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On The Table Read, the “Best Entertainment Celebrity Magazine in the UK“, Chris Porter and Jenny Curtis discuss their popular SOLAR podcast, featuring Alan Cumming, Stephanie Beatriz, Jonathan Bangs, and Helen Hunt.

JJ Barnes editor of The Table Read online creativity, arts and entertainment magazine

Written by JJ Barnes

www.jjbarnes.co.uk

I interviewed podcasters Chris Porter and Jenny Curtis about their lives and careers, what inspired them to start the SOLAR podcast, and the work that goes into creating it.

Tell me a bit about who you are.

CHRIS: I’m Chris Porter. I’m a writer and composer, based out of Los Angeles. I write scripted stories and produce at CurtCo Media, which recently began releasing SOLAR, a narrative audio drama I wrote and co-directed with Jenny Curtis. I also serve as an Associate Artistic Director with The Speakeasy Society. I have a BFA in Music Composition from Baldwin-Wallace University and an MFA in Music Composition from California Institute of the arts.

Jenny Curtis, SOLAR podcast, The Table Read
Jenny Curtis

JENNY: Hey! I’m Jenny Curtis – I’m a director/producer/actor/podcaster with CurtCo Media. I directed and produced SOLAR with Chris (and I’m also the voice of ALI, the AI on the ship). I went to CalArts as well where I retained a BFA in Acting. I am also a member of the Speakeasy Society…I swear I’m not just copying Chris here…

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How and why did you start podcasting?

CHRIS: On my end, I’ve always loved using sound design and music to enhance storytelling–not only as separate areas of creative expression, but also how they can all work together as a cohesive whole. So working in podcasting (editing, composition, etc.) seemed like a natural step.

I was approached by Bill Curtis, CEO of CurtCo Media who knew of my writing and script ideas, which we batted around for a while. I joined CurtCo in 2019 to create the SOLAR project as well as some producing and composing for other shows.  

JENNY: It was a complete surprise to me! My career has traversed a variety of mediums, in some capacity or another always in entertainment and storytelling. I’ve worked in film, TV, digital video, theater, animation, you name it – and the skills I gathered from each gave me the ability to lend a hand when my family business shifted to podcasting.

When it became apparent that podcasting was a medium I enjoyed and could thrive in, it stuck. Before our audio drama SOLAR, I had several other shows with CurtCo Media that all highlighted creativity. When Last I left was a storytelling improv show that Chris and I did with a few of our acquaintances; Hollywood Unscripted is a film/tv interview show where I’d talk to top filmmakers and talent about the craft of storytelling; A Moment of Your Time was a daily show featuring bite-size pieces of creative expression submitted by contributors around the globe.

What is your current podcast called, and how did you come up with the name?

CHRIS: The show is called SOLAR. The initial concept of the show stemmed from the idea of a space mission not to the outer reaches of the galaxy, but directly to the center of our solar system, the Sun. The title’s meaning is explored in other creative ways throughout the show (How is humanity defined by the sun?), but the title is meant to directly relate to the premise of a Solar expedition.

What platforms can we find SOLAR on?

Chris Porter, SOLAR podcast, The Table Read
Chris Porter

All of them! Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Samsung Free, Stitcher, Pandora, BullhornFM, Pocketcasts, Podbean, Google Podcasts, SiriusXM…and any other place you may find your podcasts! You can find hyperlinks to most of the major apps on our SOLAR landing page: solarthepodcast.com/listen

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What is SOLAR about?

CHRIS: SOLAR is an immersive 12-episode audio drama starring Stephanie Beatriz, Tony Award winner Alan Cumming, Academy Award winner Helen Hunt, and Jonathan Bangs.

Disconnected from Earth and trapped on separate parts of their spacecraft, crew members must fight for survival following a disaster on board the ill-fated Aethon, a manned solar research probe sent to explore temporal distortion around the sun. As painful memories, forgotten dreams, technological challenges and blunt realities collide–they must work together to keep their hope alive in the face of growing darkness.

JENNY: We like to say it’s a journey to the center of the solar system and an exploration of the vastness of the human spirit.

Do you host SOLAR alone, or have guest hosts/partners?

JENNY: SOLAR is a large scale, cinematic, scripted audio drama with 18 talented actors, so there are no hosts. The whole show is fully designed, scored and performed like a high-end TV show using sound design to allow the listener to imagine the visuals.

CHRIS: However, we do have a premium channel on Apple Podcasts called “Inside the Mission SOLAR+”. Subscribers can hear behind-the-scenes conversations with actors and crew from SOLAR. That show is called “The Solar Panel” and it is hosted by Jenny and me, along with CurtCo’s CEO & SOLAR Executive Producer Bill Curtis. It is released weekly along with our show.

Do you edit SOLAR or have someone who does it for you?

JENNY: It’s a bit of a different process than regular podcasts, since there are so many moving parts.

CHRIS: Dialogue edits were assembled by Jenny first. I would then listen for confirmation and would render and output the version that would be sent to sound designer C.J. Drumeller. C.J. would work on the sound design while I composed the music, then once we had everything compiled, he’d mix and master the scenes and episodes.

JENNY: The three of us would work together giving each other feedback until we’d get to a place with an episode where we were comfortable sharing it with our EP Bill Curtis and other members of CurtCo Media – then once we got notes and thoughts back from them, the process would start again.

Do you script SOLAR, or just chat as you go?

CHRIS: SOLAR is heavily scripted–often identifying the sound of footsteps or the physical direction of a person’s voice.

JENNY: Yep! SOLAR is a cinematic story told entirely through performance, music and sound design. We spent a year and a half developing the story and writing the script — including workshops and table reads to make sure the words could really fly.

SOLAR Podcast on The Table Read
SOLAR

While there isn’t really room for improv in a story like this, there would be sessions where we’d hear a line we were no longer in favor of and would change it on the spot or record a few alternate versions.

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How has SOLAR changed or developed since you began?

JENNY: In terms of the podcast changing once we began releasing – it hasn’t. All episodes were completed and locked prior to launching the pilot of the show.

That being said, this was CurtCo Media’s first foray into the scripted podcast space, so there was a learning curve in our two and a half years of development and production.

There were many moments in our writing, workshops, table reads, casting, recording, editing, and notes process where we would have to adjust and grow. But honestly, that is why this project is so phenomenal – we were lucky enough to be able to take the time with it, which gave us the ability to explore and discover the best possible way to tell this story.

CHRIS: The broader concept of SOLAR, however, definitely evolved over a year and a half of writing and development before we even started to record. time. Obviously, During the writing phase, we expanded the world of SOLAR, radically and designed a complex web of characters and companies to achieve this expansive story. We also knew we wanted the show to be top-quality and open up the podcast world to a new kind of epic project. Risky, yes – but it became a thrilling project to work on.   We had to discover and test and utilize new technologies to make sure the show lived up to our collective vision.

What are your biggest challenges with SOLAR?

CHRIS: This show is very large–both in cast and world-building within the narrative–so the biggest challenge was unifying that vision from all the voices involved. So as I referenced above, we are also trying something very different in podcasting right now in two distinct ways: 1) we are really committing to 360 degree audio and using that as a storytelling tool beyond just having it as a buzzword and 2) we were focused on creating real characters with flaws and depth and allowing the listener the space to get to know these people in a way that might require more of an emotional investment. Both gambles seem to be paying off as we’re connecting with a large audience who were looking for a show of this nature.

JENNY: The list of challenges we faced here are astronomical (space pun intended), but those were definitely two big ones. We also recorded this show at the height of the pandemic – so figuring out how to work safely and effectively at first was a challenge, as was the delay in contact from people we needed to communicate with as we navigated a world where everyone worked out of their offices.

What are your favorite podcasts to listen to?

CHRIS: I really enjoy comedy podcasts…My Brother, My Brother, and Me. Mission to Zyxx, which also has a great score and sound design. But I also love audio dramas. Limetown and Homecoming were big inspirations while developing SOLAR. And I have to give a big shoutout to Carcerem which was actually being made in the same studios where we were recording SOLAR!

Jonathan Bangs, SOLAR podcast, The Table Read
Jonathan Bangs at the SOLAR table read

JENNY: I was gonna say Carcerem from our friends over at Shane Salk Productions, but Chris stole it. Seriously though, go listen to Carcerem – It’s an epic fantasy adventure series. After that and SOLAR, you’ll be hooked on audio dramas.

How and where do you promote SOLAR?

JENNY: We’re running a full paid promotional campaign with this show. Our marketing team, led by Stephanie Arakelian, explores all verticals of podcast promotion.

We’ve also got cross-promos and ads running on other podcasts, we had a four-page sponsored section of The Hollywood Reporter, we’ve been fortunate enough to be featured on all major podcast platforms, we’re running radio promos and ads on other fiction podcasts, we’ve scheduled live talkbacks with our cast, and we are developing an engaged audience on social media.

Do you earn money from podcasting, or is it a hobby?

JENNY: It’s a profession for us. We’re both full-time at CurtCo Media.

What’s something you never expected about podcasting? What have you learned that surprised you?

CHRIS: The biggest thing I’ve learned about podcasting–is that it’s still a relatively young and cooperative environment. The whole industry is trying to figure out the best way to define and build the business. And while, are somewhat in competition for listeners and downloads, people are very open to you if you ask for help or advice! And I think that’s admirable for the podcast community and I hope it continues!

What is the first piece of advice you would give to anyone inspired to start podcasting?

JENNY: Plan plan plan. And then be willing to throw the plan out the window if needed. Also, if you’re an anxiety case like me, have someone that you trust who you can vent to, drink with and who will pat you on the shoulder during your occasional meltdown. ALSO – everyone has an opinion, and everyone will happily tell you to change what you’ve intricately planned (and melted down over) without completely understanding your vision. Opinions are valuable information to gather, listen to, and learn from…but dare to be different, fight for quality – and don’t just bend to every opinion that comes your way.

And, finally, are you proud of what you’re accomplishing with your podcast? Is it worth the effort?

CHRIS: Yes. A lot of blood, sweat, and tears from a lot of incredible people went into this show and I think you can hear it. This is a product made with a lot of love and I’m very proud that it’s out there now!

JENNY: SOLAR is the proudest I’ve ever been of a project I’ve been a part of. We spent years agonizing over every little decision both on the creative side and the business side. It was incredibly important to us to do something unique and cutting edge. And yes – With every tear, every fight, every moment of self-doubt, every crazy long day, every sleepless night…it has all been worth it because we so deeply love and believe in this show.

Pop all your work, website and social media links here so the readers can find you:

Solar Instagram/Twitter/Facebook: @solarthepodcast or Solar The Podcast.

Solar Website: www.solarthepodcast.com.

Jenny’s Instagram/Twitter: @TheJennyCurtis

Chris’s Instagram: @coaster02

Chris’s Twitter: @mgnfcntbeast

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