Clinton School alum Stephen Bailey’s recent work includes multiple credits on “Meth Storm,” the new HBO documentary that tells the story of drug enforcement agents working to stop cartels from flooding the United States with a new, potent form of meth called ICE, and the communities impacted by the drug’s addiction. Bailey is listed as an associate producer, editor, and camera operator on the documentary.
Bailey first gained experience as a video professional with Heifer International. Bailey’s tenure at Heifer started with an internship under CEO Pierre Ferrari before transitioning into the marketing department, where he began creating videos and documentaries to showcase Heifer’s international impact. Upon graduation from the Clinton School in 2013, he was formally hired as a video producer.
“Through my work with Heifer, it became a large priority to bring back more stories from the field to connect the communities here with the communities abroad,” Bailey said. “I took on that role, doing short documentaries and videos on groups and people that Heifer was working with around the world.”
The Renaud Brothers, the award-winning documentarians responsible for “Meth Storm” hired Bailey as a full-time producer following his time at Heifer.
“Meth Storm” was filmed over more than two years. Can you describe your day-to-day work on this project?
One of the hallmarks of Renaud Brother films is the relationship that they build with their characters. We spent a lot of time getting to know the people in this film, with and without cameras. Whether DEA agents or other residents of Van Buren county, their daily lives became our routine to the extent that we were invited. I think the willingness to put yourself in someone else’s shoes is what helped foster the mutual trust and respect that is evident in the film.
The documentary does an excellent job of portraying both the addicts and the law enforcement in a sincere, sympathetic light. As someone who was working alongside the DEA, was that accurate?
Certainly. As Johnny states in the film, their primary goal is to stop the influx of meth into the United States from Mexico, not target addicts in Van Buren county. They see the devastating effects of meth on a day-to-day basis and so are very sympathetic to the people and communities that it impacts.
How prepared were you for what you saw? What did you find most surprising?
I wasn’t aware of the extent of the meth problem until I became involved in this project. But like much of my work with the Renaud Brothers, this project was another reminder of how divisive or alienating labels can be. “Addict,” “law enforcement,” or “rural” hardly convey how dynamic, nuanced, and complex the lives of these people are. Apart from meth there is a lot of hardship and trauma experienced in these communities. Their ability and willingness to convey that to us and survive it is a testament to their strength. I’m constantly surprised by the strength of the human spirit.
As someone with a background in public service, did the economic impact resonate with you?
Absolutely. The growing disparity and lack of economic opportunity is a theme that I’ve noticed in our work, from Arkansas to Chicago or even Somalia. There’s a moment in the film where people often laugh, when Little Danny says that he wouldn’t do meth if he had a regular job. But it’s actually hitting a crucial point. There’s a psychological component both internal and reinforced by society when you live in poverty. Between the lack of opportunity, pressure to survive, and the toll it takes on our self-worth, we become more susceptible to more radical means – like gangs or drugs or even terrorist networks. It’s very much a global story that this is tapping into.
What’s next for you?
I’ve recently returned from another Renaud Brothers project in Somalia and will be finishing the project in the coming months.