Boom: Breaking into fiction podcasts

The writers of Stak’s sci-fi series on crafting audio drama

Podcasting is a medium of many diverse genres, and while there may be a preponderance of documentary and chat-based podcasts filling the charts, fiction podcasting is quietly growing in popularity, with scripted drama becoming more and more attractive to larger studios.

Boom is a fiction podcast, loosely framed around the Enron scandal, which launched its second season earlier this year. It comes from Adam Jarrell and Joel Emery, also known as Holy Smokes, who previously created Jackie The Ripper and The Offensive. The pair spoke to Adam Shepherd and Rhianna Dhillon about how they created a 90s soundscape without using licensed music, the challenges of scripting fiction podcasts, and why they wrote an audio drama with visual sensibilities.

Key takeaways

Be considerate of your cast’s time

“When we were making The Offensive, our pitch was, this is the fee,” said Emery; “it's not the best, it's not the worst. We insist on not taking more than 20 minutes of your time, in your home. So for Boom, they weren't in their own home anymore. They were coming to a studio, they were taking time out of their day. So our production fees immediately went up because you can't just offer those same rates.”

“So, I think in that respect, that was the first time we'd fleshed out a proper budget for something. Because before, it was kind of playing it by ear. The Offensive, by its nature, was being played by ear. So yeah, I think that's a production cost that you have to think about. You're taking that actor out and you've got them for half a day or a day, and it's important that they're paid accordingly.”

Think about your soundscape

“There were so many layers to it, because of the limitations of not using licensed music, but we used sounds of the times,” Jarrell said, “such as the Nokia 3210 ringtone, which everybody knows. I wanted to make sure that if you heard a commercial, that it was from that time. Like for instance, in season one, when Jim walks into a blockbuster, the blockbuster he walks into is an actual advert from 1999, for the State of Texas.” 

“It was really fun to create those sounds and find those different sounds; you know, there weren't any electric vehicles on the road, music had a different feel to it. I love the nineties. My favourite band is the Red Hot Chili Peppers. I love nineties wrestling, nineties sports. So it was a labour of love.”

Focus your energies

“We had a bit of imposter syndrome as well, because we were like, oh, it's this big shiny, premium thing that we're making, that we hadn't made before,” Emery said. “It was American. Like you said earlier, Rhianna, when you were saying we weren't actually adults in the nineties. We weren't Jim's age in the nineties.” 

“So there was also that feeling in there. And I think six episodes was like, yes, it was laying down a gauntlet and just trying to get that done. But also I think if we were like, oh no, actually there's 10, or maybe there's 14 in this season; I think we were both constantly keeping it on a short leash just so we kept our discipline, really.” 


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