The Monthly Edit

Interview – Nick Maher and Tim “Gonzo” Ryan

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From time to time, I get really into a new TV show as part of my wild, livin’ on the edge (of the bed) lifestyle. TV is just so good at the moment, how am I supposed to stay away from it? I found out about Unplanned America while despairing that all my usual shows were on their Summer hiatus. I was browsing Netflix and found the description of the show to be 100% relevant to my interests. I was hooked from episode one and watched all three seasons in about a week. So the next logical step was to chat with the people responsible for making the show… Don’t say I don’t treat you good.

How are you guys?

Nick – All good!

Gonzo – Not too bad, it’s getting dark outside, almost dinner time here!

How did you meet?

Gonzo – We all met working at MTV. Nick and Parv lived together for a bit in Berlin… There was a gap between us all working together there and the start of this project [Unplanned America], but we had stayed in touch and were all still friends.

What are you working on right now?

Nick – We are working on a bunch of pitches for new shows that will hopefully happen based on all the meetings we had in the States.

Moving on from Unplanned America or preparing a new season?

Nick – No, we are pretty much done with Unplanned America for now…

Gonzo – We are working on more documentary stuff, similar aesthetic and style, but different topics. Let’s just say the ideas we are working on now are a little more focused on specific topics.

Nick – It will still be cultural documentaries…

Gonzo – All the stuff we covered in Unplanned America will still be feeding into the topics we are looking at at the moment.

Will it still be a travel show?

Nick – We are looking to move to the States so it will still be U.S. centric. One of the ideas we are working on at the moment is looking at how rich and poor people live in major cities in the world. It is nothing new, but we will be executing it in the Unplanned fashion, using ourselves as the prism through which we see the issue.

Gonzo – These new ideas we are working on are very much based on us and the way we like to tell stories. We all have a rather inquisitive nature and we like listening to people’s stories. I think anyone who is familiar with Unplanned America will like the new stuff we are working on. Originally we wanted to maybe just stretch the Unplanned America concept into a slightly different thing, but we decided it was best to just do something completely different, keeping the same immersive foundation.

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Was the whole thing really that unplanned?

Nick – The idea was always to travel and look at real people and real experiences, weird stuff that goes on in various places. When we started thinking about the show there were a few things that we wanted to do but most of it wasn’t planned. As the show evolved after the first season, we realised we had to start planning it, at least from the production end. The idea was to show the side of America that the forefathers never imagined would exist!

Gonzo – We adapted what the name was. During the first season we didn’t know if the show would see the light of day. People would let us know what was going on in various places and we would decide whether or not to check it out. We would be looking at timelines and think “OK we have two weeks to get from point A to point B” and then a story would pop up.

Nick – We just changed the definition of “unplanned”!

Gonzo – We definitely didn’t work on our documentaries in a “regular” way, say like Louis Theroux would.

Nick – When we went to New Orleans for example, we had to organise everything on the fly when we were there. We didn’t research all the characters we were going to talk to, we were just hoping for the best most of the time!

Gonzo – We would meet people and then see them again later to flesh out a particular story. It was very much research while we were shooting. It is more Unprofessional America.

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How long do you spend in each location?

Gonzo – It varies based on the location. For season 1 we spent a long time in each place. It was slower. For the second and third seasons, we were in New Orleans for about a week, New York for a couple of weeks, but there were places where we just docked to shoot a story and then made our way to the next destination.

Nick – New Orleans is a great example: it is a party town but on one of those extreme hangover days we managed to do four shoots in one day. Gonzo and our camera guy were out in a bar, they would meet a band and decide to put them in the show, so we would just shoot it the next morning.

Gonzo – There was definitely an elasticity in the time we spent in New Orleans!

How did you keep the momentum going on the road?

Nick – We had general plans for timings. We drove everywhere. We spent 6 months in the States filming the first season, and 4 months for the second and third.

Gonzo – The momentum went by the end of the third season. We had a solid run for the first two and a half months, then we took a week-long break over Christmas.

Nick – I went to a hermitage in the middle of Arizona, I needed to be completely alone. On New Year’s Eve, I went to bed at 11pm in my little hermitage.

Gonzo – On New Year’s Eve, I was climbing up a 4 storey building to get back into my apartment in NYC! After the break we reconvened in Vegas and carried on filming. By that point we had driven all the way around the country and I think the momentum was a bit lost. At the beginning of our trip though there was definitely a momentum that came with driving around, exploring new places etc.

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How did you manage not to kill each other in the car, after that long?

Nick – We managed to go without conflict quite well actually!

Gonzo – We were all friends before we hit the road, so we know how to argue with each other without everything falling apart. Whatever the argument was would become a joke the next day.

Nick – Some feuds would last longer than others…

Did you pick the subcultures you wanted to study in advance? Did you have a specific interest in some of them?

Gonzo – For the BDSM episode, we had this idea that it would be interesting to talk about the topic. We just needed to figure out who would and could be in the episode from that specific community. But the Juggalos episode came about because Parv was a fan of Insane Clown Possee growing up!

Nick – I have a DJ friend who lives in Paris and she tapped into the vogueing scene, she told us there was a club where that still happened in NYC so we went for it.

Gonzo – The Chicago rap scene episode came about because I have a University friend who works in the music industry in the States and I was talking to him while travelling and he recommended we met with the people there. He also helped us out with some stuff in New Orleans too!

Were you always into American culture?

Nick – Australia is hugely influenced by American culture. All the cartoons we watched as kids were all American! We had intimate knowledge of the culture before we even went there.

Gonzo – I rejected U.S culture massively as a teen, but as I grew older I became more interested in it because I knew so much about it already and I was curious to see what was really going on there.

Nick – There is so much there too in terms of subcultures. It makes it a logical place to go to shoot a subculture series.

What do you guys do in between projects?

Gonzo – We just got back from America two weeks ago, we were there for a month having meetings with networks and production companies etc. Since we’ve been back we’ve been working on different ideas and we also do a lot of freelance work as editors or producers. Just yesterday we were brainstorming ideas for an accounting ad, so we clearly have a really wide scope!

Nick – See, we haven’t quite made it yet!

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