“It was a surprise,” said Brad Jansen ’11, “a marvel, in fact.”
“It” was a contract his team closed with an international education-based agency to produce a 52-episode travel show about the U.S. for Korean viewers. Jansen is an owner and executive producer at Voyage Pictures in Grand Rapids. “We were bidding against dozens of larger production companies from bigger cities,” he said, “and we’d never done anything at this logistical scale.
“What set us apart is that we worked a lot on strategy in pre-production, discovering the ‘why’ behind the project. Once we had that, we demonstrated how we could produce and deliver 52 episodes from around the country in a year’s time on a very limited budget—logistically impossible.” To attempt the impossible, Jansen’s team hired two dozen crew in addition to its core of 10, many of them Calvin alums. Importantly, the show needed a host fluent in the language and culture of both countries.
He called friend and fellow communication arts and sciences major Solji Jeon ’10 in Seoul, where she was working as an interpreter at the National Library of Korea.
“She helps us understand why certain things are intriguing or comedic or odd to Koreans,” Jansen said.
“Like big dogs wearing football jerseys at a tailgate party,” Jeon laughed.
Last December, Jeon and a crew of four began traveling the country. Meeting America divides the U.S. into seven regions. In each show, Jeon steps into the stories of three different people who represent that region’s culture. She drove a dogsled in Colorado, fished for lobster in Maine, and went parasailing on Mackinac Island.
“I couldn’t travel when I was a student,” she said. “The show, especially being in big nature, has changed my perspective on America.” That seems to be happening for Korean viewers, too, who have been watching episodes online since February.
“Many Koreans have only an urban view of America,” Jeon said. “They think, ‘Oh, that’s where the gun violence is and where people use drugs.’ We’re showing them many different faces of real people. One viewer commented, ‘It warms my heart to see how many Americans have been so welcoming to Solji.’”
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