Producing this piece taught me many lessons. Perhaps most importantly, I learned the value of outlining. And I learned it the hard way.
When making my first Transom feature for WCAI’s Creative Life series, I remember my initial discomfort with outlining the story so early on in the process. With only a brief pre-interview and very preliminary research under my belt, Rob had us outline scenes from beginning to end. At the time, it seemed counterintuitive. How could I know my story — its structure, narrative arc, tension and resolution — before gathering any tape? But of course, Rob was right: having a clear sense of story going into my interview helped to narrow and inform which questions to ask, and what ambient sound to collect. It acted as a guide throughout my whole process, even as the outline changed dramatically over time. The beauty of the outline is that it evolves. It’s meant to be reworked once you have tape; really, at every stage of the process.
So, going into my final Transom feature, I didn’t need convincing that outlining was important. I had come across what seemed like an ideal story. It had colorful characters, a clear narrative arc, and a sense of cultural and historical relevance. I was even excited to make my outline. But as I waited and waited for my potential interviewees to call me back, excitement turned to anxiety, then to panic. I had no story.
I called four more leads for other potential stories. Not one responded. I finally decided to return to an idea I’d had before coming to Transom, but to find a local angle: HIV/AIDS 35 years later in Provincetown. Now I had a topic, but no story. No single individual to zoom-in on. Even as I started scheduling interviews, my outline remained vague. This made me nervous.
In the end, I interviewed six people, and drove four hours (multiple times) to do so. I had over 50 pages of transcription to dig through. Having a sharper outline from the start would have saved me a lot of time, that much is clear. But, unlike with my first feature, this story revealed itself later in the process. And to find it, I followed my tape. It felt risky, but through interviewing so many people, I constructed a story I couldn’t have otherwise known to tell. It was a valuable learning experience to grapple with this delicate balance: imagining the story you want and staying open to the stories that emerge.
Sophie’s Sonic ID
I had initially hoped to make my Creative Life story about the man in this Sonic ID: Jim Thomas, founder and president of a Martha’s Vineyard non-profit called the U.S. Slave Song Project. Because of timing, I was unable to interview him for that particular assignment. Instead, I recorded him with Sonic IDs in mind. Jim sang three songs for me acapella, in the quiet of his home. This Sonic ID was my favorite.