Storyworld: The rise of the Fictional podcast
With over 136 million downloads and 30 billion listens, podcasts have firmly rooted themselves as a part of our everyday lives. You would be hard-pressed to find someone who has not listened to at least one, and while most podcasts lean towards non-fiction (lifestyle, news, true crime, critique, opinion, etc.) there is a growing genre within this market that is steadily re-gaining a following after its inception nearly a century ago: the scripted / fictional / narrative audio program, or formerly the radio-drama.
Fictional podcasts are a growing phenomenon, and they’ are a great sign for the future of storytelling. A fictional podcast takes the regular format of a radio show but adds more depth and dimension through sound effects and music. The point of a fictional podcast is to create a new world with its own plot and characters.
Often, these podcasts are set in a universe that has its own rules and complexities. In other words, these are audio stories that are not based on reality but are told in a way that makes them seem real. Characters will address the listeners frequently, bringing the audience directly into the action as the events unfold. These scripted podcasts are designed to be more like audiobooks, but instead of chapters, the connection to characters (played by professional actors) and unraveling of the plot takes place over episodes. Far from being a new concept, fictional podcasts have picked up in popularity lately.
Historically, the first instances of audio dramas appeared in 1881 via the Theatrophone, a device which access was pretty much exclusive to the wealthy. Rich households could then listen to operas from the comfort of their homes. However, we would have to wait until the 1930s for the first wave of radio dramas to be popularized in the US. One of the most famous examples of broadcast storytelling occurred in 1938, with the airing of Orson Welles’ radio drama adaptation of H. G. Wells's War of the Worlds. Rumors had raged that the show caused mass hysteria, with shouts of “Aliens have invaded Earth! Run for your lives!” from those who were absolutely convinced it was real. That tale, however, has been thoroughly debunked; no such panic took place. Nevertheless, it is an enduring urban legend because it is the sort of lie that tells a truth we all know intuitively. Namely, when well executed, audio drama, now the scripted or narrative podcast, is extraordinarily immersive. But what does immersion mean? For us at Reflector, it goes beyond the binaural recording technology that makes it feel like you’re a part of each conversation and is more about crafting a believable world that will completely captivate the audience.
For years, TV shows have been the primary means for people to consume their stories. But now, with audio stories like these, people can enjoy a fictional show while completing their daily tasks and errands. As storytellers, we consider it to be an amazing platform to tell stories from a transmedia perspective, and one that is bound to foster creativity. By embracing the limitations of an audio -only format, we look specifically to what stories from within the Unknown 9 universe (or Storyworld, as we like to call it) - our very first IP - will be best told here, like our paranormal investigative series “Unknown 9: Out of Sight”.
The paranormal is all about what exists in the shadows, what is just out of sight (pun intended), and what better way to conjure images of danger and supernatural anomalies in our world, than to let your mind handle the creation of the unknown. With audio only products, the listener brings part of the magic, their imagination detailing the shapes of what lurks in the shadows of the Unknown.
Unknown 9: Out of Sight
Launched in March 2020, Reflector’s fictional podcast, Unknown 9: Out of Sight, is part of the larger Unknown 9 Storyworld. It helps to bring this all-new entertainment franchise to life, one that spans across multiple platforms, including comic books, novels, a video game and more. Unknown 9 is about finding the extraordinary in the mundane, seeking out what has been forgotten, and believing in the unknown. The first season of Unknown 9: Out of Sight are available for listeners on Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, and Spotify.
Season One of Unknown 9: Out of Sight follows Blake Elrich (Jorge Cordova), an urban explorer with a haunted past, as he travels the country in an old RV with his partner and producer Lazari (Reyna de Courcy). At every stop along their journey, our duo encounters an inexplicable occurrence. What is more, they are beginning to suspect that someone is leading them to each strange case. Events intensify when an enigmatic figure emerges, terrorizing whole communities. Blake and Lazari must now race to undo the damage that has already been done and prevent a terrifying force from emerging.
What the team behind Out of Sight has to say
1. How different was it to work on a podcast compared to other mediums?
Each medium has its own set of challenges and rewards. When thinking of a podcast, the biggest difference lies in how you embrace the audio format and make this narrative feel like it can only be in a podcast.
The creatives developing the series have delivered on that experience, to the point where an adapted version of Out of Sight would not be anywhere near the same. “It generates creative ways to use the medium and makes you tell the story in a different way. You start focusing not only on what story is interesting, but also on what sounds interesting.” - J Kincaid, creator and writer of Out Of SIght.
2. What was the most exciting part about hearing the episodes coming to life?
Whenever you can give an actual voice to a character who has only existed in text, it’s exciting. Hearing Blake and Lazari come to life, how Jorge and Reyna really owned these characters, it’s really something special. “What's been really fun is how their portrayals of Blake and Lazari have affected the characters. I hear them differently in my head than I did at the beginning. From beginning to end, it's collaborative, living storytelling.” - J Kincaid
3. How did you cast the actors?
Our production partners, in addition to using conventional casting channels, have a large network of regular collaborators. The rapport that a lot of the performers came into the studio with is part of the magic that you hear.
4. Where does OOS fall within the overall story?
Without getting into too much detail (spoilers) Out of Sight is firmly rooted in the modern-day events of the Unknown 9 Storyworld. There is no specific order you need to consume the narratives in, so whenever you are finding the adventures of Blake and Lazari is the right time to be listening to them. BUT it is important to listen to the series in order, starting with Episode 1.
5. What is the deal with Lazari?
You will have to listen to find out. Ultimately, all questions will be answered. Or will they?
6. Is there going to be a second season of Out of Sight?
We can safely say that production of season 2 is well underway. This is going to be a fun and mysterious ride, and we cannot wait for the fans and new listeners to dive into this story.
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