Earlier this month I got the opportunity to chat with Stephen Friedman, filmmaker and host of Ovation’s new show, Chasing The Sun. For a lot of travelers out there, Stephen has the worlds greatest job, so I wanted to pick his brain on how he got there, what its like, and what we can look forward to in the upcoming season airing on the Journy AVOD channel (by Ovation) on October 2nd.
Stephen was born in South Africa and started his career as a pro surfer. After working as a model and appearing in COSMO he created his first television show, The Blueprint at the age of 23. We meet Stephen now as he promotes his 2nd season of Chasing The Sun.
Q: In your opinion, what separates Chasing The Sun from other travel shows out there right now?
A: Well to sum it up, Chasing The Sun is kind of a metaphor for chasing your dreams and what inspires you to do that. I’ve found that most travel shows focus on the hosts’ journey. Whereas, we wanted to tell the story of the country through the people, while the host was on the journey. It’s the people telling their story while the host is on this journey experiencing it. That’s mainly what separates it from your traditional travel show.
Q: That makes a lot of sense. I did notice that as the host you were slightly removed from a lot of the story.
A: Yeah, exactly. Because most of the travel shows in the past would focus on the hosts, but I never really cared what the host is doing. I wanted to know more about what the people were doing. So that’s kind of what kicked it off. So I try to be somewhat removed as best I can.
“Off The Beaten Path” is kind of just a hashtag, but you have to go discover that story that has never been told. That’s our motivation.
Q: How do you decide who gets included in each episode?
A: We have topics that we always try to cover like music, art and culture. For example in India, we found this amazingly talented artist called Ara Farrah. We were able to find her online and I contacted her on social media. It took a little bit of convincing to get her on board, but that was the beginning of India for us. So for us to choose the topics, there is a lot of research that goes into it, and we don’t want to do the usual story. We want to turn over every single rock and see what’s underneath in order to tell the stories of those people.
We also work with a lot of tourism boards. They help us coordinate a lot of the subjects and help us reach out to them because obviously not everyone will speak English. Hong Kong for example, was one of the best tourism boards that we were able to work with. We were able to send them a list of the subjects we wanted to film and they were able to send us back a list of contacts which turned out to be way better than what we could have found. So it’s a big team effort at the end.
Q: After two seasons of filming Chasing The Sun, do you have a favorite or most memorable experience that you could share with us?
A: It’s really hard to sum it up. But for me, it really opened up my eyes to humanity in a positive way and how some people are really making a difference in the world we live in and how others are really following their dreams. The story that really stands out for me was in season two, the Malaysian episode we filmed an orangutan sanctuary. That was a really heart warming and quite sad at the same time to meet these amazing people who are trying to save these animals. And then in season one, we worked with an organization that helps doctors perform cleft palate surgery. So it was really great to see a community of doctors and surgeons work together to help these poor families with their newborn babies. So for me, what really stood out were the humanitarian aspects.
Q: That’s great. It really allows you to be a part of the not-so-obvious side of all these cultures…sometimes the parts that we wouldn’t normally get to experience.
A: Yeah, that’s exactly it. We’re so exposed to the world through social media with people Instagraming their lives and holidays that sometimes a picture is lost to what is really out there. The experiences that you share on social media versus the experiences you share internally, sometimes it’s hard to showcase that. And with everyone trying to show off what they’re getting up to in the world, it sometimes gets lost. “Off The Beaten Path” is kind of just a hashtag, but you have to go discover that story that has never been told. That’s our motivation.
Q: I think a lot of our readers are backpackers that are seeking out that same idea. So a lot of them are going to look at you and think you have the world’s coolest job. What did you do to get this this point?
A: I think being in the world surf tour, traveling has just been in my blood the whole time. I injured myself and I just needed to figure out what I was doing in the world. So I came up with my first TV show when I was 23 years old (The Blueprint), where I was also the host. And I thought, “Oh, I’m going to do this”. In a way it was kind of a selfish thing because I got to travel again, but it was a big awakening. I soon realized that this isn’t a holiday; this is a job. And I had to do serious adjusting. So despite this being a passion project of ours, its still a job. We want to help promote people the best way that we can because they’re the ones who tell the story. So I’d rather go save my money and go travel (laughs) than do something like this from a job perspective. There’s a lot of pressure but when you look back at the end, you think “oh, that was an amazing experience”. While you’re there on location and doing pre-production and post-production…and it’s all very exciting but it’s kind of a blur. There’s no time for photos or Instagram.
Q: So it’s proper work…it’s not a holiday?
A: Yeah, you have all those bloggers out there that are going to these cool destinations and I do take my hat off to them that they are able to create a cool story but I think for us, and I’m a little biased, they are living a cool life, but a lot of the time are missing the true nature of what travel is all about. It’s about the experiences, not about you standing on the beach. It’s about what’s breaking underneath the waves, which is what I think a lot of bloggers are struggling to portray.
Q: I noticed the same thing when we started our website. A lot of bloggers really wanted to write about their personal experience….and it turns out, those kinds of articles don’t get a lot of attention.
What is your ultimate travel destination?….for the show, or otherwise?
A: Well, I’ve been very fortunate to have traveled to about 80 countries. So I’ve been very lucky. But I will say that we were supposed to go to Sri Lanka for filming and I hadn’t been to Sri Lanka yet, but then the terrorist attack happened, and we were like “oh shit”! That’s why we threw Taiwan into the mix. So Sri Lanka would be one of the places I’d really like to check out.
We were also talking about the next season with the network and Africa was mentioned. So Africa could be in the cards. I’ve traveled to Africa, you’ve traveled to Africa…you know what its like. So it could be even more challenging. But also Europe. I’ve traveled through most of Europe but I didn’t do it the way Chasing The Sun is. The neighboring countries are right next door to each other and they’re so different. So I think showcasing Europe would be kind of cool too. There are so many places but it boils down to the people. The world is a small place but at the same time there’s so much to see and so much to do. I don’t think you can do all of it in a lifetime.
Q: I would agree. And by the time you’ve seen it all, it would have changed on you…or you would have changed.
I’ve heard you described as a “vegan film maker”. Do you feel that being a vegan limits your cultural experience? Or do you ever specifically try to frame your story within a vegan context?
A: I think when it comes to travel, I just use food as an energy source. If it’s delicious, then great. If it’s just a bowl of rice, then that’s what it is. I think the nice thing about it is that when you’re invited to lunch with a complete stranger and they ask “what do you want” and you say “I don’t eat any animals”, it kind of starts a conversation, which is kinda cool. But other than that, I don’t really use the vegan thing. It’s a life choice, that’s about it.
Q: So you’re a surfer from South Africa. How does the surf in LA compare to South Africa? You can be honest.
A: To be honest, surfing California is fun but it’s not as consistent just because of the position of the continent. With South Africa your exposed to so much more swell, it just is what it is. This winter there might be some good waves. We’ll see, its still fun.
Q: Is there anything else you’d like to add?
A: Just that Ovation has been absolutely great to work with. They’ve really stood by us. Its great to have a partnership with them and at the end of the day they give us the tools to capture some amazing stories. So we’re very honored to be working with them.
CHASING THE SUN
Season 1: Available on the Ovation network starting October 3rd 2019
Season 2: Available on the Journy AVOD channel starting October 2nd 2019