What’s the best training for a new radio producer? Watch a porn movie. (Or, if that makes you uncomfortable, watch WWE wrestling or a romantic comedy.) They have fantasy storytelling down to a tee and that’s what you need.
You need to do two things: fantasize the story and fantasize yourself doing it. (I used the word ‘fantasize’ in a class once and someone told me that it referred to sex and that if I was talking about a story, I should use the word ‘conceptualize’. Nah, ‘fantasize’ it is.)
So, you have to go out and record a story and the first obstacle is yourself – the technology has got smaller but the painful shyness and self-doubt of the radio producer is still enormous.
Alright, you’re shy – that’s essential – listen to Sean Cole on the Saltcast – listen to any good producer and they’re anxious when going to interview someone. It means you’re sensitive. Maybe you listen more than you talk and you’re probably intensely interested in people (after all you’ve been observing them from afar for a long time, not being able to get up courage enough to approach them.)
Your shyness also means that people find you easier to deal with and you may be able to empathise with their foibles – often those foibles are the story. So, embrace your shyness – you need it.
Shyness is pretty useless when you’re standing there with two hands in your pockets. However, if you’re making radio, you take one hand out and put a microphone in it. Your magic wand. It transforms the situation. Why? Because of TV. If there had never been TV, people would not have known how to behave when a microphone was stuck under their noses. It’s like an elaborate handshake – people know what to do when you hold out your hand, in the same way they know what to do when you put a microphone to their mouth.
And you know what to do now...
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The microphone is a huge shield you can hide your shyness behind but it’s also a big switch that turns on the talk.
So, that’s where the wrestling and the porn come in. Live the fantasy. Imagine you’re confident, beautiful, strong and creative, take the mic in hand and the initial approach will work for you.
But then you reach the next obstacle: before the interviewee opens their mouth, you have to open yours. Bloody Hell! What do you say? You’ve arrived at the next stage of the fantasy: the script. (C’mon. Even the lamest porn movie or wrestling match has some sort of narrative.)
What you do is this: You tell yourself the story before you go out and record. You make it up: “He’ll say this…then I’ll say that….then we’ll hear the sound of the car….”
This sounds like proof of the old complaint that journalists write their stories before talking to the subjects but it has two very important purposes; one psychological and one logistical.
If you have the story already written in your head, you then approach the situation with a sense of purpose; you arrive giving the impression that you know what you’re up to. Just as if you’re popping out to the store to buy some groceries. And, like going to the store, you have a shopping-list. Well, the story in your head is your location shopping-list. You know you need to get Interviewees X and Y and Sound Z. (The list has subsections: within the interviews you know you have to get Story A and Reaction B.)
Here’s the picture: You’re standing there pretending to be confident because you’ve convinced yourself that you’re a good producer. Plus, you have the mic in your hand so everyone knows what to do and how to behave towards you.
Furthermore, you’re right on top of the situation because you’ve got the script in your head and you’re working your way through it, line by line.
Now comes the magic. The interviewees don’t know the story that’s in your head; they don’t know the script and so they don’t follow it.
They wander off somewhere far more exciting and you get to do the best thing there is about being a radio producer: you get to tear up the script and follow them on an unfolding journey of human experience and interaction. And when you come back, you’ve got a great story – unlike the producers of the porn movie, the wrestling or the romcom.