RSS Blog
Get this RSS feed

Interview: Harry Shum, Jr., Dishes on ‘The LXD and a ‘Glee’ Love Triangle

August 3rd, 2010 by Rebecca Harper Editor

Sue Sylvester may have called him “The Other Asian” last season on “Glee,” but we’re predicting that Harry Shum, Jr., who plays Mike Chang on the Fox series, will become a household name this year. After all, “Glee” isn’t Shum’s only project these days. He’s reprising his role as Cable in the dance movie “Step Up 3D” (in theaters August 6), and stars in and choreographs “The LXD,” a new dance series for the web directed by Jon Chu.

This week, Shum’s first appearance in “The LXD” hits Hulu, so we asked the actor/dancer/choreographer to tell us more about the series, let us know what’s it’s like going up on stage with Beyonce, and share a few teasers about the next season of “Glee.” Two words: Britney episode. Find out what he’s talking about below. — Rebecca Harper (rebecca.harper@hulu.com), Hulu Editor, for the Yahoo! TV Blog

Although you’re a co-choreographer on “The LXD” (Legion of Extraordinary Dancers), you make your on-camera debut in “The LXD” this week in an episode called “Elliot’s Shoes.” Can you set up the storyline?
Elliot’s Shoes is the story about your average, everyday guy. He’s not really involved in the arts. He loves watching it, but he feels like he can’t do it. And that’s the way it is with a lot of things in his life. He inherits this house from his grandpa who’s just passed away. He moves into this house and somehow knocks into the wall and finds these shoes hidden in there. He ends up putting them on and finds out that these shoes almost take over his body and allow him to do things that have always been inside him but have never been released. Elliot is one of those characters with something that lives in him that’s waiting to be unleashed. He gets a little help from these X7 shoes.

Elliot ends up dancing to a mix of songs in the episode. Did you have any input in the song choice?
Charles Oliver was the director on this particular episode, and it was really fun. Me and Jon wrote the script and we placed and left it open, you know, “we’ll do something with the shoes and let them control you.” And I’ve always loved to be able to have that physical comedy and also bring in dance as well, but in different styles, and have a lot of fun with it. A lot of the inspiration comes from the Steve Martin and his old movies. I put the mix together of different songs that inspired and Charles and I started placing them together.

When Jon Chu set out to create this series about these superhero dancers, did you have any idea it would get so much attention? After all, the LXD was asked to perform in front of Al Gore and Bill Gates at the TED conference, and then the Oscars.
All this really happened organically. Jon and I met on “Step Up 2″ and we had a friendship there. Then he had this idea to bring dancers to the forefront. What’s awesome about it is that we made the first four episodes so long ago, almost a year ago. We originally thought, OK, let’s make a show and then after that we’ll roll back into live performances. It kind of happened the other way around. Jeff Thacker [co-executive producer on “So You Think You Can Dance”] was searching for clips for the show and he was typing in “epic.” Somehow our group came up, and he’d never heard of The LXD before. Then he saw us and said “I’d love to see these guys translate what they do on film on the stage.” He hit us up, and that was a little challenge for us, you know, because we were so into just putting it on the screen. And the story started like that. We had to bring it on stage. From “So You Think You Can Dance,” it was the Oscars with Adam Shankman [a “SYTYCD” judge), and then TED called us on. It was a big surprise to us, but at the same time we knew it was something special that we had, and that we were part of. We’re just fortunate that everyone responded well to it.

“The LXD” highlights a number of different dancers, many specializing in a certain type of dance. As a choreographer, what’s the creative process like? How involved are the individual dancers, and how do you mesh all of their individual styles into one cohesive story?
When we put the episodes together, we kind of throw ideas to Jon in terms of what we’d love to do with dance. And Jon is a storyteller, so he’s able to put it all together and bring the story and the dance onto paper and also bring it to life. But it really comes down to these individual dancers. We look to specific dancers that we want to write an episode about, or we look to bring in certain characters for the story. Really, we’re looking for ways showcase what they do in an innovative way, but also raise it together with the story, so we have one cohesive episode and also a whole storyline that goes along with the series.
When we go in there, it’s about the dancers and how they move. We try and place certain things on them, but at the end of the day, it really comes down to what their unique style is and how they’re going to incorporate it into the scene or into the sequence.

Is it improvised then, or is it all pretty much strict choreography?
It’s a little bit of both. There are moments, especially how our shooting schedules are. We shoot an episode sometimes in one day. We have to all fit in one day, but we do have enough rehearsal time so there is a format and staging. We try to keep it where it’s choreographed in a sense, and that’s where we both collaborate with the dancers, me and Chris, but also there’s always room for improvising because that’s when a lot of the magic happens, especially with street dance. That’s where it came from. It really came people just improvising and free styling and doing what they do best, because sometimes as a choreographer, you might not know what that is. You’ve only seen what the dancer’s done, and sometimes they have more up their sleeve. You want to allow them to show that, as well.

You’ve said that your goal along has been to be an actor. Has your dance career helped?
Oh it’s definitely helped open so many doors. To be honest, when I moved [to L.A.], that was I wanted to do, to act. I didn’t know that there was a career in dance. You see all these past dancers-slash-actors like Gene Kelly and Fred Astaire do both, which I always wanted to do, but I was just strictly dancing for a couple years. I was making a good living from it, so from there it opened up more opportunities as far as acting, and being able to do both, or just dancing or acting. It really allowed me to learn a lot about the business. I’ve done a lot of things that a lot of actors haven’t been able to do, in terms of performing with these awesome artists and traveling all over the world and teaching. I feel like I have the best of both worlds. I feel like I’m so lucky and so fortunate.

Your character, Mike Chang, was pretty silent on “Glee” in Season 1. Will we see — and hear — more of you next season?
Right now, there’s going to be a little storyline, a little love triangle between Artie and Tina and Mike Chang. I think this season, as Ryan Murphy said, they’re diving into the characters a lot more. They’re trying to go into the characters and just see who they are. As far as Brittany, who’s played by Heather Morris, she’s getting an episode where she’s singing Britney, which is so awesome. Only time will tell. Hopefully I’ll get that opportunity, slowly but surely. Last season I wasn’t doing much and this season I’m doing a little more.

It seems like the fans would like that. I have to ask: if Brittany gets to be Britney, who would Mike Chang be if he gets his own episode?
Man, there’s so many different things I would love to be. I would say this, though, I would love to be Michael. That’s really, really hard to live up to on my part, but I think that would be a dream come true.

In the “Dream On” episode, you do some stage time with Jenna Uskowitz, who plays Tina, while Artie (Kevin McHale) sings “Dream a Little Dream of Me.” Did you do any of the choreography for that tap dance number?
Oh man, I don’t think they even want my input on tap. I’d never tapped before, not until three days before the shoot. They gave us tap shoes and they put us in a room for about two and half hours and we had to learn tap. Jenna at least had some experience with tapping, but that was my first time putting tap shoes on. And it is so hard. I gained a new respect for tapping. You look at it and think, “Oh, I think I can do that,” then you start doing it and it is so difficult! Even though we learned it three days before, but we pretty much had three hours to get it before we had to shoot. In my sleep, I would try to pretend that I could tap the air. We ended up doing it, and I’m pretty proud considering how little time we had.

Have you sustained any injuries?
I’ve been very lucky. It’s been minor, you know, like your back is sore. Nothing has put me out of commission — knock on wood. It gets a little crazy as far as the stuff that we do. For the most part, they keep us pretty safe and make sure no one gets injured. I can’t say the same for Vocal Adrenaline. When they did “Bohemian Rhapsody,” oh, they were dropping like flies. Everything was safe, but that dance was so intense, with so many lifts and running back across stage and getting to the other side. I think it was all worth it, and I think the dancers would say the same, because that turned out to be, for me, one of the most awesome dances on “Glee.”

Can you share any upcoming surprises?
Specifics, I don’t know, but I can tell you after reading the first two scripts, the writers aren’t holding back. They’re so brilliant in writing for the show, that when I opened up the first five pages, I was like “Oh wow, they are going for it.” I don’t think it’s going to disappoint fans when they come out with the opener. They’re really going to get to know the characters a lot more and get into their home lives and find out what their backgrounds are. In terms of musical numbers: Britney. I think that’s going to be one to look forward to. It’s going to be done in a hallucinogenic way, Ryan said — whatever that means, I’m sure it’s going to be crazy.

What was more intimidating? Dancing with Beyonce or coming up with choreography that was going to be seen by Bill Gates and Al Gore (at the TED conference) and all of Hollywood (at the Oscars)?
[Laughs.] Two totally different worlds! As a nerd, you know, we heard that we’re doing TED and that we were performing for the likes of Bill Gates, Will Smith and Al Gore, and just the smartest people in the world. They’re scientists, so most of them aren’t really into dancing. So that was the harder crowd, because I didn’t know if they were going to appreciate us. But I think both are intimidating — and also, Beyonce, she’s like the queen of all that she does. Being on stage with her is intimidating, especially the first time. Both are, in different ways.

Check out Harry Shum in the “Elliot’s Shoes” episode of “The LXD” on Hulu Wednesday. Catch him in “Step Up 3D” in theaters August 6. Here’s a sneak peek:

Last comment: Sep 15th 2014 1 Comment

Coming Tonight: Glee Returns; Sue Sylvester Strikes a Pose

April 13th, 2010 by Rebecca Harper Editor

When we last saw the McKinley High glee club, New Directions was on top of the world after kicking butt at Sectionals and — gasp! — vocal coach Will Schuester was spotted smooching on the school guidance counselor. Tonight, Rachel, Finn, Amber, Artie and the rest of Glee return as the show choir sets its sights on its next goal: Regionals.

If past episodes are any indication, it’s going to be a bumpy ride. Cheerleading coach Sue Sylvester (Jane Lynch) is still out to bring down Mr. Shue and his kids, and a new love interest for Rachel could cause some tension among our singing sensations. Luckily for New Directions (and all of us watching), the second half of the season should prove to be bigger and better than ever, with a tribute Lady Gaga, and — when Regionals come around — celebrity judges. (Entertainment Weekly reports we can expect to see crooner Josh Groban and ’80s icon Olivia Newton-John as panelists.)

But the biggest news to come so far is that next week’s episode will be devoted to all things Madonna, featuring mash-ups of “Borderline” and “Open Your Heart,” and even a little “Papa Don’t Preach.” Best of all, we’ll finally get to see the perpetually mean-spirited Sue Sylvester put her vocal pipes to good use as she treats us to her own rendition of “Vogue.”

It’s a musical number so big, our friends at Fox couldn’t wait until next week to share it — so after the Sue Sylvester “Vogue” music video premieres during “Glee” tonight, you can catch her performance on demand on Hulu starting at 10:30 p.m. EDT/7:30 p.m. PDT.

Catch up on the last five episodes of Glee here.

Let your body move to the music,
Rebecca Harper ()

Hulu First Look: Vanguard’s Porn 2.0

November 9th, 2009 by Rebecca Harper Editor

Be among the first to see Vanguard’s Christof Putzel report on the future of the adult entertainment industry, “Porn 2.0” before its premiere on Current TV this Wednesday. In the piece, Putzel examines how the industry — which has always been at the forefront of Internet technology — is fostering new innovation in order to stay afloat at a time when fewer customers are paying for their pleasure. Hulu had the opportunity to speak to Putzel to speak about the report last week. You catch Vanguard on your TV set Wednesdays at 10/9c on Current TV. — Rebecca Harper (), Editor

Hulu: What sparked your interest in the relationship between porn and Internet technology?
Vanguard’s Christof Putzel:
If you use the Internet, it’s hard to ignore the existence of porn. It shows up in your inbox as spam, as links to your unrelated search inquiries. It’s everywhere. It’s no secret that pornography has been at the cutting edge of media for decades. Pornography is what we have to thank for some of the expansion at the early days of the Internet. So what I was interested in was, in this day and age when mainstream industries like the movie business and the music business are all struggling to figure out how to best utilize the internet and not keep losing their shirts, I thought it would be interesting to take a look at how the porn industry was doing. It’s traditionally been one step ahead of mainstream businesses when it came to distribution formats.

What were some of the biggest surprises you encountered while working on this story?
I think that I was most surprised by just how much the adult industry is hurting as a whole. There’s a common misconception that anyone can make a dollar dabbling in Internet porn. While there might have been some truth to that 10 years ago, even the well-established companies are having trouble staying in business today. There’s just so much free pornography out there on the Internet, whether pirated or homemade. Many consumers just see the need to pay for it anymore. That’s kind of ironic, that the same technologies that helped push the industry forward — you know, things like cheap cameras and faster Internet connections — are today bringing it to its knees.

Did you find that you were shocked by any of the things that you saw?
Oh man, yeah. I was shocked by a lot of things when I visited Kink.com’s offices. I’m no prude, but the porn that Kink was producing was unlike anything that the darkest, most warped part of my conscious could come up with. Their business model is based on appealing to those with niche fetishes. So it can be a bit much to handle for an unfamiliar outsider, like myself. The company houses its offices and production studios inside the old San Francisco Armory building. When you walk through the hallways, it has this dungeon-castle type atmosphere. The first room that I was taken to was the blacksmith’s workshop, where they build all the cages and the props. When I walked in, the blacksmith was trying to figure out how to construct a device that could simultaneously send electric currents from a car battery to various parts of the female anatomy. That was just like, “Oh, just another day at the office” for them. And then I was escorted into a room that contained multiple shelves lined with various electronics: a KitchenAid cake mixer, a leaf blower, chainsaw; all modified to perform the task that their website implies. But perhaps the most surreal machine was a replica of the beloved Johnny 5 robot from Short Circuit. That movie stirs up fond childhood memories for me, it’s a 1988 classic. It kind of threw me a little bit when the robot followed me around the room.

Do you feel like you ever became more comfortable around all of it?
I think what was most shocking was just how normal I found everyone to be. You have this feeling that it’s gonna be like a kid in a candy store. It was actually just a lot of people working. I guess as someone who works in media production for a company that has a giant website and is into new media, I think I had a preconceived notion of the types of characters who would sink so low to take a job in an industry that’s widely considered to be at the bottom of the barrel. But every employee that I met appeared very cheerful, and genuinely ecstatic and grateful for the opportunity to work there. And they were smart. Many of them had turned down job offers at mainstream companies to have the opportunity for more creative freedom. The guys in the IT department really felt like they were on the cutting edge, Internet-wise. They felt that they were getting challenges and opportunities that they couldn’t get at other companies. I think that’s what I found most shocking. It kind of blew away my stereotypes.

As far as being desensitized, I think that no; it was still a pretty new experience for me to see people having sex right next to me. I think it was hard for me to become desensitized because, in both instances, when I went to Kink and when I went to Wicked, I actually went and interviewed and talked to them first, and got to know them a little bit. So then seeing them take their clothes off and have sex felt wrong in a way. I think that’s why it was a little hard to become desensitized.

Of course, you touch on this a bit, but how did the insiders feel about their jobs?
You know, that was another one that blew me away. The interns at Kink.com couldn’t be more ecstatic to be cleaning [props], hoping for the chance to be promoted to one day be producing or directing their own porn, or at least play a larger role in the production process. I think that was another part that was just so shocking. Everyone I met genuinely believed in what they were doing. The common perception is that there is a lot of abuse in the industry, and while I’m sure that still exists, the people that I encountered were definitely doing what they were doing because they wanted to be. I’d say people like TomKat [seen in the web extra] seems to absolutely love her job. The geeks in the IT departments, I think one of them said to me “We’re a company where you can fulfill not only all of your sexual fantasies, but all of your technological fantasies, as well.” That’s a geek thing to say, but he clearly likes it.

What also became very clear was that, to stay afloat these days in the adult entertainment industry, you’ve got to work really hard at it, and you’ve got to really want to stay afloat — because otherwise, you’ll go under. I think that a lot of the characters from back in the day that might have been sluggish to get online and stuck in their ways, or technically just not very bright, I think they’re being weeded out.

Can you touch on some of the innovations from porn that are now present in mainstream Internet technology?
E-commerce. The first pioneers of e-commerce were in the adult industry, pushing further what kind of credit card transaction could take place over the Internet. Affiliate marketing was pioneered and embraced by porn online and quickly became a system basically every mainstream company that advertises on the web uses. Kink certainly was the first one to be doing multiple galleries of photos, high-speed streaming video. At the time I interviewed them, Kink.com was the only company who had figured out how to stream high definition live on the web. It’s fascinating to see these guys in the basement building the technology out of wood and spare parts, and figuring out how to do it. I thought that was very telling.

How is the rise of Internet porn affected the more established porn companies?
It’s affected them tremendously. The technology has kind of caught up with itself. The same technology that pushed the industry forward is now killing its profits. It’s doing that mainly through privacy, where people are just ripping off DVDs and putting them online through tube sites and bit torrent sites. The genre’s changed, where people like gonzo and amateur porn, which is incredibly cheaply produced and it’s very short. Now people just want to see two or three minutes of porn and, you know, get it over with, and aren’t necessarily sitting down in their living rooms with a DVD that they just bought to watch a whole storyline unfold. A lot of people were predicting, like all the format wars — BetaMax vs. VHS, DVD — whatever porn chose would win. A lot of people were predicting that Blu-Ray and the HD DVD war would be decided by porn. And it wasn’t. The theory of why it wasn’t was because the Internet had been involved this time. People want to watch porn in privacy, on their laptops or on their iPhones. They don’t necessarily need the high-def value and surround sound that the living room would require.

Last year, the biggest-selling porn DVD wasn’t from any big porn companies, it was Paris Hilton. She’s what they call the “accidental porn star”. That’s giving these big companies a serious run for their money and putting a lot of them under. Now the challenge that they’re facing is how do they continue to innovate? How do they provide a service people will pay for? Essentially, it’s what everyone else is trying to figure out — journalism, Hulu. Everyone’s trying to figure out how to make a dollar off of this. Some of the more innovative companies are trying to provide experiences that can’t be pirated, being more interactive, creating communities, doing things live. I think you see at the conference, there’s an on-demand service that syncs with a machine you can attach to yourself and watch things in sync. That’s an experience you won’t be able to pirate. That’s what’s coming next. I think that, like everyone else, they’re just scratching the surface.

What was that experience like?
I was kind of so flabbergasted at the time that something like this existed. But you know, yeah, I got where they were going, definitely. … I don’t know if that’s the future, but it’s very telling of what they discovered that they need to provide in order to survive.

Changing gears a bit, what will you be covering next on Vanguard?
Right now I’m editing a piece about cocaine trafficking in Europe and the growth of the Nigerian mafia. Cocaine use in Europe is at an all-time high, and in order for South America to meet the demand, they have started trafficking cocaine in high volumes through West Africa for geographical and proximity issues. It’s creating quite a stir. It’s called “The Cocaine Mafia.”

What have been some of your favorite assignments for Vanguard?
I think we have the greatest job in the world. We travel around, getting to meet people and understand situations that most people would probably even know. I think that going to Mogadishu was certainly probably one of the most intense reporting experiences I’ve ever had. We went there with our own private militia of 16 armed guards and were some of the first Western journalists to report from there in 15 years. I’d say that it was a petrifying but amazing experience. Definitely one of my favorites.

I’ll be that the porn piece seemed kind of safe after some of your other assignments.
You know, it did. I think Vanguard has covered a lot of doom and gloom. I covered Africa multiple times; disease, drugs, death, destruction, war, fighting, and honestly, I need to lighten it up a little for myself. So that’s kind of why I chose this story. I needed something a little lighter, just to take a break. I think that this season needs to be broken up a little bit and provide people a little something different. If you use the Internet, it’s almost part of your everyday life.

Have you had any scary experiences in general, stuff we could share with our users?
There’s a great scene in Mogadishu. There are two great moments in that story: one when we’re first entering Mogadishu for the first time and we’re basically stopped at gunpoint, and we think we’re about to be executed. There was another moment where we were trying to hide up on a hill while filming the largest public prayer gathering in a mosque in 15 years. We’re hiding up on the hill when everybody, the thousands of people below us, turned and faced west to begin praying and we realized that we were to the west and everyone was staring right up at us. I think the line in the piece was, “If there was ever any secret that two white guys were hanging out in Mogadishu, that cat was now out of the bag.”

I went and interviewed these skinheads in Russia and I ended up in the middle of the woods in this training camp. I was really trying to understand what was behind these guys’ motivations. When I discovered that this guy I was talking to was genuinely ecstatic watching himself beating people up, it was my first realization that I was interviewing a psychopath. That was pretty scary.

For more about Vanguard, visit their website.

Last comment: Jan 5th 2010 1 Comment

First Look: Vanguard’s “The OxyContin Express”

October 8th, 2009 by Rebecca Harper Editor

Although Season 3 of Current TV‘s in-depth reporting series Vanguard doesn’t get started on television until next Wednesday at 10 p.m. EDT/9 p.m. CDT, Hulu is bringing you the full season premiere a few days early. “The OxyContin Express” is an in-depth look at prescription drug abuse and the pill mills of Southern Florida, where lax prescription regulations provide easy access to addictive medications such as oxycodone for people all over the U.S. In her coverage of Broward County, Florida, Vanguard journalist Mariana van Zeller speaks to a family affected by pill addiction, travels the pill pipeline (the “Oxy Express”) from Florida to Appalachia, and rides along as the police crack down on pill dealers. Hulu spoke to Van Zeller about this episode earlier this week. Below, she tells us why they chose to cover prescription meds and all about her harrowing run-in with the angry owner of a pain management clinic. (You can watch part of the experience in the episode.) — Rebecca Harper (), Editor

Hulu: Hi Mariana, thanks for speaking with us. Can you tell us about Vanguard?
Mariana van Zeller:
Vanguard is an award-winning weekly documentary series that airs on Current TV. What we try to do is tell stories that we believe are important and unreported, and we try to tell them in a way that basically speaks to a young adult audience. We live in a time when most outlets out there, most networks, are shying away from international reporting. They’re closing foreign bureaus, and they’re just not telling international stories. It’s out of a belief that people just aren’t interested in international stories. We believe the exact opposite. We think that especially young people are interested in long-format, in-depth reporting, but there’s no outlet out there that speaks to them directly. That’s what we’re trying to do. We do a lot of international stories, but we do a good batch of national stories as well. What we do differently is that we tell them in a more in-depth way. We don’t spend a minute on the topic, which is what you see nowadays. Again, we live in a time when every subject is approached for either a minute or it’s all conversation and discussion about the subject, but there isn’t actually feet-on-the-ground, in-depth reporting. The way that we report our stories is also very different from what you see in traditional media. It’s more off the cuff, informal. There’s more immediacy to the feel. That’s because, when things are staged, you sort of step away from the story, from the reality. We wanted people to feel like they’re with us, that they’re there on this journey as we tell these stories that we believe are important.

Of course, you reported on pills in the Season 3 premiere. Why prescription drugs?
You hear about prescription pills, unfortunately, when celebrities die. You heard a lot about it when Heath Ledger died and when Michael Jackson died, but that’s pretty much it. But actually prescription pills are a growing problem in the United States. More people now are abusing prescription pills than ecstasy, cocaine and heroin combined. We decided to take a harder look at it, outside the celebrity world, and really go and do an in-depth documentary about where this is happening, why it is happening, and how it’s affecting people. Just to give you an example, we found out that Florida was sort of becoming this source state, the Colombia of prescription drugs. A lot of people from all over the U.S. were heading to Florida to get their drugs. This has become a huge problem in Florida, where 11 people a day are dying from prescription drugs. This is something I like to say, because I think it really opens up people’s eyes: The day that Michael Jackson died, 11 people died that same day in Florida. That’s the average there. Between the deaths of Heath Ledger and Michael Jackson, 6000 people died in the state of Florida alone. This is a big problem and we can’t just look at it through the eyes of celebrities. We felt that we really had to go out there and do some actual reporting and find out what’s happening.

So what we did is, we followed the pills. We got to Florida and saw the devastation and the impact that prescription pills were having there, and then we followed the pill pipeline from Florida through Appalachia, where every day hundreds of people are coming down to Florida to get their pills and take them back to their states. They’re having huge impacts there, too. Prisons are filling up and people are dying. It’s destroying families and whole communities.

How did you find the people you profiled, people like Todd, an addict we meet at the beginning of the episode?
We spent about two months of preproduction in the office, just making phone calls every day, trying to find people. That was the hardest part, to find actual addicts who were willing to speak to us on camera. We were able to speak to a lot of them but, obviously, there weren’t many who were willing to just give us interviews on camera. But then we came across Maureen, who’s very active herself in the fight against prescription pills because she has lost a son already, and a daughter-in-law. She’s become very, very involved in this fight against these pain clinics in Florida. On the phone with her, she told us that her other son was also addicted to prescription pills, so we came down to Florida and she introduced us to him. We ended up spending a few days with him, and it was just an incredible experience for us.

Watching this, I was personally disturbed by Todd’s story and his actions, that he’s still using after all that’s happened to his family. Do you find that you have a hard time remaining objective as you report on things like this?
Absolutely. I think that’s always the biggest challenge for us journalists. In this story in particular, we had seen the harm that these pain clinics and these doctors are doing to these people, and were trying at the same time to be objective. We tried to get their perspectives on this, too, and of course, as you’ll see in the piece, we were chased away from one clinic. We called a bunch of other clinics because we wanted to set up interviews. No one wanted to talk to us. It gets really difficult when you’re trying to get their voice in there, too, but you’re being chased away and people are hanging up on you as soon as you call. I think that also says a lot about what sort of business is going on there, when we can’t get anyone to sit with us and talk to us. What we have to see, too, is that this is a minority. It’s a small group of doctors, but unfortunately they’re capable of doing a lot of harm. I’m not saying the whole medical community is corrupt.

mariana van zeller

When you do these exposés, what are your goals? Have you had any success stories from past stories that you’ve covered?
I think our main goal is always to raise awareness, to make people talk about what is broken in the system. People usually ask us journalists, “Why do you always do sad stories or tragic stories; why don’t you report on the good stuff?” Well, because when there’s good stuff, there’s nothing to report about. Our job as journalists is to shine a light and raise awareness on things when the system is broken, when things aren’t working, not when they are. If they’re working, it’s because everything is going accordingly. I think that’s always our objective, to shine a light and raise awareness on what’s going wrong and what’s broken in the system. In this case, it’s very flagrant and very obvious that something is broken and something needs to change.

In “The Oxycontin Express,” you were followed by someone during your coverage. What was that experience like? How did it all unfold?
It was insane. I thought I was in the middle of an episode of The Sopranos. Basically, we were filming on the other side of the street outside a pain clinic. As soon as we took the camera out — we had it out for five minutes — a car parked behind us. This guy started yelling at me because I was the only one standing outside the car at the time. He was cursing at me in a very, very threatening manner and asking us what we were doing. We explained that we were doing the film. He was just cursing and yelling, so we got in the car and drove off. He actually started following us. Two guys got into the car with him, and then another car joined them. Every time we tried to stop at a gas station, they would basically get out of the car and start running toward us. Eventually, we had to call 911, and they came to the rescue.
The back story is that we actually ran out of gas. We didn’t include it in our story, but every time we tried to stop at a gas station, they would come out. Eventually, on the highway, we ran out of gas as we were calling 911. We had to pull over, and I think they were very confused about what was happening because it was in the middle of the freeway in Florida, so they just parked behind us. They stayed in the car and didn’t come out or anything. We just waited. It was the most insane thing. The whole time, I was completely imagining that scene from The Sopranos where the guy comes out of the car and points a gun at us.

It was crazy. I was terrified. Luckily, the police arrived and they got off with a warning. We later found out that one of the cars belonged to the owner of the pain clinic, who was actually a guy who had already served time in prison for possession of steroids with intent to sell.

Have you had any other experiences like this, where you were in danger?
Oh yeah, many. I was doing a story once on the border of Syria and Iraq — it was actually right after the war in Iraq officially supposedly ended, when Bush declared the end to the war in Iraq. It was when the insurgencies started in Iraq, where insurgents, foreign fighters, were coming from all over to Iraq to fight. We did a story about the Syrians who were crossing the border into Iraq basically to fight the Americans. We spent a couple of weeks on the border, trying to get some of these insurgents who were coming back after fighting. We wanted to get their perspectives on what happened, why they were fighting, and how they were doing it. It was very, very scary because we were in a territory where, on one hand, we were told it was full of Al Qaeda members and, on the other hand, we were also trying to stay away from the Syrian secret police because we were there as tourists, or else we wouldn’t be able to report this story. We were followed by the Syrian secret police several times and we had to get the tapes out through Lebanon and it was crazy stuff.

Let’s see, what other harrowing experiences have I had? Well, we had another nerve-wracking experience when we met with militants in the Niger Delta, with the oil conflict. We had an appointment to meet them at this fort, and when we got there, it was a boat with seven armed young men — some of them looked like they were teenagers — who had a bottle of whisky in one hand, and a gun in the other, and they took us away for an hour in their boat in the middle of the swamps to one of their camps to show us, basically, their power. We were eventually able to speak to their spokesperson, and that was very nerve-wracking, especially since at one point, once we got there, to their camp, they didn’t allow women inside. It’s bad juju, bad luck to allow women in their camp. I had to stay in the boat and my producing partner, who is also my husband, was taken inside. So I stayed out in the boat with these seven guys with guns looking at me while my husband goes with the camera inside the camp. That was a nerve-wracking experience, for sure. I’m lucky that I do it with my husband, though. He’s my own personal bodyguard.

What else are you reporting on this season?
We also have another story about the end of the war in Sri Lanka. For 25 years, the government of Sri Lanka was at war with one of the biggest badasses of modern-day terrorism. They’re actually called the “O.G.s of modern-day terrorism,” the Tamal Tigers. After 25 years, that war came to an end, and a lot of countries were looking at Sri Lanka as an example of how to defeat terrorism. We traveled to that country during the waning days of that war to see what Sri Lanka had to do to defeat terrorism and what kind of examples we could learn from that country, if any.

How did you get your start?
I’m from Portugal originally, and my name is Dutch, so I think I have a lot of the explorer’s blood in me — you know, Dutch and Portuguese. I’ve always loved to travel and I sort of decided I wanted to become a journalist when I was around 12 years old. I used to see all these beautiful anchors on Portuguese television. They seemed so knowledgeable; they could talk about anything and go on for hours for every issue. Little did I know they were actually reading from a teleprompter! That’s basically when I decided that I wanted to be that knowledgeable, and I always loved to travel. Early on, I decided I wanted to be a journalist, one who actually goes out and reports and travels and looks for stories. I wouldn’t want to be just an anchor or anything.

Thanks, Mariana for your time today.

For the latest news from Vanguard and Current TV, become a fan on Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/CurrentVanguard and http://www.facebook.com/current.

Last comment: Aug 15th 2014 29 Comments

Hulu Exclusive: Baccano!

September 30th, 2009 by Rebecca Harper Editor

The anime series Baccano! is available for online streaming in the U.S. for one month only exclusively on Hulu. (We expect to have more exclusives like this soon.) But what is Baccano!? We asked FUNimation writer Scott Porter to tell us more. — Rebecca Harper (), Editor

It would be great to tell you what Baccano! is about, but I’m afraid it’s not that easy. Let’s just start with the name: Baccano!. The word means ruckus. Commotion. Like the type of racket you hear at a party. Like a Halloween party thrown by Quentin Tarantino aboard a chartered train, where zombie Bonnie and Clyde mingle with some sort of evil monk, a pretty girl in a slinky dress, and a Fullmetal Alchemist cosplayer. And it’s the most awesome party ever until the band pulls out machine guns, someone summons a demon, and the evil monk guy eats zombie Clyde’s soul. That’s kind of what this series is like. But what is Baccano! about?

Well, I could tell you it’s about a mafia turf war in New York circa 1930. But I could also tell you it’s about a secret society of eighteenth century alchemists messing around with the occult. And there’s a bootlegged elixir that grants immortality. And people get kidnapped. Some severed limbs grow back. Throw in some car crashes and armed robberies. Oh, and people kiss. Which is nice, but that’s not really what Baccano! is about.

Let’s just go with this. The plot of Baccano! is actually several plots in a caper that crosses centuries and involves more than a dozen characters. Some of them can’t die, some of them are idiots, and even the good guys are violent criminals. The series starts right after it ends and then it sort of never ends. Follow me? It doesn’t matter. Just remember – Paths don’t cross in Baccano! They collide.

Last comment: Nov 16th 2011 2 Comments