Meet the Members: Sara Joyner
Podcast producer and Resi member Sara Joyner moved from the US in 2022 to call Bristol her home. In need of an instant community, she chose Gather Round as her co-working space and we’re so glad she did. When here you can find her nestled inside the sound-proof call-booths, researching from the sofas or getting lunch with other members.
We grabbed a coffee to get the details on her latest true-story-historical-comedy (yes, you read that right) podcast documentary project and what it’s like to work for international clients from Bristol.
A regular at Farro Bakery; you know she’s got good taste!
Can you tell us what you do and what an average work day looks like?
After grabbing a morning coffee and pastry from Farro around the corner, I make my way to my desk. The other members and I typically chat for around 15 minutes, as we check our emails. I try to spend my morning doing ‘deep work’ like writing a narrative podcast script, story-editing, or doing research. My colleagues and clients are in the US [read: absolutely nobody is trying to get in touch with me before 2pm and thus, I am blessed with uninterrupted focus time.] Every day, I grab lunch with the other members. By the time the afternoon rolls around, my brain is thoroughly fried and I turn my attention to less strenuous tasks: Listening to tape, reaching out to potential guests, meeting with clients, or audio editing.
Anything you’re working on at the moment that’s exciting you?
I’m currently beginning research for the second season of a historical podcast series, Snafu with Ed Helms. Each season of the show we tell the story of a different historical fuck-up. The first season told the story of Able Archer 83 – a nuclear close call that unfolded at the height of the Cold War. Unfortunately, I can’t tell you what the second season is about, but it’s going to be so much fun. We have a rich cast of characters and an exhilarating plot. It’s a very little-known history, and at the same time, extremely prescient.
The research phase of a process is undoubtedly my favorite. I’m a sucker for a rabbit hole. I can happily spend days chasing a lead. Caffeine may be my drug of choice, but a close second is the pure smugness I feel when I find a detail in some obscure archival document that nobody else had stumbled upon before.
We have a particular challenge with this show in that Snafu is a comedy. Our task is to balance levity and irreverence with deeply-reported history. Finding this balance has to be catered to each individual story, and it definitely requires restraint. But there’s a remarkable amount of natural comedy in historical incompetence. Plus, luckily I’m partnering with veteran comedian Ed Helms — whose gut is always spot on.
What are you listening to/watching at the moment?
I spend most days stretching my brain to the far reaches of its capabilities, which is to say, in my off-time, I only desire to consume the lowest of low-brow. If one of my friends suggests we watch an arty indie during our weekly Monday movie nights, I will audibly groan. Give me a reality TV show or a 2004 rom-com and I’m a happy gal.
Okay, I’m exaggerating. But I do tend to gravitate towards content that isn’t too fussy. I like shows that do one thing very well; shows that have sophistication in their simpleness. One of my all-time favorite podcasts is Heavyweight. Each episode follows somebody trying to right a wrong (release a heavy weight, if you will). It’s whip smart, and very funny. In a sea of podcast sameness, the Heavyweight tone is instantly recognizable, yet each episode surprises. Every single word the listener hears is accomplishing something, or two things, or three. I strive for that level of precision in my writing.
What excites you most about the creative process?
Structure excites me [and terrifies me, if we’re being honest.] There’s so much power in structure: In an audio-only medium, a coherent structure can make all the difference in story comprehension. Listeners will only hit the “back 30 seconds” button so many times. If your story is confusing, they’ll stop listening. But the structure can accomplish much more than clarity, and I love using it as a device in and of itself. The order in which information is revealed to the listener is the determinant of suspense, of surprise. Structure can also be functional. Say you want the listener to ponder a theme. Raising a thematic question in narration can be clunky. But withholding a certain detail until exactly the right moment can force the listener to confront that theme organically.
My approach combines feeling and function. First, I determine my goals. What do I want the listener to feel about this character? What feeling do I want to leave the listener with? Then, I jot down all of the pieces of information on sticky notes: characterization, plot, archival audio, interview bytes. Then, I arrange, and rearrange, and rearrange. Meanwhile, making arguments for each configuration. How does this configuration function to meet my goals? The best argument wins.
What kit/tools can you not live without?
Descript is a transcription-meets-audio-editing software that has become a permanent fixture of my workflow ever since I first tried it. It quickly transcribes audio. Making edits to the transcript edits the audio in kind. When you’re producing a series with hundreds of hours of tape, this time-saver is a massive game changer.
Where is your favourite place to eat in Bristol?
I’m fairly new to Bristol so I’m definitely still making my rounds to all the must-tries. A recent fav is Little Hollows on Chandos Road.
As a podcast producer we have to ask, what’s your favourite podcast to listen to?
Who? Weekly is a show that I listen to religiously. It’s a twice-weekly chat show about D-list celebrities (I meant it when I said lowbrow!) The hosts are veteran media and culture journalists who can have 90 minutes of surprisingly thoughtful dialog about some new reality TV star’s instagram partnership with a battery brand!
Why did you choose to come to Gather Round?
When I moved away from the US, I told my husband that I wanted our new home to be a place where we could build a meaningful community. Working from home is not for me, so I knew I wanted to find a coworking space. It was immediately clear from my first tour at Gather Round that it could be the type of community that I was looking for. It’s a place where members collaborate, but we’re also genuinely friends outside of work. I have loved meeting people at Gather Round and I can confidently say that working here has helped me feel at home in Bristol.