Behind the Podcast: Overinformed, pt 2 | How Do You Make A Documentary Podcast?

In this two-part series, Sebastian Stephenson talks about the making of his documentary podcast, Overinformed. If you haven’t read part 1, you can read that here first. How does a narrative storytelling show of this type come together? Where do you start? What are some dos and don’ts if you’re thinking of making a podcast like this yourself?

This article is going to look at the process of creating an episode of Overinformed, a documentary podcast which explores the factors and fascinations of the millennial generation.

Episode 4: Where is my home?

The premise of Episode 4 was completely different to start with. The original idea was something about the Third Space. The third space is a means of categorising a space that we go to that isn’t our workplace or our home. It could be a cafe, bar, cinema and so on. Anywhere you come to be with other people and hang out, that isn’t work-related, would be basically considered a third space.

I was interested in the idea and felt that it would be relevant because of an interest in food and dining out, that to my eyes, was surging. Ultimately I decided not to follow it because after doing initial research on writings on third spaces, I felt that learning more about third spaces would require time than I could invest in this project (wow if only I knew how long it would actually take to make Overinformed).

So I moved over to the home. I thought about looking at what young people were looking for when it came to their homes. Based on trying to remember what I was thinking then, I either wasn’t finding the information (basically because they aren’t buying) or not enough to make a whole show out of it.

Then I expanded out to look at urbanisation, housing around the world, and trying to find out how people were going to live in the future. Not how the housing market is going to change, and not even really how homes are going to look, but more how our living is going to be different because of the forces of the market, policy and how society has changed.

I decided quite early on to have the entire episode on location. Since all the other episodes would be in studio, and we were making an episode about place, surely place should play a prominent role in the very construction of the episode.

The end of the opening and the beginning of the London interview

 

Even in the moments when I’m speaking to you and saying where we are going next, I recorded those bits of speech outside my house in my garden to follow through completely. I had the idea of recording those bits of speech at the locations I was going to, as I was going to meet my interview.

In the end it wasn’t workable because I didn’t know what I would need to say to link from one segment to the next. Not to mention I was concerned about being judged a weirdo, talking into a portable recorder in the middle of a city, so I didn’t do it too much.

Finally I do want to make a note about a big factor in how young people’s lives that was deliberately left out: the housing and homeless crisis. I was planning and recording the episode while this was very much in the air in 2018. I deliberately avoided this issue because I was concerned that it would date the episode. It felt the crisis was moving fast and people were acting fast. Well, as much as the show tries to forecast how our lives are going to be lived, I didn’t manage to predict how relevant it would still be.

An Episode I Have a Personal Stake In

In a previous time, I produced and presented a podcast called Dublin Creative Review. Part of that arts programme’s perspective was an underlying assumption that arts enthusiasts would also be interested not just in the work but the industry itself. How arts policy impacts on what artists make, how you make it work, to make a living at it.

As a creative myself trying to make it, this has a personal interest for me. How to do it? Am I the only one that feels guilty sometimes? Am I wasting my life, but what else would I do?

Originally it was to look at who gets to be an artist. Anyone can make great work but can anyone, if they so wish, become a professional artist? Looking back at the notes I made, it transformed into a “how do you survive” rather than an academic examination of the social and power structures that inhibit certain types of people from participating in professional creative industries.

Overinformed - making a documentary podcast - ep plan
An old outline of the structure of this episode

The panel was to try and get people of different disciplines and statuses to tell us how they got to were they are. I wanted a mixture of A-listers, those starting out and workmen artists (working artists that aren’t famous) to see how common or different their experiences were.

I shot for the moon when it came to getting people for the panel. In film, literature, music, they naturally all declined but at least I tried. That is not to dismiss who I did eventually get at all but there was a few rounds of names I reached out to before getting the panel I did.

I find that when you are making a programme, based on your research, you have some idea of what the show will reflect. This wasn’t the case with this episode. Perhaps I didn’t have an accurate understanding of the arts in Ireland. Either what the experts said or the responses in the artist panel, wasn’t what I was expecting.

The idea of having the panel listen to experts on running a creative business or the state’s role in supporting the arts, I thought would be a great thing. To hear from those who are in the trenches and get their lived perspective on what they have just heard.

When listening to presenters or guests on a show, and they listen to a report or prepared segment then discuss what they just heard, I find it’s a nice, engaging format that builds connection between you and them. You are sharing this experience with them of digesting and dissecting what you have just both heard. You may also be talking (in your head) to them about what you think of it and what you think of what they think.

 

Episode 6: An Area I Was Not Really Qualified to Talk About

Like really I’m not. Remember the person from part 1 I mentioned earlier who joined the team of Overinformed? Kris Mescher has a Masters and a PhD which specialised in sexual aggression and harassment. So the episode was very much meant to be Kris’s episode since that was her expertise. However while we were working on the first half of the season back in 2017, Kris had to move on to other commitments.

Of course in the later half of the decade, the #metoo movement brought sexual harassment toward women storming back into the spotlight around the world. As a show about living today as a young person, we couldn’t not cover it.

As a cisgender white male, I have only been groped twice (both around buses oddly enough). So really, I did not have a lot of experience of unwanted sexual behaviour, let alone any kind of expertise.

Overinformed documentary podcast - trello board
What the Trello board looks like. The What Is Happening to Sex? episode is on the far right.

This particular story also has a dynamic where victims have not been taken seriously. I felt that the show needed to be appropriate in making sure that we didn’t accidentally lay blame on the victims and let men off the hook for any inappropriate behaviour. So what to do?

During the course of researching, I came across a variety of angles the episode could take: Consent and the law, masculinity and consent, why are men threatened by women, but ultimately I had these three ideas that I wanted to integrate into the episode: Victims of sexual harassment are being believed, millennials are having less sex than previous generations, and the rise in porn.

Ultimately, I went with a large angle with two points in mind. What is happening to sex, when we are having less sex as a generation despite more liberal attitudes towards sexuality, and why are victims of sexual harassment being believed? I decided that this would be were the episode would sit and build form there.

The process for structuring the show was completely different from the rest of them. Whereas usually I outlined the shape of the show and what I needed, this was a more iterative approach. I approached the main interview, Jean-Phillippe Imbert and emailed about the interview I wanted to have with him and the more open ended nature that I was looking for.

Once I had the interview done, I would then listen back to build out ideas and segments from which to explore. Branches from the interview root, if you like. This was also combined with an idea I had previously for the fifth episode, What Is the Business of Being an Artist? I wanted to have a single long interview with one person as a contrast to the rest of the season.

I was very concerned that the show would end up being two men talking about sexuality, so I looked out for women contributors especially so the episode wasn’t completely unbalanced. I think the process by which I devised this final episode lends it a fluid intimate feel.

 

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