I don’t usually provide extracurricular reading beyond a podcast because making time for the podcast episode itself can feel like a stretch. But in this interview Jemma references a lot of her own work, as well as lots of other people’s and considering the brilliance of that work, I wanted to collate it all in one place (along with some of my own reading recommendations) in case you felt inspired to do some homework.
Jemma is is a writer, researcher and curator based in London, currently completing a PhD on practices of freedom in the arts. Most recently she was Head of Programming at the Berwick Film & Media Arts Festival and she has also held positions at the BFI London Film Festival, British Council and Independent Cinema Office. She is also the founder of a curatorial initiative called I Am Dora and is a fellow of the Clore Leadership programme.
We talk about a myriad of things including her role as programmer and her ambivalence around that label, community, colonialism, the need to redefine or abolish the idea of linear progression, what leadership means to her, and why she hopes it will be dismantled, the issues at the heart of campaigns like #MeToo and #OscarsSoWhite, how to structurally enable care, out of office emails, embracing possibility and joy and much much more.
I also recommend this conversation on YouTube between Lola Olufemi – who is a member of bare minimum – and curatorial collective Languid Hands, as it touches upon some of themes / terms that Jemma references, including radical resistance, abolition and liberatory praxis.
Hello podpals, I’ve been meaning to write a little something on how I created Best Girl Grip for a while, but kept chickening out, because I questioned what I had to offer. But then, I saw someone who hosts a major, VERY SUCCESSFUL podcast and are very much in a position to dispense helpful knowledge had written some advice on their website which amounted to keep your expectations low, brush up on your tech skills or hire producer. And I thought, yes, all true, but where are the nuts and bolts?! What does it mean to brush up on your tech skills? What if you can’t afford a producer? What if it’s literally just you and an idea and you know nothing about podcasting?
Well that’s where I come in! I was literally that person in January 2019. And no, I haven’t gone on to create a huge fancy podcast that goes on tours around the UK and gets lots of sponsorship deals and praise, BUT I have created something I’m proud of, and can lay claim to having hosted and produced over 60 episodes in less than two years, which has in fact, taught me a little something. So I thought I’d share that with you…
Find your niche
First up, what’s the premise of your podcast? And why are you in a position to produce / host it?
I came upon the idea of Best Girl Grip after three or so years working various jobs in the film industry and still not being sure what I wanted to do. Gradually I was becoming more aware of all the various roles that existed in film and how cool they all sounded, but I didn’t think a forum existed where they were interrogated beyond a surface level. Plus, a lot of these jobs were being done by extremely inspiring women, and I was interested to know how they got their start and how they progressed to the roles they were doing now. I had two things that I realised made me an asset to this podcast; curiosity and access.
What do I mean by access? I had a growing list of contacts and I was in the privileged position of having a job at the BFI at the time I started the podcast, which I always mentioned in my pitch email. I stated that the podcast would be unaffiliated with the BFI, but it gave me a bit of kudos and a reason for the guest to trust me.
So, follow your nose. What do you want to know more about? And is that information or are those conversations out there to satiate that appetite? If no, then maybe your idea has legs. I realised I’d hit onto something fairly unique when a lot of my podcast guests told me they’d never been on a podcast before. In my opinion, that’s what a good interview podcast should do: provide a space for honest and insightful conversations with voices that might not have been heard, but who have authority on that topic, before.
Decide on your format
Because I was planning to host / produce / edit / publish this entire enterprise by myself, I wanted to keep it as simple as possible. I love podcasts like This American Life and Serial both of which are incredible at telling stories, creating suspense and painting vivid pictures, but their production value is insane and something I couldn’t hope to replicate. Instead I looked to more straightforward interview podcasts for inspiration: NPR’s How I Built This with Guy Raz, The Hollywood Reporter’s Awards Chatter, the Longform podcast and Vox’s I Think You’re Interesting with Emily VanDerWerff. They’re all one-to-one interviews with an intro, an extended conversation with an fascinating guest and an outro.
This is one of the most important parts of an interview podcast and my favourite thing about it. It’s like going for shopping for cool people to talk to. I have a massive excel spreadsheet that is home to a wish list of lovely womenfolk that are doing impressive things that I want to get nosy about. Whenever I come across someone I add them to it and when it feels like the right time, I approach them.
What do I mean by right time? I don’t plan each season in its entirety but I am conscious of trying to get a diversity of roles and people on the podcast. The point of Best Girl Grip is to shine a light on the multifaceted-ness of the industry through the lens of a specific experience, so it’s no good getting three Heads of Development back-to-back that are all Oxford educated.
How to approach them? I give them the podcast logline and why specifically I want them as a guest, and then ask them if they have time to record in a specific time-frame (i.e. the next month) to create an element of urgency. The emails are always short and sweet and I’m proud to report about a 90% success rate in terms of converting them into a guest. So here are some tips:
Do your research. Cite what excites you about them.
Circle back. If they can’t do it now, but are interested, let them know exactly when you’ll check in next and follow through.
Get good guests. Ok this is a little snake-eating-its-tail, but I can’t tell you how many times potential guests have been gassed about who has already been on the podcast. If they think they’re in good company, people will be more likely to accept.
Invest in your equipment
Ok, here comes the part I was most nervous about. I was never worried about interviewing my guests, I knew what I wanted to ask them, and if I messed up, I could edit it out. The thing that I was most terrified about was inviting something to talk about themselves for an hour, and then realising I’d fudged the recording or that the audio was unusable.
So I wanted to make it as good as it could be but WITHIN MY PRICE RANGE. If I was starting over, I’d probably have a more honest conversation with myself about how much I wanted to invest in this pet project, because I got the ball rolling before realising how pricey it could be.
I googled what were the best mics for podcasts and time and time again the Blue Yeti USB Microphone came up. It’s currently £119 on Amazon. I got it for £90.
And I taught myself how to use Audacity, which is free.
I currently record all my podcasts through my laptop, which isn’t ideal. I’ve been told the Zoom recorder (not the video calling platform with which we’ve all become acquainted recently) is what I need to invest in next to get that audio popping, and I was on the precipice of buying it before the pandemic happened and everything went online.
It’s an expense, but one I considered worthwhile.
Make peace with limitations
You want this podcast to be the best that it can be, I get that. But from day one, I knew I didn’t have the resources to make Best Girl Grip as seamless and shiny as all those sponsored, professionally-produced podcasts. This was a budget, bedroom operation. And that means that at times, it sounds a bit janky. This is the part I’ve struggled with the most, and am still figuring out how to get high quality audio when the circumstances don’t always allow for that. I don’t record my interviews in a studio, when I looked into it, it was upwards of £50 an hour and considering I’ve now done over 60 episodes, that’s around £3000 that frankly, I don’t have lying around. I used to do them in small meeting rooms at the BFI, either on my lunch break or after work. (The smaller and more furnished the better so there is less echo and reverb.) But sometimes I’d have to go to an someone’s office where the only space available was a giant boardroom. It’s not ideal, but in prioritising the conversation, I figured I could get away with it. I’ve had complaints and people calling it unlistenable and I’ve asked for advice as to how I can make it better. I invested in a better microphone and I’ve honed my editing skills so that hopefully each episode is as good as it can be given that it’s never going to be perfect. But let’s face it, if a filmmaker said she wasn’t going to direct her debut feature because it wasn’t going to be financed by a studio and go on to win Oscars, you’d tell her to get over herself and make the damn film with what she did have. The same goes for podcasting.
Ok real talk. I have some. I’m lucky to have a well-paid day job and zero other financial responsibilities besides paying rent which means from time to time I can indulge in a ‘me’ purchase. Here’s what the podcast has cost me so far…
Podbean Unlimited Audio Annual Plan – £82.80 (a year)
So that’s around £350. I’ve made half of that back in live events, which I love doing and was definitely hoping to do more of before the pandemic, but in my mind the expenditure will for the time being outweigh the income because this isn’t my money-maker. This is a side hustle that I like doing without the complications or burden of monetary gain. And what I’ve gained from doing it has far exceeded what that financial gain could offer. (Again reiterating that my privilege very much allows this perspective).
I believe you have to have something in excess of 10k listens per week before a sponsor would entertain the idea of endorsing you. It’s a conversation I’m willing to have down the line, but honestly doing the thing itself takes up enough of my time and that’s where I want to put 100% of my focus at the moment.
So how much time does it take to produce per episode? Here’s my breakdown…
1-2 hours of research (this includes finding a guest, their contact info, then once they’ve agreed, prepping and writing the questions)
1-2 hours of recording (interviews are usually an hour long, sometimes we get carried away…)
3-4 hours of editing (I’m a slow editor, it’s really not my forte. I have no idea how long it takes other people, but if I really concentrate I can get it done in maybe 3 hours. I’ll go into what I mean by ‘editing’ below).
1 hour of post (uploading the episode, writing any show notes, adding it to my website, letting the guest know it’s live and publicising it on social media)
So that’s about 9 hours a week, which is a full working day on top of my job. I’m not going to lie, it often feels like that. Since starting the podcast I am regularly doing a six day working week, but the thing that always energises and motivates and reminds me why I’m doing this are the conversations themselves. I always come away from an interview having learnt something and a massive smile on my face. Only you can decide if the podcast is worth your time. For me, it’s an easy yes.
Editing your podcast
There are lots of YouTube tutorials online for how to use Audacity. I didn’t watch any of them because I’m not great at learning that way. I tend to do better by diving in and learning through making mistakes. There have been several. The very first episode I edited corrupted and I lost the file. Now I habitually export the file after every major edit.
What does an edit entail? I called it a ‘light’ edit. I do the prep before the interview to try and make sure the conversation will flow and that the questions will do the work in telling that person’s story, so for the most part, the order stays exactly the same. I’m just tidying up pauses, repetitions or extraneous segues that feel distracting, so that what you hear is the conversation we had, but streamlined. As mentioned interviews usually last between an hour and 90 minutes and I try and get my episodes to sub 50 if possible. It doesn’t always happen, and I’m not that fussy about it.
I also like the safety blanket it gives my guests so that if they want to start over, or suddenly decided that something they’ve said should be off the record, I can edit that out. Then I pimp out the audio by making sure it’s as level as possible, getting rid of any external noises or interruptions and decreasing the reverb.
After that I record and add my intros and outros and add in the music! (I found my music here.) Then the final edit is ready to be exported and uploaded to podbean.
Promoting your podcast
The first step is deciding how regularly you wanted to put out your podcast and whether you have the capacity to stick to that. Podcasts get better traction if people know they can rely on it to deliver the goods! I release mine every Tuesday (lately I’ve switched to Fridays for pandemic related reasons) and barring one or two technical issues, I’ve stuck to that schedule.
I designed my logo in Photoshop with my fairly bare bones but serviceable skills. I’m pretty happy with the result. I wanted something colourful that captured the element of hearing women’s voices and experiences about navigating the film industry.
For the first year I did all my promotion through my own personal Twitter account @stonecoledfox because I’d established a ‘brand’ as a film-loving film industry professional and I was already following / followed by the people that I wanted to listen to the podcast. I’ve only recently set up an Instagram account for the podcast @bestgirlgrip because there is definitely value in having a curated space that is solely for the podcast, and it’s fun to engage with the insta community, particularly in recent times where I feel like it’s become more than a visual medium and more about elevation, dissemination and support.
As someone with a marketing background I did a lot of influencer outreach in the early days and emailed organisations, film schools and brands that I thought could amplify particular episodes, or might have a pre-established community that would enjoy listening to it. When I ask people how they found out about it though, most people say through word-of-mouth and honestly, you can’t beat organic recommendations like that. Again, it comes back to putting time into the thing itself and researching the guests, and letting that be it’s own promotion, rather than trying to publicise it too heavily. Oh and another thing I realised recently was that because my guests are fairly unusual / unique in the sense they haven’t always done lots of podcasts, or panels or public speaking and also their careers are sometimes quite niche, if you Google them with “podcast” or just their job title and podcast, Best Girl Grip does sometimes come quite high up in the search results. So circling back to point one, find your niche and carve out that space for yourself, because creating something different will pay off.
I’m rather excited and a little bit trepidatious to release this episode because it was recorded live at the Watersprite Film Festival in Cambridge back in March and so it feels rather antiquated. There were people there! Georgia and I sat face to face! We mention SXSW being cancelled which Georgia was due to attend with a pilot she directed called Bored. So listening back to this was odd, it felt a bit like a time capsule. But the conversation is still great and Georgia is wonderful, so I am of course very happy to have spoken with her and to do so for Watersprite.
Georgia is a writer and director with a raft of award-winning short films under her belt, including Little Bird which is being adapted into an 8-part drama with Riverstone Pictures. Her first feature ‘Blue Jean‘, was developed through the iFeatures, I think in 2018 and is now backed by BBC Films.
Other upcoming projects include ‘The Isles’, a feature film in development with Creative Scotland and ‘The State of Us’, a six part series in development with Origin Pictures.
I particularly loved this conversation because it feels rare to me that you hear a director speak prior to their first feature being made or released, obviously all the PR is done after the fact, and so it felt special to me to get a bit more of an insight into what that interim bit entails. And truth be told it’s not really an interim, it’s Georgia’s career and one of the things she happens to be working on next is a feature film. And Georgia mentions this later one, about not ever getting complacent or thinking that one film is going to elevate you to permanence in the film industry, it’s all about persistence, so I guess my point is that I liked the idea of divorcing that first feature from the sense of having made it.
We also chat about staying motivated during development, balancing lots of different ideas, how she stays creatively energised, being mentored by Desiree Akhavan and the invaluable advice she gave and the collective she’s part of called Cinesisters.
My guest this week is Louise Ford, a film editor who has worked on some of the most original and startling and accomplished features of recent times. I don’t think that’s overstating it. They include Robert Eggers’ The Witch and The Lighthouse, Cory Finley’s Thoroughbreds and his recent release starring Hugh Jackman and Allison Janney Bad Education, as well as Paul Dano’s directorial debut Wildlife starring Carey Mulligan and Jake Gyllenhaal.
We talk about a myriad of topics, from Louise’s pivot from journalism to film editing, how in a roundabout she was inspired by 70s Hollywood editor Dede Allen, her approach to editing and what that process actually looks like. We go deep into The Lighthouse talking about performance, and the layering of sounds to achieve such a deeply unsettling finale. What else? Mentorship, confidence, instinct, films…
I really adored this conversation. I sort of had some knowledge about what editors are responsible for and capable of, but talking with Louise tipped me off just how important an editor is and I just came away with a much better sense of how they do the brilliant and often magical work that they do.
My guest this week is Grace Snell, a BIFA-nominated costume designer, whose glorious work you’ll have no doubt seen in Joanna Hogg’s The Souvenir, as well as Billie Piper’s directorial debut Rare Beasts, and an upcoming film starring Riz Ahmed called Mogul Mowgli.
We talk about her path into costume design, mentorship, mental health, getting an agent and the story behind that sumptuous gown that Honor Swinton Byrne wears to the opera in The Souvenir. I had a wonderful time talking to Grace, about the specificities and responsibilities of the role and definitely got a new appreciation for not just the costumes that you see on-screen but the role that costumes play in an actor’s ability to perform a role and just situating you in the world of the film.
I’ve got what I consider to be a really exciting episode this week and it’s with Mahalia John, who is a central and clapper loader. If you have no idea what that is don’t worry, we get into it. I was somewhat clueless going into this and really appreciate Mahalia’s time in breaking it down for me.
Straight off the bat I’ll say this is one of my favourite conversations I’ve had for the podcast, it’s very giggly and Mahalia’s just a very open and lovely and funny person to talk to, so in that regard it was very easy. But also besides interrogating how Mahalia worked her way into the camera department and what that experience has been like and what it’s taught her, we also talk about some thorny and topical issues around Black Lives Matter.
I came across Mahalia on Instagram after she published a post entitled To My White Friends in the UK Film Industry – I have hyperlinked to that post – and I impel you to read it and then take up Mahalia’s advice and do some more reading and learning beyond that. It was apparent that Mahalia’s perspective would be unique and I was hoping that maybe she could expand on some of the points she made in that post, but also just use this platform however small it is, to talk about how she got into the film industry because that is one of the salient statements that she makes. This is a nepotistic industry and people of colour aren’t always taught about the job roles that exist or granted access to them and Mahalia sets a great example I think, in both existing and excelling in the film industry and I am very grateful that she wanted to talk to me about her career thus far.
This week’s episode is pretty exciting because as you know this podcast is called Best Girl Grip which is play on words for the role on a film set called Best Boy Grip, meant to highlight the historical and in fact present tense lack of women within the film industry. And this week I am actually speaking to a grip, to hear about that role and what it is. So I’m hoping that 58 episodes into the life of this podcast, it will all finally make sense.
The grip in question is the delightful Rebecca Horsburgh, who has worked on lots of brilliant British films including Free Fire, Films Stars Don’t Die in Liverpool, Journeyman, Stan & Ollie, Rocks and also has credit on Chloe Zhao’s upcoming Marvel film The Eternals.
We chat about how she learnt about this rather lesser known role in the camera department, what it is she’s responsible for, how she built her confidence in the role and what’s it like being one of very few women in the profession.
I’m so grateful that Rebecca spared the time in lockdown to talk to me, because even though the podcast bears the name grip, it’s something I don’t have a lot of knowledge about, so I was just excited to learn from her and I hope you do as well.
This week I spoke to the casting director Lara Manwaring who has been in the industry for the past decade, predominately working at Des Hamilton casting – they’ve done films like Four Lions, Tyrannosaur, This Is England, Wuthering Heights and Adult Life Skills. Lots of of really incredible British cinema. Lara now has her own company, through which she has cast projects such as Mandy starring Nicolas Cage and Andrea Riseborough, Aneil Karia’s Surgestarring Ben Whishaw and a film called Lynn + Lucy, directed by Fyzal Boulifa which is released today! It was called a fiercely impressive feature debut by The Guardian and is now available to watch on digital platforms including BFI Player.
Lara and I talk about making that leap from working for a company to being her own boss, what she looks for in auditions, why the recognition toward casting directors has come at a glacial pace and the responsibility feels towards ensuring greater representations for people of colour on our screens.
It’s a great chat, I always find casting so fascinating to consider and I hope you get something from it also
This week I spoke to director of photography Rina Yang and she’s someone I’ve wanted on the podcast for a while, but she’s incredibly prolific and hard-working and was always off doing shoots so lockdown was sort of the perfect opportunity to get to speak to her.
Rina is based in London but grew up in Japan, and some of her recent credits include shooting 3 episodes of Top Boy for Netflix, a fantastic feature-length TV drama about the Windrush scandal called Sitting in Limbo for BBC1, as well as working alongside director and cinematographer Nadia Hallgreen for Netflix’s Michelle Obama documentary Becoming. She’s also worked on music videos for Rihanna, Kendrick Lamar, FKA Twigs, Vince Staples and Dua Lipa,
We speak about the difference between a DoP and a cinematographer, the balance between the technical and creative aspects of the role and how she transitioned to working on short films and music videos to filming and lighting Michelle Obama, as well as what it’s like working on a Netflix project.
You can watch Sitting in Limbo on BBC iPlayer and I urge that you do. In the meantime please do enjoy this interview.
This week, I spoke to the brilliant Anna Bertmark. Anna is a sound designer and supervisor who has worked on several acclaimed and award-winning British feature films including God’s Own Country, The Goob, Adult Life Skills, Lilting, You Were Never Really Here and more recently Blue Story, as well as episodes of Normal People as a sound effects editor.
I should also mention that Anna won the Best Sound BIFA in 2017 for her work on Francis Lee’s God’s Own Country and if you haven’t seen that film it’s a true marvel and definitely something worth seeking out.
Originally from Sweden, Anna has worked in the UK film industry for 15 years and been Vice Chair of The Association of Motion Picture Sound (AMPS). She’s passionate about mentorship and training, so we speak her experiences of that and how she’s providing that currently to up-and-coming sound professionals.
We also talk about her approach to designing sound, what those initial conversations with a director look like, where she gets inspiration, how software has changed over the years and what motivates her.
Personally I think it’s a great chat and my first with a sound designer so there was lots for me learn.
If you’re a sound designer or interested in it as a career I’m going to flag a couple of things you might find valuable. One is a documentary called Making Waves: The Art of Cinematic Sound by Midge Costin who herself has extensive experience in the sound department and its a great introduction to both the history of sound, but also how valuable it is as a storytelling apparatus.
Secondly, next week on Friday 26 June, the Sundance Institute and their Collab offshoot are hosting a webinar with Alma Har’el who directed Honey Boy and Benh Zeitlin who directed Beasts of the Southern Wild all about sound design and the role it can play and how to make the most of it even with lower budget features. I’ve been watching quite a few of their talks and they are really really good and this sounds like it’s gonna be pretty fascinating, so yeah one to bookmark.
And finally, Anna recommended a book she was reading called ‘Women in Audio’ by Leslie Gaston-Bird and it features almost 100 profiles and stories of women working in various audio fields including sound for film & TV, so give that Google.