Speaker 0 00:00:00 Sometimes we talk about legacy media and new media as if they both fit into nice little neat boxes, and as if they're diametrically opposed to one another. But oftentimes, the two worlds intersect, and it can actually be kind of awesome.
Speaker 1 00:00:15 And I feel a lot, a big sense of responsibility to both honor the PBS legacy as well as the American Master's legacy in that way. Uh, and I think that really informs the, the tenor and the tone of the show in some ways too.
Speaker 0 00:00:30 Next, you'll hear how a critically acclaimed film series launched the podcast spinoff. My name is Stuart, and this is Audience, a Casto original series where we go behind the scenes of all kinds of different podcasts to uncover the creative process behind great audio.
Speaker 0 00:00:50 I think one of the best ways to learn how to do something is to go directly to the people who are really good at that thing. So at Casto, we do just that. Each episode of audience features some of the most talented and creative podcasters around, and we hope that by listening it will inspire more creativity in your work. As you dive into this journey of audio creation along the way, Casos wants to be part of your creative journey. From our suite of tools, feature rich hosting platform, and even our production services, we're here to help connect directly with us by emailing hello casto.com or by clicking on the link in the show notes.
Speaker 1 00:01:31 I mean, really when you get down to it, most documentaries are, a lot of documentaries involve the interview as kind of an anchor point.
Speaker 0 00:01:40 That's Joe Skinner digital lead for American Masters at PBS in 36 seasons. The documentary film series has established itself as an institution of public media racking up 28 Emmy Awards, 14 Peabody, three Grammys, two Producer Guild Awards, and an Oscar just to name a few. So yeah, it's pretty good. The whole idea of the series is to highlight the lives and creative process of people who, in some way or another have impacted American culture. American Masters has profiled the likes of Dick Cavt Pry, and Wilson Buffy, St. Marie Maya Angelou, Bob Dylan, Louie Armstrong, and Gore Vill plus hundreds more to broaden their reach a bit. American Masters launched a podcast spinoff series in 2016 that initially was basically just republishing archived interviews in audio format. But as the show progressed, Joe wanted to reach a younger audience.
Speaker 1 00:02:37 Uh, and so we started to fold in more and more original interviews, but keeping our resources in mind. It was always a two-way open-ended conversation as a format. So, so we would have a guest on like Jeff Daniels. And while I would research and work really hard on the questions and preparing for the interview, there wasn't so much work in post scripting and editing and, and creating a narrative out of the, out of the interview. So that leads into season five last season, where we really did a big pivot into this new direction, uh, uh, renaming the show from American Masters Podcast to American Masters Creative Spark, and really trying to hone in on single works of art. Walk us through that creative process and bring us into that kind of like, no, no BS really, you know, just really hone in on that specific thing.
Speaker 0 00:03:28 Now the show is in, at sixth season where Joe uses his experience in documentary filmmaking to create handcrafted audio stories. He works as the host, producer, and at times editor, much like the film series, American Masters Creative Spark features in-depth interviews focused on a single person, but it's tailored for the audio experience.
Speaker 1 00:03:51 And I think that's really the through line for me that that makes the process feel almost identical, uh, is that you're basing so much of your story on an interview, uh, a master interview or a series of interviews with different subjects. Uh, so everything kind of falls into place from there. Whether I'm editing picture and premiere, or editing audio and pro tools, um, it's all in service of the same storytelling in my mind.
Speaker 0 00:04:19 By focusing in on a single work of art like John Water's, bizarre, novel liar mouth or mite shaman's, new thriller, old Joe is able to create an engaging conversation for both the listener and the guest. When you think about it, famous people probably get tired of answering the same question a million times. And for the listeners, it takes us inside the work of some of the most renowned American creators, musicians, writers, comedians, filmmakers, people of all stripes and backgrounds. Earlier this year, I got to talk with Joe about how he creates a show.
Speaker 1 00:04:54 Well, I'm always trying to curate with a broader picture in mind. So, so if I have a Buffy St. Marie, this legendary singer songwriter who's been around for decades doing what she does and, and a really important activist in her community as well, I try to make sure I can balance that out with, uh, maybe a younger musician, uh, later on in the season and, and trying to give shape to a broader portrait of what it means to create, uh, in the arts in America. And so for me, an what makes a good guest is, is yes, somebody who has had important impact on American culture in some way, be it a household name or somebody who you should know, uh, as well. Balancing that out with making sure I'm representing a diverse range of guests, uh, both in background and discipline. And so that really is kind of the organizing principle around the show
Speaker 0 00:05:46 As of this recording. Anyway, your most recent guest was John David Washington, uh, an accomplished actor and playwright, an American master, at least in your most, uh, recent episodes. In this most recent season that you're currently working on, you're building each episode around a single piece of work that, uh, that creator has done. Are there boundaries that come with that? And, and what I mean by that is someone like John David Washington, I think a lot of people would be really curious, you know, what's it like to be the son of Denzel Washington? So are, are those boundaries that like you have, have put in place? Or is it you're just so curious about their creative process that it doesn't even come up?
Speaker 1 00:06:28 It's a choice. I think it's a choice to create boundaries for yourself. Uh, because what I've learned with this pivot to the new format that we have of really focusing on a single work of art is that by focusing yourself within set boundaries, you're gonna really hone in on a more engaging and interesting story than if you're just having a super broad conversation. I think what makes your show kind of interesting to me as a podcast creator is, is that exact same thing. You, you're really honed in on a specific niche kind of, uh, audience. And so with the show, I, I did want to cover the obvious things with John David, for example. Of course, his dad's going to come up at some point, but, you know, it's just not what I'm that interested in, and I don't think it's what our audience would be that interested in.
Speaker 1 00:07:17 At the end of the day, I, I we're trying to cultivate an audience that is really interested in the creative process and not so much in gossip. And so far as his dad's influence on him as an actor feeds that creative process. I think it's incredibly important. And so he brought it up on his own that seeing Richard third, uh, at Central Parks, uh, you know, Shakespeare in the park series when his, when he was six years old, his dad did that show, and how much that imparted on him and impacted him as a young kid. That's really important. Uh, I'm trying to always build up contextual history around the subject and how that feeds their current creative process as well. So, so as far as that goes, that's super important, but for us, we're less interested in the bullet points of like, what's the top Google hit for that subject as we are in really getting into the nitty gritty of their process.
Speaker 0 00:08:07 I'd have to imagine from his perspective too, he probably appreciates someone wanting to talk more about their work than their dad, who's obviously kind of a giant a, a titan, if you will, uh, in, in this industry. I'm gonna go inside your show a little bit more first Cutting, talking about, about, uh, the creative process. It's very well produced, both from a substance and technical standpoint, and you don't do it alone. So how many people do you have involved in making this show?
Speaker 1 00:08:38 I guess I should rewind a little bit, if you don't mind, and just tell you briefly the history of the show, how it came to be, what it is now. That's Yeah, yeah, please. We're on our sixth season and the first episode, John David Washington just released when we're talking now. Uh, the first season was really came directly out of our archives, actually, uh, and was just direct lifts from archival interviews with a little bit of wraparounds. Then the second, third, fourth season was really a, a continual process of me really wanting to push for more original interviews, uh, to that mission of trying to reach a younger demographic and engage with younger emerging artists. Uh, and so we started to fold in more and more original interviews, but keeping our resources in mind. It was always a two-way open-ended conversation as a format. So, so we would have a guest on like Jeff Daniels, and while I would research and work really hard on the questions and preparing for the interview, there wasn't so much work in post scripting and editing and, and creating a narrative out of the, out of the interview.
Speaker 1 00:09:43 So that leads into season five last season, where we really did a big pivot into this new direction, uh, uh, renaming the show from American Masters Podcast to American Masters Creative Spark and really trying to hone in on single works of art, walk us through that creative process and bring us into that kind of like, no, no BS really, you know, just really hone in on that specific thing. And so with that, we had a consultant come in, um, a guy named Nate Toby. He came in and talked to us about, you know, his experience in podcasting made some recommendations and it really took off during the pandemic. So I went from previously doing all my interviews in the studio at our office to just sitting in my closet, uh, with a lot of clothes around me to make sure I can pad the sound.
Speaker 1 00:10:32 So that whole season, 10 episodes that came out weekly, that was produced basically in my house, um, in the closet at my desk, at my laptop, pretty much by myself. Uh, our executive producer weighed in on cuts and gave, uh, feedback during the editing process. But the process largely for the most part has been me curating the guest, doing a lot of research and prep after booking the guest, uh, conducting the interview, bringing that interview into the script, uh, really trying to create different notes and cha and, and chapters and, and creating selects from that interview and finding shape to the story that I'm trying to tell. Bringing that script into the closet again and recording tracking and then bringing that tracking back in, rewriting and rewriting and sharing that around for edit notes. And then, you know, doing the final mix and master and releasing that, that's traditionally been my process.
Speaker 1 00:11:30 So it's a lot of work. It's a lot of staying up way too late. So, so with this new season, the priority became, how can I make something that's a little more sustainable? Cuz I actually have a lot of other, you know, work that I do for my, my job title at, at the series. Uh, the podcast is probably 25% of my, my job title. So with that in mind, I, uh, wanted to find an outside producer with experience in the world, in, in podcasting. And, and I found a woman named Anna Lad, who, who used to work at Gimlet and has a lot of experience. And so she's helping out on a few episodes. Um, internally, uh, we have another producer named Diana Chan who's helping out on some episodes, you know, specifically I should say in the editing and and writing process, uh, which really kind of helps, I think, share the workload a little bit better, um, and get some new energy and new voices in the mix, uh, new perspectives on the writing and storytelling approach. And so, yeah, that's kind of where things are at now. And, and finally I've been able to relinquish my duties as mixer and master, uh, and pro tools to our engineer that we have on staff, uh, at our office. I'm able to build some time to him to get him to pitch in on it too, so I don't have to worry too much about loudness settings as I did last season.
Speaker 0 00:12:49 You know, you brought up that type of collaboration and what has bringing in all those other people done for you? Getting some of like, their feedback and probably, you know, like you've got a, each show sometimes has like a custom track made for it, so, or a custom score I should say. So what's that process been like to collaborate with a lot of different people on these episodes?
Speaker 1 00:13:11 It's been great and there's a couple more names that I didn't mention that I should, which is Josh Hamilton was a co-host on the show, uh, for a couple seasons. Uh, he's an actor and based in New York and he did a really great job bringing some levity to the show. Uh, cuz I can be kind of ser I can lean serious with what I do. And more recently a composer, cuz you mentioned music, uh, Hannah Brown, who just brings so much, uh, composing for podcast experience to it. Um, and he's just a joy to work with. I I really love collaborating with him and just kind of going back and forth on stems and tracks and, and thinking about what the voice of that music should be like and, and how it can really imply, uh, component building and part building as you do in the creative process.
Speaker 1 00:13:57 Uh, so he, so that collaboration's been particularly fun for me, especially cuz I don't know much about music, so it's kind of fun to kind of stumble my way through directing music and yeah, working with, uh, Anna and, and Diana has been really fun because you just, uh, start to challenge yourself more in how I have preconceived notions around, um, preparing for an interview or, uh, scripting an edit. Um, and so for example, uh, I basically just pull my interviews straight into the script at this point, which is something I learned from another producer that we had brought on for the pilot of Creative Spark, uh, named Matt Frasca. Uh, he kind of taught me that process and so that's, that's become my bread and butter, bringing it into there and doing paper edits, paper writing right off the bat for Anna Lad. She does not necessarily use that approach, uh, as her instinctual approach to the writing process.
Speaker 1 00:14:56 I've, I've seen that she likes to bring it directly into Pro Tools and be engaged with the sound, uh, right away. Uh, and I think that that might be related to the fact that, you know, I conduct these interviews, so I'm already very familiar with the sound in a way of what happened. I might note in my head a moment where the guest had a really kind of honest, uh, reaction that wouldn't be represented well on paper, but I knew I'd wanna flag it. But for an editor coming in after the fact, like Anna does, uh, she doesn't have that luxury, so, so it makes sense to me that she would bring it into Pro Tools first and start to script things out straight in pro tools. So it's been interesting to see that, to see how running an interview, conducting an interview informs my own writing process and how picking up a project later would inform that process a little differently. And seeing some fresh takes on that subject from that editor down the road is really interesting as well.
Speaker 0 00:15:51 Yeah, I think maybe my instincts would align more with Anna's, even if I conduct the interview. I really like to edit with my ears and it's, it's taken, uh, a long time for me to come around to the script. And so now I, I kind of fall somewhere in between, I still bring it into the script and I have it as a point of reference, uh, especially with like a narrative style show, cuz that's more even outside of like audience. I, I specialize more in like narrative nonfiction and it is great to have that point of reference. Just real quickly, if I'm pulling out, if I'm pulling audio, you know, the standalone from, from the rest of the audio or from the rest of the interview, then it, it's good to have that. You mentioned how this is a lot of work. It it's, it's a ton of work and you redesigned this show of course, and you kind of landed on, aside from maybe audio fiction, what I think is objectively the most challenging format.
Speaker 0 00:16:45 And I <laugh> and I, I don't say that as a, to be judgemental lt I wanna judge myself as well, but there are people who will do the, the long form interviews, you know, mark Maren comes to mind immediately. He'll talk to somebody just for like an hour and a half and that's the show. He'll do his monologue later, but that's, that's the show. So, and it can be very good. It can be, it can be very engaging and, and interesting. So what is it that a narrative style podcast gives you that maybe the long form in-depth conversation doesn't
Speaker 1 00:17:21 <laugh>? It's another good question. You know, it is a ton of work narrative, non-fiction, I guess you should call it. Uh, it's a lot of work <laugh> and a little bit of it is, I'm constantly wondering if there, on those days where I'm up really late and struggling with the, a storytelling point or something in the writing process, I, I say, ah, I wonder if I should have just stuck with the longform approach that I had been doing where I kind of just clean up ums and ahs and then throw out the interviews for the public. Cuz I, I think I'm pretty good at interviews. I've gotten pretty good at them. I think they're fun to listen to straight, why why am I doing this <laugh>? So, uh, I have to remind myself that, you know, it is a little bit of a leap of faith that, that I, I'm putting a lot of trust in storytelling essentially, and, and in the storytelling process, I think the real value that narrative non-fiction brings is that you can, you can tell a story.
Speaker 1 00:18:17 Uh, you're not so dependent on the moment in time with your guests. You're able to contextualize, you're able to shape, uh, a point they're making or a point that you're trying to make, and really present it in something that may originally have been 70 minutes. You can make that point and tell, tell that story in, in 25 minutes, uh, in a really compelling way. And so I'm really drawn to that. I'm really drawn to trying to feel around and expand the medium in different ways. Um, I think both, you know, documentary format, form and, and audio form, uh, both visual and audio I should say. I think it's a really unexplored medium. I think it's been around for as long as film's been around as long as, you know, the shot of the train going through is a documentary in the, in the early days, but for some reason or another, I think it's just barely been scratching the surface at what you can do with the medium.
Speaker 1 00:19:15 And so you see people like Sha Oppenheim are active, uh, the act of killing and a lot of really incredible documentaries that pushed the form. Most recently. I loved Laura Waitress's, uh, all the Beauty in the Bloodshed, uh, a documentary about Nan Golden, the photographer. I love the way she's trying to bend the form of the biographical documentary there, um, to fold in both Nan Golden's history as a photographer with her modern day activism against the pharma industry. And, and I'm really drawn to, you know, it almost feels like low hanging fruit. Like why not try to further break the mold of the medium? And I think in, in audio, there's so much room for that. And while I don't think our show is tremendously groundbreaking in form it, I like having more room to explore that space and it feels more creative for me. And, and I think it's gonna lead to a more interesting story for the audience.
Speaker 0 00:20:06 With this rage of guests, is there a trait you think they all share?
Speaker 1 00:20:10 Yeah, I mean, so that's one of the things I'm constantly searching for. It's kind of like a mystery I'm trying to solve, I guess with the show is what is the commonality among all these different creative people among, across all these different disciplines? And so, uh, it's, I don't like to fully answer the question because I think it, it's better left as an open question to be explored, but I think there's a ton of commonality. I think in terms of the creative process, you can just always break things down into components. And when you do that, you start to see similarities in how people just approach a project basically, more or less. And it's interesting to see how, how much storytelling is in every discipline as well. So, you know, traditionally I love interviewing playwrights and I love interviewing filmmakers. The storytelling in those mediums is obvious and right there in front of you. But I really like also how you can discover a sense of storytelling from a musician or from a chef, uh, like David Chang in, in their own way. And so that's a commonality that I keep finding again and again, the sense of story in what they're doing and, and how that gives them a sense of purpose as well.
Speaker 0 00:21:23 So I'm curious with PBS from an editorial standpoint, what is their role in making creative Spark?
Speaker 1 00:21:32 Sure. Well, pbs, uh, gives its stations a lot of independence. So, so we, you know, we produce and deliver our broadcast episodes to PBS with its own oversight process, but for audio and our other, you know, non-broadcast offerings, uh, we're largely doing that with our own kind of startup funding and, and dis and kind of discovery funding. And so, so we're really doing it with our own internal editorial process. And then PBS comes in, uh, for content review, basically to make sure that we're up to the indecency standards that are expected of broadcast. So if there needs to be a bleep here or there, we do that. Um, so we just make sure that we, we stick to those standards and practices, uh, that PBS enforces as well, I should say. There are journalistic ethics and rules at pbs, uh, that everyone is required to adhere to, and we do as well. So, you know, our guests are not allowed to say, Hey, like, I'm only gonna sign this release if you do this or that. We aren't allowed to do any of that. We, we take the journalistic approach to the process very seriously as well. I am grateful that I'm part of the, uh, the PBS system and I, yeah, I have a lot of respect for their long history of, of strong ethics and standards.
Speaker 0 00:22:50 You've also partnered with the W N E T group. Who are they? And again, what's their role in helping Sure
Speaker 1 00:22:56 Support you? Yeah, so, so PBS is, a lot of people don't know is, is consists of a lot of member stations around the country. Uh, it's really decentralized, uh, through these stations. Uh, and so the W N E T group is the station that I work for and work at, uh, based in New York. We're also called Channel 13, which is, you know, the, the, the number on your TV set that you can find us on in the New York area, uh, in New Jersey area. And so the W N E T group is a, you know, is a conglomerate of these different, uh, stations around the area, around the region. So channel 13 as well as, uh, nj, PBS out in Jersey, and we have a couple radio stations in Long Island as well. And so that's just the, the company that I work for and American Masters is a department within that company.
Speaker 0 00:23:45 Do you think for creators, that's something maybe that isn't quite as exploited as much anymore? And by that I mean partnering with other organizations, because I think right now it seems to me like a lot of the focus is, all right, I gotta crowdsource everything. I've gotta get funding on my own where hey actually <laugh> there. There's, I guess, I guess in, uh, traditional vernacular, we would just call that a job, but I, I guess for like, as a creator, it sounds like maybe it's the best of both worlds for you. You've got a lot of creative latitude to, to make a show the way you want, but you also have that institutional support.
Speaker 1 00:24:23 Yeah, I think you nailed it. And I, and I feel like it feels like a little bit of a dream, so it's like, oh, I don't, I don't know how long this'll last, but I'm gonna keep working as hard at it as I can while it does. Um, but I do feel like I've kind of fallen in that sweet spot right now with it. Um, so to me it's worth the late nights, uh, because it's kind of, it's, it's really a privilege to be in that position that I'm in. And, and I feel a lot, a big sense of responsibility to both honor the PBS legacy as well as the American Master's legacy in that way. Uh, and I think that really informs the, the tenor and the tone of the show in some ways too. Um, but to your point, I think there's a lot of fun, there's a lot of models to creating these days, and I think they're all really interesting.
Speaker 1 00:25:04 Um, I'm really interested in the decentralized model of creating, and you know, I always think it's really fascinating when people spin up Discord channels and, and other kind of web three applications to get things going on their projects. I love that kind of peer-to-peer style. You know, I'm of the generation growing up with the illicit platforms of Napster and Kaza and what have you, uh, Morpheus. Um, so I'm very familiar and well versed in that world, and I think it's really cool. Uh, I do think the legacy model is a smaller and smaller share of the marketplace, but a really important one. And I think people often use the word gatekeeping in a really bad way for good reasons. But I think there, there is also an important role to the gatekeeper traditionally in the sense that they can help make sure, like in a way PBS can serve as a gatekeeper to make sure that the proper journalistic ethics and standards are being approached in a project. And so I think those, those people and those roles can be super important in that process. So, so I think in an ideal world moving forward in the future, I'd love to see a hybrid where you still have the responsibility of a place like pbs, uh, and the W N E T group combined with a more forward thinking funding model of like a, you know, discord channel or you know, Twitch channel where you're able to take in those peer-to-peer transactions.
Speaker 0 00:26:30 I think that's gonna be good for podcasting as a medium more, the more decentralized it is, I think the better because it still gives creators, whether it, whether it's an organization like PBS and W N E T or just an individual making a show, it still gives those creators a lot of latitude to kind of, I guess, make their own destiny, so to speak, rather than depending on a platform like YouTube or, or Spotify and algorithms and everything that, that comes with that, which is once you start getting into that, it, it takes away from the creative process and in my opinion, just becomes a poor use of time and resources.
Speaker 1 00:27:06 Yeah, I think people will always be an important part of the process. I think AI is only going to be an accessory to a necessary human function, um, of creating. I'm really interested to see, obviously, I think in the next year or two, AI for example, is gonna be in a whole different place than it is even today. And I'm really curious to start talking with creators who fold AI into their creative process and how that informs their practice. But yeah, I think you can't take away the human component of it.
Speaker 0 00:27:38 Well, Joe, this is kind of the standard question, but obviously you and I have been kind of corresponding for the better part of a month now. So was there anything you were hoping to share today that you haven't had a chance to yet?
Speaker 1 00:27:51 No, I, I've appreciated the kind of freeform conversation here and I love the meta nature of it. Uh, I guess I just, you know, reiterate that I'd love for people to go check out the show and the standard, you know, rate and review it thing always helps. That really helps us. Um, but yeah, check out the show. It's on all our platform, all different listening platforms, American Masters Creative Spark is the name of it. Uh, we have some cool guests coming up, I should say. Uh, John Waters is our next episode and him breaking apart a novel that he wrote recently called Liar Mouth. Yeah, we have a couple other really exciting guests to me. I have always loved the filmmaker, Kelly Reichert. Uh, we have an interview with her coming up later in April. Yeah, some exciting stuff
Speaker 0 00:28:32 Could also be found at pbs.org/w wn e t slash american master slash podcast <laugh>, and like you said, available anywhere <laugh> easy. You can memorize that easily. Uh, Joe, I appreciate the conversation today and if you hang out for like another minute or two, we're gonna get that podcasting tip from you.
Speaker 1 00:28:52 Great. Thanks for having me.
Speaker 0 00:28:56 It was great to talk with Joe at times. It did feel a bit meta to unpack the creative process of a guy who unpacks the creative process, which is okay because Joe is the consummate professional and I feel like I learned a lot about our craft just from talking to him. It takes a special talent to be able to interview a musician one day and author the next at another day, a comedian. But Joe pulls it off, dare I say, masterfully with every single guest, every single episode, every single time. And now it's time for our podcasting tip where our guests shares some wisdom with the rest of us.
Speaker 1 00:29:34 Hey, my name's Joe Skinner and my podcasting tip is to just make it, you know, you can make it in your house, in your closet. That's really what I've been doing since the pandemic hit. And it can sound professional. And as long as you, you know, Google how to do something in Pro Tools or Google the best way to pad sound in your closet as you go, uh, there are a lot of resources out there to just make it possible for you to just make it, uh, on your own diy. You can make a really great bundle for under a thousand dollars, uh, great microphone bundle and, uh, you can make a really professional podcast right in your own house.
Speaker 0 00:30:22 Audience is a Casto Original series. Our founder and executive producer is Craig Hewitt. Production assistance is provided by Jocelyn Devore, ISL Brill and Marni Hills. Our website in logo design is courtesy of Fran Schwab Brill, our head of product here at Casto. All of our music comes from the Story Blocks Library. This episode was written, edited, narrated, and produced by me. I'm Stuart Barefoot. All previous episodes can be streamed anywhere you listen to podcast and online at audience podcast dot a film. Next time on audience, I chat with Shinny Pie from the podcast 10,000 things where she'll explain how commonplace objects can tell uncommon stories.
Speaker 3 00:31:06 But I think for myself, the story was always, you know, about this kind of idea of something that's intangible, that we carry almost like an identity or an inheritance, and wanting to kind of look at the feeling that one might have around that sense of connection to a thing.