My Favorite Podcasts

Castro for iPhone

The makers of the podcast app Castro were recently kind enough to invite me to share five of my favorite podcasts, and this week they published that list as a feature story in their app. If you don’t have Castro on your iPhone you can read it on their blog, but if you listen to podcasts and haven’t tried it yet, you should download it.

I’m particularly fond of Castro’s ability to “side load” podcast content, a feature I use all the time while working on “Wireframe.” When a new rough cut of each episode is ready, the producers share the audio file for review as a Dropbox link. I open that up in the Dropbox app on my phone and then, using the Castro extension, I copy it to over to Castro. That lets me listen to these rough cuts exactly as I would experience them in real life; with my headphones on, as I walk around town or ride the subway.

Anyway, in the feature article, I share these podcasts from my heavy rotation: “Wireframe,” obviously, but also “The /Filmcast,” my favorite movies show; “You Must Remember This,” which digs into the history of Hollywood; “Conan O’Brien Needs a Friend,” which always leaves me in stitches; and “Story Pirates,” a sketch comedy/musical show for kids that’s secretly fun enough for grown ups.

You can read more about what I have to say about each of these in the post, but since there was only room enough for five, I thought I’d share a few more of the shows I listen to regularly. Fair warning: they’re basically all about film.

The Big Picture,” a movies podcast from The Ringer, does a great job of covering the current cinema. But it also does a better job than nearly any other news source I know of continually asking the question “How are movies changing?” The hosts examine everything from how the conversation around new movies is evolving, to the way streaming platforms are impacting our ideas of what movies can be, to how the Oscars race and other awards programs incentivize different kinds of filmmaking, and more.

The Next Picture Show” bills itself as a “movie-of-the-week” podcast that comes in a series of two-episode arcs, with one episode examining a new movie and the other examining an older movie that set an interesting precedent for that newer film. So in recent months they’ve looked at both “Joker” and “The Dark Knight,” “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood” and “Shampoo,” “John Wick: Chapter 3—Parabellum” and “The Warriors”… you get the idea. The pairings are fascinating, and the commentary is wonderfully thoughtful and friendly.

Blank Check” is a podcast with a unique format that examines the full filmographies of prominent directors. So, for weeks at a time, they will immerse themselves, film by film, in the work of directors like Tim Burton, Ang Lee, Brad Bird and more. I end up either listening to every episode for weeks at a time, as I did with their recent series on the work of Michael Mann, or I tune out entirely for long stretches. But the banter between the two hosts, while raucous, is also terrifically incisive about what makes films work.

The Business” is a weekly radio show from KCRW that covers the entertainment industry from, well, the business side. It’s very current, as it covers a lot of weekly news items. What I enjoy is the fact that it’s essentially disinterested in celebrity culture and more focused on how movies and TV shows get made. Actually I find it to be a continual source of inspiration for how anything gets made.

Zig Zag” is an example of how new forms of media are often at their best chronicling themselves. It’s essentially an audio blog from two entrepreneurs, both veterans of public radio, trying to build a new company in the podcasting space. As journalists, they bring a more self-aware understanding of the entrepreneur’s journey than most entrepreneurs and, frankly, most tech podcasts.

Looking back at this list and the one that Castro published, I realize now that my podcast listening habits have gravitated towards shows with higher production values. There are definitely some shows of the “a few mics and some banter” variety here, but what’s consistent is they all invest at least a commercially viable level of preparation into each episode. It helps when there’s professional broadcast talent, too, or at least an extremely winning chemistry among amateur hosts. This is probably why over the years, I’ve cut out almost all of the design and tech podcasts from my diet. There are plenty of terrific shows on those subjects of course, and I used to listen to them more than shows from any other category. But over time they’ve felt narrower and narrower to me, while I’ve come to appreciate professional production values more and more. I’ve also come to realize that reading about tech, particularly, is preferable for me; it’s not just more efficient, but the thoughtfulness and analysis is richer. To each their own, of course. The beauty of today’s podcast landscape is that there’s so much to choose from.