Download: Inside ‘Vice:’ Showrunner and EP Beverly Chase on Putting ‘Impactful, Urgent’ Stories at the Forefront
I recently made the case for why Vice would be a very worthy Emmy winner. Wrapping up its third season on Showtime (the finale airs September 18th), Vice is consistently delivering quality journalism week after week, with reporting from the war in Ukraine, Afghanistan, and Mexico, to domestic issues like abortion access, healthcare for transgender youth, and policing—the series remains smart, necessary viewing.
Part of what makes Vice so special is the talent involved. The person managing that talent is Beverly Chase, the six-time Emmy nominee who serves as showrunner and executive producer of the docuseries. Chase’s keen eye for news and storytelling, developed through years of experience as an editor, has made her the ideal leader for Vice‘s brand of immersive journalism. Chase’s steadfast commitment to her team and producing accurate reporting has earned her a deserved promotion to VP of current programming and development at Vice News.
Here, in an interview with Awards Daily, Chase explains the logistics behind the making of a Vice piece and navigating the challenges facing the show, including an ongoing pandemic, war in Ukraine, and growing distrust in media.
Read more below:
Awards Daily: What can you tell me about working on the third season of Vice on Showtime?
Beverly Chase: Season three has been particularly challenging because we launched pre-production just after the war in Ukraine broke out. Many of our producers and talent work across the broader Vice News ecosystem; the focus was on covering the war in real time as breaking news, as it should have been. Many of our teams deployed to Ukraine for coverage and did so much incredible reporting, but the Showtime series was not yet on the air.
So, from a series standpoint, while we did end up shooting multiple pieces in Ukraine for the Showtime show, there were some delays in shooting other stories around the world and here in the U.S. So, now we’re making up for that by having much tighter turnarounds. And while that is something that we are uniquely good at as a show, it is a lot of pressure for the entire team.
AD: What are the elements of a good Vice story? What makes a Vice story unique?
BC: Well, everyone on our team is dedicated to ensuring that the series is produced at the highest level. No matter how fast the turnaround is. A great Vice on Showtime piece is impactful, urgent, and newsworthy. We are always aiming to capture events that are unfolding in real-time so they can be immersive and experiential. Compelling characters are also key for us in any good story. We love investigations. We love stories that put truth to power. We want people to learn about something new that they didn’t know anything about and understand the context for why that is happening. So, we need to make sure that no matter how much time we are given to put it together, every story captures that essence of what makes a great Vice on Showtime piece.
AD: Is there an episode from season three that encapsulates those elements you mentioned particularly well?
BC: The season three premiere covered two very powerful stories—”Putin’s Playbook,” which looked at the devastation and prolonged tactics of the Russian military. And in “United States of Vigilantes.” Paola Ramos, who was just nominated for best emerging journalist at the News and Documentary Emmys, reports from Texas on the legislative push spreading across the country that empowers regular citizens to turn in people like the parents of trans kids and also targets abortion providers and election workers. One of the subjects in that piece refers to it as vigilante federalism. The first half of the season, which premiered in May, had a handful of reports covering Ukraine, which continues to be one of the year’s most important stories. Looking ahead at the rest of our season, I think we have some of our best work coming up with a very diverse slate of international and domestic stories. We have an incredible report coming out by Paola Ramos, Mexico. [A segment called “The Missing” in episode 13], it’s one of the most emotional stories we have ever had on the series.
AD: I’m constantly impressed with the level of talent at Vice. In your mind, what is it that sets apart a Vice journalist or crew member?
BC: I think [our team] is what sets us apart. I think our journalists are fearless and intrepid. The crew is immensely talented; our post-production and online teams are stellar, from the cinematographers, the editors, the graphic artists, and the music supervisors. The journalism and reporting are some of the best out there, but at the same time, the craft of the series is always impeccable. It’s really a dream team from top to bottom.
AD: How do you maintain such consistently high quality while working with tight turnaround times and other obstacles?
BC: While I definitely don’t do this alone, as the showrunner, I’m responsible for almost all of these aspects of the series. We do have the most amazing partnership with our senior executive producer, Subrata De and our co-executive producer, Craig Thomson. We all have a hand in making sure that the series maintains that level of craft.
Because of my background in editing, I have a cadence of how the show plays in my head. I work closely with the editors to ensure that rhythm is in motion. We have multiple meetings and talk about story and creativity, making sure that the beats are right, creatively, and narratively. And even though sometimes, when we’re turning things around quickly, we will have multiple editors working on one story, part of my role is to make sure it feels cohesive and not make it feel like this massive team is making it. There needs to be one person overseeing the cadence and rhythm of the show.
AD: And how do you all make sure the reporting remains accurate?
BC: Our producers and reporters are absolutely the best journalists out there. We do multiple fact-checking passes, legal passes, rights and clearance passes. We do multiple rounds of translation checks on every story. So once an editor edits something into a piece, we’ll send it back out for translation to make sure that words aren’t cut. Sometimes we get two translations of the same scene that are different from each other, so we’ll go out for a third translation check on that story. We meticulously vet every detail of every piece to make sure that the journalism is top-notch.
AD: I’m glad you mentioned those things because, unfortunately, we live in an age of disinformation and distrust in media. How has this tension impacted the show?
BC: I definitely think that the distrust in media has made it harder for some of our teams to gain access to subjects. I think there is a lot more conversation that needs to go in, and trust needs to be built. It hasn’t stopped us from telling stories. And, you know, we’re seeing this distrust in the media, it’s global, and it’s a problem, not just here but everywhere. And that’s something our teams need to navigate, one of the new challenges.
AD: What would you say is your biggest challenge as Vice’s showrunner?
BC: I think certainly, on top of the speed challenges that we’re facing due to the Ukraine coverage, this is our third season working and living through COVID. So while those challenges are very different from our first season when the pandemic started, we’re still having to pivot and make adjustments, losing access if a subject or someone on our team tests positive. There are still quarantine restrictions in certain countries. Travel is not back to normal, and COVID protections are still in place, but we need to keep going to where the stories were happening to see for ourselves. So that’s the theme that we keep coming back to.
What’s also challenging are the risks that our teams are taking. Our risk assessment team is outstanding, and they are the reason we’re able to safely report domestic terrorism and shoot in active war zones like Ukraine. That’s always a challenge, but our journalists don’t ever shy away from assignments. But we also want to make sure that everyone is comfortable with the level of risks that they’re facing. We consider every shoot very carefully. And it’s a constant conversation.
AD: I feel like Vice is very good at sort of covering the four corners of the earth, but are there any stories you would like to tell that you haven’t been able to?
BC: This is one of the hardest questions for me to answer. For me, the best stories are those I know nothing about. So, I can’t tell you what they are because I don’t know what they are. And it’s one of the beauties of my job. I’m learning something new every day and learning about it from people doing comprehensive research on the huge swath of topics we cover. So, the stories to be told are endless.
AD: How has working on Vice impacted you personally?
BC: I’ve always been obsessed with movies for as long as I can remember. I decided to be an editor in, I think, the sixth grade and convinced my parents to let me go to film school at Boston University and then came up in the industry as an editor. I’ve been very passionate about storytelling through post-production. Before Vice, I was an editor at NBC, where I worked on quick-turn stories and long-form documentaries. I edited for just about every show that came out of 30 Rock from Nightly News to Dateline to Saturday Night Live, and on location at multiple Olympics. And I learned so much from some of the best journalists and storytellers and producers in the business. Editing breaking news is a great way to develop your gut and train yourself to make quick decisions and be confident in those decisions. And that’s a skill that I use every day. And I came to Vice wanting to edit on the HBO series, which was seven years ago. But they saw a future for me as a showrunner and producer. I miss having my editing hands in the work, but I love showrunning this series and managing this team of fantastic journalists and storytellers whom I admire. And I’m just such a fan of this team, and it’s been a real honor to lead them.
Episodes of Vice are streaming now via Showtime. The season three finale airs September 18th.