Behind-the-Scenes with Dan Taberski and Henry Molofsky

Dan Taberski, host

You first proposed telling Richard Simmons' story as a documentary film, how did it come to be a podcast?

When I brought the project to First Look Media as a film documentary, they immediately suggested it was a podcast - and I think they were right. Telling the story with sound made it easier for people to be a little more relaxed and casual - and authentic. Cameras are intimidating. And frankly, some of our characters are not super comfortable with their bodies - taking the visual out of the equation helped a lot of people just relax.

What was it like to go from film director to podcast host?

I've been talking about Richard to everyone and their mother for a couple years now, so just recording me talking about it with other people didn't seem like that big of a leap.

But being the host is super weird. I never had to consider what my own voice and demeanor was like because we never used it. For example, now I know that I talk over people a lot and laugh WAY too loudly. But not doing those things takes too much concentration, so we kind of have to work around it when we're editing.

Henry Molofsky, producer

First off, how has working with a documentary filmmaker changed the way you produce audio?

Dan’s film background has influenced the production in all kinds of great ways. In terms of audio, I’d say that the biggest influence is that rather than defaulting to recording super clean tape in a studio, we’re almost always looking for ways to place our interviews in different scenes and situations, in a variety of locations. Dan has a great eye (ear?) for this sort of thing. And even if the settings themselves aren’t entirely apparent in the final product, it influences the tone and the interview style. I think it makes for a lot of interesting tape.

There is so much archival tape of Richard Simmons - how did you choose?! Were you looking for the loudest tape? The silliest? Most unusual?

It was overwhelming in the best possible way. It’s impossible to overstate just how much culture Richard Simmons has contributed to in the last 40 years, and it feels like it’s all been video taped. Some of it is absolutely ridiculous. Other bits are extremely personal and touching. Lots involve Richard crying. And he holds his own against some of the funniest people in comedy.

Diane Hodson is one of the producers on our podcast and she did an incredible job tracking down and cataloging all of the archival. She goes deeper down internet rabbit holes than anyone I’ve ever met. Without Diane we would have drowned in Youtube videos.

As for choosing tape, our goal wasn’t to pick tape that was loud or silly for the sake of being loud and silly, but instead to find tape that would help prove whatever point we were making, or would advance the story in the direction we were going. So for example the cellphone footage in Episode 1 of Simmons’ foot getting run over by a car: that’s loud and silly and unusual. But what makes it valuable for the podcast is how it shows Simmons’ unparalleled accessibility to his fans. His foot is bleeding and yet he makes sure to take selfies with everyone who still wants one. That’s unique, and it raises a lot of questions which we explore later in the series.

What kind of a narrative road map do you have for the series - and do you have an ending in mind already? What happens if you find Richard midway?

We started physically storyboarding in September 2016. So, months before the podcast launched we had a fairly clear map for the whole series, broken down by episode and by act and by scene (Dan actually came in with a bunch of it already in his head.) We launched on February 15th with two episodes completed, episode 3 undergoing finishing touches, episode four still in final edits, and so on... It was always the goal to let the story evolve once the first few episodes were released. And it has.

The real ending -- the very last thing you hear before the series ends -- is still up in the air. We’ve had a bunch of plans, and contingency plans, and backup contingency plans. It always seems to be the case with this story that no matter how much we plan, things happen in ways that we weren’t expecting.

What kinds of calls are you receiving on the hotline, otherwise known as 402-93-SWEAT? Strong leads, oddball theories, sad stories? How do you plan to incorporate the calls?

Oh man, the hotline is an interesting place right now! We’re getting some incredibly moving stories from people who have crossed paths with Simmons over the years. And some people go way back … like over 50 years. We’re also hearing some very out there theories. One guy laid out a pretty convincing argument that Simmons is a psychic.

We’re still figuring out the best way to incorporate the calls. I think, like the archival, we want to make sure that we’re only including voicemails when they advance the story or prove a point we’re trying to make.

Do you think Richard has listened to the podcast?!

We address it in upcoming episodes. You’ll have to listen :)