Meet the Producers behind Future Europe
Over the past nine months, all of us at Earshot Strategies have been busy producing a 28 part-podcast series called Future Europe. We’ve been travelling and recording from the Mediterranean to the Baltic Sea.
It has involved visiting every country in the European Union to gather material for individually crafted sound montages.
We’ve made the series for the European Investment Bank to illustrate the breadth of its work and to show what it is doing to develop, innovate and prepare for Europe’s future. It includes stories about energy saving laundries in the Czech Republic, a Spanish hotel chain designed to accommodate disabled people as guests and employees, and an electric super-car designed and built in Croatia.
It has been a highly challenging and enjoyable venture, and as the series draws to a close, we want to give you a peek behind the production process. Let’s meet the producers of the show!
WHAT DID YOU LIKE ABOUT PRODUCING THIS SERIES?
“I’ve got to say, it’s been the best job I’ve ever had,” says Robin instantly. “It’s been really hard work and challenging, but it’s been amazing as well.” Robin Warren (also known by his the professional moniker ‘Robin the Fog’) is a London-based sound designer, composer, and radio producer. In addition to producing twelve of the episodes, he created the introductory and concluding sequences for the series which involved mixing voices and sounds gathered throughout Europe.
“When you work in news, all you ever hear about are the terrible things that happen—a disaster, a terrible accident, pretty horrible stuff. So, to get to travel around Europe, meet passionate people and hear about projects that are a force for good in the world, was really inspiring.”
Penny Boreham shares that feeling. She is an award-winning radio producer, who worked for many years for the BBC. She says that the piece recorded in Germany had a big impact on her. The episode told of a decades long project to bring nature back to the Escher River, one of Europe’s most polluted waterways.
“I really enjoyed it, because of the magnitude of what they are doing in the area,” says Penny. “The change is just so obvious, so concrete, so tangible. It was heartening to see what they have achieved and what might be possible elsewhere.”
WHAT’S UP WITH THE FORMAT?
The stories featured in Future Europe are told solely through the voices of the people involved and sounds. There is no narrator, no reporter.
“The EIB was very receptive to doing something different,” says Richard Miron, the director and founder of Earshot Strategies. “It would have been really easy to choose a standard format, but instead they allowed us to come up with something that is, I hope, more creative and has more longevity. Something that is rich to the ears.”
Prior to setting up Earshot Strategies, Richard spent 17 years at the BBC as a reporter, followed by ten years as a senior communications official at the UN and World Bank.
Penny says she particularly enjoyed working within the creative format of the pieces: “It’s key that all the podcasts are driven by the people in the projects, because it puts the project and the people at the centre. Everyone—the producer, EIB staff and the people involved in the projects—is on the same level.”
WHAT WERE SOME OF THE CHALLENGES?
But this format did not make things easy. “Right away, you have to start story-boarding in your head—where you’re going to be recording, how you’re going to move from one scene to the other, how the story might pan out,” explains Richard. “Ordinarily, you have the reporter’s voice that can move you to one place to the next, but here you have to make the bits all come together without that. So, the preparation is really important.”
All three had to get creative. When Robin went to Finland to learn about their new care facilities, he was able to visit two day-care centres, but no amenities for elderly people. “But I really wanted recordings of old people too,” he says.
With a wry smile he recalls his efforts at trying to find the right voices for the piece: “If you ever want to feel ostracised, wander around Helsinki at 7:30 at night when it’s freezing with a microphone, trying to find old people who will talk to you!”
“You have to keep your radio ears active all the time,” says Penny. “You want to be open and receptive to what every person says, but you also need to keep in mind the end piece. It’s quite visceral for me. Until I know I’ve gotten everything I need, I have this clenched feeling in my stomach.”
And it does not end with the recording. “Have you ever tried to squeeze four hours of material into a seven-minute podcast?” Robin asks. “I usually end up with far too much stuff. It’s like doing a jigsaw puzzle. But that’s what’s fun—when all the totally different bits start making sense together.”
“On average, from the initial research to writing the blog post, we’re talking about seven or eight solid working days per episode. It’s pretty intense!” points out Richard.
“I’m very happy with how they all turned out and I want to credit the people who worked on this!” Richard says reflecting on the series, “when you work with people who have so much experience, it makes you realise how much you don’t know. This project has been incredibly rewarding and enriching.”
DO YOU PLAY FAVOURITES?
Richard, Penny and Robin all have a hard time choosing their favourite episode. Richard was very surprised by Poland, and Katowice in particular: “everybody had told me that Katowice is just a really boring, old coal town. And at first, it’s a lot of Soviet-era apartment buildings. But then they also built this amazing concert hall and an incredible museum on the site of an old coal mine.”
“As a sound designer, getting to record a robot mannequin giving birth was definitely a highlight,” says Robin recalling the episode he recorded at Dublin’s new cutting edge medical school.
And he adds: “in an ideal world, I would do Future Europe forever.”
This piece was written by Anouk Millet