Just over a year ago, myself and some colleagues at VICE were sitting in a brainstorm meeting. Despite what you may have heard, this didn’t involve throwing dildos at a whiteboard. What we trying to do was work out how to make a video series about climate change that wouldn’t send you to sleep.
This was after our film about Greta Thunberg had been released, just before our Extinction Update show and way before Zac Efron’s branded content-style eco-travel series where two “stoked” bros shout climate facts at you while racking up their carbon footprint flying all over world.
The plan we settled on was a travel show without any planes. We would document our journey through Europe, with some eco-skewed activities along the way, using transport with a low carbon footprint to get around.
It turns out that almost every form of transport bar cruises has a lower carbon footprint than flying, so development producer Irene Baqué and I broadened out the route to include ferries, coaches, electric cars, tandem bikes and even segways.
When we heard about an overnight train from Amsterdam to Budapest with an onboard nightclub, I had visions of Snowpiercer with DJ Marshmallow as the train driver, and it set us on track to make our way from the UK, through Eastern Europe, and back towards Naples.
Next, we had to crew up without the luxury of Zac Efron’s Mastercard. I needed to find a couple of hosts who would understand the tone of what we were trying to achieve, but wouldn’t be annoying to hang out with for three weeks, i.e. no influencers who’d turn into divas when we asked them to spend the night in a haunted shed somewhere in central Europe.
Enter Bupe Bhima and Matt Shea. I was going to produce-direct and shoot B-cam, but I needed a solid DOP, so bought on Devin Yuceil, who moonlights as a touring rock star, so understands life on the road. Kit Harwood is the most reliable tech guy in the biz, owns a smorgasbord of handycams and smokes like a chimney. He could data wrangle, shoot some holiday-style miniDV and be our tobacconist for the shoot. Sorted.
For the first episode we headed to Amsterdam for Pride weekend. We didn’t want to get the Eurostar from London, as the series was also about embracing old forms of transportation, so we found an overnight ferry from Newcastle to Amsterdam - the same ferry Oasis got ejected from when they got into a fight en route to their first show in Europe.
A flight would have taken an hour, while the ferry would take us 20 hours. But where a flight would rack up 81kg of CO2 emissions per passenger, the fully booked ferry would be a meagre 9kg. Plus, the ferry had a rooftop bar, restaurant and casino, none of which you’ll find on a Ryanair out of City Airport.
Since this was an eco trip, I wanted our hosts to get closer to nature. I’d read an article, probably on VICE, about some people who got into psychedelics and went on to become climate activists.
As truffles are legal in Amsterdam, our development producer Irene found a retreat called Truffles Therapy, led by a guy called Chi, who had an epiphany after his “big LSD trip in San Francisco”. Chi would give willing participants hero doses of shrooms, listen to their problems and give them incredible hugs when they cried.
The only way we were allowed to film this experience was if our hosts were micro-dosing, which Chi told me over the phone he could arrange. Fast forward to shooting the scene, and Chi was passing us nuggets of truffles, asking, “What is micro-dosing anyway?”
While I allowed the hosts to take a little more, the crew couldn’t indulge as as we had to actually capture the scene, rather than just roll around on the grass laughing at moss.
That’s episode one – you’ll have to watch the rest of the series to find out what else happened. Episodes may or may not involve vampire ghosts, Serbian moonshine, donkey sex, an incredibly scenic train ride through Eastern Europe, cliff diving, refugee dancehall clubs and the best pizza in the world. So: all the kind of stuff you might write on a whiteboard before closing your eyes and throwing a dildo at it.
Hopefully, once people can travel more freely again, we might all have a different attitude towards flying – a method of travel that is essentially teleporting to your location while inflicting the maximum amount of damage to the planet possible, instead of enjoying the journey as much as the location, while keeping your carbon footprint low.
Personally, I felt like I gained something both physically and psychologically from traversing land and sea at ground level. From jumping on a ferry in Newcastle to cliff diving into the azure Adriatic, the anticipation built up during a longer journey makes every experience that little bit more enjoyable.