Featured image above: Travel by Dart producers Matt Cook (left) and Sorin Mihailovici in an interview room in the Norwegian archipelago of Svalbard during their visit to the North Pole (Image: Travel by Dart)
If you and your friend had the crazy idea of throwing a dart at the world map and — no matter where it landed — you promised to travel there, would you follow up on your promise?
What if the dart lands at the North Pole?
For two Canadian producers, Sorin Mihailovici and Matt Cook, an innocent question — what would an ideal life look like? — turned not only into a trip to the coldest place on Earth, but also into a unique idea for an adventure show called Travel by Dart. The show is sort of a travelogue, short documentary, reality show and charitable campaign all in one. Because the show is completely unscripted, Mihailovici and Cook don’t know what to expect from one trip to the next. Having filmed two episodes that are available online, they plan to throw 12 darts at the end of April to determine their next dozen locations.
“It’s not for everybody, that’s for sure,” Mihailovici said. “When you go into the unknown and you’re trying to get something good with the cards you’ve been dealt, you learn to adapt to things fast in the best way possible.”
So how did the dart-throwing idea originate and then develop into something more?
From Idea to Show
Mihailovici and Cook, two friends and business partners from Alberta, Canada, bought a set of darts and a world map from Walmart on a bet from a friend. Just so people would believe them, their friend filmed the two on an iPhone as they threw their darts, blindfolded. “It took us half an hour to convince ourselves that whatever we’re hitting, we’re going there,” Mihailovici said. Cook’s dart landed on the Azores, west of Portugal. Mihailovici’s? On the North Pole. The winner was selected the old-fashioned way: By a coin toss.
“We got the North Pole. It was the best thing that could have happened to this project because the North Pole is the most expensive destination you can go to,” Mihailovici said. “That got us thinking, how can we raise money for it?” The answer? Bring along a professional videographer and record North Pole greetings for sponsors.
In addition, Mihailovici and Cook mounted an online fundraiser for supporters, including friends and family. To add more interest to their adventures, they pledged $5 from every online donation to go to the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) for the protection of polar bears.
What really gave birth to Travel by Dart, though, was their return from the North Pole. The two were showered with media attention and people kept asking: Are they doing this again? The answer was yes, but in a different and bigger way.
“When we decided to do it again, we decided to do a huge thing and add a big philanthropy aspect,” Mihailovici said. That meant no more basement dart throwing. Instead, they organized a black-tie, invite-only affair for 200 potential supporters. The gala raised $34,000, enough to take along a small crew. The destination? Russia. Philanthropic cause? Orphans.
With 17 years of experience as a television producer, Mihailovici is not new to creative work. But Travel by Dart has one unique challenge: Not only is it completely unscripted; the producers never know exactly what to expect on location. “It’s not like doing a documentary where you have the shots prepared and a schedule from the beginning,” he explained.
Their Russian trip had plenty of stumbling blocks. The visas almost didn’t arrive on time. None of the orphanages called ahead of the trip allowed them to film. “For us, the concept of throwing the dart basically means expect the unexpected,” Mihailovici said. “We have to make it happen anyway … So obviously the storytelling has to be extremely good.” The two used the challenges to their advantage, however, building suspense into their storytelling. And luckily for them, all the chips eventually fell into place.
Mihailovici said that one thing they do know in advance is that the story needs several specific elements to be compelling — this could be anything from an antagonist and drama to a love story. “You have to get the viewer to empathize with you in your endeavor,” he said. “In business, there’s that concept of ‘know me, like me, trust me, pay me’ — it could apply anywhere. ‘Pay me’ doesn’t mean pay me money but pay with your ‘yes, I like your stuff.’”
Mihailovici said that having a nonscripted show works in their favor because scripted interviews don’t tell the story in the same way. “When you tell your story, you have to be as genuine as possible,” he said. “Be yourself because people like that genuine aspect.”
The following 49-minute video documents the team’s adventures in Russia.
Mihailovici and Cook don’t have final distribution plans for their show. The ideas of a television network and web series have both been discussed. They do plan a bus tour of the United States next year, from Seattle to New York, to talk to junior and senior high school students. The goal? To inspire students “to make a difference in the world.”
No matter where the darts land next, Mihailovici said that inspiring others is their true mission. “What we want to do is inspire people by telling stories,” he said. “But the stories have to be real and eye-opening.”
Editor’s note: Rodika Tollefson is an alumna of the University of Washington Communication Leadership graduate program, a writer and multimedia producer. She can be reached online at www.rodikat.com.