Interview with Brian Lio of Jet Set Zero

Expats Abroad, Featured, Websites and Blogs — By on June 18, 2010 at 9:00 am

by Sarah Amandolare
LG Entertainment Editor

Brian Lio had toyed with the idea of leaving his cushy Microsoft job for something different. What would happen, he wondered, if he took off and saw how far he could go? Lio pitched the premise to his friend Rob “over a stack of pancakes at IHOP” in Seattle, and from there, Jet Set Zero was born.

Lio contends that his curiosity about leaving it all behind was “really the same idea that almost everyone has had.” So what finally pushed him to take the leap? Lio says he couldn’t help thinking that the wrong reasons – even false reasons – keep people from pursuing what they really want.

“I had a number of people take me aside, close the door to their office and say flat out, ‘What the f#$% are you doing?’” Lio said. “It seemed crazy to me that people would stay in those offices on purpose.”

I posed a series of questions to Lio via email. His responses are below.

In the series trailer, you say: “There are so many things you can accomplish if you’re willing to step up and write your own rules.”  What rules did you re-write or decide to follow when you set out on this project? Do the rules most of us are taught to follow seem ridiculous now?

That was actually a line we used variations of often.  For a lot of people, our show isn’t so much about travel as it is doing something that people tell you is crazy, and going after a dream.  There seems to be this set of rules that everyone grows up with: you go to school, you get a (good) job, and then you work that job until you get a better one or a promotion, repeat until it’s time for a family.

However, if you work really hard, you’ll have enough money by the time you’re 70 to take cruises to all the places you dreamed of going – and see them for an afternoon.  When you really break it down it’s a little ridiculous.

Why do you think so many 20-something Americans have this dream of traveling? What is it that we’re not getting from, say, New York City, where you’ll find cultures and people from all over the world in one place?

I think there are a few things here that inspire people – one is the attraction of the unknown and the search for awe.  I think part of us is always searching for that next amazing experience, and amazing experiences are just easier to come by when you’re surrounded by the unfamiliar.

Secondly, we’re living in this crazy connected age, where all-day-every-day we’re seeing glimpses into cultures across the world.  Sooner or later you’ll see a culture, city, or people that excites you and you’ll want to see or know more.  It’s more possible than ever right now to actually go and have these experiences first hand and I think that’s a huge motivator.

And finally, people just look down the path in front of them and decide they want a way out, that they want something different or better, even if they don’t know what.  Travel offers the hope of that path for a lot of people.

Sometimes, the easiest part is deciding to go somewhere new, and the tough part is dealing with routine again – trying to establish a life and friendships knowing that the situation is likely to be temporary. How have your cast members dealt with this challenge?

When we were living somewhere for 90 days it really just felt like life accelerated to an almost impossible speed.  Instead of relationships taking on more a superficial and causal stance they often took on a much more intense and deep nature.  Some of the most painful goodbyes in my entire life were said to people I had only known for months.  It’s the experience that we’re trying to convey, but on some level it just isn’t possible to describe to someone who hasn’t done it.

The hardest part is adjusting to a life on a slower pace.  In many ways it feels much more superficial than when we only had 3 months.

After three months, what if one or two group members no longer want to travel together, but the others do?

The story of Jet Set Zero is a story about individuals and their experiences.  The cast is free to leave whenever they decide their journey is done.  If cast members decide to take a different path then we open up casting to applicants and introduce new members of the team.  In this way the team always has a mix of old and new.  It’s actually worked out pretty well as a way to pass on practices, philosophy, and just general group knowledge.  At this point we’ve had 13 different cast members and are on the 3rd generation of the team.

Have there been any issues with not reaching a consensus on where to go next?

The cast always decides their destinations.  While there is a central Jet Set Zero philosophy and we work to tell the stories of the cast, at the end of the day it is their story.  We act as advisors to the cast when they choose a location (can we film there, can they find jobs, how safe is it, logistics), but in the end it is their decision.  The same thing happens if there isn’t a consensus.  We’ll help advise them on it, but in the end they own the decision and they either find a way to come to an agreement or head separate ways – both of which have happened.

You require cast members to write/photograph/film their experiences, but you don’t require them to have traveled before. Have you had any cast members yet who are completely new to traveling?

So far most of the cast has had some travel experience, but we’re excited about a new member of our Quito team, Ryan, who actually was in the process of getting his passport just before the show started.  As for how it will go, we’ll all just have to watch and see.

How have cast members adjusted to life after the project ends?  Have most of them changed their lives as a result of being on the show?

The experiences have been overwhelmingly good, but the point we always clarify with cast is that this isn’t an easy life.  Some of the longest and hardest days of my life were when we were on the road.

The original cast got so much farther than anyone ever expected and had some amazing adventures, but in order to do that, there was a lot of struggle and sacrifice.  That’s the real catch with opportunity: it doesn’t mean easy, it just means possible.  You still have to put in the work.

How do you keep the show from going down the MTV Real World path to debauchery? Does it just come down to selecting cast members very carefully?

This is something that we’ve always been careful about but luckily the core rules of the show tend to weed out the people who live for drama.  The biggest filter is the job aspect.  The last part just comes down to casting.

The secret to casting on the Real World is to find groups of people with large areas of personality overlap – the more similar (and emotionally disturbed) two people are, the more they clash. We work hard to have a diversity of people on the show, which helps everyone get along and provides a broader range of experiences on the road.

What’s your ultimate goal for Jet Set Zero? Would you like the show to be on TV?

Our ultimate goal is simply to share the story and message of Jet Set Zero with as many people as possible.  We’re looking into a lot of different options to expand the ways that people can view the show, but basically if we can put Jet Set Zero on TV without compromising our message or vision then we would do it in a second.

If all goes well then we’ll be opening up a studio in Brooklyn later this year as a more permanent home for the production side of Jet Set Zero. It’s a lot of hard work, but we get such overwhelmingly positive responses from people who watch the show that it really makes it worthwhile.

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