With this week's limited release of Mike Birbiglia's Sleepwalk With Me (which has apparently ruffled some feathers), a hybrid of personal memoir, storytelling and narrative film, I'm reminded of the power of a good story well told, regardless of form. As aspiring screenwriters, we should be looking beyond the boundaries of the silver screen (or computer screen, or TV screen, or mobile device) to hear how great stories captivate an audience and take them on an emotional journey. With that in mind, here are three storytelling podcasts that screenwriters should check out.
Certainly the granddaddy of storytelling podcasts, This American Life from WBEZ and Public Radio International consistently features compelling stories centered around a weekly theme. Host Ira Glass along with his producing team and troupe of regular contributors find fascinating tales in some of the smallest moments in life as well as make sense of some of the most complex accounts - a personal favorite of mine is The Giant Pool of Money about the subprime mortgage crisis and how it happened, which launched the Planet Money podcast. This American Life can be brutally honest, perhaps never more so than this year's story Retraction, when the program learned that one of its previous and most popular stories of the year from Mike Daisey about his observations of Apple factory workers in China (and the basis of his one-man theatre monologue) was largely fabricated. If you aren't already a longtime avid listener, now is the time to get on board.
You can listen to This American Life a myriad of ways. You can listen to the most recent episode on your local public radio station (how old-fashioned, I know). You can subscribe to the podcast on iTunes or using another podcaster. You can stream every episode in the archive for free from their website. You can download the most recent episode for free from their website or download archived episodes for $0.99 from iTunes or Amazon. You can even download apps for your iPhone, iPad and Android devices where you can stream every archived episode plus download one episode at a time for offline listening.
You can hear Mike Birbiglia tell the first story of the episode "Fear of Sleep" below, the story from his book that led to his current film:
For raw, live storytelling, you can't get much better than The Moth. The Moth produces live storytelling events around the U.S. with both professional and amateur storytellers sharing true stories from their lives in front audiences in intimate settings. Usually funny, sometimes painful, always compelling, The Moth strips down true storytelling to its bare bones. In fact, Mike Birbiglia's sleepwalking story that appeared on This American Life was actually from a recorded session of The Moth. What makes the The Moth remarkable is its ability to put everyday people on stage as well as seasoned comedians and storytellers and draw out great stories from each and every one of them. Perhaps more than anything else, The Moth proves that everybody has at least one good story to tell.
You can subscribe to The Moth podcast on iTunes or another podcatcher. You can also listen to The Moth on its website or on your mobile phone or iPad through the Stitcher app. Better yet, check out their events page to find out if The Moth has an event in your town and listen to stories live -- or even submit a story yourself.
Now to the other end of the soundscape spectrum from the bare bones of The Moth, we bring you NPR's Snap Judgment, hosted by Glynn Washington, who won the Public Radio Talent Quest that led to this show. As the website proclaims, Snap Judgment is storytelling with a beat. Each episode includes several short stories centered around a theme, each story coming to life with a supporting soundtrack to fill in the visuals in your mind. If you're looking for a little more energy behind the storytelling, Snap Judgment is for you.
Snap Judgment airs on NPR stations around the country. You can also subscribe to the podcast on iTunes or another podcatcher. On their website, you can listen to archived shows. If your storytelling fits their style, you can submit to Snap Judgment as well.
Check out this episode, "Careful What You Wish For," a theme I consider quite appropriate for us aspiring screenwriters:
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Do you find inspiration for your screenwriting from storytelling shows and podcasts? Share some of your favorites with us in the Comments.