Three New Zealanders living in London, Bulgaria and
Texas met in seven different American states to make the travel
series American Times. Shawn McAvinue talks to them
about bringing down scumbags in Seattle and manning up in
New Zealand travel presenter Julian Hanton dresses in drag
in Massachusetts for American Times. Photo supplied.
Soundman Ian Hart sees the humorous side of fellow Kiwi
crew-mate marrying a Bulgarian girl with the surname Pavlova.
Editor Justin Pavlova-Hawkes and Hart laughing at each other
and themselves is a vital part of their travel shows success,
but they made sure producer and presenter Julian Hanton bears
the brunt of most of the jokes.
Hart and Pavlova-Hawkes share the directing duties for the
seven-episode series American Times shot in
Washington, Texas, Tennessee, Massachusetts, New York and
When Hanton is uncomfortable, good television is made, like
in Massachusetts, where he took coaxing to dress in drag,
"There was a pre-panty tantrum."
And when Hanton is dressed and "liberated" the local queens
burst Hanton's bubble by labelling him "Gretchen Grizzly" and
recommending he stick to men's attire, Hart says.
The self-deprecating style makes their show different to
traditional travel shows, Hanton says.
"I hate those TV shows that poke fun at other people's
expense, where the presenter tries to come across as a
hot-shot and it just looks fake and stupid.
"I don't think I come across as an idiot, I come across as a
real-life person who gets himself into situations that are a
American Times is the fourth travel series the trio
have made since meeting at South Seas Film School in Auckland
On their first series in 2003, Julian and Camilla's World
Odyssey, they worked for free with other graduates, but
branched out on their own for their second series, Third
Class Traveller, about surviving in Europe on $100 a
Then they created Indian Times about India's rise as a
American Times is about America's decline as a
superpower, Hart says.
Their style is more socio-political insights than a holiday
programme, so they bypass shooting the young cool hipsters
and gravitate towards old men with interesting tales,
including sharing breakfast tequilas in Texas with writer
But don't be fooled that it's all highbrow, as Hanton vomits
in every series, Hart says.
In American Times, deep-fried frogs legs in Louisiana
makes Hanton hurl, in another series it's a one-inch punch
from a kung fu master in Hong Kong.
The one-inch punch is a kung fu punching exercise popularised
by Bruce Lee.
After Hanton is hit by the first punch, the crew want another
so they can shoot it from a different angle, Hart says.
The second time Hanton hits the floor, his face turns grey
and spends the afternoon vomiting.
But as they create more series, they get more creature
comforts, Hanton says.
In the first series, they travelled on $1 a day and shared
rooms in backpackers. In America most hotels are free or
funded by the states' tourist boards, Hanton says.
"As you get older, you can't slum it the way you used to."
Although, they travel extensively, places and people still
surprise them, like Texans, where he expects rednecks but is
wrong, Hanton says.
Or Seattle, where he assumes a cape-wearing vigilante is a
"But then you go out on patrol with him and you start
thinking 'What a cool guy'. He was a real super hero. He was
the real deal."
He became a vigilante when his son was killed in a drive-by
shooting and after solving that crime continued his crusade,
Each episode takes about 10 days to shoot and because of
committed relationships to women and children around the
world, they shoot an episode a month, Hanton says.
Flying in and out seven times is an expensive way to make
television but they work well as a team when put under tight
time-pressure, Hanton says.
"Its quite important to have someone that understands you and
understands what you are trying to do."
• American Times screens on Sundays at 8.30pm on