits the networks.
ExplorersWeb: Print media have experienced a sharp drop in advertising; broadcast TV may stand before a similar "cliff". What do you think will happen and have you noticed declining demand for TV productions?
Tyler: Television is not going away any time soon, just evolving. Despite the issues with DVR's and skipping commercials, television still remains one of the strongest formats to find big audiences. Ad revenue is still very strong.
The difference now is that the competition to sell a show is way higher as the networks want the big breakout hits. They are not interested in smaller shows, or niche audiences. I see no cliff right now, just more opportunities online.
ExplorersWeb: Revenue at movie theaters is generally also down (last year reported the smallest audience since 1995). Rising ticket prices and competition from other forms of delivery are blamed (bigger TV
screens, internet TV etc). What do you think is going on?
Tyler: People have less money with the bad economy and less time to go out, especially families with kids. The cost of movie tickets for your family almost pays for your cable bill that month so people are staying in and watching TV.
ExplorersWeb: Out of the 40 most expensive box office productions some 30 were reportedly made only in the past 5 years. Simultaneously, there's lots of new and increasingly cheaper film-making technology. You are used to doing both big and small productions on the cheap. What's the difference and can expensive box office productions hold their ground?
Tyler: No matter how strong your characters, or how good your film is, it's hard to compete against a $100 million plus marketing budget that we see with the big blockbusters. Like politics, the more money you spend on marketing, the more people will vote and go see your film.
I think most adventure film producers are not in this business to make blockbuster films. We are a more passionate group driven by the creative and critical success of our work. All we really want is to be financially successful enough to support our families and keep on working.
Given that, there are incredible opportunities to market your films with partnerships, sponsors, and touring events all hinging on social media.
ExplorersWeb: Skilled pro documentary-makers for the outdoor lifestyle told us it's increasingly harder to finance projects. "Nobody buys documentaries anymore." Why is that?
Tyler: "Nobody" must mean cable television, that much is true. Networks want character driven series with an endless horizon of episode stories.
Series like these draw more audiences and create a more predictable and "ad sellable" business model. Docs are short lived on cable, and only seem to work if they are treated as a television "event," with lots of marketing and buzz.
But a true feature documentary is doing better now in theaters than they ever have. But they need to be a high profile project to succeed. For the adventure doc producers, you are pretty limited to corporate sponsorship that is tied in with a strong marketing and distribution plan.
I think there is great opportunity for docs if they are serialized for online distribution. If you can form distribution partnerships first, you can often get the sponsorship dollars.
ExplorersWeb: Viewer demand is reportedly up for Indie, foreign and documentary films. Why the disparity between money and demand?
Tyler: I don't think there is really much a disparity as there are market shifts in where adventure films can make money. The pie is getting sliced up smaller and smaller. I don't see going to a network and asking for money for a special or feature doc as being a viable business model anymore. Now you have to work with online distribution portals, sponsors and even co-pro's to structure deals that make sense to all parties.
ExplorersWeb: Quality Web TV productions are popular but have a hard time to get exposure. They are also difficult to monetize (as was your award winning Red Helmet). Any ideas what could be done? Product placement?
Tyler: This is a distribution question, really. Trends in network programming are not in favor of adventure films right now. But I think you can monetize these projects in a number of ways.
Some guys are succeeding distributing their work themselves by producing touring events like ski films do. In this model, sponsors pay for the film production cost, the prodco pays for the film touring costs, and ticket sales create additional revenue and profit.
One could also make a deal with online distribution portals to present their film online. I am seeing more of these deals actually make money, though the website is the one making the most of their ad sales.
Netflix, Hulu, Mens Journal, Vice, and other online video services are now producing their own programming in the mad race to build libraries of original content.
ExplorersWeb.com So called Second Screen providers Viggle.com (NY), GoMiso.com (SF); wywy.com (Germany) and others offer viewers a loyalty program where they can earn rewards on their smartphone while watching TV. Do you have any experience of this and if yes, does it work?
Tyler: There is a lot of experimentation on this side of the distribution game. And a lot of competition. Producers are just going to have to be open to making all kinds of deals to piece together a revenue stream that works.
ExplorersWeb.com You climbed full time one year living out of your car. The balsa raft expedition was another adventure (you sank twice?). Some believe
the change in cinema will come from experience, i.e. giving fans something new they can't get at home such as new versions of dinner-and-movie tickets. How could that translate to adventure movies?
Tyler: I still think events like touring films and film festivals are the most lucrative market for adventure films. At least for first run long form films. In this capacity you can charge a premium ticket, attract more sponsors and bring together a community of passionate outdoor athletes.
After the tour, the films can be serialized and sold/licensed to online portals. I also think there needs to be a stronger adventure film destination online, like an online film festival, or online magazine that can build a dominant presence. Here, we can build more sustainable models of distribution.
ExplorersWeb: Interestingly, adventure is no 2 top grossing genre (after comedy) in movies. Only it's not OUR adventure, but Batman, Lord Of The Rings
etc. Reality usually beats fantasy, so how can real adventure films beat Men in Black and Harry Potter?
Tyler: By real adventure films, you must mean adventure documentaries. Narrative and documentary are very different markets. I think there is room to create compelling narrative films based on real life adventures.
Documentaries need a stronger hook to succeed, such as a major news event like Hurricane Sandy or the deadly storms on Everest in 96 that led to huge success for the Everest IMAX film.
ExplorersWeb: Could we see the birth of an entirely new medium? What kind?
Tyler: Technology is always changing, so yes, it is possible. But what is always constant is the art of storytelling and watching compelling characters.
ExplorersWeb: Have you seen demand for adventure related Web TV (short and episodic videos created specifically for YouTube, Blip.tv etc) at all?
Tyler: Yes, of course, though the demand is nitch due to the subject. I know the outdoor adventure market has been growing for years, it's almost mainstream. But the video content supporting this topic is not popular.
But again, if you have a truly amazing main character, the film will find a wider audience not matter how small the topic is.
ExplorersWeb: What about truly live adventure video (Space Jump) does that format have a future?
Tyler: Live event video has always been huge with breaking news. But in adventure video, it's hardly been noticed. I was surprised by how successful the Red Bull Stratos event was.
But that was framed as a news event, and supported with huge marketing dollars. If adventure videos are to be successful with a live streaming format, they will need a strong breaking news presentation supported by far reaching marketing budgets to build awareness.
ExplorersWeb: What about the new online platforms (EpicTV, WildTV, etc). Often well funded some even sponsor productions: will they be "the new
Discovery" - specialty channel giants only online?
Tyler: Yes, I believe there is major competition brewing online with emerging online networks. The ones who win the game will be the ones who can capture the most viewers.
ExplorersWeb: How will they hold up you think vs. YouTube channels, Vimeo, Hulu, Netflix?
Tyler: It will be hard to compete with the bigger online distribution portals with higher visibility. With smart marketing, I think the smaller online networks will be able to compete to a point. YouTube has embraced the specialty channels, but recently announced many of them have failed and will be eliminated.
For the adventure film producer, it will still be challenging to find enough financial support to fund their projects, but with these smaller online portals, producers will just have to be more creative on how to structure their sponsorship and distribution deals.
ExplorersWeb: Your latest project was a plot about survival in the wilderness, personal sensors and remote surveillance. What was the most fun tech to work with?
Tyler: We needed to track our survival expert remotely, and I worked with very techy people to repurpose some advanced technology for new applications.
We used a new biometric device from Zepher to capture real time data from our guy in the field, and could monitor his heart rate, core body temperature, body position and other data. DeLorme worked with us to integrate their GPS tracking systems and use the ability to exchange text messages.
Tim Samaras built computer systems into Pelican cases to create a para-military look. He also adapted his stormchaser weather technology for us, building a remote weather station. Tom (Sjogren of ExWeb sponsor HumanEdgeTech, ed note) integrated and tested everything for us and managed the tech in the field. He was incredible to work with.
ExplorersWeb: The hardest aspect of the gig?
Tyler: There are a lot of moving pieces in this show with high expectations and limited resources. Having everything ready at the right time in the right place was a struggle. And working in a very remote part of Alaska complicated our challenges further. Hiring the right people is critical.
ExplorersWeb: How do you think Internet of Things will play out in future film making?
Tyler: We may see more experimental aspect of new technology incorporated into production with some hits and many more misses. Overall, the internet is the new distribution portal.
With Smart TV's and app based screens, we will see huge growth in web only shows and films. It's up to the producers out there to invent new ways to build a viable financial model that reaches bigger audiences.
ExplorersWeb: What about 3D? Cameron (Avatar) is not convinced it'll stick. Is 3D a hype or here to stay? Would you recommend it for adventure
docs and if yes: post-conversion or 3D camera?
Tyler: I'm not a big fan of 3D, but it has proven to attract audiences. Not sure it is worthwhile for adventure docs, but it only takes someone with the right imagination to make 3D payoff.
ExplorersWeb: What about personalized TV (single-viewer units, mobile, pads). How hard/expensive is it to adapt to all the new platforms?
Tyler: There are a ton of new viewing platforms, but they all require a lot of effort to maintain. Despite this complication, I think it's up to each producer to run the numbers and see which platforms are most viable.
ExplorersWeb: How could you as a film maker create products that viewers can interact with? Will you adjust your filming and editing technique to the way people interact with the content?
Tyler: The most immediate thing that comes to mind here is that I will be exploring web series more. I think this will soon be great way to build business models around content production. The shows will be way shorter than traditional TV, but that may be what makes this model succeed.
ExplorersWeb: Kids don't watch adventure video; they don't go outside at all but stay indoors to play computer games. Can we create adventure cinema that is as exiting as computer games?
Tyler: Heck yeah! Have you ever played any of the Tony Hawk skateboarding video games? They are awesome. I see plenty of opportunity for the right game producer to create a mountain climbing, paragliding, kaykaing, extreme skiing or mountain biking game.
ExplorersWeb: There is a merger of web and traditional TV (Google TV etc). Seems like a good idea to check statistics, maps, gear and stuff while watching an adventure documentary but currently most such attempts have flopped. Could it be that we just want to relax when we sit down to watch TV? Or is it only that the concept needs time?
Tyler: I think these integrations have had limited success based on 2 things: 1) limited audience who cares enough to dig deeper into the extra info, and 2) most large audiences just want an escape from their daily routine. That said, there will be a project someday that is big enough, formatted just right and will hit the pop culture zeitgeist to succeed.
ExplorersWeb: New kind of tools are emerging: drones, contour cams, various robotics with built in cams for extreme shots - what cool gear do you
know of out there?
Tyler: I love the GoPro Hero's and Contour's with WiFi. But, the private drone world is incredible out there! For my shows, I've found a lot of impressive drone technology for remote viewing and surveillance. It's expensive and very hard to use. Plus, it's technically illegal since the FAA made private drones illegal in 2010. That said many guys are flying under the radar using these systems in TV produciton.
ExplorersWeb: Finally: Will folks like you become redundant in the future; will everyone make their own videos and will that suffice?
Tyler: Adventure producers must be really good at what they do to stay relevant. Just because some young kid got lucky with some sensational amateur video doesn't meet professional storytellers will be out of business. Experience, good judgement and a passion for adventure is what feeds my success.
Tyler Young is a factual film and television Producer, Unit Production Manager, and Episode Writer with 18 years experience, and over 300 films, shows and segments to credit.
As a UPM and Story Producer, he manages all aspects of field production; casting, locations, props, wardrobe, special effects, pyrotechnics, makeup, lighting, local crews, vendors, carnets, visas, customs, schedules, call sheets, production reports, insurance, contracts, budgets, and VIP talent.
An avid climber he's comfortable rigging safety lines and hanging from ropes to get the shot. "Above all," states his website, "I am a storyteller, driven by the challenge to connect compelling characters and subjects with an inspired audience."
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