Listen and Learn: Five Essential Podcasts to Augment Your Movie Education

What if, when you’re stuck in traffic, instead of listening to Adele’s “Hello” for the thousandth time, you could be learning how to navigate the film festival circuit? What if, while you’re doing your dishes, you could be getting tips on how to jumpstart your writing career?

Good news: You can! This education is free and ready for the taking.

Welcome to the wonderful world of podcasts. There is no ill that a good podcast cannot solve, and no better way to kill the monotony of a long commute. With 39 million Americans listening every month, the audience for these episodic audio series is steadily growing. And there is a seemingly endless supply of content to meet that demand, on any number of topics.

The bounty is especially rich for moviemakers and movie lovers. These five essential podcasts are wonderfully representative of the variety of perspectives available, and deserve recognition for the particularly valuable information they’re giving listeners. Do yourself a favor and download these.

1. Gotta Start Somewhere is a new podcast (having only six episodes currently), but boy, has it come out of the gate swinging. Each episode is about an hour and 15 minutes long, and presents an extended interview with an industry professional, focusing on how he or she got a foot in the door. 

The founders, Austin-based moviemakers Mike Carreon and Brad Silman, “a couple of goofy guys just starting out themselves,” set out to encourage—and tap into—their flourishing local film community. “We want to interview actors, filmmakers, casting directors, talent agents, comedians and basically anyone else who started somewhere and is now going somewhere,” Carreon says.

The duo has high-energy, free-wheeling conversations with guests like actor Craig Cackowski (The Kings of Summer, Community) and Duncan Coe (filmmaker and co-owner of TurtleDove Films), whom they met through Austin’s “indie film and improv communities,” and “booming festival scene.”

Mike Carreon and Brad Silman, founders and hosts of Gotta Start Somewhere, at the Institution Theater in Austin, Texas. Photograph by Sarah Millender

The Takeaway: This podcasts lays out the skills necessary to get that first job and propel your experience into a career. You’ll also find a special sense of camaraderie. Carreon explains it like this: “Our interviews resonate with our audience because we are our audience—struggling actor/filmmakers trying to find that one piece of advice that will bring us closer to success.”

Start With: Episode 4 with Emily Best, founder and CEO of Seed&Spark, who proposes a radically different way of viewing the independent film industry. The guys have deemed it their “most passionate interview ever.”

2. You Must Remember This is a podcast devoted to exploring the “secret and/or forgotten history of Hollywood’s first century.” Created by writer Karina Longworth, each episode is a highly-researched historical account of a specific person or event that didn’t make it into the college textbooks. Longworth writes, produces and narrates each episode. Its name is pleasingly apt: The storytelling is so well-constructed and researched that every minute feels vital.

The Takeaway: A nuanced understanding of Hollywood history, with information on everything from the many loves of Howard Hughes to the chaotic period marred by the Manson killings. And not only does the show cover studio system bigwigs like David O. Selznick, it celebrates several largely forgotten cinematic pioneers including women such as Ida Lupino, one of the first actress-director-producers, and Lena Horne, Hollywood’s first black performer to be given the full “glamour girl treatment.”

Start With: Episode 28, on Carole Lombard and Clark Gable. It’s a beautiful and sad story about how “the queen of screwball comedies married the king of Hollywood,” and how her untimely death drove him to “physical and emotional breakdown, and eventually the army.” There’s more drama in this story than any of their movies, and it’s all true!

3. She Does Podcast, founded by documentary filmmakers Elaine McMillion Sheldon and Sarah Ginsburg, features 30-minute interviews with women in film, art and music: writers, directors, producers, cinematographers, editors, documentarians, journalists, art directors, designers, developers, photographers, strategists, funders and so on. These guests include director Debra Granik, High Maintenance creator Katja Blichfeld and Tribeca Film Institute’s director of interactive, Ingrid Kopp. No two She Does episodes are alike; some dive deep into guests’ childhoods and backgrounds, others focus on hurdles guests have overcome in their careers.

Illustration of Eleanore Pienta, Cocoon Central Dance Team, by Christine Cover for She Does Podcast

Illustration of the Cocoon Central Dance Team by Christine Cover for She Does Podcast

“Being a woman is key to being one of our guests, but we don’t ever want to alienate our male audience,” says McMillion. She and Ginsburg aim to “treat these stories not as distinctly ‘women’s stories’ but more as character portraits of the creative process, where you can allow for intelligent conversation to reveal someone’s past and present.” The discussions that unfold from this interview style are personal and often deeply moving.

The Takeaway: Another resounding reminder that women are the future of moviemaking. Also, a look at creative approaches that may be vastly different to your own. “Sometimes you just need to readjust the way you think about things,” says Ginsburg. “Everybody has a different approach, a different pace, and therefore a different story.”

Other lessons include the importance of community and collaboration when making media; how to recalibrate when your career is off track; new techniques to communicate stories from around the globe; how to respond to criticism and move forward with grace and power.”

Start With: Episode 14, “A Very Specific Kind of Femininity” with Masters of Sex actress Caitlin FitzGerald, in which the women discuss thinking about your career as a journey and not as a series of “I made it” moments.

4. The Canon is a weekly podcast, about 70 minutes long, in which film critics Devin Faraci (Birth. Movies. Death.) and Amy Nicholson (MTV News, formerly LA Weekly) discuss whether a particular film deserves to part of the cinematic canon. After each episode, the hosts put up a poll so listeners have the ultimate vote on whether the film makes the cut. In the canon so far: Goodfellas, Blade Runner, The Godfather and Clerks. Out: Jerry Maguire, Romeo + Juliet and The Lion King.

A running discussion topic is how to define the canon in the first place. Is it filled with only “good” movies, or the movies that changed the cultural landscape, regardless of artistic merit?

The Takeaway: A wonderful education in the backstory and design behind many of the most famous films in history. Faraci and Nicholson defend their arguments with fiery passion backed by years of critical experience.

Start With: Episode 6, Inception, a spirited debate about whether style can ever trump content. Faraci provides a convincing argument that Inception is one large metaphor for filmmaking itself.

5. Film Festival Secrets, a companion to a book by the same name, this podcast is a must-listen for any moviemaker about to embark on the festival circuit. Each episode is a tiny road map to an aspect of the complicated festival world, comprised of interviews with special guests and information from author and host Christopher Holland, a festival strategy consultant. Episodes range in length from 15 minutes to over an hour, dispensing valuable insights with efficiency and clarity. Guests include Joseph Beyer, director of digital initiatives for Sundance, and Sheri Candler, director of digital marketing strategy for The Film Collaborative.

Holland, who ran a crowdfunding campaign to support his latest season, likes podcasting festival strategy because “of the relative ease of articulating complicated ideas,” and the medium’s speed, which “gives the host and guests the ability to be more responsive.” Indeed, there’s an interactive element to FFS: “Every week I’ll get email from someone who has heard an episode and has a question or just wants to say thanks.”

The Takeaway: Tips and tricks on everything from picking the right festivals for your film to in-person networking at a fest.

Start With: Episode 25, with Jarod Neece, who gets right to the meat of what he does as festival producer and senior programmer at SXSW Film. He is very open about how SXSW programs and operates. For example, did you know that SXSW’s community programming platform, PanelPicker, is weighted? 40 percent of votes go to the SXSW advisory board, 30 percent to the full-time SXSW staff, and 30 percent to the general public.

Happy listening! MM

This article appears in MovieMaker’s Winter 2016 issue. Featured image: Film critics Amy Nicholson and Devin Faraci host The Canon. Courtesy of Wolfpop/Midroll Media

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