Blackout is a podcast tour de force, and creator Scott Conroy told us how he crafted the exceptional thriller with Oscar winner Rami Malek.
Blackout has redefined what podcasts are capable of. The new thriller has audiences on the edge of their seats as radio DJ Simon Itani (Rami Malek) faces a world where there’s no power—and nothing is safe or for certain.
“When we have characters that can’t see what’s going on around them, it’s sort of fun to put the audience in that position as well [with] an audio-only format,” says Scott Conroy, the podcast’s creator and executive producer.
Conroy spoke to FanSided about what went into creating the adventure and how making a podcast is different than creating a film or a TV show. He also explained what it was like to work alongside Malek, the Academy Award winner also serves as an executive producer. Together, the two of them have crafted a great drama that shouldn’t be missed.
Learn more about Blackout in our interview below, then listen to episode 3 today online or subscribe via Apple Podcasts. Episodes 1 and 2 are also still available for listeners to catch up.
FanSided: What was the genesis of Blackout and what made it a fit for the podcast format?
Scott Conroy: I had written something that was intended to be a TV pilot and it had a lot of the same elements. But what happened was my former agent Rob Herting left CAA to start his own podcasting company QCode, which is producing Blackout. He had read the pilot script I’d written when he was my agent, and came to me and said have you ever thought about doing this as a podcast?
It made sense as a podcast because it’s about a blackout. When we have characters that can’t see what’s going on around them, it’s sort of fun to put the audience in that position as well [with] an audio-only format. I think that’s kind of an important component in this new world of scripted podcasts that everyone’s trying to figure out, is that it’s helpful when you have an idea that makes sense for the format, and this one to me very much did.
What considerations do you have to make when writing for a podcast that you wouldn’t have for a TV show? Or are the processes similar, even though the formats aren’t?
There’s some aspects that are really exactly the same. You have to tell a compelling story through relatable and realistic characters. What’s different is obviously you don’t have the benefit of the audience knowing what’s going on.
So for us—me and two other talented writers on this podcast—the key was to really trust and rely on our sound design and music team. That’s really how people who are listening to a podcast stay grounded and keep track of what’s going on. Everything we did was writing to an idea of a sound. If you were reading a script it would say “An axe slams against a piece of wood.” You would not be able to write “Simon looks up at Carla,” because you’re not going to be able to do that; you only have the benefit of sound.
We had an extremely talented music and sound engineering and sound design team, so we really relied on them to tell the story as much as anyone else.
What was the process of taking that pilot and writing the other seven episodes of Blackout?
We had a very abbreviated timeline and not a lot of wiggle room to figure this out. We couldn’t get off track at all. There was no coming into the room and talking about lunch for two hours, like a lot of screenplay writers like to talk about. We really just had to make decisions and to follow through on them, and I think that was in some ways a blessing in disguise.
I think it’s very easy to second-guess yourself when you are creating a narrative arc. It’s very easy to get caught up in minutiae. Everyone was pretty much on the same page about the themes that we wanted to get into…We all had a kind of mutual understanding of what we were trying to achieve, so in the end it worked out. I think it worked out pretty nicely.
The big hook for Blackout is the involvement of Rami Malek, who both stars and produces. How was it to work with him on the project, and what made him the right person to play Simon?
He was an absolute pleasure to work with. It’s been so fun over the last few months to see him win all of these awards and win the Oscar and have so much success, because he’s extremely hard-working and earnest about his approach, and doesn’t have any of that primadonna quality. He took this seriously and gave it his all and I think that really shows in the output.
As far as why was he the right person for this…I can’t think of anyone that would be better. His voice is distinctive and memorable, and he uses it as an instrument in the way that a musician might. So for the role of a radio DJ, he’s just perfect.
At the beginning of the pilot, it’s just kind of a typical day. He’s playing music and he’s introducing this Swedish band and everything is kind of hunky dory. He’s very upbeat and everything seems like Pleasantville. And then you can take that to a very different extreme when things get hairy, which you see throughout the podcast.
He has that kind of range that is really necessary for someone to carry a podcast like this, that has so much emotion involved in it. Again, I can’t think of anyone that would have been better for it.
Is there anyone or anything else about Blackout that stands out to you? What made the biggest impression for you as you were making the podcast?
All of the cast are great. I’ll single out one other person, Chloe Brooks who plays Carla, Rami’s wife in the podcast. She’s someone I worked with previously on a show that I created called Embeds. We brought her in for this role, which was a very different role than that other project, [and] she really did kill it. The whole cast was phenomenal.
I wanted to keep [Blackout] really grounded and not have it be this post-apocalyptic war that’s inconceivable. There’s been a lot of reporting on how vulnerable the power grid is, and that the Russians are probably already inside of it and can shut it down whenever they wanted to, which is kind of terrifying. So we wanted to present this as something that could actually happen tomorrow.
There’s been this general sense of institutions that we’ve always relied on as a society are a lot more vulnerable than people thought they were. That this thread that holds us all together is actually very tenuous. That’s something that I very much wanted to explore with this podcast. This idea that things could fall apart a lot more easily than some may think, and that if and when they do…I think you get back to your tribal nature in a situation like that in a lot of respects. Those were some of the themes I wanted to do in Blackout.
Scripted podcasts are still developing as a new entertainment medium, so for people who’ve not listened to one yet, what would you tell them about starting Blackout?
We were striving to give the audience a cinematic experience. That really comes through in the sound quality and sound design and just the general complexity of the storyline. I think maybe a lot of people who don’t like podcasts think that it’s going to sound like a dull, sort of back and forth conversation in an empty room between two people. We really wanted to make Blackout something that would push the boundaries a little bit as far as storytelling goes.
What’s really fun about it is we leaned on the sort of example that was set in these old radio plays of the 1930s. That was the way people really got their entertainment was to sit down and listen to radio stories. Now because of the tools we have in 2019, we could really do a lot to upgrade what that actually sounds like. It’s a interesting combination of really leaning on a format that was popularized a long time ago, while trying to put a brand new spin on it.
There’s not a lot of new forms of storytelling that you feel like you’re on the cusp of getting a handle on, and I think podcasts are in that right now. It’s all very exciting and you get the sense that anything can happen.