Tips on blending documentary and fiction

This video featuring Mira Burt-Wintonick, producer of CBC’s WireTap program (RIP), has some great ideas on how to tell audio stories that blend elements of documentary and fiction. There are some great lessons in creative adaptability, and her approach really embraces the possibilities of sound.

You can read and hear more in this article and the video is here..

 

Audiocraft 2016 is coming!

I’m super excited to be working on a new project Audiocraft, a conference for Australian radiomakers and podcasters that’s happening on March 5th.

Audiocraft will be a day for producers to come together and talk, listen and learn about making great stories with sound. We have a stellar line up of presenters who’ll be leading workshops and panel discussions on narrative techniques, podcasting, sound design and collaborative storytelling.

It’s about building a stronger community of content makers and talking about all the nerdy stuff, and I can’t wait!

Audiocraft is an idea that’s been brewing for a while. When I went to the Third Coast International Audio Festival in 2014 I was blown away by being in a room of 500 radio folk who shared the same passion for telling stories with sound. I also realised that we don’t have anything like it in Australia, so something had to be done.

Over the last months I’ve been working with a group of absolute legends to make it happen. Here’s a few us being geeks and paying tribute to our trail blazing heroes at Third Coast.

third coast launched AC

 

The response to Audiocraft so far has been amazing. We sold out of our tickets 2 months before the conference date and so many people have come forward to offer their support. I think there’s a real desire for people to come together in this way. It’s an exciting time to be making audio, but it can also be a lonely gig, and there are a lot of big questions about the future of podcasting and radio broadcast that haven’t really been answered. So hopefully we can talk through some of these issues, build some great networks, and inspire creative collaborations!

 

 

Murder in a Small Town- radio documentary

My 2 part radio documentary Murder in a Small Town is now online.

I’ve been working on this project for over a year. It’s the creative practice component of my PhD and a story that’s close to my heart. It’s about the murder of my school friend Veronica’s mother back in 1990. Irene was stabbed to death on their family’s farm just outside The Rock, the small country town where we grew up. It was a horrifc crime that was witnessed by her two youngest sons aged 20 months and 3 and half. I was 10 years old at the time and I remember how the event sent shock waves through our community.

 

Irene with 4 kids
Irene with her 4 kids.

For the documentary I went back to The Rock and spoke with people from the town. I got a better understanding of what happened and came to realise I wasn’t the only one who has been haunted by that time.

But the most incredible part of this project for me was reconnecting with my friend Veronica who I hadn’t seen for 25 years, and hearing her and her family’s story.

birthday party
Veronica (left) and me (right) at her 7th birthday party. Such cute hats.

Since the programs have broadcast I’ve heard from a lot of people from The Rock, and childhood friends.  I haven’t had contact with most of these people for over 25 years, but I think the story tapped into a collective memory and perhaps a suppressed grief that most of us haven’t accessed for a long time. It’s been a very moving experience and such a privilege to work with such generous and beautiful people.

CBAA National Features and Documentary Series 2015

The final pieces from the CBAA’s National Features and Documentary Series are now online! I mentored a couple of these projects and it was great to see how this initiative worked from the start. A group of mostly first time producers had a go at making their first radio features with help from online tutorials and professional mentoring along the way. It’s such an awesome project and the final works are great!

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Radiogaga Panel – EWF

I had heaps of fun chatting with fellow audio nerds Jaye Kranz, Tiger Webb and Heidi Pett on the Radio Gaga panel at Melbourne’s Emerging Writers Festival. We shared ideas about radio’s ‘New Journalism’ phase and how the role of the narrator might be shifting from a traditionally objective standpoint to a more subjective voice.

There are mixed feelings about this trend which is often seen as a shift to a more American style of radio. But I  think it’s a great opportunity for producers to be a little less stodgy, or authoritative, and perhaps be more transparent about their role as storytellers within their work. We often make radio about things we genuinely care about, and as long as we don’t start stepping all over the story unnecessarily, an active voice might inject an authenticity into the work that we want to share. It might also help develop different creative audio styles and more distinct producer voices. You can really hear this in independent podcasts like Love and Radio and Strangers.

So if a subjective voice serves the story and moves the narrative forward in an interesting way, then why not utilise it? Perhaps the dilemma is how to not to let a ‘trend’ overtake the question of purpose, and consider what works best for each individual story.

 

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National Features and Documentary Series- mentoring

I’ve signed up to be a mentor for the CMTO’s National Features and Documentary Series. It’s a competition open to anyone who volunteers or works at a community radio station and wants to produce a feature radio documentary. The finalists work with the CMTO to hone their skills and are teamed up with a mentor who gives feedback along the way.

I remember how daunting it felt to make my first radio documentary, so it’s great to be part of something that’s helping emerging producers share their stories. It’s also another reminder of how amazing the community media sector is when it comes to supporting new and diverse voices on the radio.

I’ll be mentoring two of the finalists and can’t wait to see their stories develop!

I’ll post the links to the complete series later in the year…..

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Serial and the podcast explosion

I listened to this fantastic panel discussion on the recent “explosion” in the popularity of podcasts. Moderated by The New York Times’ David Carr, it’s a pretty impressive line up with Sarah Koenig from Serial, Alex Blumberg  from Start-Up, Alix Speigel  from Invisibilia, and Benjamin Walker from Benjamin Walker’s Theory of Everything. They chat about the recent wave of podcast fever that peaked with Serial’s huge success in late 2014.

It’s widely known now that Serial is pretty much the single most popular podcast EVER. And it’s success has created a lot of excitement about the potential of making and distributing audio stories outside traditional radio broadcast.  A lot of interesting ideas come up in this conversation, but what I loved most was the sense that podcasting offers a space to try new things and tell great stories with fewer rules and restrictions.

You can watch the full video of the discussion here…

 

Storology 2014

I went to the Walkey Foundations’ Storyology conference in Sydney recently. It’s a gathering and information-blast for journalists and media-makers from Australia and overseas. Despite the slight depression in the air after the news of budget cuts and huge job losses at the ABC, there was still some inspiration to be had.

I really enjoyed the practical sessions like Aela Callan’s (Al Jazeera)  ‘writing tight for TV and radio’ and ‘DIY Radio Doco’ with Gretchen Miller (ABC Radio National).

But my favourite session was Geraldine Doogue and David Leser in conversation about personal narratives. They talked about journalists crossing over into the unfamiliar territory of sharing their own story. They highlighted the increasing demand for ‘the personal’ in the media, and journalists’ hesitancy to share their own narrative. As Davis Leser pointed out:

“we set the conversation but never reveal our motivation”

David’s began writing his most recent book as a biography about his father, but it soon shifted to memoir.

“I couldn’t write about him without writing about myself”

He ended up producing a deeply personal portrait of father and son, and the complexities of family. For the first time, he turned his skills of investigation and truth seeking towards himself.

Geraldine shared her reluctance to write a memoir because she doesn’t feel ready to confront her grief over her husband’s death. But David argued that’s the perfect reason to write one. He suggested that writing about grief and writing through grief was the most cathartic way for him to recover after his father’s death.

“the writer’s job is to utter the unutterable and to find the truths that come to all of us….. [and] grief is what unites us. All those walls of separation drop in the valley of grief”

I found these two great thinkers incredibly honest and generous with their own experiences. And it definitely got me thinking more about the positives of being brave and sharing one’s own story, and how it might make us better equipped to help others share their personal story.

leser and dooge

‘RadioDoc Review’ publication

I recently wrote an article for RadioDoc Review about Masako Fukui’s documentary Will Kate Survive Kate. This piece broadcast on ABC Radio National’s 360 Documentaries program and won a gold medal at the New York Radio Festival Awards.

The documentary tells the story of a young woman Kate and her struggle with an eating disorder. It’s a deeply personal piece that has intimate audio recordings with Kate and her family. I was particularly struck by the generosity of the storytellers in this work and was curious about what motivated them to share such a difficult story. We don’t often hear from the storytellers after they have shared their story on the radio, so I decided to interview Kate and her mother for the article. It was really interesting to hear their perspective and to think more about how radio and sound were important for this particular storytelling experience. You can read my article here.

 

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New York- research interviews

On the back of Third Coast I’ve spent a week in New York doing some more reserach interviews with radio producers and radio storytellers. I hung out with The Heart’s Kaitlin Prest and interviewed her in her bedroom closet- possibly the coolest sound-recording studio I’ve ever been in. With lace fabric hanging around us, we chatted about getting personal with interviewees, finding boundaries in an interview, and how at times- she nudges up against them. Kaitlin’s an incredible producer who deals with personal stories and matters of the heart. She’s also doing really pioneering creative audio work which you can listen to here. This is another interview I can’t wait to to transcribe and dig through more.

kaitlin prest

In keeping with my reserach on the experience of people who’ve shared their story on the radio, I’ve also chatted with some of the audio diarists from the Teen Diaries and Teen Diaries Revisited series. These started back in 1996 when Joe Richman gave a group of teenagers from around the US tape recorders and asked them to record their own lives. Then 16 years later, Joe followed up with 5 of the original diarists and produced the Teen Diary Revisited series.

I spoke with Melissa who was a teen mum back in 1996, and Josh who was struggling with his Tourettes. Talking about their original diaries there were some similarities to LeAlan Jones - they felt their audio documents captured a youthful innocence and important moment in their lives. It was also interesting to hear how keeping diaries as adults was perhaps harder because they were more self concious after the success of the earlier series and had a greater appreciation of the broadcast outcomes. I highly recommend listening to both pieces. They’re great examples of how hours of audio can be expertly crafted into short audio documentaries. Joe Richman is a master and the the whole series is fantastic. My interview with him also gleaned some insights from a man seriously dedicated to his art.

I also went to a Teen Diary Revisited event hosted by Joe Richman and the legendary Robert Krulwich from Radiolab. It was a great night and so interesting to hear Josh, Melissa and Amanda (another diarist  from the Revisited series) chat about their audio diary experiences. A video recording of the night is available here.

radio diaries event
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