The journey began in Rome, Italy, home of Matilde Keizer.
Well, technically, the journey began – and will end – in New York City. That’s where Matilde Keizer and Trevor Silverstein met. And that’s where they sat down and plotted on a map all the places they planned to go when Matilde’s OPT student visa ended and she was kicked out of the country.
They didn’t start out thinking they were going to make a travel show. Initially, they planned to take a month and travel through Europe. Then, they decided to go to Asia. Then, they figured, “Why don’t we make something of this?” Career-wise, it made sense to them: turn this exile into an adventure; turn it into something big, something positive, something they can use for Matilde’s resume to make her a better applicant for the O-1 Artist Visa next year.
This was a creative opportunity for both of them: Trevor, in charge of filming and editing, and Matilde, starring as Matilde, the chatty, spirited adventurer whose clumsiness and unfiltered talking points separates this travel show from most others.
So, they left for Rome, which, again, is where the (on-camera) journey began.
Natalia: Where did you guys film On-Going?
Matilde: We started in Rome. Rome to Malaysia (Kuala Lumpur, Penang), Malaysia to Indonesia (Bukit Lawang, Lombok), Indonesia to the Philippines (Palawan), the Philippines to Cambodia, Cambodia to Vietnam, Vietnam to Thailand, Thailand to Myanmar, Myanmar to India (Kolkata), and India to Berlin.
Prior to the release of their first episode, Matilde and Trevor released two sneak peek videos. In the first video, they divided all of the places they were visiting into four different categories: Muslim, wet, cold, and hot; this is how Matilde packed in Rome. She stressed the importance of good footwear, wet wipes, scarves, and - most importantly for girls - learning to hover. “You want to make sure you have a good stance,” Matilde explained, as she squatted in front of the camera with a backpack strapped on, pretending to pee without sitting down. “If there isn’t toilet paper, the drip and dry method you know,” she advised. “Drip as much as you can, step away, done - no problem!”
In the second sneak peek released, Matilde went over the contents of her backpack. This included her insect repellent lotion, Ibuprofen, and “woman’s bag,” in which she put all of the things she didn’t necessarily need but still wanted to bring.
She went on to express slight panic at the possibility of her contracting Dengue fever, followed by uncomfortable chatter about her planned wardrobe in Muslim countries. Already, it was understood that traveling with Matilde may be a constant vacillation between reason and frenzy. “Always be prepared; have lots of medicine for your gut and digestive system; conditioner does not abide by the laws of gravity; and only be half-crazy when you have the option,” Matilde concluded the video.
Natalia: Is there a storyline for the series?
Matilde: There is a storyline to each episode with definite arcs. It becomes stronger with each episode. We were developing our own voices over time. We went in with all of these ideas about comedy, travel, and sarcasm and as we went along, we had to be very natural about the way things come up. Each episode has a different tone because of that.
Natalia: What research did you guys do before setting out to each place?
Trevor: We did a lot of research, both in the time leading up to the trip and then just as much research as we went along. Most of it entailed having an understanding of the route we would take over the course of two and half months, which was complicated to figure out sometimes; the actual route we took changed a handful of times based on flight costs and what-not. We got most of our ideas of where we wanted to go as we looked into other places. We'd see pictures of a temple or read about a street food stall and say we have to go there.
Natalia: And did you do any research in terms of packing?
Trevor: Packing was kind of just considering the tropical climate and what else we might think we need. We also packed less at the start, fully aware that we'd want to pick up souvenirs along the way. And luckily, the amount of film equipment I had was so minimal it all fit into a small case that fit into my small backpack. I’m happy that the filming looks decent enough because we only used a GoPro. And I am happy that’s all we used because if I had to carry around a camera that was in any way expensive it would have made the trip miserable for both of us. One: it would have been heavy, and two: it would have gotten people’s attention. The GoPro is great because everyone has one and carries it around everywhere, so you blend in. There are times where I would be filming Matilde and no one thought anything of it and everyone acted fairly normal. The only time people gave us odd looks is when we pulled out our microphone. And three: cameras are expensive, so I would have been constantly paranoid about it.
Trevor carried the camera equipment around everywhere throughout the trip, which was ideal as nothing was scripted and they could film instinctively. This flexibility facilitated the capturing of raw, vulnerable footage. Matilde and Trevor were very clear about the honest tone they wanted the series to have. This was apparent to me immediately, as I watched Matilde sit in a beautiful mosque and discuss the explosive diarrhea she was about to have. “I feel that mutton in my button fighting to get out,” she joked, somewhat achingly. “I only nearly vomited twice,” she noted in another episode, after getting off a flight. It’s somewhat jarring to find such casually crude and straightforward dialogue in regards to travel and vacations. People share the beautiful sunsets, tans, and beaches. No one admits to the relentless bathroom trips after eating questionable meat from the local marketplace.
Natalia: I like the openness in Matilde’s character in the series. She is very relatable and uncensored. That’s unique to find in our increasingly filtered society.
Trevor: When you look at travel content on the Internet, you see all of these perfectly edited videos with pop songs and electronic music, and it’s this highly curated version of a place. We don’t have the equipment to do that and it would look really silly if we even tried.
Matilde: When people think of Indonesia they think of Bali and these beautiful beaches, but it is actually quite dirty. The water is dirty and there is trash all over the beach and there are all of these fires that are creating pollution. We went to a beach in Lombok that was really beautiful, and traditionally you would expect people to be like, “Oh my God, look at the amazing water!” But actually, it’s ignoring the reality that this country is in huge environmental struggle.
Trevor: People on Instagram post a picture of the perfect beach and people love it and they go crazy over it. But to find that beach isn’t easy. People can go an entire trip in that area without finding that perfect thing that everyone seems to post all the time.
Natalia: I really like that angle. Especially on Instagram, users make traveling seem very glamorous. It makes everyone want to leave where they are and go somewhere else. And here you guys are showing people that no, it’s actually really crowded, and the food isn’t as sanitary...
Matilde: But we also want to make sure to tell people: “Look, you can travel, you can go to all these places, but remember that the world is a highly complex place in which you’re not going to be able to get that perfect shot, but you can do all of these things and you can experience all these places and it’s easy and it’s not that expensive.” We want to be able to show that and to share the truth about what we’ve experienced.
Natalia: That seems like the essence of this travelogue: truthfulness.
Matilde: There is no pre-decided thing depicted; this is a product of experiencing things for what they are.
Natalia: Yeah, and the music and color schemes complement the tone very well. How did you decide on these elements?
Trevor: So the music in the series is personally one of my favorite parts. Everything you hear that wasn't recorded on location is from a Swedish company called Epidemic Sound. They source really high quality royalty free music and sound effects from independent artists/producers and then offer them on flexible licensing plans to creators. When I discovered the huge database of content on their site, I knew I needed them and luckily they were extremely accommodating and flexible to our low budget. Getting a license with them has been one of the most crucial aspects to editing the show. As for picking the music for each moment, we tend to gravitate towards sounds that have a slight sense of humor to them, but usually choose something that is tonally similar to what you're seeing on screen. For the color scheme, that was something that came about very early on when we first started planning the series. We came up with our very simple logo and the colors were picked after some trial and error. Something about the light pink and light yellow combo struck us and we decided to stick with it.
Natalia: That all worked out really well. Was there anything else in the filming process that ended up falling into place as seamlessly? Any moments you happened to capture at the right time?
Trevor: Actually, yeah. We were on a bus in Cambodia - a night bus - and it broke down. And even though Matilde was not in a good mood, I decided to film it anyway.
Matilde: I was not having it at all.
Trevor: It was also a really bizarre circumstance because the bus didn’t break down on the side of a highway, but in the middle of nowhere and right next to a small village where people were awake and husking rice.
Natalia: What time was this at?
Matilde: 1 AM.
Trevor: The bus didn’t leave again until after sunrise. We stayed for, like, four hours.
Matilde: And then it broke down again at the scariest rest stop I’ve ever seen. It was a square cement structure with kids running around in the mud.
Trevor: Night buses can be a risky venture. They are definitely one of the more popular ways to get around in Southeast Asia when you are in the mainland portion, like Vietnam or Thailand, but being on a bus in the middle of the night being driven by somewhat reckless drivers –
Matilde: All of the bus drivers were drunk and drove incredibly fast –
Trevor: It’s a long, long story but it was not good.
Natalia: Will we be seeing this in any of the upcoming episodes?
Trevor: No, not that. If we were ever in a situation where I was concerned for Matilde’s or my safety, I avoided filming.
Natalia: What were the different cultures that you saw? I am curious to hear about any of the poverty and feminist issues around that area.
Matilde: In India, there was one point where Trevor was walking and two little kids attached themselves to us and were grabbing inside his pockets. It wasn’t funny or cute; it was harassment.
Trevor: We tried to keep walking and for about three blocks they kept this up until finally an older bystander saw what was going on and told the kids to stop.
Matilde: Also, to me, one of the harder moments of poverty was walking by a very run down children's hospital in Phnom Penh at midnight with a long line of mothers holding their babies trying to get in, even though in my eyes that hospital was a scary place to have to bring your child. But of course there are very different levels of poverty in the whole region that we are otherwise blind to in the west.
Natalia: So, as white tourists, or you, Matilde, as a woman – were you treated differently anywhere?
Matilde: Well, people gawked at us everywhere because we were clear outsiders: bigger and white.
Trevor: Yeah, but the attention was always more on Matilde.
Natalia: I find that interesting. I feel like women in New York are accustomed to being cat called or gawked at, but I, personally, never experience that when I’m walking with someone else, especially not a guy. So I am surprised to hear you experienced that with Trevor by your side.
Matilde: In Kolkata, the way men stare at you and talk to you makes you wish for New York catcalling. Genuinely gets to the point that you feel naked from the way they undressed you on the street. I also felt that way a little bit in Indonesia. The roles of women in the region are very different from the way we experience life in the west, however in Thailand and Myanmar it seemed to me that women were working on similar levels as men.
Natalia: Did the language barrier make these situations worse? Or any situations, for that matter.
Matilde: It was really frustrating. I tried to learn “hello” and “thank you” for every place we traveled, but in Cambodia, for instance, even when we were saying things right, we were saying them wrong because we don’t have the same melody in our voices.
Trevor: But, at the end of the day, everyone really does speak English, and even if you couldn’t communicate, you found a way with gestures, tone, and body language.
Now, done filming and settled in Berlin for the unforeseeable future, Trevor and Matilde have new objectives in mind: editing and sharing the ten episodes of the season.
Natalia: What are the goals from here?
Trevor: First and foremost is to finish all ten episodes. Then, to get people to watch it. I’m still learning more about marketing and spending way more time than ever on Twitter and Facebook than I ever had in my life. The tough part about marketing is that you have to be doing it all of the time and I am focusing on editing right now. We are both new to this; Matilde has marketing experience, but –
Matilde: Yeah, from a non-profit film organization, so very different from this. But what’s our next move in terms of marketing is reaching out to press that might be interested in us and applying for festivals.
Trevor: We got accepted into one festival in Rome called “Roma Cinemadoc.”
Natalia: That’s great! Congratulations. With the filming and traveling done for the time being, were there any new perspectives about life you guys picked up along the way?
Matilde: A huge takeaway is to take an easier approach to life. To not take things in such a negative way. There is a joy in the way that people in Southeast Asia approach life that I took with me.
Watch and subscribe to On-Going with Matilde Keizer on Vimeo.