Typically, when Rick is on the road researching or filming, I’m either on the road with a tour group or guidebook researching in Europe, or I’m subbing at a private school near our home town. I’m sure most people can imagine that it’s hard to be apart from one’s partner for a two-month stretch, so when our paths can cross, we try to take advantage of it.
Late this summer, I joined Rick, his producer Simon, his cameraman Peter, and his France guidebooks co-author Steve S. for their last day of filming in the Loire Valley. We had an early start at Château Chenonceau, also known as Le château des dames or the Castle of the Ladies. It’s one of the most beautiful and oft-visited castles in the Loire Valley, and over the centuries, has been lovingly cared for by the likes of the mistress of Henri II (Diane de Poitiers), Henri II’s wife–Catherine de Medici, Madame Louise Dupin (George Sand’s grandmother), and has been owned by the chocolate-making Menier family since 1951.
I’m not gonna lie. Being with a TV film crew has its perks, including driving right onto the property, not having to worry about lines, and fresh coffee and croissants in the château manager’s office. But the work that goes into filming what will end up being a 5-minute segment of a 30-minute show is impressively demanding. And considering that the crew is essentially only three people, it’s amazing how everything that needs to get done gets done…and done really well.
While Rick and Simon scout the interior, I accompany Peter to get exterior shots of the château and the Cher River, which it straddles. He shoots from the exterior courtyard, from one of the gardens, and from the opposite riverbank. Pan left, pan right, pan up, pan down, hold, wide to tight, tight to wide, and every possible variation of shot is done–all so that Simon and the editor back home (Steve C.) can have a variety of options to make the show look amazing.
Once inside, Rick wants to get key rooms filmed. Sometimes that just means getting b-roll (supplemental footage that sets the scene) of the decor, and sometimes people need to populate the scene. Innocent bystanders end up as “Rick Steves’ Best of Europe” extras, and every now and again, eager fanatical fans toting their Rick Steves’ guidebook or his Audio Europe app get their 15 milliseconds of fame. My mom will be thrilled to know that I made it into one scene, intently admiring paintings, cabinets, and a bed once used by some royal or another. Hopefully I stay off the cutting room floor.
The “on-cameras” can be tough. This is when they film Rick doing a monologue that sets up historical or cultural context. Memorizing and delivering his lines (concise yet poetic as they may be) is tricky enough, but other uncontrollable factors can make this process go on and on. You might hear someone sneeze, people stop and stare into the camera, others don’t see the camera and walk right in front of the shot or ask Rick to sign their book, a bird flies in through a window and freaks people out, whatever. But the crew takes everything in stride. Finally after take 22, the team is confident that they’ve got what they need for “beautiful television”.
Back outside, it’s “teaser” time. At the top of every show, Rick gives little hints about the places he’s visiting in that episode, saying things like, “Hi, I’m Rick Steves, back with more of ‘The Best of Europe’. This time we’re exploring French royal homes and luscious landscapes. It’s the Châteaux of the Loire Valley. Thanks for joining us!” You might see him standing in front of an iconic monument, paddling a canoe, or perhaps sheering a sheep. This time, he went biking through the Chenonceau gardens and did it without crashing into tourists. We were all impressed.
After a few more on-cameras, we called it a day and headed back to our nearby home for the night–the Château de Pray. A simple picnic dinner of local cheese, cured meats, fresh bread, and ripe vegetables, along with an glorious sunset view of the French countryside was the perfect way to end a long day of great TV filming and to start our mini-vacation.