Seeing Audio Podcasts With Your Ears

From sound to better visual filmmaking

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Three pieces that defined me. Sound, the theatre in my mind that would lead to my practice of Cinema Journalism. These were defining moments. 1). I was young in boarding school as the radio crackled to the voice of a coup d’état by a Flight LT talking about a Holy War !

2). Fast Forward several years. I’m standing in Piccadilly Circus as a mass demonstration of men in plain view, and defiance of the police, kiss.

3). On air at the BBC, I’m cueing up a former president of Zambia, and am about to have some fun.

Great audio/podcast stands on its own. But it’s also the secret sauce for many filmmakers. Today as a creative technologist /filmmaker/Artist and Educator, sound and audio continue to command primary attention; watching with my ears.

A former BBC Radio presenter, the liberating factor with podcasts is the autonomy you have. It’s in effect traditional radio or audio, with the crucial bit that you can download and distribute and you don’t necessarily ed an executive producer to oversee you.

This morning I woke up to the Intercepted with Jeremy Cahill, an incisive, erudite analysis of Washington DC’s soft belly. ICE’s unprecedented rounding up of immigrants, a bill that gives the intelligence community unfettered power to do as they please with no congressional oversight, and a secret memo that allegedly proves for the Republicans a deep state against the current administration. I was breathless afterwards.

Earlier in the week I’d been invited to present a personal account of podcasts to students studying indigenous cultures at the University of British Columbia, courtesy of David Gaertner, a settler scholar, amongst many other things.

There are many forms and styles of podcasts, I would say, from the heavily stylised packaged programme — featuring an assortment of guests etc., which Intercepted emulates. This form has deep roots in radio. And then you have the monologue delivery similar to Serial, packaged reportages which string different voices together in a self contained packaged, music etc and so on.

I spoke about my work as a reporter in South Africa during the end of Apartheid; meeting President Nelson Mandela and shaking his hand; going on a diving expedition — and to safeguard the microphone took condoms with me, of course, what else?

And then how I messed up on one of my most memorable radio/podcast documentaries to date. My interviewee, a tough activist woman broke down and cried. What did I do wrong afterwards I asked the audience? I STOPPED RECORDING!!!

My producer, back in London, tore a strip of me when I told her what happened. If you play the recording at 34.22 in you’ll hear her break down and then not hear the join afterwards. Her angst, her deep solace was diminished because of my uneasiness.

Takeaway tip: let the action unfurl (if it isn’t life threatening) and then talk about it with your interviewee about why you’d like to use that difficult scene.

One of my most memorable cock-ups I recounted was when mobile radio recordings were reel based and you had to thread tape through this giant slab of a recording device called a Uher.

I’d been sent by my local BBC radio station to interview a government minister. As I called out to him and his aide before he got into his car, I stumbled, the case of my device opened and the reel fell out unspooling for about 50m.

I hurriedly, with what remaining dignity I had, collected the tape, went up to him sweating like a cage-fighter sighed and before I could ask him anything, he looked down the rim of his spectacles and asked in a condescending tone: How long have you been doing this? Fortunately I kept my job, and my new temporary audience this week empathised with me. Thank you David, Melissa, Annah, et al!

The lecture also tapped into “how tos?”and an illustration of the neuroscience of storytelling, zoning in on parts of the brain that are activated during speech, and how to target other parts of the brain e.g. motor and sensory cortex, and memory, using emotive words. I’ll be posting the powerpoint of that lecture with accompanying notes soon.

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