Every so often, I hear about a fellow traveler doing something pretty cool. If their project sounds cool, I’ll share it on my Facebook or Twitter profiles and follow it as it develops. This one’s a bit different. You’re about to meet Francis Tapon, a guy who’s committed to traveling through every African country over the course of four years. He’s about a year into his trip, and has begun the process of turning his experience into a TV show. Like myself, he’s intent on getting off the beaten path, and seeing what’s really there to see. Without further ado…

The logo behind Francis’ journey (all photos courtesy his Facebook feed)

Worthy Go: For those that haven’t heard of you, go ahead and introduce yourself.

Francis Tapon: I’m the author of Hike Your Own Hike and The Hidden Europe. I’m creating a TV series and book called The Unseen Africa, which is based on my four-year journey across all 54 African countries.

WG: So you’re traveling the African continent through 2017 – 54 countries over the course of several years… Why Africa? And why Morocco to start?

FT: I’d never been to Africa. So why not dive right into it with an epic 4 year journey? Also, Africa is a continent that you want to explore while you’re relatively young and strong, since the heat and conditions can be hard on an elderly person. That partly explains why the continent has the lowest life expectancy on Earth. Since I want to visit all the countries of the world, I better get to Africa now.

Morocco wasn’t my first choice. Egypt was. However, at least second, Iberia Airlines permanently cancelled the flight from Madrid to Cairo. Instead of finding another way there, I just bought a car in Madrid and drove to Africa, by taking a ferry across the Strait of Gibraltar. I’m glad I did it because Morocco offers an incredibly wide variety of settings that help make a compelling initial episode.

Also, like Egypt, we can show how there are plenty of unseen things even a touristic African country like Morocco.

WG: You have some pretty strong opinions about mainstream travel networks… What did they do to piss you off, and/or what are they doing wrong?

FT: About half of the Travel Channel’s shows have basically nothing to do with travel. For example, they have shows about making monsters and exploring haunted houses. On the other hand, I can’t blame them. Travel shows can be boring. They’re often about some pretty host going to a nice, perfect beach and splashing in the water. That gets old.

Yet adventure shows, like what Bear Grylls does, is popular and entertaining. So why not combine the adventure of a Bear Grylls show, with the educational value of a travel show? That’s what I aim to do.

WG: How is it that an entire continent gets stereotyped, and are any of those stereotypes fair?

FT: Most stereotypes have at least a grain of truth in them. Some have a big fat grain of truth. For example there’s the stereotype that Africans are poor. They are. No other continent has a lower GDP per capita than Africa. However, Africa has many billionaires. Oil and mineral wealth has enriched many. Economically, no other continent has grown faster in the last 10 years.

Lastly, even though Africans are often poor in material wealth, they are usually rich in love and happiness. Africans are certainly more happy than Eastern Europeans, for example. That’s another point: Africa isn’t the only continent that gets stereotyped. All continents have stereotypes. I just made a sweeping statement that Eastern Europeans are a bit grumpy. We’re animals. We must categorize things. The key is to make sure that our generalizations are flexible — that we understand that there are always exceptions and that we may be wrong.

WG: Did you start the trip with a plan to film a TV series (and/or fund it on Kickstarter?)

FT: I planned from the start to film the experience, although I wasn’t sure how long I would keep at it. I still don’t. For example, if my Kickstarter Project fails (and it’s all or nothing, so if I only raise $19,000, I get zero), then I may consider filming less enthusiastically. It takes time, effort and money to film all the time. I got the idea of doing my Kickstarter Project about the pilot episode about 6 months ago. I’ve been steadily planning.The key to making such a project successful is to get near the finish line before you even start. So I wanted to get the trailer done and all the footage organized before I bothered anyone.

WG: Who’s with you on this stalward adventure? You’re not carrying that huge camera by yourself…

FT: I am, although sometimes I’ve had company. If a TV network agrees to produce The Unseen Africa series, then I’ll get a small crew to join me.

WG: Let’s talk Kickstarter — you’re raising $20,000 for the pilot?

FT: Yeah, it’s a bargain. Most TV episodes cost $30,000 to $80,000 to produce. Traveling to remote places in Africa add at least $20,000 to such a bill. Here are my costs:

  • Broadcast quality camcorder $5,000
  • Other camera equipment and other gear $5,000
  • $5,000 on a pro cameraman’s wages + expenses
  • Car $15,000 + gas/repairs ($5000)
  • Food and lodging for 3 months in Morocco $2,000
  • Editor $10,000
  • $2,500 will go to fulfilling the Kickstarter rewards.
  • $2,000 will go to the colorist, which is necessary to make the pilot beautiful.
  • $2,000 will go to the sound mixer.
  • $2,000 will go to Kickstarter and Amazon fees.
  • $1,500 will go to David Hamilton, the show’s Composer. He will compose the original music for pilot. He’s superb.

So that’s $57,000 so far. None of this includes my time and energy. No compensation at all for me. If the pilot was the only thing I wanted to do, I could have chopped down the price by $15,000 by renting a car and all the camera equipment. But I was planning to do a show for 4 years, so renting wasn’t an option. I could have also hired an African to do the editing instead of a TV pro based in LA who has done 200 shows. I could have saved another $7,000 by hiring Africans instead of Americans. But then the quality of the production would probably have suffered, which would diminished the possibility of the show being picked up.

In short, cutting all the corners, I could have gotten my costs down to perhaps $35,000 — a simple TV travel episode budget. The Kickstarter would only cover two-thirds of that bill. As it stands, the Kickstarter is only covering one-third of the bill. And that’s valuing my time at zero. No salary. No compensation. All out of my pocket. And what people don’t know is that I hired and paid for an editor to produce the trailer and pilot, but she was dishonest and terrible editor. She effectively robbed me of $10,000. That’s more money down the drain. Finally, there’s costs that come down the pipe: hiring a professional producer for thousands of dollars to help shop the show around and paying thousands of dollars in entry fees to film festivals to increase its exposure.

Yup, TV is expensive. $20,000 is a bargain. If we raise $80,000, then I’ll break even.

OWG: What about the rest of the season / journey?

FT: Whether there are more episodes depends on whether the Kickstarter Project gets funded. If it doesn’t, then it will be harder for me to find a network who will finance future episodes. I can’t finance them by myself. I could if I found sponsors willing to pay $20,000 per episode, but that’s hard too. However, the journey will continue no matter what. I will film throughout, albeit perhaps with less rigor. I’ll have fun regardless. 🙂

WG: Is there a unique / bizarre destination you’ll remember the rest of your trip?

FT: Driving to the base of the tallest mountain in Sierra Leone was an unforgettable experience. Nobody had ever driven that road before. The villages were shocked to see a car there. That was bizarre.

WG: If you had to boil the Moroccan mindset — the real-world mindset of everyday people — down to a phrase or sentence, it would be…

FT: If I do this guy a favor, what favor can he do for me?

Ready to go explore some places to visit in Morocco for yourself? Go take a look.

An interview with the man traveling to every African country