Meet Benjamin Zand, a hotshot BBC filmmaker

To give him credit, the ‘hotshot’ is my addition; not his own. Benjamin Zand has a job most of us would drool at – he’s a reporter and documentary filmmaker for the BBC. Most recently, the British-Iranian journalist donned the hat of a ‘social traveller’ in China to film a BBC World News documentary titled ‘The Travel Show – China Special‘. Zand used home grown social media to travel the country and his adventures were telecast on BBC World News earlier this month. Don’t worry, you can still view the episodes here. And now, over to the man himself.

You call yourself a ‘social traveller’. What is all that about?

Well, I tend to just call myself a traveller. I suppose a social traveller is someone who aims to meet and interact with as many people as possible – ditching the hotels, looking beyond the landmarks and staying at other people’s places – all whilst using technology along the way.

The Travel Show telecasted a China special last weekend, as filmed by you. Please share five interesting facts about China you learnt while filming the documentary.

  1. How unique different parts of China are from each other. China is a country of a thousand peoples; there are so many different traditions, customs and landscapes in the most-populated country in the world.
  1. I am a braver man than I thought! China has a lot of very interesting food items – pig’s brain, rabbit’s head, duck tongue to name but a few… They’re not as bad as I imagined, but I still can’t believe I ate them.
  1. How amazing the people of China are. How willing they were to let me into their homes, to give me a helping hand when I got lost, and to show me things I would have never found otherwise.
  1. How the Chinese internet works! They may not have the social media channels and websites we use, but they have amazingly well-functioning alternatives. So well-functioning that a lot of people don’t even know their internet is censored.
  1. The stark difference between Hong Kong and Mainland China. Their lives are different, their mind sets are different, and how they see each other is very interesting.

Is travelling as a documentary filmmaker better than travelling for leisure? Or do you combine both?

I get asked this a lot, and all I can say is that it’s very different. When you’re travelling for leisure, you have more time and you’re more aware of your surroundings because you’re not looking at a camera. When it’s for a documentary, you’re quite often consumed with getting the job done – finding the right people to speak to and getting the specific shots we need. That said; you do travel to places you probably wouldn’t visit if you were travelling alone, and you get to have experiences and meet people you might not have otherwise. So I really do love them both. They both have their place in my life.

What advice would you offer to folks who want to get into video blogging?

Don’t think about it too much, just start doing it. You don’t need a fancy camera, editing software etc., you just need to be interesting. And it’s not going to be great at first, but you’ll learn over time. Be yourself, do something different and keep going. Also, take criticism and listen to your audience.

How did you end up working for BBC?

I actually started doing work for the BBC when I was in university. I started doing runner work on a programme called the Big Questions. Then, when I left university, I worked as a researcher on science items for a programme called the One Show. When that ended, I applied to millions of places to no avail, so I created a travel website called Informed Explorer – this taught me so much. Eventually, after continued attempts at getting a job, I was given an opportunity at the World Service, they decided to hire me and it’s been onwards and upwards from there.

So which is your favourite country/destination so far and why?

Difficult question, as I love every place I’ve been! But, my favourite country/destination is probably Thailand. The reason for this is simple, and it’s not really about the destination. Travelling is so much more than where you go – it’s about who you’re with, where you’re at in life and the experiences you have. My trip to Thailand was one of my first big trips as an adult, and I went with a very good friend of mine. Up until that point, I had never felt any freer. Thailand is such a spectacularly different country, and I was able to go wherever I wanted in it. I didn’t want to ever leave, or close my eyes. I knew then that travelling was all I wanted to do.

Google Maps or a real map – which one would you choose?

Neither, at first – getting lost is part of the fun. Then I’ll realise that I really need to get to where I was going and I’ll use Google Maps!

If you have questions of your own, leave a comment! Follow Benjamin’s travel escapades on Twitter or Instagram

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