The road less travelled still oozes a bounty of weird and wonderful sub-cultures Stateside for Australian documentary-making friends Tim "Gonzo" Ryan, Nick Maher and Pawel "Parv" Jarecki in series three of Unplanned America. From skating anarchists to latex fetishists, voodoo to cannabis-fuelled communion, the boys face perhaps their most hair-raising experiences ever.
True to form, things got real, surreal and wild as our chat with Gonzo reveals…
Why did you pick America as the subject for the series?
America is still the pop culture capital of the world. People are endlessly interested in what’s going on there - the whole ‘Only in America’ saying that people bandy about.
There are just so many characters over there. I think Americans are not so shy when a camera pops up in their face whereas maybe in Australia people are a bit more reserved. They all want to tell their story so I think that we were drawn there for that reason.
I’ve always been a fan of Louis Theroux and Louis Theroux’s Weird Weekends was obviously filmed in the States so that probably had some sort of impact.
People have an opinion about America whether or not they’ve been there. I know for myself, I’d been to America a few times before we’d done the series but I remember when I was younger, maybe when I was about 15 I was like ‘I hate it. America, they’re so arrogant.’ I had this weird, preconceived notion about what the place is like without actually having gone there.
I hope the show challenges some perceptions of America. I know that definitely for us, we learnt a lot more about the place that we expected to.
We get to know these people and we’ve managed to see them as people and not what the stereotype might be.
Is it hard to keep an open mind and empathise amidst the subcultures you infiltrate?
Most of the episodes, if not all of them, we do find the positivity in most of the things that we delve in to. It’s not really a conscious decision. I think if we spent time with the KKK, we’re not going to be coming out of there going ‘But after all, it was lovely ……’
We get to know these people and we’ve managed to see them as people and not what the stereotype might be. We did a story [in this series] - it’s our ‘Guns and Ammo’ episode. We spent time with people basically for whom guns are their livelihood. Obviously it’s a very complex debate and we are very much anti-gun people. We spent time with a Texas militia group - I got to drive a tank on my birthday and crush a car and shoot obscene weapons!
That was one of the more surprising stories that we’ve done. It was surprising for us how our viewpoint… it didn’t shift, but it kind of opened our eyes up. It’s not so black and white in America.
You all took part in a cannabis-fuelled shaman ceremony in the Colorado Mountains – what was that like?
We all thought we were going to die. Nick thought we were going to be taken hostage like in some sort of ISIS-style draw-attention-to-the-cult situation.
It was one of those things where we got ourselves into this situation and once we got up to the top of this mountain I was like ‘Who knows that we’re up here? Have we actually taken proper precautions to ensure we don’t get killed here?’ [Laughs] That’s why I freaked out. It was at least comforting to know that the other two thought we were going to die too in some strange way. But obviously I’m talking [with you] so we didn’t die! That was probably one of the more bizarre, frightening things of any of the series.
People have an opinion about America whether or not they’ve been there.
What was your goal with the Native Americans episode?
It hopefully sheds a light on not just the problems of Native Americans but also Indigenous Australians. That episode is going to air on Australia Day so there’s a nice sort of symmetry there. Even in Australia, people may not really know many Aboriginal people so hopefully that particular episode is broader than just America.
Are there any stories you’ve come across where you’ve thought, ‘We’re not going there, that’s too risky’?
I’ve said a couple of times, ‘I don’t know if I wanna die’. If I’m worried I’m going to die I probably won’t be bothered doing the story, which sounds gutless. We were looking into doing something about gang culture this time but we went a bit cool on that idea. Maybe next time when we can afford a security budget we’ll look in to doing that!
In one episode, you became immersed in the New York City fetish movement – tell me about the latex fitting…
[Laughs] We went to a latex fetish place in New York City with this woman called The Baroness. She makes costumes. She sort of introduced latex into the mainstream. Apparently Lady Gaga’s worn some of her outfits. But it was definitely very foreign to us. I ended up in an inflatable straight jacket with a hood on my head. Someone said it looked like some Ku Klux Klan fetish outfit. Parvo was in a full latex body bag!
It was just claustrophobic and not something I saw myself doing. It was strangely relaxing but I couldn’t afford the outfit so I had to leave it in the store.
Series 3 of Unplanned America premieres on Tuesday, 26 January at 9.20pm on SBS 2. And watch episodes after they air on SBS On Demand.