When I first saw the trailer for Showtime’s new series, “Next Stop for Charlie,” I couldn’t stop thinking about how much fun it must have been to film it. Once I talked to the creators, I was even more fascinated when I learned they did it on such a tight budget.
This original, 10-episode series is based on a feature film they produced in 2006 called “Last Stop for Paul.” This new travel/adventure series picks up where the movie left off, but it has a whole new storyline. It premiered on Thursday, Nov. 4 on Showtime and airs for the next 10 consecutive Thursdays, so you can catch the third episode tonight.
According to Kelly Davies, who helped produce the series, “It was shot all internationally on a micro-budget, so not only did we make it to 14 countries in less than five months, but we made a television series with a crew of three people–two of them being the main actors–and local volunteers filling in the other roles. Producing this series was a feat in itself as well!” Kelly worked stateside, finding characters, hotels, travel arrangements and locations online (and many hours spent on Skype!).
Kelly put me in touch with Neil Mandt, the Jack of all trades who plays the character of Charlie and is also the director/producer/writer. Please read on for an interview I did with Neil that discusses some of the crazy characters he met, where he most enjoyed filming, and what travel tips he wants to pass on.
Emily Gerson: How did you come up with the idea for Next Stop for Charlie?
Neil Mandt: I made a movie a couple years ago called “Last Stop for Paul” about two backpackers who spread their buddy’s ashes all over the world. It was so much fun I tried to and eventually succeeded in selling a TV show with a similar theme.
EG: Most travel television shows are documentary style. Why did you choose to do a scripted comedy?
NM: When talking to people about writing for “Next Stop for Charlie,” I have to make up new ways of describing the process. Truly unique in the way it’s produced, I think the best way to describe it is that we inject narrative into pre-existing situations. We don’t produce the baby jumping festival in Spain, it’s happening, we just write that into the adventure the characters experience. It becomes a backdrop for the story of that episode, but also so much more than that. Nothing we did in the show couldn’t be accomplished by an intrepid traveler, with a little luck and a lot of courage. Being scripted allows us to take those experiences to the extreme while still documenting our “real” experience. But honestly, some things just happened naturally and no script was needed. For example, streaking naked through an afterparty in Copenhagen didn’t appear in any script, but was just fueled by great beer, good times, loud music and an egging on by calls of “SKOL” from screaming Danes.
EG: How did you select the countries to visit?
NM: Festivals and unique culture are key in “Next Stop’s” story telling. The zaniness and participation element of a festival was important when deciding where we should go. We really wanted to seek out less pedestrian festivals that we could participate in. We also wanted to showcase some of the truly unique cultures and amazing people we met around the globe.
EG: Were there any countries you enjoyed filming in more than others?
NM: I love Thailand — that’s one of the reasons we went there without there being a traditional festival. But I think we were all surprised at how much fun we had in Denmark and Portugal. Typically warmer weather countries and climates ended up being more fun to film in.
EG: How did you manage to travel and film on such a tight budget?
NM: The budget was very small but in a way that worked to our advantage. We used small cameras and had a very small crew so that allowed us to maneuver around and film in places that might not have ever been put on film otherwise.
EG: You enlisted the help of locals for many of the roles. How did you find them? Who were some of the most memorable ones?
NM: Some of the locals were friends that I’ve made traveling prior to this show. Tony Lima, for example, was our local producer and one of the primary actors in Brazil and we’ve been friends for over a decade. If we went to a country that we didn’t know anyone, Kelly Davies at our home office used Craigslist and CouchSurfing.org to make friends. We discovered so many great actors in people who were cast to play themselves. Some of the standouts were the Australian bush pilot, our Filipino police chief, the Belgium dominatrix, and the ultra suave proprietor of the hostel in Portugal. All gave excellent performances by simply being their own crazy selves.
EG: What’s next for all of you? Are you planning for a second season, or is it a one-time series?
NM: Charlie and Erik’s story is far from over. In the meantime, we make other TV shows for ESPN, The Speed Network and the Food Network that keep us plenty busy.
EG: Any travel tips you would recommend based on what you learned from this experience?
NM: Never refuse an invitation and never over stay your welcome. Always bring a camera, everywhere. 500 dollars can get you out of almost any situation. Antibiotics, healthcare in general, is so cheap everywhere else in the rest of the world so stock up. Smell your water before you drink it. Never assume you can run faster than they can. Be careful how loudly you root for your country during the world cup. Learn how to say “Thank you” and “I’m sorry” in every language. Bring sunscreen, dry socks, and an open mind, and anyone can have the kind of adventure we did.