BEHIND THE SCENES with Tim Hinman and Krister Molzter

TCF

When you first started Third Ear in 2009, what was your goal?

TIM HINMAN

We thought it was about time to do something new. You know, there wasn’t anything else like this out there, it was a great opportunity to have some fun. We didn’t know how long it was going to last, we didn’t really know whether podcasting would be the thing. I reread the funding application to the Danish Arts Council not long ago, and I was suggesting that maybe we could broadcast it through bit torrents.

KRISTER MOLTZEN

That’s still a good idea. Bit torrents!

TIM HINMAN

Because back then, everyone was like “Bit torrent, that’s the shit.” And then the whole podcasting thing happened.

TCF

What kinds of stories did you set out to tell with Third Ear?

KRISTER MOLTZEN

I remember the first meeting we had, Tim, when you said we want to tell stories that are so interesting that people will tell them again in a bar - to make themselves interesting.

TIM HINMAN

Did I say that?

KRISTER MOLTZEN

Yeah, you said that. I tried to hang on to that.

TCF

What qualities of a story makes someone sound great in a bar setting?

KRISTER MOLTZEN

Crime and punishment and sex and -

TIM HINMAN

Strange situations, weirdness. The first piece we made was a piece of Krister’s, he’s the number one guy for getting fun-loving criminals to tell about stuff in the first person. If the story’s funny enough, you tend to want to have to retell it. I suppose you’ve probably done it yourself, trying to retell a story and then… “you should maybe just hear it, it’s really funny.”

TCF

Where does humor fit into your work?

TIM HINMAN

I don’t think entertainment is a dirty word. I think entertainment is really important for telling even really serious stories. We’ve done heavy stories too - serious stories of deceit, denial, frightening stuff. It’s best when you can get a range of emotions going on. You can pull the rug out from under people if they’re laughing one minute then realize - whoops - it’s uncomfortable. Not to negate the serious worthiness of proper sensible documentary, but even when we’re watching a serious doc, or, you know, listening to really heavy stories - it is a kind of entertainment.

TCF

You both come from film backgrounds - Tim in post-production, Krister in script writing. How has that influenced your storytelling?

TIM HINMAN

We’re both much more influenced by film thinking than radio thinking. And I think film thinking is a lot more advanced than radio thinking, because radio thinking just got stuck somewhere in the 1950s, 60s, the 70s, maybe. They’re still excited about the idea of stereo, whereas film has been developed much more aggressively. So we think in terms sonography, music, montage, layers of sound, using the sound as part of the telling, and also the idea that - if it’s working well - you can kind of immerse, you can stick your headphones on and disappear into this different world that you can make much more easily, in any case, than making a film. You don’t need cover shots, things don’t have to be in sync. You can get away with murder, basically.

KRISTER MOLTZEN

We tell stories in scenes, that’s a very big thing for us, to cut tape down to a scene that’s about 3 minutes long, because that’s how it’s worked in film for a lot of years. The atmosphere - the background, music, sound effects - changes when you change a scene, and that’s something we have from film and not from radio, for sure.

TIM HINMAN

In radio, most of the time, people work with four layers if they’re lucky: interview, atmosphere, music, and speaks - the voiceover. And that’s the four elements that you can use. Nobody would ever make a film like that unless they were insane. Not these days. And you can do an awful lot with the sound thing.

In our productions we tend to develop this rather exaggerated style which is fun to work with. You can work with cliches and jokes and make things funny by adding the wrong sound, or serious, or more dramatic, use the sound like punctuation, or illustration. In film, you can more or less work with what’s on the screen and that’s what’s happening, but in radio you can have several screens at once. Several storylines at once. You can get the brain to think several different things at the same time without being confused. That’s when sometimes radio is much better than movies. You can zoom in and out, right to the tiniest detail, to this biggest picture to the most abstract thing, go into music, dance all over the place, jump in between these levels. So that’s fun.

TCF

What’s the origin of the Living on Mars series, where did it start?

KRISTER MOLTZEN

It was Rikke Houd, she sent us a link. It was this idea of a private company starting a human colony on Mars, and they want to fund it by doing a reality TV program up there. And we’re like, what the fuck are you talking about? Are they serious? Yes, they are serious. Great - because then we can be serious too, in our own kind of way. We can just dive into that and say, what would that be like, ok, let’s do let’s do a future documentary.

TIM HINMAN

A futurementary!

TCF

I think one of the things you guys do so well in this episode is make room for wandering and digressions. Those were my favorite parts, the street musician/drug pusher and the cab driver that Krister meets along the way.

KRISTER MOLTZEN

Mine too, yeah. That’s kind of the thing a proper journalist would never do, I mean, I went there to do an interview with Baz Lansdorp, who’s the main guy in Mars One, but the cab driver kind of became the main character of this episode, because he was just so much more fun, right? And his points were so much more to the point.

TIM HINMAN

We talked about it a lot before Krister went out - Baz does lots of interviews, the typical 30-minute junket kind of thing, he just repeats the same interview again and again. We all have that problem with people like that, they’ll never give you the depth that you want because you’re on a press schedule for them, right? So we discussed, make sure you record some diary stuff, think your thoughts into the microphone, see if you can bump into everyone, see if there’s anyone else around, see if you can keep the mic on when they make you tea…

I think one of the funniest scenes in the whole series is when Krister comes to do that interview with Baz and nobody is there because they can’t get into the office - the electric door lock is broken. These are the guys who are going to put people on Mars, you know, and they can’t get into their own office.

TCF

American podcasts are being listened to in Europe like crazy, but not as many European features are getting to us. What are some of the differences you’re hearing in radio from the U.S. and the stuff you’re hearing in Denmark? What can American producers be learning from European docs?

TIM HINMAN

What we’ve learned from the Americans and really taken to is that very tight way of narrating and storytelling, and these very personally invested hosts who are good at being storytellers. And the stories themselves, on the best podcasts, the type of stories are very good, very interesting.. And there’s this kind of unashamed nerdy goofing off on details, and really getting involved - that is something which is great. It’s basically the fact that people make radio or podcasts with a passion for it, deeply, and they love it, and that really comes across. Because the national state owned radio stuff you get in Europe is usually not very passionate.

What we miss, I suppose, is a bit of depth, a little bit of hard hittingness, they’re generally very lightweight, almost all the podcasts we hear.

KRISTER MOLTZEN

And then sound -

TIM HINMAN

They sound a bit flat, they’re a bit the same, and a lot of the podcasts have even used the same background music for 10-15 years. It’s such a kind of lower common denominator inoffensiveness. Generally people are playing it very, very, safe I think, and it doesn’t seem like they need to be, to my ears. So they sound a bit same-y.

KRISTER MOLTZEN

And there’s very little atmosphere. In American podcasts there’s almost never any use of atmospheric sound or sound effects or that kind of stuff.

TIM HINMAN

Even people who have 50 hours of great tape, end up being filtered through the host and chopped into tiny pieces so the host can be in front of it all the way. So that seems a bit of a pity somehow, sometimes.

TCF

Third Ear has been doing these huge listening events, you’ve been getting, what, 1000 people to pack a cinema?

KRISTER MOLTZEN

That happened for the Mars show. The whole series, two and a half hours in a cinema, 1000 people. Sold out in 23 hours.

TCF

Holy crap.

TIM HINMAN

We were very surprised ourselves. I don’t know if it’s something that will keep happening - in this trend of podcasting you can hit the right note sometimes, and we paid our dues, we were out there in 2009 with 100 listeners, and now we’ve built up an audience. We actually did mix the shows in super-duper dolby sound with a film-mixer guy in a proper film mixer studio. It sounded big, like Star Wars big. We got rockets and stuff.

It’s unique, it’s not like a movie in a sense like you can go see it whenever. You have to be there. or you’re not there. And there is generally a really nice atmosphere amongst people, after these events, It starts a conversation. A big conversation. 1000 people is a very big conversation.

TCF

Last question: Mars One called today, you’re in. Would you go?

TIM HINMAN

Are you kidding?

KRISTER MOLTZEN

Are you fucking…? No, I wouldn’t send anyone up there.

TIM HINMAN

It might be a good idea to get as far as getting on the spaceship, as long as you get off just before they launch. The day you launch, everyone on planet earth will know your name. Problem is, you’re gonna shoot yourself into space and be dead within a week. So: quit, then get something out of it, sell a little sponsorship here and there, do a little interview, get a lot of money, do a TED talk: “Why I Didn’t Go to Mars.”