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From Bangkok to RVA

New television show highlights the trials and triumphs of global do-gooders.

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Craig Martin and his business partner, Earl Bridges, have been spending a lot of time at In Your Ear Studio. They are doing post-production on their new TV series, “The Good Road.” It debuts on PBS on April 11 and replays the next night, Sunday April 12. The program is the result of a long friendship which began in high school. Martin, of Richmond, and Bridges, of Charleston, South Carolina, first met at the International School of Bangkok.

Their TV program is an international travel show done in a style like Anthony Bourdain’s “Parts Unknown.” But unlike Bourdain’s program the emphasis on culture is not centered on food. “The Good Road” documents the often difficult and messy work of global philanthropy. Martin and Bridges describe themselves as philanthropologists, documentary filmmakers studying people they call “do-gooders,” who often work in dangerous places.

The Good Road Trailer from The Good Road on Vimeo.

Martin and Bridges are the sons of missionaries. Martin’s parents served in Thailand under the banner of the Southern Baptist International Missions Board, headquartered in Richmond. They are well-known for their work in the prisons in Thailand, so much so that there is a building in Bangkok with their names inscribed on it. Bridges did two tours in Bangkok, the first when his father was stationed there in the Air Force. The Bridges family loved the people of Thailand so much that after his father’s military service they returned to do missions work with the Church of Christ.

The two young men formed a fast friendship that has lasted to today. Their formative years in Bangkok gave them a different perspective on life and culture that they have carried with them into their professional lives. Bridges’ love of technology led him to seek out ways it can be used to serve the lives of people living in developing countries. Bridges studied at the University of South Carolina and Martin went to Baylor University and studied film. Early in his career, Martin was a local news cameraman at the Branch Davidian compound siege. For years after high school Martin and Bridges went their separate ways, pursuing their careers, watching each other through social media. Then two events brought them together again.

After college Bridges started Good Done Great with a business partner. The company focused on global philanthropy and sought to spotlight those organizations and individuals doing legitimate charitable projects. The company then linked its findings to corporations that could provide funding for vetted philanthropic programs.

Martin landed at the same organization his parents had worked for, the International Mission Board. Over time Martin rose to become the managing director, overseeing a team of 30 artists, writers, video producers, photographers and editors. Martin traveled the world documenting the living conditions of people trying to survive in war-torn countries and disaster areas.

Bridges realized that in order to effectively complete his mission with Good Done Great, he needed to document the organizations he was profiling on film. It was a case of show, don’t tell. “There were stories out there that I wanted to tell,” he says. Bridges decided he needed to get firsthand evidence and made plans to travel abroad.

Meanwhile, the International Mission Board was hemorrhaging money. The budget for Martin’s work just wasn’t there anymore and one day, the ax fell. Martin and his staff of 30 were let go. “For the first time in 25 years I was without a job,” Martin says. He posted a quick note about it on social media and Bridges saw it. He made a quick call to Martin and pitched his trip to him. “I figured I’d find money for Craig and luckily he agreed to come along.”

The trip gave the two friends a lot of time to talk. Bridges had an idea.

“At first I thought, ‘everybody has an idea for a TV show.’ I thought I was kind of a big deal,” Martin says. But when Bridges pitched his vision for “The Good Road,” Martin knew it was the project he wanted to spend his life pursuing.

That conversation led to changes. Bridges sold his company and Martin cashed in some investments and the two set out across the globe to bring back stories from Bangkok, Myanmar, Kenya, and Mobile, Alabama.

“The Good Road” is beautifully filmed and compelling storytelling — it’s also quite life affirming. At the center of it is the relationship between these two men with a passion for meeting the needs of others.

The first season consists of eight half-hour episodes, each documenting the humanitarian efforts of some very interesting, often flawed individuals, striving to make the world a better place for their fellow man. Martin and Bridges have created a podcast, “Philanthropology,” as a companion piece to TV series.

“The Good Road” airs on WCVE starting April 11 at 5 p.m. and repeating Sunday at 7 p.m. beginning April 12 and Wednesdays at 7 p.m. beginning April 15.

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