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“Sometimes the story is not what people think the story is when they are telling us the story,” explains Seth Rogen. And he would know, having debuted an original podcast aptly titled Storytime With Seth Rogen, in which he gets his guests to tell one great tale, backed by an unusually lavish soundscape. Listen for the original score backing an episode about a grizzly bear attack with enough string-section-induced suspense to fill a studio feature. Interviewees run the gamut from David Crosby to Ava DuVernay to people you’ve never heard of. The stories they tell are equally varied (e.g., writing a song intended for George Harrison and gastrointestinal issues at Disneyland).
Released by SiriusXM’s Stitcher, Storytime is nominated for best society and culture podcast at this year’s Ambies, while Rogen, executive producer Frida Perez, who works alongside Rogen at his Point Grey banner, and editor-producer Richard Parks III, a podcast veteran, are also nominated for best nonfiction scriptwriting. Ahead of the March 22 awards ceremony, the Storytime team talks with THR.
How did the idea for Storytime come about?
SETH ROGEN Me and Frida spend an insanely large amount of time together talking about everything, and one of the things we talked about a lot was podcasts. I’d say hours and hours of those conversations were one of the things that led to the format we landed on.
FRIDA PEREZ There’s the most straightforward celebrity version of this, which is a talk show of rambling for two hours. But Seth didn’t want to do that. The way that Seth makes movies, we used that to make the podcast— stories with a beginning, middle and end, but getting experimental within that.
Richard, what was your reaction when they approached you with the pitch of a “podcast about stories”?
RICHARD PARKS III I think we are one of the first.
PEREZ We invented the story.
PARKS When you are starting something new, you have to find it. So it was, like, “stories” — we are obviously not the first to do that, so how do we make that a thing that only we do? What that ended up being is: A lot.
ROGEN We subscribe to the “more is more” philosophy.
Richard, how did you develop that soundscape?
PARKS I would like to pose that question to Seth and Frida because I do this in a fugue state.
ROGEN Richard gets lost in his world, in a great way, and then we get to listen to it. But the thing we probably talk about the most is not the sound. Like [with] movies, the story is the thing we spent the most time talking about. When you are making a movie, you have these conversations in the trailer: “Oh, you know what would be crazy? If we ended here.” “You know what would be crazy? If you started at the end.” With [podcasts], even if it doesn’t work, we just undo it and we haven’t spent tens of millions of dollars doing it. It is very freeing in a way.
PARKS I would compare it to a portrait. It’s not necessarily a flattering portrait always, but it is carefully done. But what we do is very kind and wholesome and almost quaint. It is like cooking with love. You can tell when someone has spent the time, even if it is simple.
ROGEN To me, it is a fun Top Chef challenge when the chefs get weird ingredients and are told to make a good meal. Here’s some Spam and some peanut butter and jelly and Doritos and make a Michelin-star meal out of it. But other times you are given a beautiful piece of steak and it is your job just to honor it and cook it and make it great. Sometimes the meal you make out of the weird shit is more interesting, just to really drive this analogy into the ground.
After working in onscreen storytelling, what did you learn working in a strictly audio format?
PEREZ Half a movie is sound, and that gets lost sometimes. This podcast reminded me how you transport people with sound.
ROGEN We can show nothing on this podcast and tell better stories than some of our highly visually driven films.
PARKS I come from a documentary film background, and the difference is that the space between the idea and the execution of the idea is shorter [with audio]. We stole a lot from film. There are a lot of close-ups and slow motion. There are audio equivalents to these.
ROGEN It is hugely technically complicated, and without Frida and Richard it would be me doing the most obnoxious celebrity podcast in the world.
Interview edited for length and clarity.
This story first appeared in the March 2 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. Click here to subscribe.
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