Welcome to the second in our series of interviews about the BBC Sounds Audio Lab shows. This time, we’re talking to Adam Zmith about The Film We Can’t See, a show that imagines hidden queer connections between filmmakers over a century ago…
What was your introduction to podcasting as a listener?
One of the first podcasts I really got hooked on was Making Gay History. Each episode starts with the clicking sound of the cassette tapes that carry the voices out of the archives. Transitioning from this into what was then the exciting new digital medium of podcasts was a real thrill. Next came the calm, tender, thoughtful voice of host Eric Marcus, leading us back into history, into the sound recordings he made decades before. And then: the voices of our queer elders themselves. Their horrors and their wisdom. Wow. Making Gay History was a huge influence on a podcast I eventually co-produced, called The Log Books, and now I’ve continued to pursue a creative use of archive in The Film We Can’t See.
Why was audio the right medium for your project?
Yeah, the fact that it’s a podcast is a bit of a surprise — it’s a project about cinema! But when I researched the stories and the themes of early experimental (queer) films in the 1920s, I realised that the project is about a film that doesn’t exist. We don’t have the images. Even if the film had been made, it would have been burnt by the Nazis, as so many were. So audio is the perfect medium, no? It allows me to ask the audience to join me in imagining the images. Your visuals will be different from mine, because your mind is different. I love how audio offers that fluidity. On top of all that, I also wanted to experiment with sound more than I’d been able to do with The Log Books — using music like a score, and sound design that plays with what’s real or not.
What is the biggest thing you’ve learned from making the podcast?
There’s so much potential in the form that people aren’t using. I’m thrilled that podcasting is huge now, but I do think the industry is dominated by interview or chatty podcasts. And even documentary podcasts can be pretty formulaic (I guess their success depends on the story, not the format). Fiction podcasts are often like radio dramas with extra sound effects and studio cleanness. So I set up The Film We Can’t See so that I could learn how to make something that sounded very different, to challenge myself as much as the industry. The series takes a hybrid form, merging documentary and imagination, it was recorded on location, uses music like a film does, and references the fact that the listener will be imagining what’s happening in a way that only a podcast can.
What would you like to see more of in the podcast space?
Two things. First, in terms of content: forget the awards categories, mix them up, produce hybrid forms, play with what’s real and what’s not, create space for the listener to visualise along with you, do something more with sound design than just swells and swooshes. Second, courageous investment and commissioning, as with BBC Audio Lab. I’m an indie producer with a small company, Aunt Nell. Indies like us need gatekeepers to take risks and help us to create the next wave of podcasts.
Don’t forget to check out the interview with Talia Randal about Blossom Trees and Burnt Out Cars. Next time, we’re hearing about The Museum Of Bad Vibes by Hanna Adan.