Snap Judgment, one of three new shows conceived from the CPB-backed Public Radio Talent Quest, has become a whirlwind of multimedia production with the launch of its weekly radio programs in July, live stage shows, and television piloting.
“We kind of just go-go-go all the time,” says Mark Ristich, co-executive producer with Glynn Washington, a Talent Quest winner who is host and creator of the series. “We’re going to try to keep the content as fresh as possible, because we’ll lose people if we don’t.”
The small production team is busy creating 26 weekly radio episodes and a series of live storytelling performances, the first of which was recorded in June at San Francisco’s Brava Theater. The performances will be adapted for radio and television programs.
Public TV’s World multicast channel, now in redevelopment at Boston’s WGBH, is considering picking up the TV pilots, which mix segments from the live shows with short films and animations. “We’re going to rock the small screen with the same intensity as we’re rocking the radio,” says Washington, who was one of three contestants who won pilot funding and a shot at public media stardom through Public Radio Exchange’s online talent contest in 2007.
On the Web, Snap Judgment is deep into social media and open to submissions. Its website at snapjudgment.org and its iPhone app facilitate the telling and sharing of stories. “We are really serious about creating a digital infrastructure for kicking this out to our digital community,” Washington says.
The radio show brands itself as “storytelling with a beat.” It launched into weekly production last month under joint distribution by NPR and PRX.
It is “essentially a Radio Lab-style production — extremely intense,” Washington says. Each installment creates soundscapes of music, audio clip samples from movies and TV, and real and imagined personal narratives that follow the episode’s theme. Among the first broadcasts was a collection “origin stories” of superheroes, for example, and “Warning Signs,” about the clues the universe gives you before it knocks you upside the head. Washington hosts the show and tells one story in each episode; his producers contribute their own first-person narratives and record stories by others, bringing new voices into the mix.
The producers’ challenge for each radio show is “how to get to the story quickly, how to get people hooked,” Washington says. They push to rid each piece of bland exposition and “create a soundscape that puts people into the story immediately.”
“We take a very cinematic approach to radio,” says Ristich. “There’s a heavy use of scoring and it’s very story-driven. It has the same rules as cinema that you have to keep the action going.”
Washington and Ristich are old friends who have collaborated on storytelling and media-making since they met in the early 1990s in Michigan. “We’ve done other creative projects in the past but nothing on this level,” Washington says. Now they’re partners in Snap Judgment Studios, a start-up production shop in Oakland, Calif., powered by a collection of media pros and gung-ho interns. Senior producers are Roman Mars, a Bay Area indie producer and sound designer who also curates and produces mixes PRX’s experimental XM satellite radio channel Remix (136), and reality TV veteran Rebecca Hertz.
Snap Judgment is one of three new productions funded by CPB though the 2007-08 Public Radio Talent Quest, which set out to scout and recruit a new generation of public radio stars. Through two different search processes — an online casting call managed by Public Radio Exchange and a traditional recruiting process led by Launch Productions, LLC, a partnership of three public radio producers — three different aspiring hosts won CPB grants in 2008 for research and development. Subsequent CPB production grants also backed new programs for fall broadcast from:
- Majora Carter, recruited in the Talent Quest by scouts from Launch Productions, will return with new installments of The Promised Land, a series that profiles visionary leaders “who see potential in unlikely places.” Five new programs are to be released through distributor American Public Media; another batch of five arrives next spring. Marge Ostroushko is e.p. with program producers Mary Beth Kirchner and Emily Botein.
- Al Letson, one of two winners from PRX’s online contest, is wrapping preproduction of the second season of State of the Re:Union, a radio show, website, and series of short video documentaries journeying to diverse American communities to discover what unites rather than divides the people who live there.
The first season of Re:Union was distributed this spring by NPR and Public Radio Exchange, and was carried by 178 stations, according to Brenton Crozier, multimedia producer.
Five new Re:Union programs — exploring the Twin Cities of Minnesota; Espanola, N.M.; Austin, Texas; Los Angeles and Appalachia — will be released for public radio broadcasts in September, Crozier says. The Florida-based production team is also planning the first annual State of the Re:Union fundraiser, a celebratory event to be held at the Jacksonville Public Library on Sept. 8.