Lights. Camera. Action! Italy with PBS Music Voyager TV Series and Tauck

Posted by Cindy Clarke on 11/9/2017
Posted in: Insider Connections
Tags: Europe, Italy, Film, Vatican, Vatican Museums

When it comes to wowing our guests with movie-set scenery and scenarios they’ll long remember, our own Brenda MacKellar, tour architect for our Italy trips, is a magic-maker extraordinaire. So when the folks from public television’s Music Voyager travel series wanted to film the highlights of Italy for upcoming episodes for their eighth season, “The Yellow Roads of Europe,” they turned to Tauck – and Jennifer Kelly, European brand manager, and Tauck marketing consultant Michael Glavin who asked Brenda to help plan it all out. This past summer, the team took the Voyager crew on an eye-opening journey that seamlessly combined sightseeing experiences from five separate and simultaneous tours, impeccably timed and meticulously orchestrated for flawless filming.

We sat down with Brenda to ask how it felt to become an impromptu movie producer in real-life places where travelers, not actors, filled the roles, settings remained as they did hundreds of years ago, and in-the-moment experiences happened just once, no retakes possible.

Voyager & Tauck Crews


Q. What is the Voyager series?
A. Produced by the team behind the popular Music Voyager television travel series which follows street musicians around the world, “The Yellow Roads of Europe” is a culturally-based travel show designed to highlight authentic “non-mainstream” experiences off the beaten track throughout Europe. The series includes an insider look at Italy, all based on the experiences we include on our Italy trips. The show airs globally in more than 100 countries and on over 250 television stations in the U.S., that are primarily PBS stations. In the two episodes we filmed in June, the show’s host joins Tauck guests for special “insider” experiences in Rome, Umbria, Tuscany and Florence. These began airing fall 2017. We traveled to southern Italy in October to film two more episodes, which will air fall 2018.

Inside the Sistine Chapel


Q. How did you decide which Tauck experiences to include?
A. Italy is rife with historic treasures and rich in cultural traditions just about everywhere you look. To do them justice in a 30-minute film, I basically had to design a customized mini-tour that included special moments from five different Tauck tours. We started in Rome where our private after-hours Vatican Museums visit was a must. In Florence, our exclusive museum visit and wine reception with the Ferragamos was a no-brainer as were wine tastings and dinners in family-owned vineyards, historic hotels and hilltop towns in Tuscany and Umbria. Because each of our Italy trips offers different experiences, we had to synchronize the filming schedule with the timing of previously planned visits on our active itineraries. In addition to planning each Tauck moment, the whole timing had to be based on the daily sunrise and sunset! Sunset in Florence In June it certainly made for really long days as the sun was setting around 9 PM! Luckily in October, it set around 6:30 PM, so planning was important as to WHERE we were for sunset to get the most beautiful shots. This was all new of course to us and we got some amazing footage because of it. Not as easily done as said!


Q. The locals are a huge part of a memorable travel experience. Did they participate in the filming as well?
A. In Italy everybody is family, especially our suppliers. In order to film our experiences, we had to get signed permission from our partner hotels, restaurants, wineries, the Vatican, and so many other places we went to. They were so gracious and helpful and couldn’t do enough to make sure we had everything we needed and that everything was picture perfect for the shoot. Wherever we went, we came with a film crew of six and a lot of cameras, lighting and sound equipment, including drones! The bird’s-eye footage of rooftops and scenery from the drones in Rome and Florence, from sunrise to sunset, is nothing short of spectacular. It left all of us breathless! On the ground, our partners went above and beyond too. Located in a historic mansion just outside of Perugia, Alla Posta dei Donini Hotel helped us organize a private music recital. Franco, the legendary owner of our long-standing partner restaurant in Orvieto, Trattoria La Grotta, was so touched and happy that we chose his restaurant for our tours and the film, he became quite emotional on camera. At the magnificent Grand Hotel de la Minerve in Rome, housed in a restored mansion dating from the 1600s, hotel management ensured that every accommodation was made for us and one of the staff even enlisted her daughter, a film student home from college in London, to help us as a film crew assistant for a couple of days. In Siena, Nathalie from our hotel arranged a private viewing of costumes worn in the biannual Palio festivities so we couldn’t miss out on the pageantry of the race. At the Hotel Brunelleschi in Florence, our long-time partner and friend Claudio Catani rolled out the red carpet as he has for Tauck guests for decades. The list goes on.

La Grotta, Orvieto


Q. What other special moments stand out for you during this filming experience?
A. So many, it’s impossible to tell you all of them. We had Tauck guests who were actually on a Tauck tour happily waiting for our film crew to arrive at Lungarotti Vineyard in Torgiano so we could include them in the film. The owners of the winery kept pouring the wine and they were more than happy to raise their glasses in a sunset toast on film! We all had a good time with this segment! And I was so thankful to our fabulous Italy Tauck Directors for the hard work behind the scenes to make all the movements coordinate seamlessly with their tours. The Voyager film crew was often so overwhelmed by the sights they saw, for example, in the piazzas in Rome, where layers of history and sculpted beauty mesmerize still, that we had a hard time getting them to move!

Sunset Toast at Lungarotti Vineyard


Q. What will viewers experience when they watch these episodes?
A. They will see incredibly beautiful scenery, amazing close-up views of the art and architecture of Italy’s great cities, and intimate portrayals of the people and places that define the country. We shot 29 hours of footage for two 30-minute episodes that showcased sights in Rome, Tuscany, Umbria and Florence. The producers shot the film in 4K format to vividly capture our fast-paced trip and the result and picture quality are amazing. Their goal, like Tauck’s, was to deliver a cultural experience that you can feel, taste and understand. They succeeded.

Cinque Terre


Q. What are your personal takeaways from this experience?
A. I am used to my behind-the-scenes role as a product manager at Tauck. I love planning and putting together an itinerary that will completely delight our guests. But actually being out on the road and behind the camera with a film crew and watching our guests experience our trips and special experiences firsthand as they happened was one of the most interesting and uniquely rewarding experiences I have ever had. I so enjoyed traveling with our terrific marketing team members, Michael and Jennifer, and understanding the best moments to feature in video from their perspective. Our film expedition evolved as we went, with spontaneous moments happening live, just like they do on our trips. I am thrilled Tauck had the opportunity to participate in sponsor these episodes for the traveling public!


Watch “The Yellow Roads of Europe” Italy episodes here:

Episode 1 – Florence to Siena


Episode 2 – All Roads Lead to Rome

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