It’s that glorious time of year: fall movie season! More specifically, it’s that slot in the calendar, just slightly after the scrum of film festivals and as the first waves of awards-buzz flicks begin to trickle out, when my brain suddenly shifts toward fixating on Oscar trivia, awards betting odds, and new movie release schedules at my local independent cinema here in Middle America, with its extensive lag in distributing new releases.
To commemorate the occasion, I thought it would be fun to wrap a whole newsletter around the vibrant genre of film podcasts. (Fun fact: Film podcasts were the very first podcasts I got into when I initially became a fan of the medium. Shoutout to the OG Filmspotting.) To that end, I reached out to New York film critic Bilge Ebiri, who happens to be a patron of, and an exceptionally prolific guest on, such programs.
Nick Quah: I get the sense, just from following your Twitter feed over the years, that you listen to film podcasts a fair bit. What’s in your rotation?
Bilge Ebiri: It’s weird, because I don’t think of myself as a big film-podcast listener. I mostly listen to sports and basketball podcasts — mainly because I can’t stand to read sports coverage — and I often prefer to read about films than to hear about films. I have been a guest on a lot of podcasts. I like doing them, and they’re all very interesting people. When I’m invited on a podcast, I listen to as many of them as I can before I jump on to get a sense of what they’re like. Very often, I’ll stick around and dip in when it’s an actor or a director or a guest I’m interested in.
The ones I do listen to are ones I feel guilty about not listening to all the time. One of them is Cows in the Field. It’s by Justin Khoo and his wife, Laura, both of whom are blindingly smart. Justin actually teaches philosophy at MIT. It’s one of the few podcasts that I will listen to even if it’s a movie I’m not necessarily interested in or a movie I’ve never heard about, which is rare. They bring a level of … “elevated discourse” is maybe not the right word, but they’re able to tackle deep philosophical themes with these movies in a way many movie podcasts tend not to. They’ll engage you on the ideas in a movie, so you wind up doing some work when you’re speaking with them.
Another one I like is Light the Fuse. It’s mostly about Mission: Impossible, but they’ll occasionally go off and do another movie that’s somehow related. Recently, they did a few episodes around Top Gun, and they call that series Light the Fuselage. It’s probably the best podcast to listen to if you’re at all interested in the craft of making films. Most of their guests are people who’ve worked on Mission: Impossible movies or adjacent films — for example, they had Joseph Kosinski on, who directed Top Gun: Maverick, or Eddie Hamilton, who edited Top Gun. They’ll talk to editors, sound designers, assistant cameramen. The nice thing about bringing on these people is that they actually get into the nitty-gritty. Especially when they’re talking about movies from the past, the bullshit just goes away. People aren’t in promo mode. And because these are often below-the-line people who aren’t media trained, you can get a lot of great stories.
They also keep the podcast short, which I appreciate. I don’t mind long podcasts, like, you know, the Blank Check guys. I’ve been on that show a couple of times, too. They do a good job with the epic two- or three-hour podcasts, but my problem is that I’ll start listening to one for about an hour, and I’ll love it, but I’ll never finish it because my walk is over or the dishes are done, you know?
There are all these other little podcasts I’ve really enjoyed doing and listening to. Exiting Through the 2010s, which is kind of focused on movies from the 2010s. The B-Side. Oeuvre Busters, which I can’t tell if it’s around any more. [Nick’s note: They are, but have since rebranded as Rohmercast.] They would do deep dives on specific filmmakers. It’s another podcast like Cows in the Field, where the hosts were really well prepared, everyone knew their stuff, and we talked about heady concepts. Cannes I Kick It, which looks at films from a particular festival slate and uses it as an excuse to talk about different directors. I went on there to talk about Claire Denis, who famously has not been to many Cannes festivals. The Film Stage Show is one I was just on to talk about Three Thousand Years of Longing. One of the hosts and I got into a brief shouting match, which was fun. It can be fun if you’re all agreeing about a movie, but I really enjoy it when there’s a real give and take. I don’t get to do that much in my daily life. I mean, I’ll see fellow critics at screenings and stuff, but we don’t really talk that much. I’m home with my wife and son, and sometimes my son sees the movies I see, but not that often. I think whenever I show him a movie, he just feels obligated to say he likes it.
I really like Watch With Jen™. It’s Jen Johans’s podcast, who I think is based out of Arizona, and she’ll have guests on to talk about a specific subject and then multiple films around that subject. I guested on an episode where we talked about Colin Farrell movies, and in a couple of weeks I’ll get back on to talk about Ralph Fiennes movies. They’re pegged to movies that are coming out, but it’s a chance to talk about these older films, and for me to revisit these older films, which is something I really enjoy doing.
Of course, I love the podcasts by my friend Blake Howard, who made One Heat Minute, which was such a great project. [Nick’s note: It was — the premise involves dedicating each episode to talking about a different minute in Michael Mann’s iconic film Heat.] Blake has since become a podcast impresario. He’s done all of these other different projects, and I’m astounded by how enthusiastic he still manages to be for a guy who appears to be doing multiple podcasts a day. After One Heat Minute, he did All the President’s Minutes, which was phenomenal. He also made a Zodiac series, which was wonderful, and much more scripted. He does Miami Nice with Katie Walsh, and you know, I love Miami Vice. It started off with them just talking about Miami Vice and how much they loved it and it sort of grew and grew and grew. Now they’ll get a guy who was Colin Farrell’s assistant on that movie. It’s become more granular, and more gossipy, which is great.
Nick Quah: It strikes me that film podcasts are uniquely good at plugging into two modes of engagement that’s prominent with movie culture: deep, almost-exegetical analysis, and nostalgic ephemera. It’s kind of a space for extreme processing of history, basically.
Bilge Ebiri: That’s the thing. I like to write about older films, and it’s fascinating to me how little of the past has managed to be preserved in the online era. We thought the internet was going to be this thing that preserved everything; we didn’t have to remember things because the internet was gonna remember it all for us. But the opposite happened, and we realized, “Oh right, the internet remembering everything doesn’t mean anything if we don’t remember it ourselves.” So you have all this stuff that basically only exists in the minds of people who … well, are old. I like a lot of these podcasts because they actually talk about older films. It’s a way to talk about them without having to come up with a take or pegging it to an anniversary.
Though there are some I like that are more news updates, like the [horror-centric] New Flesh podcast. I like Disaster Girls, by Jordan Crucchiola (who used to work at Vulture) and Amanda Smith, where they’re just talking about disaster movies. There are so many of them that they just have infinite opportunities to talk about these movies. I love that; podcasts that are built around a specific subject like that. In a way, blogs used to do that. There’d be a blog dedicated to this or that type of movie. I see less and less of those today, and yeah, I guess they’ve kind of migrated to podcasts.
Nick Quah: Do you get the sense if film criticism, and perhaps criticism more generally, is shifting to these other digital spaces? Or, perhaps, if you were trying to find your way into criticism, making a podcast or making YouTube essays could be a way to wedge open the door?
Bilge Ebiri: This is the thing: I don’t watch anything on YouTube. Not because I think they’re bad or anything like that. It’s just a habit from being in the office where I feel like if I’m watching a YouTube video, I’m not doing my job. Whereas a podcast you listen to while you’re multitasking. I can’t really write when I’m listening to a podcast, but I can do a million other things.
As for the criticism thing, I don’t know if that’s a way in so much as that’s a way to go further in that space. I remember, one of the first podcasts I ever did was The Cinephiliacs, which was started by Peter Labuza. At the time, he was working at a legal office. Young guy. Grad school, if I remember correctly. We came in after hours at the legal office and we’d sit in the conference room — he had permission to do it — and he’d set up the microphone and everything. Then he would grill the guest, usually critics, for about an hour about their career and stuff, and then talk about a movie. That was a really fun podcast to do, and Peter was really, really smart. He continued on, and I think he’s now … an academic, I wanna say. [Nick’s note: Labuza is now a researcher with the International Cinematographers Guild. Also, Ebiri’s very first film podcast experience was on Filmwax Radio, an interview show hosted by Adam Schartoff, which started way back in 2011.]
A podcast, I think, can be a way to move forward, but I don’t know if there are many cases of someone who just did a podcast who then left to another medium, because they require quite different skills. A lot of writers, they’ll have their regular gig or whatever, but then they’ll also have a podcast, which gets them in front of a different audience. I find that when I do a podcast, you know, I’ll get a lot of new followers who are younger. I don’t know if that correlates, but that’s been my impression.
Nick Quah: Last question. As we get closer to the NBA season: favorite basketball podcast?
Bilge Ebiri: Oh, so I have three, and I listen to every episode of these. There’s the Glue Guys podcast, which is basically two Nets fans. They’re under The Athletic, so they love to talk about how they’re now a subsidiary of the New York Times. They don’t do a lot of in-game analysis. They mostly talk a little bit about a game, but they talk a lot about just like the vibe around the Nets.
I really like the Brooklyn Buzz podcast, um, which is again, two Nets fans. One of them is actually in Australia, Jack Manuel, which is funny because he’s been a Nets fan for years before they got all these Australian players. They’re a fun podcast because Jack gets very emotional about the Nets. He’ll get very emotional about the game and start yelling and screaming and stuff, which is great.
And the last one is Locked On Nets. They actually feel like they’ve been following the Nets for longer than anybody because they have a real sense of perspective and just have a reflective quality about them. I really appreciate that, because one thing I’ve found with a lot of sports podcasts is that no one … I mean, we talked about film and people not having any memory, but compared to sports-podcast people, film-podcast people are like elephants!