About “This is Radio”
This is Radio is video. It’s actually a bunch of videos about radio, specifically about the people who make that radio. They’re short profiles that will hopefully give a bit of insight into the people who make great audio stories.
With each episode I’ll be giving my insights and some behind-the-scenes info so maybe you can learn something from my perspiration.
Transom and Me
I first heard about Transom and the Transom Story Workshop from the This American Life Facebook page. I was a public radio super fan but I had no experience in radio — the Workshop seemed perfect.
I came to the Workshop as a photographer who was dabbling in video. I wanted to learn to make radio, but I was also like a spy from the video world, trying to steal secrets from public radio and apply them to my humble video producing.
Spies, secrets, we're up for anything!
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I won’t pretend the idea for this series came from any sort of conceptual artistic thinking. It boiled down to: “Wouldn’t it be cool to interview some people whose stuff you really like.”
Who wouldn’t want to go visit people you think are awesome. And poke around their stuff. And ask them questions.
A few years ago I did the same thing, but with skateboard photographers whose photos I had on my wall in high school. These photos were the reason I wanted to pick up a camera. Naturally, I wanted to hear the stories behind the photos and the people who shot them. Skateboarding to radio, a natural move.
Make Teaser Worthy Moments
I sometimes think the teaser is the most fun thing to make for projects like this. You’ve already done all the laborious parts: the phone calls, the travel, the filling of memory cards, the airport security. Now you pluck the best stuff from hours of tape, splice it together with some cool music and right before your eyes your project gets distilled into this intense essence. All punchy and cool and what not — if you did it right, I suppose. But I picture these things before I even start on the project.
See, I used to work at a magazine and I remember my publisher telling me about making articles based on cool cover lines you wanted to have. You’d think of some batshit crazy thing to put on the cover then go make that story.
Not exactly the pinnacle of high-minded journalism, but the same logic can apply here. While you’re making a video (or audio piece), even before you start, strive to get tape that is highlight-reel worthy.
That doesn’t mean tape that easily cuts into sound bites, but things that are exciting, surprising, funny, touching, action packed — things that amuse you and would make people want to watch more. Make those moments happen with your questions, with your locations, with the subjects you chose.
You can sometimes even hear those things as you’re recording them.
A Teaser as an Outline
When you find the tape that most appeals to you and piece it all together, and shuffle it about, then add more things and maybe take away other bits and try and fit it into the tight space, you’re finding the voice of your project. What sounds or looks right? What doesn’t? Why not? Listen to your gut on these things, it’s like a Ouija board, spelling out the themes and the tone and the pacing of your project.
With this series, I got the visuals for the teaser early on, after the first couple of interviews. I had a vision of what I wanted. I rented some old radios from a prop house, booked studio time, got a black backdrop and a macro lens and in a sense made a visual outline for the project.
I also enlisted the help of my friend Jeff Middleton who did all the motion graphics and text and design-y stuff for the series. My early chats with him about the title design also helped form an idea of the project.
Chris Wardle helped with camera work for some of the episodes. We played with light placement and moved things around and tried a bunch of stuff (we even had a fog machine running at one point — glad we ditched that) until we came up with some things we liked, and that clicked.
The moment when we shot the old time microphone was one of the moments where things clicked visually. The shininess, the romance it exuded, the light wrapping around it — I could picture the logo sitting beside it on screen. It just fit with what we were doing.
Wow, this is getting a little heavy. It was a bunch of dudes I bribed with pizza in a friend of a friend’s studio with me haphazardly calling the shots. But it looks cool, right? And that “isn’t that cool” moment set a visual touchstone for the rest of This Is Radio.