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Monday, August 14, 2006

Shadow Falls Review

One requirement to be an audio dramatist in this place and time is a kind of blind faith in the future. If you’re going to produce audio, you have to believe things will improve for the art form. You have to believe the audience is out there waiting to be discovered like a lost tribe on some remote South Pacific Island, primitive people who still listen to radio drama having heard not of Satellite TV and X-Box. And while much of a producer’s time is spent telling him or her self little lies about how things really aren’t as bleak as they appear, now and then we receive actual boosts from the cruel world out there.

One such boost is the new podcast series ‘Shadow Falls’ from some guys called Podshow L.A. The show is a kind of X-Files or Twin Peaks for audio, and it’s the most professionally produced thing I’ve heard yet created specifically for podcast. The creative mind behind Shadow Falls is Mark Yoshimoto Nemcoff. I don’t know anything about him other than what I can infer from the show, which is that he knows his way around audio drama. Acting, script and storyline of Shadow Falls are excellent and accessible to a modern audience. By that I mean that it could be adapted to modern television without much trouble. And I mean that as a compliment.

There’s no private detective voice over, no thin synthesizer music, and no wooden-reads from the minor characters (these being the top three curses of New Time Radio, IMHO). The actors are all professional, the show is loaded with new music, including a dark and hip title single that plays out in its entirety at the end of each episode, and the production values are the best I’ve heard outside of ZBS. Plus, Adam Curry, the patron saint of podcasting, is given an Executive Producer Credit. You can’t get much more connected than that.

I have my problems with Shadow Falls. There are many many characters, and though the director did a fair job of establishing unique voices for each of them, it’s still tough to tell everyone apart. This is particularly challenging given the nature of the story. Shadow Falls, like all broadcast dramas these days, requires fans to follow each and every installment to keep track of the convoluted storyline. It will be interesting to see if Nemcoff can keep all the characters ‘on stage’ often enough for the listeners to keep track of them all. Take all this with a grain of salt,. I’ve never had much time for dramas with large casts. I couldn’t even get past the first Prancing Pony scene in the BBC’s Lord of the Rings.

There are occasional bits and pieces of dialog that smack of ‘First Draft Theater’. At the beginning of Episode Two, for example, our Narrator, the mysterious Molly, gives us a little history lesson of Shadow Falls beginning with French ‘Missionaries’ shooting all Native American’s on sight. In the rest of the scene, the French are referred to as ‘Settlers’ which makes a lot more sense when it comes to the shooting. Missionaries did a lot of damage in the new world, but most of it was unintentional. The point of going on a mission was to reach the natives and turn them into brown Europeans. Tough to do that if you shoot them all on site. That’s the kind of nit-picky error that story conferences are designed to catch.

I had some misgivings about the show’s sound design after episode one, but those were alleviated by episode two. E2 features a far more complex and layered design with music running throughout and much more Foley. This is important because podcasting is changing audio into a headphone medium once and for all. People listen to these shows with ear buds, and that gives us producers the chance to be more detailed and layered in our designs. Episode One of Shadow Falls featured little more than a few drop-in effects like footsteps and door knocks, and the music seemed more traditionally positioned between scenes. Heard on headphones, the overall effect was rather thin and weak. I hope Nemcoff and his crew get even more aggressive in the future, using sharper pans and more ambient sound effects to really create that world in between our ears.

If and when we finally arrive at Mass Audience Land, Shadow Falls is going to be seen as one of the shows that got us there. My hope now is that Mr Nemcoff and company can use the resources they appear to have to further the art form and find ways to engage modern audiences. This is going to take a lot of experimentation and work, and I hope Nemcoff, who is also a screen and TV writer, has enough commitment to audio to stay the course to its end. Yeah, I know. I’m saying this for selfish reasons. But if someone has to blaze the trail, and it isn’t going to be me (as it appears it won’t be) Nemcoff would appear to be a likely candidate.

Shadow Falls is available at

4 Comments:

Blogger Rich said...

I didn't catch where Shadowfalls is available at... your post trailed off.

3:46 PM  
Blogger Viator said...

After listening to episodes one and two of "Shadow Falls" (which I found available from the iTunes podcast directory), I must say I'm surprised that for all the obvious time, effort, and (presumably) money that went into making such a great-sounding product in terms of production values, its creators were content to ransack every tired contrivance they could think of to cobble together the "script." I found myself anticipating whole lines of dialogue and plot twists. Which admittedly isn't all bad. It's the old stories that we all love hearing repeated, after all, the familiar myth themes and the same hero we recognize no matter which of his thousand faces he happens to be wearing for this tale or that. But if we do acknowledge that there is nothing new under the sun, and pipe the call anyway and marshall the players to their marks, mightn't we at least give the sets a fresh coat of paint? Or allow a bit of nuance, some traces of irony? If the powerful play is going to go right on along with or without us, it makes sense to seize the scene, to shout out your lines and try for a moment to be heard in the gale, try for a little splash anyway as your bread hits the dark, moonless sea. But the philosopher--and any actor who has survived to act and not starve or sell insurance must be one--would realize that hystrionics are nothing to the void.
Why, then, do the good citizens of Shadow Falls insist on delivering every line as if on the opening night of the Jr. High play? Chewing up the scenery is one thing, but swallowing? I am very much afraid that their dyspepsia became mine as I listened.

Still, I am grateful for Jeff's directing us to the gloomy borders of Shadow Falls (as he has directed me to all manner of delights audio and celluloid), not only because it is good to see what is happening in the wide world of audio drama, but also because I there found a link to "How to Succeed in Evil," also casting to a Pod near you. Production values decent at best, but what delicious fun we have right along with its auter!

Granted, these are two very different productions meant to set very distinct moods for particular tastes. Perhaps I am too hard on "Shadow Falls," and will find it better going in subsequent episodes.

12:36 PM  
Blogger Larry Santoro said...

Shadow Falls is at http://shadowfalls.podshow.com/

5:04 PM  
Blogger Crayon said...

Yeah this show actually intreduced me to the art form of the radio drama, and i'm excited. I'm writing one we speak about my job and being 18 years old and all of that, actually i started a Shadow Falls myspace group at

http://groups.myspace.com/shadowfalls

but right on to podcasting, that stuff's the future, i have a podcast actually, http://nep.podshow.com and i'm guessing you guys do too, what are yours?

6:10 PM  

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