“Podcast films”? Feature-length fiction stretches the medium

What do you call a podcast that features a single fictional story in 90 minutes? It might look like a movie, but it clearly isn’t. It is reminiscent of the mid-century radio drama but involves no radio.

“You could say ‘feature film podcasts‘, but that sounds boring,” said Chris Corcoran, co-founder and chief content officer of Cadence13, a podcast production company. “You want to illustrate the experience in a way that seems forward-looking but still readable for the consumer. “

Corcoran’s favorite art term, “film podcast,” blends two distinct categories, reflecting the exuberance – and confusion – of this moment of media turmoil. (The films themselves were once consciously referred to as “photoplays”.)

Whatever the ultimate name of the new form, the content has arrived. This fall, Cadence13 released its first two “podcast movies”: “Treat,” a teenage Halloween horror story starring Kiernan Shipka, and “Ghostwriter,” a psychological thriller directed by Kate Mara and Adam Scott. A third is underway, and others revolve around similar territory. In April, Two-Up, a Brooklyn-based entertainment company (“Limetown,” “36 Questions”) released an “audio feature” titled “Shipworm,” and children’s podcast studio Gen-Z Media released the “long-epic audio film” “Iowa Chapman and the Last Dog” in August.

“Why should the format be confined to this notion of serialized stories?” Said Ben Davis, partner of Hollywood talent agency William Morris Endeavor, which collaborates with Cadence13 on its feature film projects and represents Two-Up. “The maturation of podcasting can open up new forms of creativity and new outlets for creators. “

Corcoran said he first thought about creating feature film podcasts in 2019, when Cadence13, then known for producing interviews with public figures such as Gwyneth Paltrow and Deepak Chopra, was looking to get into fiction – a relatively small but growing segment of the industry.

Back then, fictional podcasts were typically anthologies (“Welcome to Night Vale”, “The Truth”) or soap operas (“Limetown”, “Homecoming”), formats that work well in an industry that historically depended on free subscriptions and advertising. . A movie podcast without a continuous supply of content would have struggled to attract subscribers, and therefore advertising dollars.

But two recent developments have flattened the path to functionality. First, the popularity of the podcast adaptations on television (Jessica Biel and Julia Roberts starred in shows based on “Limetown” and “Homecoming”, and Will Ferrell and Paul Rudd directed the recent television version of the podcast “The Shrink Next Door “) has attracted increasing interest from the feature film industry, where there is a constant demand for proven intellectual property. Companies like QCode, Gimlet and Realm have for years lured Hollywood talent to limited series suitable for adaptation. Long playing audio is a logical next step.

Second, this year’s introduction of paid subscription options to the two major podcast platforms, Apple Podcasts and Spotify, has allowed producers to deliver new types of premium content that don’t depend on advertising. While the number of people willing to pay for podcasts remains an open question – last year the premium podcast app Luminary reduced its monthly price from $ 7.99 to $ 4.99 – podcast companies are urged to make this cake as big as possible.

“Treat” and “Ghostwriter” both included advertisements, and neither was placed behind a pay wall. But Corcoran said his company is considering restricting podcast movies to paid subscribers in the future. Even though the feature films, which were recorded within days, cost “a lot less” than producing a multi-episode series, Corcoran said, advertising alone was not enough to cover their expenses. The company hopes to make money by eventually selling the rights to the film. (Corcoran declined to share specific budget figures or subscription pricing plans.)

“The business plan right now is to build a premium IP list and then transform it for adaptations,” Corcoran said. “I think the writers, directors and other actors are going to see what’s going on and be glued to it.”

From a creative standpoint, the writers and actors involved in “Treat” and “Ghostwriter” were optimistic about the format of the feature film. Alix Sobler, a playwright who wrote the screenplay for “Ghostwriter,” said there were challenges specific to writing for audio – “Will the audience feel connected to this chat just by hearing it?“- but found the listening experience ultimately satisfying.

“I love that you get a full story without having to sit in a theater or in front of a TV,” she said. “It’s a little more prescriptive than a book because you hear voices and sounds, but you can still use your mind and get lost in it. “

Nathan Ballingrud, a fiction writer who wrote “Treat” (which was originally conceived as a movie), said he was not sure about the potential of audio until he heard the product. final. “It wasn’t until I sat on my sofa and listened to it that I was like, ‘OK, this really works,’ he said.“ I hope it doesn’t. is not the last one I’m going to do. “

Maybe no one was happier with the experience than the actors.

“It reminded me of those Star Wars movie audio productions that I used to record as a kid,” Scott said. “It kind of gets you halfway there, and your imagination has to fill in the rest. “

There are also practical advantages. Where a movie or TV series may require a commitment of several months, between preparation and filming, Mara said her lead role in “Ghostwriter” was recorded in just four days. She is also the executive producer of the project and will retain this role on all future adaptations.

“It was fun and really, really easy,” Mara said. “You can go to work in your pajamas if you want.”

About Elaine Morales

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