Turned On: Radio At Sundance


Radio came to Park City this festival in a number of ways. Yesterday, in the Panel, “How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love TV: This American Life Reloaded,” NPR radio star Ira Glass joined Director Chris Wilcha [www.imdb.com] and cinematographer Adam Beckman [www.imdb.com] to discuss the transformation of the This American Life [www.thislife.org] from a radio show to a Showtime television series.


While the panel was looking at the transformation from radio to television, for Glass “at the end of the day this is about storytelling.” In radio, Glass identified two fundamental elements of successful radio narration: “The plot and the moment of reflection about plot.” First, there are “the facts of this story, how one thing after the other leads to the next.” And then for Glass, “the second part of the story…is what does it mean. What is it about?” But that two-punch approach to narrative was not necessarily the route to successful television.

In turning the radio show into tv, the filmmakers grappled with how to keep the essence of the show without making it just visual radio. Should they lose the narrator, Ira Glass? Can they just tell the story with images? How much needs to be narrated? For Beckman, however, one thing was clear: “We talked a lot about what we loved about the show, and one thing is is this alchemy in it. The photography had to have the same integrity and beauty of the show.”

For festival goerswho wanted to be on the radio, the NPR show “Says You!” [www.wgbh.org] taped here in Park City on Monday.

Peter Bowen

Senior Editor, Filmmaker Magazine