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What Makes for Great Audio Storytelling?

Nate von Zumwalt

A story is a story is a story—or at least that’s how we see it. Last month we announced that the BBC World Service and Sundance Institute are inviting storytellers to submit original, essential, and thought-provoking audio documentary stories and treatments for a new, nonfiction radio broadcast and podcast series to launch in 2018 (click here to learn more and submit).

We’re casting a wide net and calling on nonfiction storytellers across various mediums to submit their stories that explore the world as we experience it today. As a guiding hand, or perhaps even a creative catalyst, storytellers can explore the full range of audio documentary programs available through the BBC World Service website. These programs can also be found by searching for “The Documentary” in iTunes or Android.

In the annals of storytelling, audio’s legacy is an indelible one. Even among today’s busy media landscape and access to content, audio storytelling flourishes as a home for rich narratives. But what makes for great audio? We turned to BBC’s Simon Pitts for some resources that could go a long way in serving your submission to the BBC and Sundance Institute. Here’s what he had to say.


1) Audio Production Is Like Music Composition

Audio takes words and sounds and makes music out of them. These are the words of Alan Hall who features in this linked guide about layering sound. It has some great case studies in it, put together by prize-winning producers and gives a really good flavour of how to tell very short audio stories. It’s a great place to start and it’s only 23 minutes long. Listen here.

2) Audio Is About Compelling Stories

This below episode features Jon Ronson, the best-selling author of The Men Who Stare at Goats, which was adapted into a film starring George Clooney. In this download he discusses compelling stories with some other great and experienced audio producers. Listen here.

3) Audio Is About Intimacy

This episode is about rapport. Audio is a much more intimate medium than film—interviewees typically feel much more comfortable not showing their face and not having to look good. So you can get a very different feel from interviews. Listen here.

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Sundance Institute’s Native American and Indigenous Program Stands By Navajo Code Talkers and The Art of Native Storytelling

Sundance Institute and the Sundance Institute Native American and Indigenous Program looked with sadness and dismay at yesterday’s White House ceremony meant to commemorate the unprecedented contributions of America’s Navajo Code Talkers. The event unfolded in a disrespectful tone that bears attention.
The hundreds of Native American Code Talkers who served in World War I and II deserve our undying gratitude and respect, and today we offer that to them and all veterans from the far reaches of America, including Indian Country, where Native people have served this country in every war in its history.

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NEA Proposed Cuts

Sundance Institute vigorously supports the National Endowment for the Arts, and calls upon our country’s leadership to do the same. NEA support played a crucial role in launching Sundance Institute in 1981 and has helped thousands of museums, arts programs and organizations. The NEA plays a critical role in building a culture that values artists and understands the important economic benefits of investing in the arts.

Sundance Institute’s Native American and Indigenous Program Stands By Navajo Code Talkers and The Art of Native Storytelling

Sundance Institute and the Sundance Institute Native American and Indigenous Program looked with sadness and dismay at yesterday’s White House ceremony meant to commemorate the unprecedented contributions of America’s Navajo Code Talkers. The event unfolded in a disrespectful tone that bears attention.
The hundreds of Native American Code Talkers who served in World War I and II deserve our undying gratitude and respect, and today we offer that to them and all veterans from the far reaches of America, including Indian Country, where Native people have served this country in every war in its history.

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