August 5, 2016

So You Wanna Podcast? Part I: Before You Begin

Kevin Smith
This 4-part series gets into the nuts & bolts of podcast production, starting with why a filmmaker should even care.

For something that harkens back to radio, there’s a surprising amount of buzz these days about podcasting. As a filmmaker who is immersed in a visual medium, do you really need to launch your own podcast? Wouldn’t a blog or a Facebook page or a Snapchat channel be a better fit? 

Excellent questions!  You need to decide what’s right for your own project (and it may be a combination), but don’t worry. To help you arrive at your own answers, I invite you to come with me on a journey I took launching my own podcast Sinema Story.

Understanding why I decided to invest my time and energy (valuable resources for filmmakers!) to launch a podcast and what I expected to get out of it might inform your own decisions. Should you choose to accept the mission of a launching a podcast, I will take you step-by-step through the process of recording and launching your own podcast in this series of posts.

Why bother creating a podcast?

Kevin Smith, who was the keynote speaker at this year’s Podcast Movement in Chicago, shifted from filmmaking to podcasting after creating such cult favorites as Clerks and Mallrats. He emphatically stated he’s never going back to making films. He loves telling stories via the oral tradition. He loves the freedom of being able to create without having to assemble cast and crew. 

The most poignant moment of Smith’s story-filled keynote was when he spoke about what one forgets first about a person who has passed away–how their voice sounded. In today’s visual world, I was moved by the reverence he had for a human being’s ‘voice,’ as well as for the world of audio. 

But neither you nor I are Kevin Smith, and we are probably sticking to filmmaking. So here’s a sampler list of what podcasting can offer us filmmakers who want to manage a film set like Jon Snow wields his Longclaw sword, or as deftly as Walter White cooks his meth. 

Hollywood Babble On
One of Kevin Smith's many podcasts, 'Hollywood Babble On'
A podcast can: 

  • Build a personal relationship with your audience base
  • Build up your expertise in a certain area of interest (For example, do a podcast about a portion of history as you research it for a script.)
  • Test out ideas by producing audio versions of your developing content (Doing full cast readings of my screenplays is next on my list.)
  • Beef up your storytelling skills
  • Perfect your use of audio (Although this is primarily an audio medium, remember: a film is 50% sound!)
  • Networking opportunities (Think about the guests you could have on your podcast)
  • Enhance discoverability of you and your other content 

Building an audience for your podcast will require as much, if not more effort, than launching a podcast.

Let’s play devil’s advocate now. There are good reasons to NOT launch a podcast.

  • Films take time, effort, are a pain-in-the-ass to put together, and simply take too long from idea to delivery. But podcasts can, too! Do you really want to dilute your focus and energy?
  • Do you think launching a podcast will immediately get you the audience you are seeking for your films? Hint: It won’t. The audiences for your films and your podcast may not even intersect.
  • Building an audience for your podcast will require as much, if not more effort, than launching a podcast
  • Podcasts (like anything else) are effective only when they have high quality. That takes time, money, experience and work.
  • Monetization of podcasts is more difficult than other video-based monetization options on the market like YouTube and Amazon Video Direct. Your target audience may not even use iTunes or may just not care about podcasts at all.

Still intrigued by the idea of launching a podcast? Well, then, read on! 

The narrative genre is one of the hottest in podcasting today.

Is podcasting just people sitting around talking?

That’s certainly part of the form. Kevin Smith loves this aspect of podcasting.

But the narrative, or story-based, genre is one of the hottest in podcasting today. Gimlet Media’s Startup was my first real introduction to podcasts. A well-produced, behind-the-scenes of a startup from the founder’s POV, the show documented the founder’s efforts to get his startup off the ground. By the end of the first episode of that season, I was hooked. 

Here’s why.

I got to be a fly-on-the-wall to conversations between the founder of Gimlet Media and many interesting people, including a famous venture capitalist.  That amazing access to insights and education was a killer value proposition for me as a filmmaker—someone for whom every film is its own business.  

But that wasn’t all that hooked me to the show. The emotional openness of the founder in his conversations with his wife provided authentic, no-filter moments of vulnerability, reflection and revelations. I related to his struggle, which resonated with my own challenges in becoming a financially viable filmmaker. Needless to say, I became a fan and binged on season one. So yes, podcasts can be more than just “talk radio.”

NFS podcast
You can even get the No Film School podcast free in the iTunes store.

Listen Up

If you’ve never heard narrative podcasts (or any podcast at all), the first thing to do is listen to a few. 

iTunes, along with several podcasting apps, is the distribution & playback platform for podcasts today. That could change down the line, but for now, most people find podcasts on iTunes. Here’s how you can check out a podcast:

On a Desktop

  1. Launch iTunes (PC or Mac)
  2. In the dropdown where you also select Music/Movies/TV Shows, select Podcasts. 
  3. Browse and listen right in iTunes.

On an iDevice 

  1. Install Apple’s podcasts app.
  2.  Search and play episodes from any podcast.
  3. You can even subscribe to a podcast, so new episodes will get downloaded automatically to your device.

In addition to Startup, here are some popular podcasts that I think are particularly strong in storytelling or content:

  • Serial: One of the most downloaded podcasts of all time, each season dissects a real criminal investigation
  • Limetown: A fictional, episodic tale of the disappearance of 300 people from a small town in Tennessee
  • Welcome to the Night Vale: A fictionalized radio news show that takes place in a town full of strange occurrences

And, of course, I recommend you check out my podcast Sinema Story, particularly so that you can relate to the behind-the-scenes tidbits I’ll cover in this series. It’s available on iTunes, or check it out on Amazon or YouTube.

In the next part of this podcast series, we’ll talk about the skill sets you need and the development process for a podcast. You’ll begin to see the intersections with many of the skills you already have as a filmmaker!     

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