About two years ago, I posted a blog about the 10 awesome and influential podcasts that were burning up my iPod. Now, it feels weird even to type the word “iPod” – as I’ve been conditioned to think about the iPad, or my drug of choice, the iPhone. But even for those who have not bought into the cult of Apple (a cult whose membership I’ve been considering allowing to lapse since the introduction of… Um… A certain piece of abortive editing software…), podcasts are still for you. Listen on your Droid, on your computer… Hell – burn them to a CD and listen to them in your car. It’s audio input wherever and whenever you want it and it’s free, so enrich yourself the way we used to do with old-fashioned radios.
In two years, the podcast landscape has been shaken up, charged ahead, and in some cases has even become profitable. Case in point: Many podcasts have begun to get sponsors. Audible.com, Carbonite, stamps.com, legalzoom.com. I’ve been listening to your commercials and in the case of Audible I even bought a membership. As with burgeoning media, however, a lot of podcasts fall to the wayside, so it goes. I’m sad to say that “The Grim Reader” hasn’t posted any new episodes in two years, and “IFC News” seems to have bitten the dust as well. Some have changed names, and others have sprung from nowhere to occupy exalted heights in my ear-holes.
So I figured it was about time to update my state on the podiverse, while hopefully not repeating myself too much from 2 years ago.
Before I go into the list, I think there are a few things that I’d like to address about what would make me listen or not to a given podcast. Because, like blogging, podcasting is a fully-democratized medium there is a lot of “anything goes” on many podcasts. But there are some things which make me dump a given podcast from my subscriptions faster than an update to FCPX. So here, for what it’s worth is my unsolicited advice for anyone out there who wants my listenership:
- Set a topic, stay on topic – In other words, remind yourself that you are NOT Howard Stern, and I haven’t downloaded your podcast just to hear you banter with your friends. I have my own friends I banter with. Don’t get me wrong, a little jibber-jabber (if it’s entertaining to someone who doesn’t know you) is fine, but when I’m 10+ minutes into your podcast and you haven’t set some kind of agenda or started talking about something of interest, I move on. I’m looking at you, “Back to Work.” (ironic, huh?)
- Audio quality counts. Today we can all have Skype and a decent microphone setup for not very much money. In order for me to continue listening to a poorly-recorded podcast, the content had better be FASCINATING.
- Length of the podcast is irrelevant provided we’re getting good/interesting information. In fact, I’m finding myself listening to fewer and fewer short podcasts these days, in favor of amazing deep reads (most of my recommendations are in the ballpark of an hour).
The Q&A with Jeff Goldsmith
In a previous incarnation, this podcast was known as The Creative Screenwriting podcast, but as print media has fallen, so went CS. I was always an avid fan of Jeff Goldsmith‘s interviews – he was well-researched and delved deeply into the creative process. After an absence of what seemed like forever (but was probably 3 months), Goldsmith returned last year with his own weekly podcast. Now unencumbered by needing to interview only screenwriters, he presents interviews with writers, directors, even a notable Q&A with visual effects pioneer Douglas Trumbull. He’s one of the best Q&A moderators out there, and he brings serious depth to his often 1+ hour interviews. As I did with Creative Screenwriting, I tend to listen to all of them because even the people whose work doesn’t grab me have a lot to say about the creative process.
WTF with Marc Maron
Confession: One of my secret lifelong obsessions is standup comedy. But beyond my personal interest I think for creative types, comedians are a great window into observing the creative process. Why? Firstly, they’re creative. Secondly, their job is to observe things. Before becoming fairly obsessed with his podcast, I knew Marc Maron from his appearances on Conan in the 90’s and even a little from “Short Attention Span Theater” on Comedy Central around the same time. I also knew he’d gone into political radio for a while on the ill-fated experiment that was “Air America.” What I didn’t know is that after he departed left-wing radio, Maron began a new venture – a podcast where he’d interview every comedian he’d ever known and many that he didn’t. And his interviews tend to dispense with the usual jokiness that one sees when comedians appear on late-night talk shows – digging down to the real person. Maron does this through lots of digression, by posing questions that only a fellow comic would even know to ask, and by frequently injecting his own neuroses into the batter. I believe that everyone in a creative field would benefit from listening to these comedians as they lay bare their own fears, insecurities, and personal stories of insane hardships while getting their work done.
John August and Craig Mazin are two veteran screenwriters with some of the best advice and in-the-trenches experience working with actors, directors, producers, agents, and studios. You may love or hate their movies, but these guys have been in the business for decades and have great advice, great stories to tell, software to recommend, and “gurus” to avoid. And even after all of these years, neither seems jaded or cranky, but excited and engaged. Although this is one of the podcasts that suffers from a lack of professional-sounding recording (I’d guess they just record a Skype call in their echoey offices), their advice is sharp, their focus is laser-precise, and they’re both as entertaining as they are informative.
Same Shit Different Show
Full disclosure – I was a guest on SSDS back in November. And as a side note, this is the only podcast on this list which isn’t currently available on iTunes (although on their website SSDS is happy to show you an EASY way to subscribe in iTunes regardless). The podcast is hosted by young indie filmmakers/shooter/jack-of-all-trades Buz “Danger” Wallick. Wallick’s style is conversational in the Marc Maron mode – he just lets his guests run at the mouth until interesting things come out. He talks to people from directors all the way to production assistants – and keeps it very engaging and entertaining.
Dread Central Presents Dinner for Fiends
Again, full disclosure – I have appeared on this podcast several times. But before I appeared on it, I was an avid listener. In fact, Dread Central publisher Steve “Uncle Creepy” Barton contacted me when my movie was coming out to see if I could be interviewed on their podcast and that morning I had been listening to a current episode of “Dinner for Fiends.” Although DFF is pretty much for horror fans only (and tends to have a “homespun” sound), it also stacks its panels with people in the horror press or blogosphere – and throw in the occasional filmmaker. And not for nothing, but Barton is one of the funniest and most engaging hosts out there. These are the people who truly, deeply care about their genre films and come to the table with a deep, literate, and intertextual understanding of that form. I’m not saying that if you’re not into horror that you should start listening to DFF right away, but I bet you can find a podcast that covers your favorite genre and goes into as much detail.
That Post Show
Kanen Flowers breaks two of my rules – audio quality is often less than professional-sounding and there’s often a lot of random crosstalk as they get to their main point – but for some reason breaking those rules works for this show. A frequent guest on FXGuide’s VFX Show (more on that below), Flowers’ show is less of a directed to-the-point radio-type program and more of a free-for-all featuring guests from fascinating and diverse backgrounds in filmmaking. And although the title might suggest it’s all about the post, Flowers and his guests often talk production, cameras, and overall creative process.
FX Guide Podcasts –
The RC/VFX Show/FXPodcast
I have two reasons for bringing these three podcasts up for the second time. Firstly, FXGuide, who publishes them all, rebranded them a year or so ago. Secondly, they have changed the way I look at pretty much every job I ever have as a filmmaker. Seriously, these podcasts have changed my life. How? They demystify much of the process of digital cinematography as well as visual effects production – not so much that I ran off and learned Maya or anything (although I keep meaning to take some classes on their website, www.fxphd.com) but I did run off and learn Adobe After Effects – and their accessible commentary has given me a great insight into what process goes on behind the scenes, how to shoot for VFX plates, and everything else I need to be thinking about as a filmmaker who tends to make things that don’t exist in the real world. The RC used to be known as “Red Centre,” and although the new title drips of trying-to-be-cool-10-years-ago, the name change at least reflects that they’re not as RED-centric (meaning about the RED camera specifically) as the old title may have implied. The other podcasts – the VFX Show and FXPodcast are basically the same – although I miss the participation of David Stripinis on the VFX Show. These shows are a must-listen for anyone interested in the process of digital filmmaking or visual effects. Recently the VFX show did one of their retrospective episodes talking about “Alien” and “Aliens,” and pretty much blew my mind.
How Did This Get Made?
Paul Scheer, June Diane Raphael, and Jason Mantzoikas – basically three writer/actors sit around (with guests from time to time) and talk about one of two kinds of movies – either really horrible or truly outrageous (sometimes outrageously horrible) and discuss what weird forces birthed these films into our dimension. Although this podcast sometimes falls to the sin of its hosts thinking we’re more interested in them than we are in their topic (and often talking over one another to cacophonous and irritating effect), once I got into the groove of the show and its hosts I have found a great number of brilliant insights into the films they cover. Recently the episodes about “The Adventures of Pluto Nash” and “Tiptoes” were particularly engaging and funny… That is until they choose one of my films to discuss.
This podcast isn’t even slightly about film or filmmaking or the creative process. It’s about language, the thing we all use when writing and generally when making films. It’s one of many podcasts produced by online media titan Slate Magazine. I listen to them all – except the sports one – but this podcast should be of special interest to creative people whose stock and trade is words. From doing an episode debunking the idea that we can’t end English sentences with propositions to exploring the origins of the pejorative “faggot,” to the difference between languages with and without gendered pronouns. It’s fascinating in a “This American Life” or “Radiolab” kind of way, although frequently the podcast delves into subject matter that might be described as controversial from a linguistic perspective. And it’s wildly entertaining.
In the 1990’s “Studio 360” host Kurt Andersen edited the subversive and entertaining “Spy Magazine.” Although I’m sure there’s overlap between the two ventures, “Studio 360” isn’t particularly subversive. If anything, it’s extremely sincere. Delving into topics dealing with creativity and creative people and their various processes, the show will blow your mind on a weekly basis. It should be noted that of all the podcasts mentioned here, this is the only one that begins its life as a radio show – the rest all begin life as podcasts.
So what do you listen to? What do you like about the podcasts to which you subscribe (sorry, Lexicon Valley, still can’t say “that you subscribe to…”). I’m always up to listen to a new one!