The final episode of one of my favorite new documentary webseries Peekin With Beeken was just released. The series follows writer and improviser Blair Beeken around to some of Chicago's most recognizable cultural institutions, like Navy Pier, Wrigley Field, and The Field Museum.
Her curious and endearing perspective on such iconic places makes this a one-of-a-kind travel show, like if a really friendly fourth grader hosted No Reservations. In celebration of the series finale, I spoke with the PWB team, Blair Beeken and Adam Hitchell about the show's development and production.
The Steamroller: Where did the idea for the Peekin With Beeken come from?
Adam Hitchell: It was a random idea I had after having seen a bunch of Blair's Instagram captions, which have this sort of charming yet sad naiveté to them, but also right on that fine line of "wait, is she for real?".
Blair Beeken: Adam even had the name picked out! I loved his idea, so we met up to flesh the idea out more and to lay down a game plan. We started shooting almost immediately.
TS: I love the show's take on these Chicago institutions, what sort of mindset are you in when exploring these cultural milestones on camera?
Blair: For me, I love these types of places, because they attract so many different walks of life, and I feel like you can do or act how ever you want there, and no one thinks it's that strange.
Like, I loved looking for things to climb on, or dangle my legs off of, and no one really seemed to blink an eye when a grown woman was climbing on things that was either intended to not be climbed or to only be climbed on by kids. Or, like when I walked around the zoo with my face painted, no one really seemed to think it was that strange.
Adam: A few times during shooting we would stop and realize that these places we were seeing are actually pretty incredible even though they're so common to those of us who live here in the city. Not the zoo though, that's still just more depressing than anything.
Blair: I also like to watch other people, and see how they act at these places, then kind of mimic things they do. I especially loved doing that with kids, like in the monkey house. Also, we always wanted to keep things positive, so we'd be keeping that in mind a lot, so as to not show like piles of garbage somewhere or me hating something (except for birds).
TS: Of all the places you visited for the series, which was your favorite/the most memorable?
Blair: My favorite place was The Field Museum! It was actually hard to walk around there and not stop and read everything.
Adam: Wrigley Field for me only because I've never watched a game that close to the field. It's a totally different experience from being way up in the terraces.
Blair: Wrigleyville is my worst nightmare, but Scott Goldstein gave us really awesome seats, so watching the game from those seats was sweet.
TS: What's the editing process for these? How much material do you shoot for each episode?
Adam: Most of the shoots lasted us 3-4 hours and gave us about ten times what we'd need. We'd have a couple things in mind beforehand, but the majority of it was just figured out on location. Then I'd take it home and start to whittle it down to 4 or 5 minutes while building a visual narrative.
After Blair had come by to record the voiceover, I'd take all that audio and just find the stuff that worked best and drop it in, lots of times in places it wasn't originally intended for.
Blair: My favorite thing he would do would take something I'd say about one part of the video then place it somewhere where it's out of context. Those random throw away lines just mixed in there really make me laugh.
TS: Are there any sequences that you liked, but for one reason or another, didn't make the cut?
Blair: I think everything that I loved made the cut. Adam did a great job of finding a way to squeeze in everything that made us laugh.
Adam: The first episode almost had this joke about zoos being good places to bring "children or handicaps", but the concept of Blair's character being too naive to understand how offensive a comment like that is I think would have been hard to pull off, especially when the tone of the whole series was still being established.
Blair: Oh wait, yeah, the handicaps and kids stuff from the zoo killed me. That place is really handicap and stroller accessible, so if you like animals and being outside, and you use a stroller or a wheelchair, I think the zoo is a great place to go. There I go again, giving unsolicited advice.
TS: How do you go about scouting locations?
Adam: The best locations are big, outdoor tourist destinations because everybody has a camera, so you don't look or feel out of place filming your subject interacting with total strangers.
Blair: When we shoot, no one knows we're recording video, and sometimes people don't even know we're there together. Adam sometimes just stands off to the side while I walk around and climb on stuff, or look at things with a random group of people, or ask people dumb questions.
Adam: It's much harder to shoot in smaller, indoor locations where nobody else is taking pictures. Doing an episode on the train would have been very difficult for this reason.
TS: Best case scenario, every door is open to you sort of situation...What's a dream location to Peek, be it in Chicago or outside?
Adam: It'd be so funny to see Blair peekin' around in some other country where people's customs are way different. I mean, a stereotypical tourist in Chicago is nothing compared to a stereotypical American tourist overseas, right? Peekin' around Tokyo, here we come!
Blair: I agree with Adam, Tokyo.