Great movie podcasts are surprisingly difficult to make. It seems like it would be easy. Just get some of your friends together, open up some cold beverages, hit record and chat with your friends about the latest Marvel flick, right? You can do that, sure. But, if a podcast doesn't include planning, quality recording and editing, it's just a bunch of people talking about a thing.
Movies are generally something people like, or, at least, have an opinion about. So, a podcast about movies should be popular, right? We know that if a podcast isn't specific about its topic, style, and audience, it doesn't stand out. We also know that if a podcast has a niche, something which makes it targeted, focused and specific, it's more likely to cultivate a loyal audience.
Podnews published a list of how many podcasts exist in each of Apple' Podcasts' categories In December of 2020. At the time, there were 6,872 podcasts in the “film” categories combined. It's not easy to stand out. But, if you love movies, film theory and the industry, this is for you.
In no particular order, here are five great movie podcasts. They stand out because of quality editing and mixing, thoughtful planning, and what they add to a cinephile's experience.
You Must Remember This
Subtitled “The Secret and/or Forgotten History of Hollywood's First Century,” Karina Longworth's You Must Remember This has been one of the biggest movie podcasts for six years. When I say big, I'm talking about in terms of scope, depth of research and detail, and layers of sound. Longworth started out balancing a laptop in a closet, and grew this podcast with careful research, finding connections between the film industry, private lives, and themes and styles of movies. Seasons focus on Hollywood sagas, such as the treadmill at MGM, or the connection between Manson, The Beach Boys, and Roman Polanski. The podcast shows America and its vanity, at turns glamorous or grim. Don't miss the episode, “MGM's Children: Mickey Rooney and Judy Garland,” including Dana Carvey's funny and affecting voice acting as Rooney.
Mary vs. The Movies
The 1980s and 1990s were a good time for movies in America. Not only were movie theaters the place to go, but also, home video systems and cable TV made distribution easier than before. Unfortunately, Mary missed out on this cinematic boom. At the time, she was too young to appreciate Fitzcarraldo, 9 to 5, or Desperately Seeing Susan. Mary vs. The Movies is a deep dive into under-appreciated movies. What makes this a great movie podcast is the quality of discourse and sound editing. She and her partner Dennis are also musicians, so they know their way around a studio setup. She's also a classics scholar, so she knows her way around narrative and structure. The theme which makes this podcast stand out is, how an appreciation for a movie changes over time. The most poignant episode examines the Studio Ghibli film, My Neighbor Totoro. Come for the flying cat bus, stay for the intersection of childhood, mortality, and magic.
Bill Watches Movies
If you like Mystery Science Theater 3000, or if you grew up with late-night movie hosts like Dr. Shock, then Bill Watches Movies is your jam. Bill Mize takes it upon himself to watch the weirdest B movies and explain them for you, so you don't have to suffer. What makes this a great movie podcast is how incredibly deep these cuts are. Bill picks out monster movies way outside the Hammer Studios and Hollywood factories. Monster movies from Spain, Mexican vampire movies, Japanese sci-fi, and the oeuvre of auteur Craig Denny are just a few of the cinematic wonders that Bill Mize dissects for you. All this comes with a sense of humor as poetically absurd as Christopher Durang on Jolt Cola. If “You Must Remember This” serves you the mainstream pop culture zeitgeist, Bill Mize has his finger on the pulse of weirdo underdog culture, and he's making sure it stays healthy.
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Black Film Space Podcast
People of color, particularly African Americans, have been underrepresented, overlooked, or exploited in the film industry since its beginning. That's changing, particularly with more black-owned studios and production companies, and Academy Award wins for films such as Moonlight or Get Out. But, Black filmmakers still need the connections more easily afforded to their white peers. The Black Film Space Podcast not only examines movies and talent, but also, how to get hired in the movie and TV industry, or produce, market and distribute films. It's a win-win for movie lovers, whether you love behind the scenes education or the fun of the silver screen. Primarily, their organization exists to build a community for filmmakers of African descent. Their commitment to their topic and community building makes it an even better podcast. Every episode has value for anyone who loves how movies are made, and what they can do.
The Bechdel Cast
The Bechdel Test, also known as The Bechdel-Wallace test, is a measure of representation of women in fiction (movies, novels, podcasts, etc.). Essentially, the work of fiction must include two women, who, at some point, talk about something other than a man. MacArthur-Award-winning cartoonist Alison Bechdel pointed this out in 1985. The test is imperfect, and it doesn't fix anything. But it gives us a way of discussing equality and representation in mainstream cinema. Which, of course, brings us to The Bechdel Cast.
In each episode, hosts Jamie Loftus and Caitlin Durante, examine a movie through an intersectional feminist lens. The hosts' backgrounds are in comedy and screenwriting, so the overall tone is lighthearted. What makes this a great movie podcast, though, is that often their guests and discussions help them use the film to explain larger concepts in history and culture. For example, their recent episode about The Handmaiden includes discussion of Japan's annexation of South Korea from 1910-1945. It's not easy for a podcast to balance intersectional feminism, history, and fun. The Bechdel Cast does a great job managing this balancing act.
What Makes a Great Movie Podcast?
This is another one of those questions like, “how long is a piece of string.” But, considering these podcasts, I think there are some consistent qualities that make a great movie podcast great.
- High quality of sound editing and mixing. Don't distract your audience with the lawn mower outside your window while you record.
- Planning and attention to detail. Do your research, know what's different or significant about this movie, for each episode. Know what you want to do before you start recording.
- Context. Figure out the “so what” factor. Why is it important to talk about this particular movie, for you and for the audience? Why should the audience listen to you talk about the movie, when they could simply watch it themselves?
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