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.

Podcasting – Part 5: How I do it

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To round off this series, I thought it would be quite nice to give you a quick overview of how each of the weekly podcasts that we release through Failed Critics actually gets made, from the first preparation stages through to the moment we send it off into the ether.

I’ll get the boring origins bit out of the way quickly, I promise. The name Failed Critics is hopefully not too accurate about our team, but is in fact a pun. There are far too many attributable quotes out there for me to name just one, but it’s often said that critics are failed artists, writers, film makers, etc. Therefore, we are the failed critics. Get it? Good.

We have a website updated almost daily with new written articles, alongside our weekly entertainment podcast.

As I choose to organise and block-book guests for the podcast quarterly, the first stage of the process is to take a look through the film calendar (filmdates.co.uk usually does the trick) and see what’s coming out over the next three months. I add all of the titles to a big spreadsheet and line up the dates for when we’ll be recording.

It’s then important to look at what anniversaries might be coming up in that period in case we need to theme that particular podcast. For example, is it Christmas? Halloween? The Academy Awards? Is there a film festival going on? Is it the first day of the summer period, and thus the first of our Summer Blockbuster previews? They’re all important to tally with the new cinema releases, especially when the films out during that week look terrible. Although we have a core number of subscribers, our download numbers spike when we’re discussing a popular film, such as Skyfall, Jurassic World, Godzilla, etc.

Next, I have to actually book the guests to appear on our show, of course. Included in that quarter’s email newsletter that I write, I invite the recipients to participate in the podcast by replying to me, listing the five episodes on the schedule that they are most interested in appearing on. I then decide who appears on which episode, ensuring no more than two guests (excluding me and our host Steve Norman) are on at a time. If there’s any more than that, it can get confusing for listeners with everyone talking at the same time.

Once every episode has been scheduled, with the guests all booked in, it’s a case of simply watching whatever films are out that week and preparing notes. I also need to keep an eye out for any related film news (for which Twitter is an invaluable tool) prior to emailing around an agenda to everyone ahead of the recording date.

As we record the episodes over Skype (using software called Pamela) and not together in person, there are no rooms or studios that need to be booked – thank God! We all meet up online at 9pm on a Monday, run through the items on the agenda and for approximately 90-120 minutes, recording everything.

As easy as it would make my life to just publish whatever the raw audio sounds like, unfortunately it’s not as simple as that. For every 90 minutes that we record, it has to be edited down – usually to about 70-80 minutes. ‘Erm’, ‘uhm’, ‘ah’, long pauses, distorted audio, mistakes, failed jokes (we all make them!) or simply just “bad bits” that didn’t work; they all have to be trimmed. Oppositely, all of our jingles, opening theme and closing credits have to be inserted using Audacity.

Once the audio file is ready, all that’s left is to write the accompanying blurb giving our subscribers some idea of what’s in the episode, before uploading it to our podcast hosts (Acast). Lastly I publicise it through our various social media channels.

It takes about ten hours per week to make sure an episode is at a standard that I’m happy with. Sometimes, if I have time, I’ll appear on other people’s podcasts too. Below are five podcasts that I’ve either recorded and edited, or just taken part in. I hope you enjoy them!

If you have any questions about any part of the process, if you’ve enjoyed the series, or even if you’re looking to start up your own podcast and simply want some advice, please leave me a comment below.


Failed Critics Podcast – Corridor of Praise: Danny Dyer – Earlier this year over at Failed Critics, we talked to film producer Jonathan Sothcott and stand up comedian James Mullinger about the career of British actor Danny Dyer. It became our most popular episode ever.

Failed Critics Podcast: Panning Pan, Suffering Suffragette and Walking The Walk – Guests Andrew Brooker and Callum Petch joined us to talk through a number of new film releases recently, as well as discussing a few other movies and TV shows that we had seen.


Black Hole Classics #2 – 2001: A Space Odyssey – I talked to Tony Black about one of the greatest films of all time, Stanley Kubrick’s science fiction masterpiece, released in 1968 (one year before the moon landing).

Black Hole Cinema – Episode 35 – I was invited onto Black Hole Cinema to discuss Everest, which had just come out in the cinemas here.


The Failed Black Wikishuffle Hole Quizcast – In a special episode, Failed Critics competed against Black Hole Cinema and Wikishuffle in a quiz-show style format for a bit of fun.

Failed Critics Podcast: An Advert!

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Never actually listened to our podcast?

Only ever read our articles on the website?

Then why not try giving the following 60 second clip promoting our podcast a quick listen as we attempt to “string a few sentences together”!


Each week on the Failed Critics Podcast, the team review the latest cinema release, talk about what else they’ve seen in the past seven days and discuss the latest news from the film world (if it happens to have crossed their Twitter feeds prior to recording). Occasionally the team will also produce a themed Triple Bill, choosing three films each that fit a particular category.

If you want in depth reviews of the key components that make an individual movie good or bad, then you’re looking in the wrong place. If you want to listen to a group of people chat about film and be occasionally humorous with it, then that’s us.

In the meantime, if you’re new to the Failed Critics podcast and want to listen to more, but aren’t sure where to join in from, then the latest episode is always the best. We hardly ever have in-jokes or call backs to podcasts older than maybe one or two weeks, so hopefully you won’t feel left out!


The Failed Critics Podcast was created by James Diamond. It’s produced by Owen Hughes and presented by Steve Norman. Including (but not limited to) contributions by: Gerry McAuley, Carole Petts, Matt Lambourne, Callum Petch, Andrew Brooker, Mike Shawcross, Paul Field and James Diamond.

All music by Kevin MacLeod of http://incompetech.com (remixed by James Yuill from episode 150 onwards)

Website: http://failedcritics.com/
Acast podcast page: http://acast.com/failedcritics/
RSS Feed: http://rss.acast.com/failedcritics (copy into your podcast management software or RSS reader)

You can also find us on Twitter (@FailedCritics) and Facebook (/failedcritics). Or email us at failedcritics@gmail.com

Failed Critics Podcast: The Failed Black Wikishuffle Hole Quizcast

Failed Critics Podcast: The Failed Black Wikishuffle Hole Quizcast

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Welcome to the Failed Critics podcast– or should I say, “quizcast”! For the first time in Failed Critics history, we’re teaming up with some fellow podcasters for 60 minutes of quizzing.

With our regular host Steve Norman in the quiz master’s chair, it was up to Owen Hughes and Matt Lambourne to represent Failed Critics. Up against them, from the weekly film review podcast Black Hole Cinema, was Tony Black and Matt Latham. The third and final team on the quiz (and the only non-film related podcast) was Wikishuffle, with Jack Stewart, Chris Wallace and Phil Sharman. Claims of shenanigans were respectfully kept to a minimum, although promises to rein in competitiveness were hastily abandoned during the first round.

Feel free to play along and post your score in the comments box below – or tweet it to @FailedCritics, @Wikishufflepod or @BlackHoleCinema! There’s no prizes for beating us. Only pride and dignity are at stake here.

We’ll be back to normal next week with our Avengers: Age of Ultron podcast. Until then why not catch up with our special Avengers Minisode previews for Marvel’s next big blockbuster?

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Failed Critics Podcast: Don’t Laugh, We’re Being Cool

Failed Critics Podcast: Don’t Laugh, We’re Being Cool

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We are alive, we are consciousness, we are reviewing Neil Blomkamp’s latest science fiction action thriller, Chappie. By “we”, that of course refers to podcast regulars Steve Norman and Owen Hughes, who are joined this week by Andrew Brooker (for the second week in a row) and Jack Stewart from Not This Again making his Failed Critics debut.

The news section this week sees the group discuss the hype (or apparent lack of) for the latest Avengers: Age of Ultron trailer and the announcement that Tim Burton will be remaking the Disney classic Dumbo, which causes a collective groan.

Also on the podcast this week: Steve blames his girlfriend for taking him to see J-Lo’s erotic thriller The Boy Next Door and somehow ends up on the topic of Babestation; Jack explains exactly why he (quite rightly) loves the classic David Simon war drama Generation Kill; Brooker juxtaposes a review of the emotional drama Still Alice with a chat about the action-packed TV show Vikings; and Owen runs through his favourite and least favourite segments of the portmanteau horror The ABCs of Death 2.

Join us again next week for another hour or so of film and banter from us, as guaranteed by Steve.

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Failed Critics Podcast: Oscars 2015 Special

Failed Critics Podcast: Oscars 2015 Special

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Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to this glitzy star-studded episode of the Failed Critics Podcast, brought to you by Matt Lambourne’s well tickled bottom, in association with Paul Field’s Slander.

Steve Norman is donning his sharpest tuxedo to present the podcast, whilst Owen Hughes runs around backstage like a lunatic handing out golden envelopes as we reveal the results of the 87th Academy Awards – and more importantly, we discuss which categories that we correctly predicted last week.

There’s also the nail biting conclusion to the quiz, which is tied at 2-2. Just what the hell has Steve been teasing Owen with this past month?! Speaking of teasing, Matt finally gets bummed out over 50 Shades of Grey, whilst Paul prefers his erotic-drama to be more art-house with The Duke of Burgundy. Meanwhile, Owen explains why Project Almanac is a waste of time and Steve has his Cake Ann-iston’s it [literally the worst pun I’ve written in my entire life].

We’ll be back the same time next week with more reviews and movie chat.

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Failed Critics Podcast: Your Unconventional Desire

Failed Critics Podcast: Your Unconventional Desire

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As always, your illustrious host Steve Norman and ever present Owen Hughes lead the way through a tightly packed episode. Coming into your earholes to review the 18-rated, arse-ticklingly rude 50 Shades of Grey is Failed Critics debutant, Paul Field. Also joining them this week is Matt Lambourne, mainly so he can recount the story of why he didn’t see the (not so) erotic flick.

The team also craftily knocked out reviews for two other new releases before climaxing with 50 Shades of Grey, as Will Smith’s latest con-film Focus, as well as mind-bending time-travel thriller Predestination also get the once over.

They also somehow found room to squeeze in an extra couple of reviews. Paul filled us in on Korean revenge film I Saw The Devil (as reviewed in the Half Decade In Film article this week); Owen got slightly topical with space-hopping sci-fi Virtuality; and our pal Matt welcomed Die Hard and Enter The Dragon to the party.

Tune in again next week to hear less innuendos, in addition to the results of our Academy Award prediction quiz.

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For your chance to win a few crumby randomly selected second hand DVD’s that we no longer want, simply comment on this article with your picks for each of the 11 categories below! The winner will be the entrant with the most correct guesses. In the event of a tie, the winner will be chosen at random. The term ‘winner’ is used lightly.

1 – Best Picture
American Sniper – Clint Eastwood, Robert Lorenz, Andrew Lazar, Bradley Cooper and Peter Morgan
Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance) – Alejandro González Iñárritu, John Lesher and James W. Skotchdopole
Boyhood – Richard Linklater and Cathleen Sutherland
The Grand Budapest Hotel – Wes Anderson, Scott Rudin, Steven Rales and Jeremy Dawson
The Imitation Game – Nora Grossman, Ido Ostrowsky and Teddy Schwarzman
Selma – Christian Colson, Oprah Winfrey, Dede Gardner and Jeremy Kleiner
The Theory of Everything – Tim Bevan, Eric Fellner, Lisa Bruce and Anthony McCarten
Whiplash – Jason Blum, Helen Estabrook and David Lancaster

2 – Best Director
Wes Anderson – The Grand Budapest Hotel
Alejandro González Iñárritu – Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)
Richard Linklater – Boyhood
Bennett Miller – Foxcatcher
Morten Tyldum – The Imitation Game

3 – Best Actor
Steve Carell – Foxcatcher as John Eleuthère du Pont
Bradley Cooper – American Sniper as Chris Kyle
Benedict Cumberbatch – The Imitation Game as Alan Turing
Michael Keaton – Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance) as Riggan Thomson / Birdman
Eddie Redmayne – The Theory of Everything as Stephen Hawking

4 – Best Actress
Marion Cotillard – Two Days, One Night as Sandra Bya
Felicity Jones – The Theory of Everything as Jane Wilde Hawking
Julianne Moore – Still Alice as Dr. Alice Howland
Rosamund Pike – Gone Girl as Amy Elliott-Dunne
Reese Witherspoon – Wild as Cheryl Strayed

5 – Best Supporting Actor
Robert Duvall – The Judge as Judge Joseph Palmer
Ethan Hawke – Boyhood as Mason Evans, Sr.
Edward Norton – Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance) as Mike Shiner
Mark Ruffalo – Foxcatcher as Dave Schultz
J. K. Simmons – Whiplash as Terence Fletcher

6 – Best Supporting Actress
Patricia Arquette – Boyhood as Olivia Evans
Laura Dern – Wild as Barbara “Bobbi” Grey
Keira Knightley – The Imitation Game as Joan Clarke
Emma Stone – Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance) as Sam Thomson
Meryl Streep – Into the Woods as The Witch

7 – Best Original Screenplay
Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance) – Alejandro González Iñárritu, Nicolás Giacobone, Alexander Dinelaris, Jr. and Armando Bo
Boyhood – Richard Linklater
Foxcatcher – E. Max Frye and Dan Futterman
The Grand Budapest Hotel – Wes Anderson and Hugo Guinness
Nightcrawler – Dan Gilroy

8 – Best Adapted Screenplay
American Sniper – Jason Hall from American Sniper by Chris Kyle, Scott McEwen and Jim DeFelice
The Imitation Game – Graham Moore from Alan Turing: The Enigma by Andrew Hodges
Inherent Vice – Paul Thomas Anderson from Inherent Vice by Thomas Pynchon
The Theory of Everything – Anthony McCarten from Travelling to Infinity: My Life with Stephen by Jane Wilde Hawking
Whiplash – Damien Chazelle from his short film of the same name

9 – Best Animated Feature Film
Big Hero 6 – Don Hall, Chris Williams and Roy Conli
The Boxtrolls – Anthony Stacchi, Graham Annable and Travis Knight
How to Train Your Dragon 2 – Dean DeBlois and Bonnie Arnold
Song of the Sea – Tomm Moore and Paul Young
The Tale of the Princess Kaguya – Isao Takahata and Yoshiaki Nishimura

10 – Best Foreign Language Film
Ida (Poland) in Polish – Paweł Pawlikowski
Leviathan (Russia) in Russian – Andrey Zvyagintsev
Tangerines (Estonia) in Estonian and Russian – Zaza Urushadze
Timbuktu (Mauritania) in French – Abderrahmane Sissako
Wild Tales (Argentina) in Spanish – Damián Szifrón

11 – Best Documentary – Feature
Citizenfour – Laura Poitras, Mathilde Bonnefoy and Dirk Wilutsky
Finding Vivian Maier – John Maloof and Charlie Siskel
Last Days in Vietnam – Rory Kennedy and Keven McAlester
The Salt of the Earth – Wim Wenders, Lélia Wanick Salgado and David Rosier
Virunga – Orlando von Einsiedel and Joanna Natasegara