Nat Geo’s “Trafficked With Mariana van Zeller” takes viewers on a journey inside the most dangerous black markets on the planet, gaining access to places where cameras are almost never allowed. Geoff Daniels, EVP, Global Unscripted Entertainment, National Geographic, explains how they get the job done – and make it out alive. The eight-part series debuts December 2.
Nat Geo’s Geoff Daniels
What was the biggest challenge with this project?
Gaining the kind of unprecedented access to worlds most people have never seen while ensuring the safety of everyone workingon “Trafficked With Mariana van Zeller” is clearly our team’s biggest challenge and highest priority. What you can’t overstate but rarely see is the amount of painstaking work and time that goes into finding people who will agree to talk to Mariana and her crew. Preproduction on a series like “Trafficked” is rigorous and intricate to ensure that we minimize the risks involved before we travel to a location, let alone begin the filming process. Mariana knows anything can happen once she is on the ground, but thanks to her cultivating sources deep within these underground black markets for more than 15 years and her team’s meticulous planning, we’re uniquely positioned to manage the risks and deliver a series unlike anything else on TV.
What did the production team learn that could help others facing tough challenges?
Mariana van Zeller (R) interviews a sicario, or hitman. (National Geographic/Muck Media)
We know that our access depends on us being true to our word and building an extremely high level of trust. Part of the process—on both sides—involves establishing clear ground rules, securing all locations and guaranteeing the protection of identities (distorting voices, masks). All of which is backed by our reputation and commitment to telling an honest and complete story. To that end, Mariana and her team are simply masterful in how they handle communication with their underground contacts and articulate their goals. That not only fosters mutual respect but gives our subjects the confidence to speak freely, face-to-face, about their roles in the activities we cover. Sometimes it works out, sometimes it doesn’t, so we always have multiple contingencies lined up and an exit plan.
What is the most important thing viewers will learn from the show?
“Trafficked” is a powerful starting point for a conversation about the opportunities we have, the lives we choose and the impact these black markets have on all of us. Mariana reveals—with characteristic boldness and empathy—that the people operating these trafficking rings don’t easily fit common stereotypes and are often a lot more like us than we might think. In short, there is a lot of grey in these shadow worlds.