This is the first interview in the new Podcast Spotlight series at 365 Star Wars. Throughout the year we’ll be highlighting Star Wars podcasts and podcasters – some you’ve probably listened to for years, others will hopefully be new discoveries.
I wanted to start off this series with a podcast that started around the same time as the 365 Days of Star Wars Women project and has a similar passion about shining a light on behind the scenes Star Wars stories. I sent Brandon Wainerdi, the host of Talking Bay 94, a few questions via email for this interview.
Tell me a little bit about your background – what was your introduction to Star Wars and what are some of your favorite Star Wars films/TV shows/books/etc. and characters?
My first real memories of Star Wars came during the Special Editions in 1997. Getting to see the originals on the big screen, and even getting to feel that “event” mentality that surrounded a Star Wars release (action figures, promos, fast food tie-ins) just hooked me. (And, also, I was five-years-old, so that was really the perfect time for Star Wars to come around and take over my life.)
So, I always have to go with the original Star Wars as my favorite movie, if only because I literally wore that VHS down (which also had my first special feature on it: the five minutes before the movie began with George talking about CG dewbacks and Jabba).
Growing up, I was reading every EU book I could get my hands on, from Young Jedi Knights to the New Jedi Order, and devouring every bonus feature on any DVD re-release and the early days of YouTube, TheForce.Net and Blue Harvest (RIP). From really early on, that behind-the-scenes aspect of Star Wars has become my favorite part of the fandom, from the stories of ILM ingenuity to the Joseph Campbell story structure.
When did you get the idea for Talking Bay 94? Was it always going to be a podcast? Had you done podcasts before?
The Talking Bay 94 “origin story” really all boils down to Christmas 2017, driving around my hometown, listening to dozens of Blast Points episodes because I had read about them on The A.V. Club. At the time, I was running a Dallas-based pop culture website (www.SuperKaiju.com), and I was so inspired that I immediately texted (my now-producer) Jason, that I wanted to start my own Star Wars podcast.
We had been doing convention coverage for SK and other sites for a couple of years at that point, recording video interviews with some Star Wars talent and so I first toyed around with adapting those to audio-only. Upon doing some research, I realized that there really wasn’t really a “Marc Maron” longform interview equivalent in the Star Wars podcast community, and so I was off to the races.
How did you get things going when you first started out? Who was your first interview for Talking Bay 94?
From Christmas 2017, it took about five months for me to get the first batch of 5-10 interviews produced and edited. So, my first interview ever was Corey Dee Williams (Billy Dee Williams’ son, as well as Klaatu and his stand-in during the Yuma filming of Return of the Jedi). I remember being so, so nervous but he was very kind and generous with his time. I would love to interview him again, maybe at the same time as another TB94 guest, his buddy, Stephen Costantino. It would be great to have them riffing off of each other.
Here’s the question I get asked the most – how do you get your interviews? I’m curious how you pick who you want to interview, how you try and contact them, and if you have any tips for people hoping to interview people in the entertainment industry for their blog, podcast, or YouTube channel (feel free to keep some of your secrets with this one though!)
I’ll keep some of my secrets (there really aren’t many) but it’s definitely the hardest part of the process: it takes a lot of time and effort to not only find the people, but to continue following up with them. I have a Google Doc for just my personal reference with hundreds of dates, references and messages. Probably 1/10 of them have become guests.
In terms of guests, I have personal favorite “types” (ILMers, authors, any crew members that were on set), but I just make notes to myself whenever I am reading a new BTS book or watching a documentary about potential people to contact.
And I’ve been very lucky that a few of my guests really appreciated their time on the show and have recommended coming on the podcast to their friends and fellow castmates. I will always be appreciative of them.
What kind of research do you do before you interview people?
I keep my eye out for any interviews that the guest has done before, so I can gauge which questions they are comfortable with and what projects they are passionate about. And then I pull out any behind-the-scenes book or reference that I might have to get any extra information I can find.
I reach out to a lot of people for interviews in a lot of ways (in many cases I’m not sure if they even got the message) and I would guess I hear back one way or the other from about half of them. Has your experience over the last year been similar? Have you ever reached out to people who weren’t interested in being a part of a new Star Wars project?
There have been quite a few that have reached back out and (politely) said no.
I won’t name names, of course, but there have been a couple responses that broke my heart, if only because of their reasons (they didn’t think that they had contributed enough to the saga, they had gone through bad interviews in the past, etc.)
For other podcasters and people interested in podcasting what is your tech set-up? Any advice about what has worked and what hasn’t when it comes to the software you use to record/edit or different microphones you have used?
My set-up is super basic: a Blue Yeti mic, a pop filter and Audacity. I have parts of my house soundproofed but really I take care of any audio issues in post production.
As long as there is no background noise and the levels are consistent, I’ve discovered that podcasts have a pretty low threshold to sounding professional (which is a great, low barrier to entry for anyone who wants to try it for themselves).
I actually just bought some new equipment to set up a “recording studio” in my closet, but they are all still in their boxes. That’s a project for another time.
Do you prepare any differently for interviews that take place at conventions (besides what equipment you might have on you while traveling)? I’m assuming there are challenges while you’re recording interviews at a convention.
The unsung hero of the podcast is my producer, Jason Kauzlarich, who has the entire mobile set-up down like a science. The key with convention recordings is that we need to be as unobtrusive as possible, taking the least amount of time for the guest while they’re signing at the table.
But those have been some of the most fun episodes for me, getting to be in-person, conducting a live interview.
Your questions are obviously targeted at each individual you are interviewing but is there a particular question you like asking everyone?
To start off the show, I love asking how people began in their industry of choice. It really opens them up and gets them excited to talk for the rest of the interview (especially since they realize that, no, I’m not going to ask just about Star Wars).
How many questions do you usually prepare for your interviews? Is it common that you get to ask most of them during your chat with creators? Or do your conversations usually take off in one direction or another?
I let the conversation dictate it, for the most part.
There’s always a list of 10 or so bullet points (mostly reminding me of movies, stories or anecdotes I would like to steer the conversation to) but I love when the conversations go places I never thought they would (for instance, editor Paul Hirsch spent 10 minutes going over a piece of detailed, complicated minutiae from the editing process of Star Wars during a story he had never told before and, although I didn’t understand half of it, it was awesome.)
Your interviews don’t sound like they are edited very much (I mean this as a compliment!), how much editing do you usually do after your interviews?
That means a lot!
It takes me about 2-3 hours to edit an interview, all in. Really the editing is two-fold: to make the guest sound as good as can be (taking out all their “um’s” and pauses, sometimes rearranging their answers so it is more cohesive) and then, honestly, I remove as much of “me” as possible.
The way I see it, people aren’t tuning in to hear me, so I try to limit the length of my questions and interruptions.
Who has surprised you the most during an interview?
The most surprising interview was actually one of my more recent ones: during Celebration Chicago, one of the partners I work with (Insight Editions) set me up with Matthew Reinhart, who created three Star Wars pop-up books. I really didn’t know what to expect but he was so exuberant and fun to talk to and it turned very quickly into one of my favorite episodes.
I asked you earlier what five interviews you would recommend I listen to to get a sense of your show. You listed Timothy Zahn, Gary Whitta, Greg Proops, Christian Alzmann, and Lorne Peterson. Why did you choose those five? Do you have favorite moments from any of these interviews?
The five of these guests are indicative of not just the varied type of interviews that I strive for (authors, cast members, concept designers, ILMers) but also some incredible conversations that I never thought I would be able have (in my wildest dreams) for the podcast.
Timothy Zahn: This is still probably the biggest highlight of the entire show for me. I grew up reading the Thrawn books underneath my desk at school and I considered Mr. Zahn one of my favorite authors of all time. But I had never had the chance to meet him.
So my first time meeting him was at San Diego Comic Con, at the Del Rey booth and for an hour-long interview! Wild.
Gary Whitta: One of the biggest guests we’ve ever had on the show, he tweeted that he had only said “yes” because he loved the name and, as soon as he had tagged the account, my phone literally exploded. He was such a treat to talk to, and we delved into so many parts of Rogue One and the writing process.
Greg Proops: I had reached out semi-blindly for this one, after I saw that he was coming to Dallas to do some stand-up. He responded yes and, before I knew it, I was backstage in the greenroom of the Improv, sitting next to Greg Proops who was smoking a cigarette and telling incredible stories from his time on set. When he started doing the Podrace Announcer voice right in front of me, I almost passed out.
Christian Alzmann: Mr. Alzmann was on my list for a long time and he was so incredibly gracious with his time. I took out all of my Szostak “Art of” books and sticky-noted every piece of concept art he had worked on for the new Disney-era movies so we could discuss them in depth. It was heaven.
Lorne Peterson: Mr. Peterson was someone that I never thought that I would be able to interview but he was so kind and so gracious. It was live at Celebration Chicago and he played with my space slug hand puppet that I had brought along and it was just incredible. He loved that puppet so much and I was just like, “take it … you designed it anyway.”
If you could do a follow-up interview with anyone you have already talked to who would it be with?
Again, I would have to say Lorne Peterson, definitely, because, even after an hour-long interview, we didn’t even get to the “bigatures” and the incredible work that the model shop put out for the prequels!
I also did an interview with Paul Blake (Greedo) early on in the podcast history, but it never could be released because the audio was so bad! It was in a loud, noisy comic book shop. He was such a kind man, so I would love a re-do sometime.
Pick three dream people to interview on your show – who would they be and why them?
Marcia Lucas: She is such an important part of Star Wars history and I don’t think she gets the credit she deserves. Also, she’s never really done that many interviews (the George Lucas Skywalking biography is the closest we ever really got).
Matthew Stover: He wrote two of the best Star Wars books of all time, in my opinion (Revenge of the Sith and Traitor) and I haven’t heard much from him since. I want to dig into where his thoughts on the Force came from.
John Knoll: From creating Photoshop to the writing the Rogue One story treatment (to inspiring my questionable goatee facial hair choices), Mr. Knoll has been at the top of my list for so long. I passed by him in Wintrust Arena before The Mandalorian panel and almost collapsed.
Tell me about your experience at Star Wars Celebration Chicago. Had you been to a Celebration before? Will you be in Anaheim next year? How about other upcoming conventions?
I had been to Celebration once before, over ten years ago (Celebration IV in Los Angeles in 2007). I was still in high school and had the time of my life, hearing from Irvin Kershner, Carrie Fisher and Lorne Peterson in person. So it was such a treat to go back to Celebration, especially after diving into the Star Wars community over the past year.
I loved meeting so many fellow podcasters, creators and members of “Star Wars Twitter”, as well as getting to work with so many of our partners to come out with some really great interviews.
But I’ll definitely be in Anaheim next year and I’m already nervous for how Galaxy’s Edge is going to be around that time. I’m working on potentially going to San Diego Comic Con for work, as well as my favorite convention of the year, Mondo Con in Austin this fall.
What are you the most excited to see or read in the Star Wars universe coming up in the next year?
It is hard not to say Episode IX so I’ll try to amend it: I am so excited for the new behind-the-scenes and visual dictionaries that will be coming out surrounding TROS. There is nothing I love more than watching a new Star Wars movie and then immediately getting to dive into the concept art, interviews and pieces of new names and trivia.
Can you share any upcoming interviews at Talking Bay 94 or any other personal projects?
We are officially coming up on our one year anniversary of Talking Bay 94 and have some great guests lined up to celebrate. I don’t want to tease too much but we have a certain Sullustan coming soon, who I’ve been trying to get on the show literally before it ever aired.
(This one year anniversary episode is already out in the wild – see below)
And, in no small part due to this podcast, as of a couple months ago, I started a new job as the VP of Marketing for FANGORIA (the horror magazine). I am so proud of the work my team is doing right now, especially in the podcast space, including some longform interview podcasts that both horror director Mick Garris and our Director of Digital Production, Natasha Pascetta are putting out.
So if any of your readers love horror films, definitely check out what we’re doing over at FANGORIA (and subscribe)!
Finally, during your interview with Gary Whitta you both talked a bit about the film Time Bandits. I also adore this film. For those who haven’t seen it what’s your elevator speech to convince people they need to drop whatever they are doing and watch this film right now?
Two words: Kenny Baker. Two more words: Terry Gilliam.
(Also, you might as well get on the hype train early for Taika Waititi’s Apple series!)
If you haven’t checked out an episode of Talking Bay 94 yet why not start out with Episode 35 – an interview with Lorne Peterson. Click the image below to hear it!
Talking Bay 94:
- Facebook: www.facebook.com/TalkingBay94
- Twitter: www.twitter.com/TalkingBay94
- Instagram: www.instagram.com/TalkingBay94
- Twitter: www.twitter.com/ActuallyBrandon
- Instagram: www.instagram.com/ActuallyBrandon
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