Podcasting – bonus entry: Responding to constructive criticism


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One thing that I always try to stress the importance of in podcasting is taking on board constructive criticism. I’m not referring to somebody saying your podcast is a load of crap, but when somebody offers you an invaluable piece of feedback that helps you shape your output to suit your audience, then why on Earth would you ignore it?

We had some feedback very recently for a new concept we tried over at Failed Critics. Some of it was very positive, which is always nice to hear! Even though there have been over 190 episodes in total (including a few minisodes that we created earlier this year) and found a format that we’re comfortable to repeat often, we do occasionally like to play with new ideas. For example, earlier this week, we released a podcast that you can listen to whilst watching the cult 90’s found-footage horror, The Blair Witch Project. Kind of like a fan commentary, if you will.

What I hope to do in this article, continuing my ‘podcasting‘ series, is to show you some feedback that we received on that latest podcast – and how I responded to it.

It came from one of our regular listeners who has always been brilliant for us in terms of providing quality, useful and informative feedback. I’ve anonymised it, although it was originally posted on a public forum.

Anyway, I hope that you can see how much value I place on criticism and that it emphasises just how useful the right kind of comment can be.

Apologies in advance for some of the shorthand and abbreviations!

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I got about 40mins into it before sacking it off tbh

Movie commentary pods are tricky, some count you down to them starting to watch so when they are pointing out specific things in the film you’re watching on screen the same thing they are

I have never done this, so wasn’t bothered that you were not just talking continually about what you were seeing however you made hardly any reference at all to what scenes were unfolding or significant beats.

That was a conscious decision not to constantly refer to what was on screen all the time. When it makes sense to, we mention it (for example, for laughs (like the Del Boy and AIDs ridden Clark Kent line), or the reason some pictures are in colour, others in b&w, and the significance of this in terms of how it changes your perspective on each scene between professional/personal) but the prior agreement was that we wanted it to be more conversational. We’re fans of the movie, chatting about the movie, whilst it’s playing in the background. Rather than pretending like we’re two producers, one director and one writer etc.

So it did come across a bit under prepared, that you hoped the film itself would trigger discussion as you went along, rather than pre-empt (from notes made from earlier viewing) that something about to happen visual/sound wise was significant

Hmm I see your point, but there’s a couple of things I should clarify, I think.

Firstly, probably most obviously, Brooker, Matt and Steve were unprepared because they only found out what film we were watching not long before we, well.. watched it. I recorded their reactions when I revealed to them that we’d be watching Blair Witch, then they had about 15-20 minutes to scan for stuff. We already had an agenda sorted so it wasn’t pod-prep, just reminding themselves about it (checking IMDb, Wikipedia, Letterboxd and so on).

I don’t think that was properly clarified in the intro, but was on the website blurb that I’m not sure anyone ever reads! They have all seen the film before though and I thought we had a good range of “loves it” (Matt), “doesn’t care” (Steve) and “hates it” (Brooker).

TBF, if it didn’t work, then it’s my bad and so I apologise. Lesson learned. Steve did press me for the name of the film that morning but I wanted it to be kept secret. I won’t do that again!

Secondly, I prepared the s**t out of it and I’m a bit gutted that it doesn’t come across in the final podcast. I watched the film twice in the two days before watching it again during recording – 3 times in total! Once properly, once with the DVD commentary and I even rewatched the Curse of the Blair Witch documentary. I had about 2 pages of notes about stuff I thought significant or interesting and threw them in either at the same points the 3 producers and 2 directors/writers did on the actual commentary if it was stuff they mentioned, or just everything else whenever I thought it appropriate.

Also, the thing is, as you probably know if you’ve seen the film before, a lot of what happens in Blair Witch is almost entirely in the last 15 minutes. It’s a lot of build up, suspense building, atmosphere and foreboding before then so that’s when we decided to get out all of our material about how we reacted to the film when we first saw it, what we think of it now, all the “did you know [this]” and “did you know [that]”s.

A lot of the DVD commentaries that I’ve listened to (Day of the Dead is a good one, as is the Predator commentary and surprisingly the X-Men: The Last Stand too (because it’s hilarious listening to the people who made the film struggle to understand anything about it)) they’re almost always full of tangents and anecdotes inspired by the production of the film. I’ve listened to a fan commentary on YouTube before, probably when the idea was first suggested, but can’t remember what film it was. All I remember is thinking how boring it was to listen to someone say for every f*****g scene “this is an example of how the camera angle / colour palette / framing / etc suggests that the scene was constructed in a way to show how this thing means that so and so feels such and such blah blah f*****g blah”. I really wanted to avoid that, which is why we skirt around constantly saying what’s on screen.

I appreciate it was not an ideal film to talk about the cast’s previous roles, but what I did hear didn’t talk about future roles any of the cast or production staff went onto (a common topic of “pod commentary”) maybe that was in the second half?

I guess it must’ve been in the latter part of the film? We did talk about what happened to the cast after BWP. Not really much about the crew – in fact, one of the things I regretted afterwards when I listened back to it was we didn’t actually mention the co-directors by name at all. Seemed a huge misstep. But we definitely did mention future roles and the like.

Will make a note to include it earlier on in the film commentary in future should we do it again if that’s what people are interested in hearing about. Thanks.

No mention where the film had drawn on stylings of previous films in the genre (horror/suspense), what worked or didn’t in your opinions. You could easily have made more about on reflection how obvious the staging was or how the budget controls must have limited choices/decisions.

Good point. Don’t really have an answer for you for this! It felt like we all had quite a lot to say about the film though. We were conscious that with it being audio and probably more people listening without watching along at the same time, we didn’t want to have long pauses in the conversation. I mean, I literally didn’t edit any of the conversation – as I normally would during a regular podcast to cut down on the erms and gaps and so on – and it seemed like we were struggling to cram everything in, never mind worried about dead air.

Maybe it’s something to do with the length of the film? It’s only 80 minutes (the podcast ended up being in total one of our shortest for about 6 or 7 weeks) and we were all trying to make sure the silence was minimal…

I like the variety of the theme as a special I think the movie choice didn’t help, should have gone with something like Evil Dead 1 for low budget but lots of depth to discuss

Funny you should mention that! I’m sure it was suggested way back when we first thought up the idea of doing this style of pod. Ghostbusters, Predator, Jurassic Park, Evil Dead, and so on. We decided to focus on something cult-y, with lots of trivia behind it that we know like the back of our hand. Maybe I was a bit arrogant and picked a film I liked and that I knew a lot about, but didn’t fully consider that the others might not necessarily.

But I do think there’s a lot of depth to Blair Witch and was sure we got most of that across amongst our personal experiences with the film. But it’s hard to tell when you’re sitting on the other side of the microphone sometimes. I think I’ve mentioned before; some of the episodes I’ve really liked have gone down like a lead balloon and then suddenly others will be hugely popular. Shows what I know!

Oh and 4 is too many people for a commentary

Gonna have to disagree there, buddy. I’m not sure I can think of any commentaries off the top of my head with less than 4 people on them.

Perhaps the confusion here is in the word “commentary”. It suggests insider knowledge from someone involved with the film or with enough credibility to talk about a movie from a technical standpoint. What we do (and what we’ve always done) is try to be like sitting around with mates in the pub and chatting about films. Jackson Tyler on the pod once remarked “I thought this was a film podcast?” when we light-heartedly fobbed off some heavy critique of his about some kids film or other, and Steve aptly responded: “Nope, we’re a podcast about films.” Seems only minor but I do think there’s a crucial difference. I mean who the f**k are we to talk so comprehensively about a film? We don’t make films, we don’t work in the industry, we’re not academically or otherwise trained to assess movies. I think at best Steve is a [sports reporter], Callum’s a film student, Brooker is a writer/reviewer, Paul’s family owned cinemas, Matt worked in a cinema.. erm.. that’s it I guess so far as professionalism goes! We just watch a lot of the bloody things – and enjoy doing it. And I don’t think anybody listens to us for any other reason than that.

Sorry that was a roundabout way of me saying that it’s more of a “watch along” than a “commentary”.

And sorry for the huge post. All I wanted to do was clear it up for anyone who might’ve been thinking the same things, rather than go all weirdly cringeworthy and defensive.

4 thoughts on “Podcasting – bonus entry: Responding to constructive criticism

  1. Nicely put. If you recall, I got first got involved in Failed Critics as I was posting feedback on every episode. Perhaps the original fanboy/constructive critic of the show and look where it ended up! A rotating member of the team plus involvement in 2 other podcasts!

    Weird how things work out just from dropping some kudos 🙂

      1. Yeah, I’ve become acquainted with the myth that Podcasts are supposed be bite sized 30mins or less episodes. I think thats the view of folks who like them for commutes and going to the gym. Most of the pods I enjoy are 90mins+, including our own.

        I love getting through a couple of epic sized pods during a working day, makes working seem like fun.

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