Pro-deux-er of the Months: Damian Szydlo

Welcome back to Pro-deux-er of the Months! This month, Damian Szydlo of Red Fathom Entertainment shares his experience creating Hannahpocalypse and Cybernautica, two genre-saavy shows with high concepts and big hearts.

When did you join Fable and Folly?

I officially joined up with the Fable and Folly Network with Hannahpocalypse around mid month December of 2022, so I’ve been with the network for just over a year now!

What part of making your show gets you the most excited?

This is a big question for me that begs a bit of a multi-tiered answer. We started our show during the first year of COVID. As a Canadian, we locked down pretty hard for awhile, at least here in Ontario. Now, I historically tell stories that end up as tragedies (or at best are bittersweet) but realized that we needed more stories about hope, especially during that time. Turns out that even in the aftermath of the pandemic we still have a great need for stories that dare to see the best in a world that would otherwise not inspire such. That’s the meaning of ‘hopepunk’ to me, choosing or daring to love and be happy in the ugly face of the world. Getting to tell a surprisingly deep and complex story that is lurking just beneath a dark humored, irreverent shell is SO rewarding to me.

I mean it’s between that and how much fun we get to have with the story and its characters. When I made Hannahpocalypse it was running beside the much more complex (in both story and production) Cybernautica and was kind of a ‘vacation’ project where we could all cut loose. I like to operate Red Fathom as a sort of audio fiction theatre troupe and I took a really collaborative mindset with this show. We played a little more fast and loose with the scripts and in general were very welcoming to improv and a more laid back approach to the whole process. It also proved to be a great excuse to work with some folks that were on my wishlist in a really fun way!

What is your favorite thing about audio fiction as a medium?

I think it’s a wonderfully unique storytelling medium that is unlike any other. I gave a talk at an online convention a few years ago about it, actually. It’s a fantastic marriage of some of the best parts of written and visual storytelling. In a book, you need to create a scene on page in great detail. If it’s not written down then it’s up for interpretation so it’s easy to get caught up in the weeds of a scene because of that. You can spend paragraphs on detailing a setting or even something as simple as a room and lose the reader in doing so. In movies, you have the opposite problem. You can give the viewer a ton of information at a glance and it can easily lead to overload or just be missed entirely. In audio fiction we can lovingly craft a scene and weave the most important details as a scene progresses through the use of verbal queues, sound effects and music: introducing elements as they matter. We can curate a scene and facilitate an immersive experience at whatever pace a moment might require. There is quite literally no medium like it.

What’s a big, pipe-dream goal you have for your show?

I think success metrics are very important to keep realistic so pipe dreams are something I kind of guard myself against. I could say a TV show or cartoon would be WILD but that comes with a lot of unique hurtles and I’ve never believed in creating audio drama that’s end goal was to be picked up and translated to another medium in order to legitimize itself. Right now dreaming big looks like paying myself and the crew the sort of appropriate budgeted wage any production in different forms of media would have. It’s one of the big challenges of being indie in this field where monetization can be a tough balance and something many listeners don’t fully understand given the sort of ‘pirate roots’ of podcasting. ‘Having a decent budget so that cast and crew can see a living wage’ is a boring answer even if it’s SO very important, though. So maybe I’d say that being a celebrated show would feel really great. I’d love it if Hannahpocalypse was a name that folks recognized and recommended to their friends in the same breath as the peers we look up to, and is in my mind, an achievable pipe-dream goal. I think our cast really deserves to have their hard work and performances enjoyed but discovery is hard even if the quality is there.

What do you hope listeners take away from your show?

I created Hannahpocalypse because it was something I wanted to listen to and couldn’t find out there in podcast land. Communication is a central, high-level concept in the show and is itself what I believe to be one of the most important components to societal and personal happiness/peace. But it’s hard too, you know? Sometimes we’re up in our own heads. Sometimes it’s hard to show or tell what we really want and need, nevermind let others in. Hell, it’s tough enough to figure out what we need ourselves some days. That’s why we have hope, and why it’s important to keep trying to make our little corner of the world as good as we can despite the sometimes monumental work we need to put in on our own lives to get there. So I suppose that’s kind of the lesson I’d want folks to take from Hannah. That things we can’t control can turn us upside down, that we can become estranged from the world and even from ourselves but at the end of the day if we keep trying to work it out and put ourselves out there for those we care about… to make ourselves available and open to seize those moments of happiness as often as they present themselves- that things are gonna be okay. That we’re worth taking a chance on.

In your opinion, what’s the most important part of a good in-universe ad?

As a fourth-wall breaking comedy I think that for us it’s taking the same cheekiness we put into the show and bringing it into the ad. We all know that ads aren’t the most awesome part of any form of entertainment but they pay artists and once in a while can be really great ways to discover good services and products. I figure if we’re having some fun with it then the listener might get a chuckle from too; even if they’re not interested in the product. That in itself has value to everyone, including the company that contracted the ad. It’s a win-win-win situation, I think, born out of an often inconvenient aspect of this industry’s reality. As I said, ads pay the artist and are an unspoken accord between a show and its listener in a medium that is often perceived as ‘free’ media- so even if the product isn’t ‘for’ you, we might as well all have a bit of fun with it when we can!