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Chapter 4. Formats > Build a Great Review Podcast

Hack 27. Build a Great Review Podcast

Create a review show that tells your listeners about the best movies, music, and books, with insight they can find nowhere else.

Podcasting is perfectly suited for the review format, and such shows became popular quickly. Putting together a review show is straightforward, assuming you do some homework first. When podcasting first got started, I jumped in with the first movie review, commentary, and discussion show, called Reel Reviews—Films Worth Watching (http://reelreviewsradio.com/). While my goal was to talk about great films readily available on DVD, the lessons I learned in producing the show hold true for any review format show.

Using my experience, let's examine how to produce a great review show.

4.9.1. Talk About What You Know and Enjoy

Roger Ebert is such a mainstay among movie reviewers because you can tell he has a passion for film, and he enjoys talking about it, studying it, and critiquing it. As is often the case, subject matter for which the presenter has enthusiasm can often lead to compelling listening. When setting up a review show, make sure it is a topic about which you can speak with some authority and enthusiasm.

Creating a podcast involves a commitment to your listeners; they are counting on the fact that you will continue to produce shows. If your subject matter is not something that you get excited about, rethink whether you should proceed. In my case, I have been talking about film for years to anyone who was interested. As such, making the transition to a podcast just involved letting a few thousand more people in on the conversation.

4.9.2. Know Your Audience

It is imperative that you clearly define who your audience is. Think about whom you want to attract as listeners and how best to provide the content they will find useful. These decisions will have an impact on the length of your show, what (if any) accompanying material you put with your reviews, and ultimately how you will market the show. This is some of the most critical planning you will do when creating your show. I cannot stress its importance enough.

4.9.3. Have Clear Points to Convey

The secret of a great review show is in the preparation. Think through the major themes and points you want to identify and highlight for your listeners. Is there a theme you can use as a bridge to tie together the individual points? When talking about film, art, or music, this is often an effective method.

Unlike other types of podcasts, review shows have some unique requirements. A review show's goal is to convey facts and impressions about the review subject. This is where it can get challenging for the podcaster. To ensure that you get all the important points covered, you need to make some choices.

The most important choice you must make is how you will prepare. Let me share what has worked for me. When I first started podcasting, I would outline five or six bullet points I wanted to make sure I covered, and then simply started recording. This proved to be a very natural style for me; I was comfortable and reasonably satisfied with the results. As I continued to produce additional shows, I felt it was important to include more and more detail. I thought this would add to my movie commentary. This culminated in one particular recording that I must have started over 15 times, as I kept getting lost in my rather detailed outline.

That was the breaking point. I tore up the outline, jotted down the five or six bullet points, and ended up recording it with no further hassle. That day, I learned that I am much more comfortable just speaking. If I can create a podcast in which I "talk" to my listeners, I feel that I produce a much more compelling and interesting show. Invariably by using this technique, I always forget to mention something, but my listeners don't know that, and I have yet to get a complaint about something I didn't say. While as a podcaster you might be frustrated that you forgot something, the beauty of audio is that it is transitory, and people experience it in a linear fashion. It allows for much more leeway than the written word, where someone can search back and forth.

Of course, there is another option: the scripted show. Some people have been successful with this approach, so it is important to consider. If you are more comfortable being completely prepared, you can script out your entire show. This will ensure that you don't miss any points. It will also dramatically increase the amount of time required to prepare your show.

If you choose to script your show, it is all the more important to concentrate on your delivery. People are generally turned off if you sound like you are reading. Frankly, if you are reading, you should just post the text. This is why it is important to interject your personality into your presentation. Make sure you accentuate the high points and drive home your conclusions regarding the material you are reviewing.

4.9.4. Conclusion

Not everyone will agree with you, but nothing is worse than a reviewer with no conviction in her opinion. Frankly, some controversy regarding your opinion will foster debate and added attention to your podcast. Right or wrong, you will earn listeners' respect by being genuine and truthful in your opinion.

Podcasting is an extremely rewarding experience. When running a review show, it is an exciting experience to find out that people have made a decision based on your reviews and opinions. In my case, I get email everyday from people who have rented or purchased the films I discuss in my podcast. For me, that was the whole goal: to discuss and encourage people to see great films.

4.9.5. Great Review Podcasts

Here is how some other review podcasters have gone about making their podcasts stand out. (Cool) Shite on the Tube.

Mix lots of beer, a few movies, and three Australians, shake well, and you get the (Cool) Shite on the Tube podcast (http://coolshite.net/). Bruce Moyle, Chris Rattray, RDon, and Q-Dog take their knowledge of movies and their ability to sit around and trash films to its logical conclusion as a review show. Their podcast is a vivid illustration of the value of the multihost format, particularly in review shows. The interplay between the hosts gives the podcast its infectious appeal while making it much easier to produce. The fun they have as a group talking about the movies comes through in the show.

The raw and uncut feel comes from the minimal editing and preparation. They watch the movie on Tuesday. Then Bruce cuts a few snippets of audio out of the movie. On Sunday they get together to have a few beers and record the show. They use GarageBand, Audio Hijack Pro [Hack #50], a cheap amplifier, and a Styrofoam cup to hold the microphone.

They've taken most of the feedback they received about the show to heart, and are working on making some improvements.

Overall, the difficulties in producing their show are minor: getting together on time can be tough, and remembering to turn on the microphone is critical. Their advice for review podcasters is to drink, and redo everything a couple of times the first time out. Cinecast.

Adam Kempenaar and Sam Hallgren of the Cinecast movie review podcast (http://cinecastshow.com/) take the buddy film approach to movie reviews. They use the two-person format to feed off of each other's insight into each film. They don't script their show too much. They prefer instead to use the conversational tone of the podcast medium to engage themselves and their listeners in a dialog about the film. Sometimes the reviews run in their ideal range of 15 to 20 minutes, but other times they get so caught up in the conversation that time flies and the podcast ends up being much longer.

Adam has been reviewing movies for five years for the Daily Iowan. He was self-conscious at first and would validate his reviews against what other critics were saying. But now he has the confidence to avoid any reviews before he has seen the movie and has settled on his own opinion.

Their advice for potential movie reviewers is to take it seriously. You can be funny, but you should keep it professional. Create a format and write some notes so that it feels like a well-produced show. But more importantly, use your unique perspective to provoke listeners to think about the film's meaning and to get at what the film was trying to say. Have confidence in your own critique and express it with conviction. Various and Sundry DVD podcast.

The Various and Sundry DVD podcast (http://variousandsundry.com/) grew out of Augie De Blieck Jr.'s text blog. Each week he would take the listings for the DVDs to be released on Tuesday, and copy and paste the ones that interested him it onto his blog with some of his own comments. It became a huge hit because it gave his listeners a shopping guide to take with them on their Tuesday DVD purchasing trips. It was an easy next logical step to turn his DVD blog into a DVD podcast.

The format is pretty straightforward. He uses TextEdit to fill his show notes with the DVD release list. Then he goes to the Internet Movie Database (http://imdb.com/) to do some research on the films that interest him or his listeners. He is thinking about adding some show format elements, but it's a commitment of time that he doesn't have.

On the recording side he keeps it simple. He uses Audacity [Hack #50] and a Sony ECM-MS907 [Hack #13] that hooks into his G5 Power Mac. He uses a stand to keep the microphone steady, and a windscreen to keep the plosives down. He records in one shot, and if he messes up, he just stops, goes back to the beginning of the sentence, and starts again. Then he edits it all down in post-production. He can take up to an hour to get a 5- to 10-minute show to sound right. Once he's finished editing, he uses the MP3 export in Audacity to build the podcast file, and edits the ID3 tags in iTunes. Then he uploads the file to the server with a hand-coded RSS 2.0 [Hack #37] file.

Through his podcast, he has created a bidirectional conversation with his audience. He has heard from his listeners that his recommendations have encouraged them to try out DVDs they wouldn't have otherwise. And his listeners have broadened his viewing taste as well.

For the comic-book fans out there, he also has a comics podcast called the Pipeline Comic Book Podcast (http://comicbookresources.com/rss/) that does for comics what his first podcast did for DVDs.

His advice to would-be DVD reviewers is to hold your ground on your opinions, even in the light of negative feedback. And keep your show on a schedule that people can follow predictably, to build your audience. TheForce.Net.

TheForce.Net (http://theforce.net/) covers everything in the Star Wars universe, including the movies, the games, the books, the action figures, and more. Erik Blythe, having done his own personal podcast, thought The Force Network readers would enjoy a news and commentary podcast dedicated to their favorite topic. He uses Sonic Foundry to record from his Plantronics computer microphone [Hack #12]. Then he mixes down with Sony's ACID [Hack #50]. The result is around 15 minutes of engaging Star Wars news and opinion.

He starts by laying out each show into three segments: news, commentary, and a featured item. The news is sourced from TheForce.Net site, or through other fan sites. News about the movies must come directly from Lucasfilm press releases. Rumors must have multiple sources. For his feature segments, he does interviews and round-table discussions from Star Wars conventions. He has a scripted intro and outtro [Hack #63]. His outtro segment encourages his listeners to contact him with feedback on the show, which so far has been roundly positive.

The listeners have responded best to the commentary segments. Erik believes this is because he knows what he would like to hear and he uses that to guide the show. He keeps mind of his pacing through the show and is careful not to lose listeners' attention with dull content. The key, according to Erik, is to keep the listeners' mind engaged with fresh news and commentary on the Star Wars universe, which provides them with new points of view.

4.9.6. See Also

Michael W. Geoghegan

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