Saturday, March 10, 2007
Max and Jason of Current TV Interview
By Courtney Walker
Max Lugavere (left) and Jason Silva (right) are quite possibly two of the luckiest people on television as the pair are faces of (recent Oscar winner and Former Vice President) Al Gore and partner Joel Hyatt’s Current TV. They have certainly solicited a bit of envy from me. I want their jobs, actually. The two are best friends, roommates, and co-hosts/producers (and Wikipedia entries…), and masters of finding a little bit of permanence in otherwise transient existences. They got their start at Current through collaboration on a documentary/performance piece titled “Textures of Selfhood” and when the network came calling, the two packed up and moved to Los Angeles.
We met at the Starbucks on Beverly and LaBrea on a particularly windy day so that I could probe into how the duo came to be, “Max and Jason Style” and what exactly that is, the joys of juxtaposing, whether they would mind if I called them Playboys of Current TV.
Courtney: You two met at the University of Miami, how did you become friends?
Jason: A girl.
Max: Folklore has it that I was friends with this really attractive Brazilian former model who was in a whole bunch of my classes and we would sit together all the time. And, I was in one of the classes with Jason and one day he started trying to…
Jason: Talk to her…
Max: talk to her. Yeah. And to get to her, he had to go through me first I guess.
Jason: Basically I figured that this girl is always sitting with this guy but they didn’t really look like they were dating, I mean they were close but… I thought that maybe I could be friendly to both of them, be the friendly dude, she’ll become endeared to me somehow. And that’s how we became friendly. Him and me really hit it off, we had a lot of things in common, a lot of interests that were really similar and we were both studying film. So we just kind of clicked. And she just kind of,
Jason: yeah, she went and did her thing.
Courtney: So you guys are like the Playboys of Current TV?
Max: That’s not what we’re trying to brand ourselves as, but if you get that vibe from us, we’re happy to go with it.
Jason: We’re definitely ambassadors, we’re out there, spreading the gospel of Current everywhere we go and we love to schmooze and put ourselves out there whenever we can.
Courtney: So you two go out a lot?
Max: Yeah, we definitely do our share of schmoozing in the nightlife sort of venues. From day one, our interests have always been about juxtaposition. Our film, the film that got us these jobs, called “Textures of Selfhood” and that film was ultimately about the juxtaposition between spirituality and hedonism. We’re both these deep thinkers, he had a double major in philosophy and film and I in psychology and film, and we were trying to reconcile our existential conquests with the fact that we were having such a great time in South Beach. You can’t get a more polarized juxtaposition than that. To this day, we still go out, have fun and meet interesting people but we are always evangelizing this amazing network with this amazing message behind it. So it’s really like we are able to have the best of both worlds, in a sense.
Jason: For us it was always about having our cake and eating it too.
Jason: We don’t think that living a joyous live with calculated indulgence necessarily takes away from being a person that is a deep thinking, intellectual, spiritual individual. Our film was that. And Current allows us to apply that sort of style of extreme juxtaposition; of putting two things together that you wouldn’t usually wouldn’t associate together, in our work.
Courtney: What’s a normal workday for you two?
Max: We actually live together and we carpool together, every morning we stop at this very Starbucks, get our coffee.
They both say hello to one of the patrons by name. We laugh.
Max: We know all the regulars. And then we go into work and you know, for the first hour or so we are scanning the zeitgeist, checking the newspapers, whatever, waking up. Then we go and get makeup.
Jason: Very little makeup.
Max: Very, very, very little makeup. To this day we’ve been on the air for two years and we’re not used to it. At all. It’s the bane of our existence.
Jason: It’s only for the studio hosting; we never wear it when we’re in the field. So, in the morning, it’s like shooting TRL, to give a parallel example. You know, we’re hosting. Then the rest of the day is given to us to act as producers. Placing phone calls, planning our next shoot or trip, or local shoot. One of the cool things about Current is that they let us pitch our own story ideas because we are also producers so whatever we are really interested in, in the world, they let us pursue. They want to empower voices, of young people. They really live up to that.
Max: One thing that most people might not know about our style of hosting is that in the typical sense, it’s not really hosting at all. Everything that we say, we are the writers of and we give ourselves a framework of what to say, on air, but because half the time we’re including each other in the discussion with the audience, it’s off prompter. We like to bring our field shooting spontaneity onto the stage as often as possible.
Jason: To try and have a conversational quality that you wouldn’t have with the traditional talking head host. Because we are able to play off of each other, that it’s like a genuine relationship, it’s not staged; we’ve been able to find a way to make the audience feel included in something that is authentic as possible. Who you see on TV is who we are.
Courtney: Max, you had a web design business in high school. Why go away from that?
Max: I did it to make some extra cash. It turns out that I was really good at it, I had a really keen understanding of it, to this day. However, I have a lot of interest and I didn’t want to spend most of my days in front of a computer, there was no reason for me to. I think it’s fun, it’s mentally very challenging. But I wanted to be out there, whether it was filmmaking or making music, I’m a musician also, I didn’t want to have a static sort of job, I wanted it to be dynamic. That’s why Current for me, is the most fulfilling thing I could wish for, I get to have the computer stuff, to edit and be the producer and then I get to go out with Jason and document my experiences on video.
Courtney: And you’ve been doing film since you were thirteen, Jason?
Jason: Yeah, every since I bought my first 8mm camera, I always got a kick out of reliving experiences as captured through the video camera lens. For me it was like, here you had something funny or wonderful or sad happen and then you could watch it and it let you capture time. And as a kid, I was always sensitive to the passing of time and so for me, to be able to capture time was very empowering for me. At first I was only behind the camera, I would make videos with my little brother, he was the victim, the guinea pig and, in Venezuela where I grew up we had a gardener who was with my family for many years and him and my little brother were the stars of my movies. I would dress them up and make music videos. As I got older, I felt compelled to also throw myself in front of the camera because I want to document my experiences too, not just create and capture other peoples and then it became about capturing experiences with my friends. Max and I both had parents that encouraged us to do what we loved. I loved filming stuff and my mom said, “Do that. Just do what you love and the universal will find a way to conspire in your favor”. And Current TV was very much a manifestation of that. Well I like filming stuff but I don’t really want to be, like, a PA, I just want to go out there and film stuff and put music on it and capture experiences but I don’t want to be just a journalist, I want to have fun too. Current TV allows you to do all of that. In many ways it’s like we manifested it. It’s kind of like a dream come true on paper.
Max: We just saw this movie called ‘The Secret’. We were totally bugging out because before we were even thinking about what we were going to do before we graduated, Current TV didn’t exist. Then, just as that sort of anxiety was starting to creep in, all of a sudden there is this network that is looking to empower passionate storytellers. So we totally feel like it’s the best manifestation of what we could possibly do in our profession.
Jason: The best thing about Current is the same way it opened that door for us, people with important things to say and impassioned individuals like us, Current has actually opened that door for everybody. Everybody can go to www.current.tv and submit content and everyone can greenlight everyone else’s content, it’s just sort of, like, democratic, meritocratic, do something compelling, your voice is going to be out there and there’s never really been something like that on television before.
Courtney: Jason, you’re from Venezuela, Max, you’re from New York, and you both lived in Miami. How do you guys like LA?
Jason: I like to think that Miami is the sort of place that encourages juxtapositions. It’s a place where a New Yorker and a Venezuelan become friends because they are both mutually attracted to the city because it’s diverse, because it’s a mix of Americans and Europeans and South Americans. And there’s the sun, the whole energy, the festivities. It’s a place that invites cultures to co-mingle and coexist. And all of our friends ended up being really diverse and we ended up here. How did we end up here?
Max: Our experience in LA has been very kind of sugar coated, because we moved out here for Current, but I love LA. I actually prefer it. I don’t want to sound blasphemous but my experience here has been better than my recent experiences in New York. Even though I grew up there and went to high school there, I love it, I think New York is one of the best cities in the world. But I think LA combines what is great about New York and what’s great about Miami. It’s got the milder weather, the great nightlife – even though the clubs close at 2. Which is kind of annoying. Although, we recently went back to Miami and realized because we had adjusted to the 2am closing time here, we couldn’t handle the 6am closing down in Miami. It felt awful, like we were getting old.
Jason: It’s very exciting here that everybody is out to create something and make something of themselves. Everyone is very ambitious. I can’t say that my experience in Miami is the same. In Miami, it seems like there are a lot of people enjoying the wealth that they have already made. Which is lovely.
Jason: I plan on going back there when I become extremely successful. People don’t seem to move on there. Here, everyone seems to be trying to better themselves and there is something very inspiring about that.
Courtney: So the counterfeit ID story, you got quite a bit of recognition for that, who came up with the idea, how did that come about?
Max: The idea was actually pitched to us by one of our favorite producers at Current, this guy named Mitch Koss who was actually one of Anderson Cooper’s first producers, early in his career, and so he met us and right off the bat, saw the juxtaposition, you know, these two guys from Miami… And he pitched the story to us. Jason speaks Spanish and was going to go and buy one of these counterfeit IDs, long before, mind you, anybody in the media was talking about immigration problems. He was just so ahead of the curve on that one. And so, we went and did the story.
Jason: It was shot very interestingly. We had two cameras, we dressed in our natural street clothes.
Max: I was wearing board shorts from Abercrombie, in one of the worst neighborhoods in LA.
Jason: And so, we had two cameras, so we could shoot our story from two different perspectives. We went there and then we split up and kept in touch by cell phone, I would go and pretend to be a Spanish immigrant needing an ID and talking on the phone, saying, “I need this, I need that”. Then he would film himself walking around getting hit on by prostitutes.
Max: Male prostitutes.
We laugh harder.
Jason: It felt like Mission: Impossible.
Max: I learned that MacArthur Park is also known as Pleasure Park. And Good Time Park.
Courtney: Wasn’t that like a Donna Summer song?
Max: I don’t know.
I looked it up, it is… Kind of sounds like the makings of a good disco song, right?
Max: It was definitely….
Jason: So, I finally got the card and then the story came out amazingly because we had the fake Social Security card. And then a couple of months later, when all the protests over immigration were happening here in LA, Anderson Cooper was in town doing a bunch of reports on the issue, one of the reports was about the counterfeit ID culture and he’d caught our story and so he featured our story within his larger story about the IDs. He did a throw to Current TV and showed a clip of us and the card and it was just unbelievable. I think it was Current’s first foray into CNN.
Max: It was. Or one of them; one of the earliest ones.
Courtney: Did you guys actually get to meet and talk with Anderson?
Jason: We talked with one of his head producers because Anderson was caught somewhere else. We were supposed to though.
Max: We briefly exchanged emails with him. He said good job on the story. Which was cool. I would love to meet him. Rumor has it that he watched Current all the time, or at least when he has time. The guy is one of the busiest men on Earth.
Courtney: I want his job too.
Courtney: So, what’s the most interesting story you’ve reported so far?
Jason: Lately? One of the most recent ones that I think we’ve done was, we were in Miami for New Years and we wanted to stay a little bit longer, so we tried to come up with a really good Miami story. We found this United Nations development report from 2004 that said that the rate of immigration in Miami, the number of immigrants, was 60%. That rate is the highest of any city in the world. Now, we’re talking percentage, not volume, obviously in volume, there are more immigrants in California, but there are also a lot more people in California. But Miami is actually 60% immigrant. We thought that was fascinating so we thought - let’s profile some of the immigrants in Miami. Not to mention that Miami is known for attracting a different type of immigrant than the stereotypical ones. We call them the Jet Set Immigrants, the cosmopolitan investors, they’re buying property, and they’re opening businesses. It’s not just the illegal border jumpers that everybody imagines here. It’s a different immigrant there. So we decided, let’s profile it.
Max: I am still getting over this story we did at the Pleasure Chest.
I laugh, I laugh a laugh that only someone who has been to the Pleasure Chest and can sympathize with Max can laugh.
Max: With all due respect, I loved the Jet Set immigrant pod we did, it was amazing, we shot it with a 24p camera, it was gorgeous, it was a really great piece, we edited it. But, for Valentine’s Day, we went to explore an adult novelty emporium on Santa Monica Blvd. And Jason and I got spanked by a professional spanking instructor.
Courtney: Is this one still on the site?
Max: They saved it for late night airing because it was a little more risqué than your average Current TV fare. But, fun nonetheless. There was a weird hammock looking object that…
Courtney: It’s towards the back, isn’t it?
Max: In the store?
Max: Oh, you’ve been there?
I laugh, again. For the record, I haven’t been in there for at least a couple of months. I just have a really good memory.
Max: Yeah, it’s towards the back. That was the one that I was considering buying. Everything else was a little too intimidating. But the hammock seemed nice. You could take a nap on it and you could use it…
Courtney: For other things.
Courtney: Is there anyway that I could get a copy of that?
Max: That pod? Definitely, we’ll send you a copy.
We all laugh. Note: As of this writing, I still haven’t received that pod. Hmmm.
Courtney: Max and Jason style, what is it?
Max: That style is the branding that we are giving our pods, that goes back to the juxtaposition we talked about in the beginning. Max and Jason style is a style of gonzo journalism where you can juxtapose to seemingly polar extremes, like hedonism and spirituality or the beautiful landscape of South Beach with an intelligent story like the Jet Set Immigrants piece.
Jason: There’s a great strength in that juxtaposition idea. I think a lot of artists have used it before. Marilyn Manson used to talk about how he loves the idea of juxtaposing polar opposites, like his name, Marilyn from Marilyn Monroe and Manson from Charles Manson. Max and Jason, yin and yang, brown and white, South American and American. There’s a juxtaposition everywhere. And everything that we do, we feel like, if they’re not paying attention to you from one of the angles that you are presenting to them, then they are paying attention to you because of the other. If they don’t care about the philosophy of our film, they’ll care about the hedonistic imagery. We work really well that way, it comes naturally to us. I mean, we live that way, right?
Max: Absolutely. That was one of the pillars of our friendship from the beginning. We like to think that we are intelligent, well-spoken people with interests in the higher self, which is totally true. But at the same time, we have interests in things that are maybe not so highbrow. Jason loves fart jokes.
Jason: Fart jokes are pretty good for me.
Chuckles, not so much laughs, this time around – at least at first, then Max laughs for a while.
Jason: A lot of moralistic archetypes try to tell you that you can only be one way or another, highbrow or lowbrow and we sort of embrace it all. Life is everything. Why not have an intellectual conversation with a beautiful woman in front of the ocean, have that blend together?
Max: When you think of an upstanding citizen with a high moral code and he is deep and spiritual, you think of, traditionally, a sort of ascetic. We try to be that but at the same time, we like the indulgence, we like the hedonism and that sort of balance permeates every aspect of our being.
Jason: For example, the story we want to do in Boston, in the spring, we’re going to interview Ray Kurzweil, the Wall Street Journal called him a restless genius, he’s one of the best inventors, Bill Gates and Bill Clinton have called him the best guy at predicting the future. He believes that technology is increasing as such an exponential rate that within the next twenty years we will have the power to overcome death as a species by either having nanobots that keep us young or downloading our consciousness into a computer that has the parallel processing power of the human mind. And so for us, that is the perfect example of juxtaposition. Here’s a really intelligent, scientific, brilliant guy but what all of his work applies to…it’s a guy that loves life and loves the idea that humans are the only creatures that might foresee that we will die one day and have taken up efforts to try and stop that. It’s the idea that you can have both. You can be a lover of life and because of that, you can have all of these spiritual and higher aspirations. We are not life deniers, we are life indulgers. He’s going to make me and Max immortal.
Max: Hopefully. One can only hope.
Courtney: You both mentioned making permanent otherwise fleeting moments, which I guess could be directly related to the attraction to Mr. Kurzweil, life being one big series of fleeting moments. Jason, you said that as a child you were always very sensitive to the passage of time. Do you find that you take that desire for a sense of tangibility with regards to all events of your life? For example, do you guys tend to journal or chronicle things? Max, does it spill over into songwriting? And if so, do you think this helps in your duties at Current?
Max: For me, the earliest way to both capture moments as well as generally my feelings, anxieties, and passions in general was the Internet. As you know, I was an avid web designer and I had a personal blog that served that served that purpose – I wrote about everything from applying to college to eastern mysticism – as well as provided an online “canvas” for me to experiment with more visual expression and it makes me feel good now that the world has caught on to this tool as the same sort of outlet. ‘Textures of Selfhood’ was an experiment for me to see if I could do it with video, as my friend Jason has been doing for years – and I could (and now we are helping Current facilitate doing that for others as well – coincidence…?) My goal now is to let that same thirst for tangibility find solace in songwriting. It’s been difficult because the craft is so new to me and I kind of feel like my expressive and artistic synapses are already hard wired, but that’s my goal at the moment - to channel ‘Textures of Selfhood’ through songwriting. Total side project but I love a good challenge!
Jason: Absolutely! My way of chronicling special moments has been about deciding to make them count by affirming them, and by extension, filming them. There was always an urge to say, “I was here, I felt this and it mattered to me”. Videotaping my epiphanic, funny, moving or inspired moments was my way of screaming the words of Dylan Thomas: ”Do not go quietly into the night; rage, rage against the dying of the light. It absolutely has influenced some of our work at Current. For example, our philosophical sit down with director Darren Aranofsky was an excuse to talk about immortality and permanence in his latest film gem, “The Fountain”. My other favorite films are Vanilla Sky and The Beach – both are about the search and desire for visceral and tangible bliss/love.
Courtney: Are there any stories coming up about the impending Presidential Race?
Jason: We’re trying to get an interview with Barack Obama. A friend of ours knows him and it would be really cool to spend a day with him. I think he’s a phenomenon, I think he is really interesting. I hear that African-Americans believe he isn’t black enough and whites believe that he’s black. I think he’s a mixture of both, of both racial and cultural sensitivities put together, that’s why he’s such a fascinating character.
Courtney: You guys are both into documentary storytelling, are you passionate about any ideas that you want to get out soon, in a feature length project?
Max: That’s definitely in the cards, we just have to put our head together and see which one of our passions we will be able to explore in a visual way, because we have a lot of interest.
Jason: I guess if we did a feature length, we’d have to collectively plan to make sure we had the resources that we need so that we have an hour long segment that would be as entertaining as our seven minute segment.
Max: We would like to do it abroad.
Jason: Yeah. Definitely. On the road. There’s something really powerful about being in a strange place, escaping your routine, and you are forced to experience everything anew, all the time. That leads to ideas, creative and mental stimulation.
Courtney: Well, guys, I think that’s it! Thank you.
Max: Wonderful. Thank you.
Jason: Awesome. Thanks.
And so it ends there. Of course they don’t mind me calling them the Playboys of Current TV. But I don’t think that’s what they are. I believe that they are simply two young, charismatic, extremely intelligent (and, yes, particularly attractive) men who are enjoying life and their jobs and that shines through in their work. To call them Playboys would belittle, ultimately, the well roundedness of their personalities, of their characters. So, I will call them the Intellectual Hedonists of Current TV (though, I like to think of them as the Oscar Wilde’s of Current TV but less debaucherous – as far as I know -, less sardonic and biting and culturally critical, and you know, not gay). Watch out for these two. There is definitely more to be heard from them.