Write Along – a new podcast about the creative process

I’m pleased to announce that I’m launching a new podcast called “Write Along.” It’s about writing and the creative process featuring screenwriter, author, and former film critic C. Robert Cargill. Our first episode is up now. Check it out on iTunesGoogle Play, or via RSS.

Cargill is a writer whose work I’ve followed for many years. I’ve witnessed his ascent from a film critic at Ain’t It Cool News to a screenwriter working on films that rake in hundreds of millions of dollars at the box office. In recent days, I’ve seen Cargill share advice tweets about the writing process that have resonated with thousands of aspiring creatives on the internet.


I recognized that Cargill’s advice came from a place of generosity. He’d risen in the industry and wanted to reach down and help the next generation up along with him. So in an effort to signal boost, I pitched Cargill on a simple idea: A weekly podcast, no more than 20 minutes long, that covers a single piece of writing advice. It would be another way to preserve Cargill’s counsel, while potentially adding several layers of interactivity on top (both my dialogue with him, and the audience’s dialogue with us).

On a personal level, I’m excited about this podcast for two reasons: 1) I’m thrilled to be working with Cargill, whose voice I’ve always found to be compelling (even if I often disagree with him), and 2) I think there’s a lot of discipline involved in turning out a podcast that’s only 10-20 mins long each week, and I’d like to practice that discipline. I like to go long with my content. I meander. I don’t edit tightly. Can this weekly podcast that’s shorter than a sitcom episode provide enough enjoyment and utility to justify its existence?

Let’s find out together.


A few other notes and observations from the week:

  • If you’re an aspiring podcaster these days, I think it can be tough to figure out exactly which site to use for hosting and creating your podcast. There are just so many options out there (e.g. Podbean, Libsyn, Anchor, etc.). I honestly struggled for a little bit before settling on a hosted WordPress.com website, coupled with a Libsyn account for hosting files (the latter is primarily for the statistics and metrics it provides. WordPress hosts files too, if your’e into that sort of thing). I’ll probably review this experience at some point, but I chose it because it offers a lot of control over the podcast feed, with fairly minimal cost.
  • A big shout out to Wikirascals for helping me out with podcast art, and to @ZShevich for helping us come up with a name for the podcast.
  • This article about the last days of Blockbuster is beautiful.
  • I finally caught up with this powerful essay in which Darius Miles explains what the hell happened to Darius Miles.
  • Sandi Doughton has written a meditation on how to survive in Seattle traffic, which turns into a broader piece on the psychology of road rage. I can support Sandi’s premise that Seattle has some pretty terrible driving. Getting around by car is pretty unbearable and the lack of a subway system doesn’t help.
  • Roxane Gay writes about why you should vote even if you’re disillusioned right now:

Every single day there is a new, terrifying, preventable tragedy fomented by a president and an administration that uses hate and entitlement as political expedience. If you remain disillusioned or apathetic in this climate, you are complicit. You think your disillusionment is more important than the very real dangers marginalized people in this country live with.

Don’t delude yourself about this. Don’t shroud your political stance in disaffected righteousness. Open your eyes and see the direct line from the people in power to their emboldened acolytes. It is cynical to believe that when we vote we are making a choice between the lesser of two evils. We are dealing with a presidency fueled by hate, greed and indifference. We are dealing with a press corps that can sometimes make it seem as though there are two sides to bigotry. Republican politicians share racist memes that spread false propaganda and crow “fake news” when reality interferes with their ambitions. Progressive candidates are not the lesser of two evils here; they are not anywhere on the spectrum of evil we are currently witnessing.

Building something new

From 2012-2016, I probably had the most/best creative output of my entire life. I hosted several popular podcasts simultaneously. I directed a film. I made a cello album, complete with multiple music videos that racked up thousands of views. But the past two years have been a challenge for me when it comes to my creative pursuits. There are multiple reasons for that, but the long and the short of it is that going at things so hard took its toll on my health, and I wanted to focus on other aspects of my life. I mostly swore off creating anything new as I’ve regrouped and reassessed where things have been going for me, and where I can apply my talents to make the most impact.

In the past few months, I’ve had several conversations with different people about launching different podcast projects, and it finally looks like one of them may launch soon (of course, if/when it does, you’ll be among the first to know about it). I love the process of creating something new. It’s fun to brainstorm about a new name, figure out what the art should look like, and consider how to get people excited for it.

It’s always more fun to launch something than to maintain it. The former is filled with endless possibilities. How well will it do? Who will listen? What awesome conversations might result from it? The latter, while still enjoyable and rewarding, is less exciting and ultimately becomes a big responsibility, especially if the show does well. One gives creative energy; the other one can occasionally take it away. But both are valuable in their own way.

I’m excited to take some baby steps back into this world and start making things again. You never know where things will go.

As I move through my life these days, I’m often reminded of the words of Terry Rossio, who wrote an incredible essay called “Time Risk” that still informs how I think about the world (the whole essay takes a couple hours to get through, but is worth it in my opinion):

When I was a college student at the University of California at Irvine, my very first theater class, the professor lectured for three hours about the arts, about how the days of our lives would burn up, one at a time, so which particular fire, meaning your career, might be worthy for you to be consumed? It was moving and memorable. He tied together art, to time. The beauty of being a writer is that you can instigate projects, you can make that choice of how to burn up those moments of your life. Producers must search, and struggle to find something worthwhile. Directors must search, executives must search, actors must search. Only the writer invents from nothing.

“Which particular fire might be worthy for you to be consumed?” Like most people, I’m just trying to choose the right fires.


Five things I’ve learned from podcasting for over 10 years

There are only a handful of movie podcasts that have been going concerns for more than 10 years, and Filmspotting is one of them. Not only are they one of the longest running, they are also one of the best. I remember when I first started podcasting, I held them up as the gold standard in my mind. I’ve always looked up to their eloquence, their slick production, and their ability to build community around moviegoing.

So it was an absolute delight when they invited me on this week to discuss two of my favorite topics: Crazy Rich Asians and podcasting. We all reflected back on 10+ years of doing this, and how it’s changed our view of the world. I hope you can check out the episode.

As part of the show, we each shared the top five things we’ve learned from podcasting (Filmspotting host Adam Kempenaar has been doing this for 13 years, Josh for 6, me for 10). Adam decided to give his list in the form of movie quotes, so I joined in on the fun. Below is my list in written form.

5. “Well, whatever you do, however terrible, however hurtful, it all makes sense, doesn’t it? In your head. You never meet anybody that thinks they’re a bad person.” -Tom Ripley, The Talented Mr. Ripley

Everyone is just out here trying to do their best and be a good person. But one thing I’ve noticed is that when people are enjoying your work over a long period of time, they tend not to vocalize their enjoyment to you on a regular basis, whereas people who don’t enjoy it tend to vocalize it frequently. This is intuitive and reasonable; most people who love TV shows, podcasts, advice columns, or other regular publications don’t write to them regularly to express their appreciation. When you’ve enjoyed something for a long time, you tend to start taking it for granted as a part of your life.

But as a creator, this can lead to a skewed perspective of whether/how people are actually enjoying your work. On a long enough timeline, negative messages can come in with a significant frequency in relation to positive messages. It’s important to remember that the vast majority of people consuming your work are the silent majority, still enjoying and valuing what you do. Typically, looking at things like download numbers and other forms of engagement will bear this out.

4. “I mean, I got everything I need right here with me. I got air in my lungs, a few blank sheets of paper. I mean, I love waking up in the morning not knowing what’s gonna happen or, who I’m gonna meet, where I’m gonna wind up. Just the other night I was sleeping under a bridge and now here I am on the grandest ship in the world having champagne with you fine people.” -Jack Dawson, Titanic.

This quote illustrates two points for me. Firstly, podcasting has been a huge blessing to my life. It’s allowed me to meet interesting filmmakers and fascinating people. It’s let me interview my heroes. In some ways, it was an entry point into my professional career. When you create something that people find valuable, you can never predict what the next steps in your life will hold.

The other notion this quote brings to mind is how in Titanic, there were many different classes of people on the same boat. Likewise, there are many different levels of success for podcasting. Most people probably think of the wildly successful ones (e.g. Adam Carolla, Marc Maron, etc.), or conjure more simple images of a few friends podcasting on a laptop for an audience of a dozen or so (AKA how I got my start). But there is a vast “middle class” of podcasters. These are podcasts are too large to quit, but too small to make a living off of. It can be challenging for people to wrap their head around this.

3. “I wish I knew how to quit you.” – Jack Twist, Brokeback Mountain.

Many podcasts are extremely delicate creations and survive only because they are labors of love. The ones that aren’t created by a media company or journalistic in nature (i.e. the ones that are podcasts like the ones I do) depend on two or more people being interested in a specific topic, and being willing to talk about that topic regularly and thoughtfully over the course of many years.

Typically these people have strong opinions and large personalities — otherwise the podcast wouldn’t be super interesting. And it can be difficult for strong personalities to continue wanting to interact with each other over a long period of time. Furthermore, minor things can disrupt this balance: a change in life circumstance, a move across the country, a new job, having a child.

When you hear a podcast that sounds professionally done, it can be tempting to assume that the people on it are professionals who earn a huge portion of their income from podcasting. More often than not, this isn’t the case, and an extremely specific set of circumstances is what allows the podcast to exist. Too many podcasts I’ve loved have vanished overnight (RIP Filmspotting SVU).

Podcasts are delicate things. Treasure them for as long as they’re around.

2. “Kelsey, in this terrifying world, all we have are the connections that we make.” -Bojack Horseman, Bojack Horseman.

The internet can be a fetid cesspool, but it’s also allowed me to make meaningful connections that I still treasure. Through my podcast work, I’ve met listeners who have become close friends, important collaborators, and just folks whose work brings value to my life. Many of these are relationships that will last me the foreseeable future. I wouldn’t trade them for anything.

1. “Neither the flower nor the insect will ever understand the significance of their lovemaking. I mean, how could they know that because of their little dance the world lives? But it does. By simply doing what they’re designed to do, something large and magnificent happens.” -Jon Laroche, Adaptation.

In the past few weeks, I’ve received extremely moving emails from some of my listeners. I’ve heard from Andrew in Canada about how the podcast helped him through Stage 4 cancer. I’ve heard from Hiren who fought an auto-immune disease and found the podcast helped him stayed connected to the world of movies. And there’ve been many more over the course of the last decade.

None of this is what I could’ve possibly expected when I started the podcast. All of it is gratifying and humbling.

The biggest lesson I’ve learned from podcasting: Things you do that may have little to moderate significance for you may have enormous significance for other people. I don’t have any illusions about what I do when I podcast; it’s mostly just messing around on Skype with some really interesting folks who have great opinions about movies. But what has become clear is that even though it’s just a weekly quasi-obligation for me, other people can find a lot of value in it.

You can extend this lesson to other aspects of your own life. The things you do may not mean that much to you but can impact others in big ways. A kind word said to someone having a difficult day. An expression of gratitude for someone who’s done you a favor. A moment of silent sympathy for a friend in need. People value things in different ways. It’s incumbent upon us to respect that. That’s the biggest thing that I’ve learned over all these years.


  • Since I quit Twitter, I’ve been really interested in how large social platforms moderate their content. This week saw two blockbuster pieces that covered just that. Radiolab did a fascinating episode about how Facebook wrote its code for moderation. Motherboard also had a written piece on the topic. Both show that Facebook is struggling with an impossible task. But at least it’s struggling with it.
  • Thanks for reading this week’s blog posts and for replying to them via my email list! One piece of feedback I’ve received is that emails don’t allow for the level of interaction that platforms like Twitter do. So, one thing I can offer from now on is if you reply or email me at davechen(AT)davechen(DOT)net with your questions, I’ll try to make one weekly email/blog post dedicated (or partially dedicated) to publishing your replies and my responses to them.

The /Filmcast Interview with Rian Johnson

This is one of the best things that I’ve ever been a part of.

This week, Star Wars: The Last Jedi director Rian Johnson stopped by the /Filmcast for a couple hours. We talked about what it was like to get the offer to direct Star Wars, how he arrived at some of the themes of the film, and how he’s dealing with the polarized reaction from fans.

The first time I spoke with Rian was many years ago when he wrote/directed a a tiny, weird movie called The Brothers Bloom (I loved it). To see him go from that $5MM movie to commanding one of the biggest franchises in cinema history has been a wonder to behold.

And not to toot my own horn, but I also think this is one of the best interviews that’s out there on the topic of the film. Strongly considering retiring after this one – might as well go out on top.

Anyway, so honored to have been able to do this. I hope you enjoy it.

Three lessons on storytelling from Brian Reed, the producer of S-Town

I was a big fan of the S-Town podcast when it was first released, so I was excited to have the opportunity to see producer Brian Reed give a talk about it recently at Benaroya Hall.

S-Town is the fastest growing podcast in history, with over 60 million downloads on its seven episodes to date. I found the podcast interesting because it pulled together disparate threads of American life into a compelling narrative: climate change, horology, poverty, journalistic ethics, and the history of the South.

Reed spoke for about 70 minutes and played a slideshow that featured audio that was cut from the final podcast. He was also gracious during an audience Q&A.

As he began, he talked about how important it was that Ira Glass at This American Life (where Reed is Senior Producer) had built an environment and budget where they could kill one-third of all stories that the staff pursued. This ensured that only the best of the best would ever make it to air, and allowed journalists to pursue stories far past the point most outlets would find acceptable.

Reed also mentioned a few principles that guided his work with the S-Town Podcast:

  1. Don’t use verbal sign-posting – In most podcasts, the hosts to go great pains to remind you what the program is about throughout the runtime of the show. This not only is helpful for a radio audience where someone may have tuned in halfway through the episode, but also helps convince someone to stay engaged and to understand the stakes. S-Town eschewed these methods in favor of a novelistic approach. Normal novels don’t explicitly state, “Hey, this is where these facts are all leading so stay tuned, okay?” Neither did S-Town, increasing the mystery and making it more engrossing for listeners who went in fresh.
  2. Create and include tape that tells the story and tape where emotional work is being done – Getting interviews of people conveying the narrative you want is table stakes for journalistic podcasts. What Reed thought was the most fascinating was tape where emotional work is actually being done by the journalist and subject — tape where stuff is happening and people are bouncing off each other in interesting ways. How did the subject react to something the journalist said? How were they egged on or discouraged? How have they decided to alter their decision path? Hearing all those things transpire can be fascinating, and Reed put a lot of the focus on that kind of tape when he was assembling the final podcast.
  3. Fact-check – Fact-checking is an extraordinarily useful way of extracting meaningful details out of the seemingly mundane. The key was to pursue promising but obscure avenues that had the potential to bear fruit. Everything in S-Town was rigorously fact-checked and some of the material uncovered (particularly content about mercury poisoning and fire gilding) was so fascinating that it helped shape the narrative of the podcast itself.

Overall, it was a fun talk, but I’d say it was only truly useful for people who were fans of the show or fans of journalistic podcasts in general. Also, at $35/ticket, I thought it was a bit steep given that many of these insights could be discussed and revealed in, say, a lengthy podcast interview. 

Back when I was making the Gen Pop podcast (RIP), I recorded a review of the S-Town podcast with Joanna. You can listen to it below:

What happened to Armond White

Stephen Kearse has written a great profile on film critic Armond White over at Hazlitt:

What tarnishes White’s appeal is how calcified his expertise has become. No longer even nominally engaged with larger discourses, he writes with an embittered detachment, scoffing at an anonymous conglomerate of lesser writers and thinkers. White was always adversarial, but in his old columns, his rivals were named: Stanley Crouch, Greg Tate, Robert Christgau, Ann Powers—virtually anyone who ever wrote for the Village Voice. His tone was just as sardonic as it is now, but there was an air of community to all these callouts, a sense that he, and all critics, were participating in a grand commitment to art that necessitated disagreement and dialogue. White’s current reviews have no sense of any conversations beyond the ones in his own head. “Hollywood movies have become television at just the point when media shills are spreading the fake news that we’re experiencing a ‘new golden age’ of TV,” he writes emptily in his review of Baywatch, the shills, the movies, and the television shows unnamed. “Kong: Skull Island and Contemporary Color coexist because Millennial culture is at odds with itself,” he writes of those two movies, citing a mysterious conflict within a demographic group that no one can accurately define. Critics are expected to make loaded comparisons and to use their own inclinations as a wellspring for new perspectives, but since his expulsion from the NYFCC, White’s oppositional writing style has struggled. He brings the gusto of his past work, but he writes against criticism that doesn’t actually appear to exist, the silliest resistance. […]

Ultimately, the world doesn’t need Armond White, but it’s a shame that he’s slipped away. He wasn’t initially a contrarian or a hack or a troll; he was a gay black man with the audacity to demand that movies not be condescending and escapist and patronizing to the people that loved them, that needed them. He believed in black art and art in general and fought, sometimes pettily, sometimes harshly, for it to be appreciated seriously. He sneered at goofy shit like consensus and Tomatometers and Stanley Crouch because they had nothing to do with criticism. Criticism was arguments, confrontation, politics, enlightenment, resistance. But that’s who he was, back when he had colleagues, back when he listened, back when the NYFCC was accountable to him, and he to it, back when he was a journalist and not a blowhard. Now he’s just a joke. And even worse, he’s the most unfunny kind: the kind that used to rock you to your core, but now just confounds you, broken synapses firing into the void.

This profile links to an interview I conducted with White after the NYFCC controversy. I was honored to have the opportunity to have White on the Slashfilm podcast multiple times, including our review of Inception (and its After Dark), our review of 12 Years a Slave, and our review of Real Steel.

We always got lots of flak for every one of these appearances. Here’s one example of such criticism, emailed in by one of our listeners after the 12 Years a Slave episode:

Armond White is a troll and I really did not enjoy listening to him on the latest episode of the podcast. Not only is he a troll, but a classic troll. When confronted with any of your arguments against his points, he almost always deflected the question and either changed the subject or nit picked at your question/choice of words.

Another tactic that grew wearisome was his referencing older films that he can assume you have not seen and therefore remain unable to engaged him in a conversation about. And calling Steve McQueen’s film an “art thing?” It’s just juvenile.

Also, by his definition, any film that shows characters to struggle or to face tough odds would be considered “tourture porn.” I wonder if he would consider All is Lost to be “tourture porn?”

When I was younger, folks like Armond used to infuriate me. “Who dares besmirch the perfect RottenTomatoes score of Toy Story 3! Clearly not someone who had any good taste!” my logic went.

But as I grew older, I started appreciating folks like Armond White more and more. In a sea of “yes,” he dared to be a “no.” What drove him? Was it just the desire to be a troll or did he legitimately buy what he was selling?

Ultimately the reason I invited White on the podcast was because I wanted to see if there was any “there” there. And for awhile, I believed in the purity of Armond White’s motives. When he insisted that he could break down a Michael Bay film and a Christopher Nolan film frame by frame and prove that Bay had better visual storytelling acumen than Nolan, I didn’t necessarily believe it but I believed that he believed it.

In a piece after the NYFCC controversy, Owen Glieberman explained his thoughts on Armond White in a way that matched how mine evolved:

Does Armond White simply have his own idiosyncratic opinions? Or is he a contrarian, a bomb thrower who’s deliberately out to rile people up? I would say that both are true, but for most people the contrarian label sums him up, and you often can’t tell where the fearless free-thinker leaves off and the bullying, didactic iconoclast begins. And that’s the problem with Armond’s criticism. He writes like he’s the last honest man in America, but contrarianism, by definition, isn’t completely honest. It’s self-hype, designed to provoke a reaction. I truly do believe that Armond White comes to the vast majority of his opinions honestly. He’s a gay African-American fundamentalist-Christian aesthete, and if that doesn’t make him an individual, I don’t know what would. But it seems to me that Armond, over the years, has become so invested in the idea of how different his gaze is from everyone else’s that he has turned individuality into a species of megalomania. The subtext of too many of Armond’s reviews is: Only I see the truth! And it’s that need to be the only truth-teller in the room that, too often, seems to be driving him. A lot of great critics have anger — it was there in Kael, and in Lester Bangs — but Armond’s blistering attacks reflect not just anger but rage. That’s a dangerous place to write from.

In other words, from the outside, White seemed as though he believed in his own hype. And that’s a shame because it clouded a lot of his legitimately interesting and provocative opinions.

All that said, when I look back on my conversations with White, I feel nothing but gratitude. Here was a man whose opinions were admired by some, hated by thousands of internet fanboys, but who nonetheless kept fighting for a truth he believed in. And even though White seems to despise internet fan blogs like Slashfilm.com, he generously spent time sharing his opinions with me and with our audience.

I’ll never know why he agreed to appear on the show. When I asked him about why he was willing to return to the podcast, he just seemed to cherish the spirit of our show’s open conversation. I don’t know if I’ll ever have the chance to chat with White again but for now, that’s how I’ll choose to remember him.

A different way to approach a controversial podcast episode

Nicholas Quah’s latest entry in his “Hot Pod” newsletter addresses Radiolab’s recent decision to pull a controversial episode:

[The episode’s lack of context] was an unambiguously explosive mistake for Radiolab to make, but I’m further perturbed by the team’s decision to take down the segment completely as a response to the pushback. In an environment where taking back something is every bit as political — and politically charged — as putting something out in the first place, this may well be a case where Radiolab’s effort to limit its contribution to a damaging situation is one that fuels it even further.

There may be some value to following in the footsteps of This American Life, when that team faced a retraction in 2012 with “Mr. Daisey and the Apple Factory,” which turned out to be the work of fabrication. You can still easily find the original radio story online, most prominently in the Internet Archive, and This American Life keeps the original episode’s transcript hosted on its website. There, the move was to re-report and re-contextualize, and to produce an entirely new episode around the correction. That move remains, to my mind, the gold standard to fixing an error in judgment in any form for two reasons: it does not shirk from ownership over the mistake, and it repurposes the breakdown into an even more valuable opportunity to more aggressively contain the damage while delivering a sense of justice where it can. That said, there are some potentially meaningful differences: most notably, where This American Life’s retraction was spurred by errors of fact, Radiolab’s segment removal was spurred by errors of framing. That’s a big difference that might not change very much about the proposed solution, but it’s a difference to consider nonetheless.

A great, nuanced take on this topic. The only thing I’d add is that perhaps one reason Radiolab didn’t take the This American Life approach is that errors in tone are much more challenging to explain than errors in fact. Certainly I’d imagine they are more difficult to fashion an entirely new episode out of.

[Full disclosure: I am name-checked in the article as a “prolific podcaster.” I’ll take it as a compliment!]

Vulture names “A Cast of Kings” as one of the top 5 Game of Thrones podcasts

I’m honored that Vulture recently chose “A Cast of Kings” as one of the top 5 Game of Thrones podcasts:

Dave Chen is a prolific publisher of podcasts about film and TV going back years, perhaps most prominently as the co-host of the Slashfilmcast. Here, he partners with frequent collaborator Joanna Robinson, with whom he’s also done recap pods for Westworld and Twin Peaks. Chen is an interesting recapper, more technically driven in his approach than others, which pairs nicely with Joanna Robinson, who is one of the more prominent, engaging, and prolific Thrones recappers on the internet.

You can listen to our recaps of this season here.