Production Symposium on In the Footsteps of Marco Polo
In the Beginning
We have an idiom which says: “good things come to those who wait” and my goodness this is an adage that applies to our forthcoming series “In the Footsteps of Marco Polo”. It took Marco Polo and his fellow travellers 4 years to travel along the iconic Silk Route from Venice to Beijing and by the time our 4 x60 series comes out of post-production it will have taken 4 years since the genesis of this series.
Like Marco Polo this 4-part documentary has been on an incredible journey, which started over 60 years ago when a young classics student from Oxford University called Stanley Johnson gathered together two friends to follow Polo’s route. They set off on motorbikes on their great and adventurous “Marco Polo Expedition”, as it was called, but excuse the pun, the plan stalled at the Chinese border due to a lack of vacation time but most importantly a lack of Chinese visas!
Fast forward to 4 years ago
I had a phone call from Stanley’s agent Sue Ayton: “I want you to meet Stanley Johnson and cook something up. I just know you two will get on… and be warned Stanley has more energy than you! ”. Well, that’s not something I hear very often, my interest was peaked. Shortly after I had the absolute pleasure and joy to meet Stanley for the first time. We have both been given the gift of travel in our lives and the stories started flowing. Stanley’s sheer exuberance, love of life, passion for people, historical curiosity, wonder about places far and wide and care for the environment quickly hooked me in. Of the many stories he shared, the unfinished business of the Marco Polo Expedition chimed the most with me. I had recently come back from directing a wildlife series for CCTV and ITV where I had been lucky enough to film in many different locations across China’s vast and stunning country.
For this series we partnered with CDIMC in China. However, at one stage I thought I may never actually get to meet our Chinese series producer, Chen Dandan and her team. The filming for In the Footsteps of Marco Polo was planned for last Summer, but we arrived in Chengdu just as a major Covid outbreak hit China. The whole UK production team spent 10 days in a hotel room and returned to England without ever actually meeting our Chinese counterparts. It was a sad moment, but the Marco Polo phoenix rose out of the Covid ashes, thanks to the support, co-operation and determination of everyone involved in this Sino/British partnership.
This year the team came together on the far Western border of China to make the series. A 25 strong team of British and Chinese programme makers from One Tribe TV and CDIMC, with our two presenters Stanley and Max Johnson, travelling over 4000 miles along Marco Polo’s Silk Route to Beijing. Together we traversed seriously high-altitude mountain plateaus in sub-zero temperatures, crossed mighty deserts and sweltered in the hottest temperatures ever recorded in Beijing.
Stanley finally got to finish his journey with his youngest son Max, something he couldn’t have imagined 60 years ago. As they say,“Good things come to those that wait”….
In The Footsteps of Marco Polo is now in post-production and will be transmitted from Spring 2024.
The series will be transmitted on CCTV and CGTN in China and distributed internationally by Blue Ant International.