Travel show never drags

New Zealand travel presenter Julian Hanton dresses in drag in Massachusetts for American Times. Photo supplied.
New Zealand travel presenter Julian Hanton dresses in drag in Massachusetts for American Times. Photo supplied.
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 Massachusetts.

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 Louisiana.

When Hanton is uncomfortable, good television is made, like in Massachusetts, where he took coaxing to dress in drag, Hart says.

"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 bit foolish."

American Times is the fourth travel series the trio have made since meeting at South Seas Film School in Auckland in 1998.

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 week.

Then they created Indian Times about India's rise as a super power.

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 Kinky Friedman.

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 fool.

"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, Hanton says.

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 Travel Channel.

shawn.mcavinue@odt.co.nz