Our Producer's Awesome Side Project
The second in our series on what LCB staff are doing in their spare time (have you checked out Givebot yet?).
It seems you can't keep a producer busy enough, so LCB's own Sarah Steel thought she'd adapt her production talents to something other than video for a change, and over the last year she's put together a new podcast called Let's Talk About Sects – with its very first episode out today. Here's our little Q&A with her to find out more about the project.
Sarah: Like many, I got hooked on podcasts when everyone was raving about Serial, which led me to lots of other true crime podcasts including excellent Australian ones like Bowraville, by The Australian, and Phoebe's Fall, by The Age. But it wasn't until I came across Casefile, with its fiercely independent approach, that I ever considered I might be able to make one myself.
My background is in film production of course, and there's a huge focus on storytelling there that I thought I'd be able to adapt for the audio format of podcasting. But to be totally honest, the bonus of being able to do it all in my bedroom without a whole film crew to wrangle was the most appealing part!
Sarah: As someone who's really interested in human psychology, cults have always fascinated me. I knew bits and pieces about a few, and would end up in conversations with (also podcast-obsessed) mates about various cults; during one of these we realised there wasn't a podcast out there specifically looking at the subject. That was about a year ago, when I was still working my way through the back catalogue of You Must Remember This (a must for film fans) and got onto Karina Longworth's detailed Charles Manson's Hollywood 12-parter. Seeing how popular that series was, I figured it could be a subject with a lot of interest outside my circle of friends, and one I thought I could try to do justice to.
A couple of other podcasts on the topic have popped up in the meantime, but they're in a different format to mine, like multi-host chat or comedy – a lot of the podcasts I like the most take a storytelling format. The other elements I like are thorough research and a non-sensationalist style. I wanted to bring good research and a considered, sensitive approach to a topic that is highly delicate for many.
I was really excited to see Casefile just put out a 3-parter on Jonestown this week too, though I was also breathing a sigh of relief that I hadn't chosen to cover that one in my early episodes (I feel it's pretty extensively covered already, but I'll listen to that anonymous Casefile host talk about anything really).
WHICH SECTS WILL YOU BE COVERING?
Sarah: I wanted to start with an Australian cult, since my accent would betray my country of origin immediately anyway, so my first episode is about The Family, a Melbourne-based group that was big in the 70s and 80s under the leadership of Anne Hamilton-Byrne. She used forced adoption schemes to bring children into the sect who were treated very badly and rescued by police in 1987. There was a documentary by filmmaker Rosie Jones that came out earlier this year, but I'd actually written and researched this episode before the doco was available to view outside of festivals. Former child member Ben Shenton generously spoke to me about his experiences with the group.
Episode 2 is about The Movement for the Restoration of the Ten Commandments of God, a Ugandan doomsday cult that had a similarly catastrophic end to Jonestown – that one's due out on Wednesday 18 October. Then I'm working on a couple more at the moment: one about a little-known Australian group without much of an online presence, so I'm talking in detail to ex-members about it; and one about Aum Shinrikyo, the Japanese sect that let off sarin gas in the Tokyo Metro in 1995.
HOW DO YOU FIND THE TIME TO DO THIS?
Sarah: LCB does keep me pretty busy, but I think it's really helped me to learn more about various production processes in terms of video, then be able to take these home and adapt them to my podcasting. I get excited about how much we're achieving for our clients with their video projects, and then I go home and am motivated to try to make my own projects successful too. I think that having a day-job that I love helps me keep in a good mind frame to be really productive outside of work hours.
As well as that, as the project has developed, more people with personal experiences have shared them with me – so I now feel a real responsibility to tell their stories and get them out into the world. I'll make the time for that.
ANYTHING ELSE YOU WANT TO SHARE?
Sarah: Just that I think LCB has been a big inspiration in seeing how much we can achieve in-house for each of our clients' videos. Watching the team work across editing, grading, motion graphics, special effects, sound design and more really shows what's possible when you want to maximise your available resources to deliver something awesome.
And check out the podcast of course! Available on all the major hosting platforms and apps as of today. If it's missing from any, let me know so I can get it up there.
If you have been personally affected by involvement in a cult, or would like to support those who have been, you can find support or donate to Cult Information and Family Support if you’re in Australia (via www.cifs.org.au), and you can find resources outside of Australia with the International Cultic Studies Association (via www.icsahome.com) and the Freedom of Mind Resource Center (via freedomofmind.com).