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Bart Weiss, photographed for TheaterJones in 2015

Film Notes 1.9

In this month's column, Bart Weiss discusses the rise of podcasts, and has recommendations. He also previews local film festival season.



published Wednesday, April 4, 2018

Photo: Robert Hart/TheaterJones
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Dallas — We are entering the major season for film festivals — actually, we are in the midst of this season. I will get to these later but I want to take a detour from cinema and talk about a growing and important medium: podcasts.

Podcasts have been with us for a long time and they don’t get much attention but they reach more people than you would think. People connect with their favorite podcasts in similar ways as radio. In some ways, what we listen to defines us. The blend of what kind of music, what kind of talk, news or politics say a lot our sense of taste and our perspective on the world. Radio connects with us often when we are in the car — and in Dallas we live in a car culture. Podcasts often have radio, but on demand there is so much beyond what it broadcasts.

So what are these things? Podcasts actually started before iPods. As early as 2003 people were making things called podcasts. But finding distribution channels for them was a challenge. In 2005, Apple released a new version of iTunes that included the ability to download podcasts on iPods. This made it easy to access them, but it still was a niche market with mostly radio broadcasts.

When the iPhone came out in 2007 it was even easier for people to access podcasts and they started becoming popular. Apple also made it much easier for producers of these new forms to distribute their work via iTunes. Like so much of the internet world, it eliminated the middle man, allowing almost anyone with a mic and an idea to publish audio or video material and have an audience.

The podcast movement also changed the audio recording equipment world. New companies like Zoom and Blue made microphones and audio recorders that could have professional quality for a fraction of what they used to cost, because there was a more mass market for this gear.

There are the highly produced pods with careful editing, and on the other end there are the two-people-talking-about-stuff podcasts, which are great if you love what they are fans of.  No matter what you’re a fan of, there is a pod for you. Of course there a vast universe in between. Some pods take weeks to prepare an episode and some are uploaded as soon as the chat is over.

When thinking of the aesthetics of the pod, it really starts with Ira Glass and This American Life. Ira figured out that by talking to you like he was sitting next to you in, say, Starbucks, and telling you about something important was more effective than using Announcer Voice. Since we experience these pods in a one-to-one relationship, that delivery is very effective. Ira also used the power of music and sound effects to create a soundscape around the story, Indeed he created the expectations of what a pod could be.

While This American Life is a radio show that many people listen to as a podcast, Ira decided to expand beyond the celestial universe to create two successful, podcast-only programs. Serial was so successful if proved that there was a mass market for podcasts that were not radio shows. This allowed for advertisers to support the form and help make it sustainable. 

Two pods that take what Ira pioneered and expanded the form are Radiolab and 99 Percent  Invisible. Jad Abumrad created Radiolab in 2004. Jad, who is also a composer and creates the music for his shows, has taken the soundscape to a new level. They mix a fascination with science with an aesthetic experience, which I find exciting.

The other pioneer of the form is Roman Mars,  who started 99 Percent Invisible, which deals with architecture and design. Roman is a sound junkie and loves storytelling though audio. He is a major force behind Radiotopia, which is community of good podcasts. If you’re just starting out, any pod in the Radiotopia world is worth a shot. Mars also hosts RPRX remix, which is on Sirius XM and is a good mix of material from good pods.

Narrative pods are getting so much attention that at last year’s Austin Film Festival there was a panel about writing for podcasting, and there are Podcast festivals popping around all over (we are developing the idea of having one here). And live podcasts are a big thing. They sell out at the Texas Theater. Spoke Media is a Dallas company that is working on getting some good pods out there.

So with that introduction here are some good pods to check out:

  • The Daily from the New York Times — a must to start of the day.
  • Today Explained from Vox.com — to end your day
  • Pod Save America is great; funny with really good insight from folks who worked in the Obama White House.
  • On the Media good and snarky analysis of media coverage.
  • The Big Screen— the Dallas Morning News’ Chis Vognar and KERA/Art&Seek’s Stephen Becker talking about film. Always good.
  • The Kitchen Sisters — they have been producing evocative audio or years.
  • In The Memory Palace— Nate Dimeo poetically tells unknown invisible history. Pay careful attention to the music selections.
  • Reply All — this is a must listen. They explain the depths of cyber culture; check out the episode Pizzagate.
  • Snap Judgment is uneven but sometimes great, depending on the producer of the story.
  • The Truth, Radio drama reinterpreted for the contemporary world.
  • Limetown is a great narrative series.
  • WTF with Marc Maron — I am not a fan but many people are.
  • Oh and then there is my podcast The Fog of Truth. Please check that out.

There are of course many more but this will get you started.

 

So let’s get back to the festivals coming up. We have the massive EarthxFilm festival, April 13-22 at various venues in Dallas. It features films about all things Environmental, including films VR and other new technology , workshops and on line contests and so much more. Then there is the Czech That Film Festival, happening April 13-15 in 12 cities around the country, including at the Studio Movie Grill Spring Valley in north Dallas. The Thin Line Festival is April 18-22 in Denton. It’s the original documentary festival in the area and they have some great docs in this year’s line-up. The Pegasus Film Festival for high school filmmakers is April 23. Then there is the USA Film Festival, April 25-29; and the Dallas International Film Festival, May 3-10.

Wow that is a lot. Go see some film. And listen to podcasts.

 

» Bart Weiss is an award-winning independent film and video producer, director, editor, and educator who has lived in Dallas since 1981. Mr. Weiss has taught film and video production at Texas A&M’s Visualization Lab, Southern Methodist University, the University of Texas at Austin and Arlington, Dallas Community College District and West Virginia State College. He currently serves as President of the Board of Directors of the Association of Independent Video and Filmmakers, serves on the Board of Directors of the University Film and Video Association, is a past Vice President of the Texas Association of Film and Tape Professionals, founder and past president of the West Virginia Filmmakers’ Guild, and co-founder of VideoFest and the Video Association of Dallas. He has been a video columnist for The Dallas Morning News, The Dallas Times Herald, United Features Syndicate and KERA 90.1 FM Radio in Dallas. Mr. Weiss received an MFA in Film Directing from Columbia University in 1978 and a B.A. from Temple University in 1975. Bart can be reached at bart@videofest.org.

» Film Notes with Bart Weiss now runs on the first Wednesday of the month.

 

 

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Film Notes 1.9
In this month's column, Bart Weiss discusses the rise of podcasts, and has recommendations. He also previews local film festival season.
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