Don’t fix it in post when you can get it right the first time

So last night Kelly asked if I was done with episode 26 of my unofficial Fullmetal Alchemist podcast, and I said that I’d finally finished the script after about five hours over three nights. Given the long lull in producing regular episodes (see Developers should be content experts too for why I’m trying to restart), I’d forgotten just how much time goes into it, especially in the very podcast-atypical step of writing a full 15-25 page script for every episode. “I spend a hell of a lot more time in pre-production than production,” I whined.

“Sounds about right,” she replied.

And she’s right, of course. It’s easy to forget when you’ve got all these powerful tools to do so much work for you, but one of the pivotal lessons you learn in film or TV school (we both did the latter), is that you should and will several times more hours in pre-production than in production.

In the old days, that was an economic necessity: studio time (or, heaven forbid, a location shoot) was too expensive a commodity to waste. But when the studio is your laptop, then that budgetary concern goes away. Still, the advantage of pre-production is obvious, if underappreciated: knowing what you’re doing ahead of time always gives you an advantage. In my case, instead of analyzing an episode through the ancient and sacred technique of pulling it out of my butt, and then editing out the “um”s, “ah’s, and dead-end sidetracks, I can instead nail down exactly what I want to say, and get it tracked and mixed with music and clips from the show in about two hours. Plus, my vocal delivery is much stronger when I know exactly what I’m saying than if I were thinking on my feet (though at least one iTunes review complains that it’s “obvious” I’m working from a script, and rushing it, meaning I have some performance-side issues to address).

Even on a round-table style podcast, there’s still a pre-production step of working out a list of topics beforehand, a step that’s openly acknowledged on podcasts like The Java Posse, where they talk about sharing their notes over Google Docs & Spreadsheets. Conversations that don’t at least consider what they’re going to talk about — or indeed, why they’re talking on a podcast at all — tend not to be interesting or make it past a handful of episodes.

By the way, if you want to hear what a breathtakingly good scripted podcast sounds like, try the Todd Rundgren Connection “Brief History of Todd” podcasts. The producers have taken decades of recordings (CD’s, concert bootlegs, radio interviews, etc.) and use a text-to-speech narrator to tell the musical biography of their favorite artist. The narration is never long-winded, they make great use of their audio assets, and despite the project’s massive scope, they keep episodes down to a very listenable 30 minutes. In terms of technique and content, it’s probably the best podcast I listen to.

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