Inspiration. Ambition.
Passion. Process. Technique.

By: Geri Cole

Promotional poster & cover art for SHIPWORM

Geri speaks with Zack Akers, writer and co-director of SHIPWORM, about how the project is the first podcast to be covered on the Writers Guild Minimum Basic Agreement; the challenges and freedoms of writing for audio; and the roles that doctors working during the pandemic, a rented duck, and a rare & elusive type of mollusk have played in his creative process.

Zack Akers, along with his creative partner, Skip Bronkie, run the podcast production company Two-Up, the studio known for groundbreaking fiction, musical and documentary podcasts like 36 QUESTIONS, THE WILDERNESS, and LIMETOWN—the last of which was also adapted into a TV series for Facebook Watch (and which is now available to stream on Peacock).

His latest project is SHIPWORM: a first-of-its-kind feature-length scripted podcast. The two-hour narrative story stars Broadway luminary Quentin Earl Darrington as Wallace Conway, a small-town doctor who wakes up to find he’s been implanted with an untraceable chip that allows a mysterious voice to lead him on a deadly journey that threatens his family, friends and his own life. The full podcast is now available on all streaming services.

Seasons 7-9 of OnWriting are hosted by Geri Cole, a writer and performer based in New York City. She is currently a full-time staff and interactive writer for SESAME STREET, for which she has received Writers Guild Award and two Daytime Emmys. She also performs sketch and improv at theaters and festivals around the country.

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Thanks for listening. Write on.


Geri Cole: You’re listening to OnWriting, a podcast from the Writers Guild of America, East. I’m your host, Geri Cole. In each episode, you’ll hear writers working in film, television, and news, break down everything from the writing process, to pitching, favorite jokes to key scenes and so much more. Today, I’m speaking with Zack Akers, writer of the first of its kind feature length scripted podcast, Shipworm, now available on all streaming services. Shipworm is a two hour narrative story that stars Broadway luminary, Quentin Earl Darrington, as Wallace Conway, a small town doctor who wakes up to find he’s been implanted with an untraceable chip that allows a mysterious voice to lead him on a deadly journey that threatens his family, friends and his own life.

Geri Cole: Zack, along with his creative partner, Skip Bronkie, run the podcast production company Two-Up, the studio known for groundbreaking fiction, musical and documentary podcasts like 36 Questions, The Wilderness and Limetown, which has recently been adapted into a TV Series for Facebook Watch. I spoke with Zach about how Shipworm is the first podcast to be covered on the Writers Guild Minimum Basic Agreement, the challenges and freedoms of writing for audio and about how doctors working during the pandemic, a rented duck and a rare and elusive type of mollusk all played a role in creating his latest project. Hi Zack, thank you so much for joining us today.

Zack Akers: Hi, thank you for having me. This is great.

Geri Cole: So first, I guess I want to start talking about, well, first of all, kudos, congratulations on this podcast, but also on your company, which is what I want to start talking about because I’m a big fan of making your own table and I feel like that’s what you guys are doing at Two-Up and it feels very exciting. So can we talk a little bit just about the company and how it came together and what you think your focus is?

Zack Akers: Yeah. So Two-Up is literally myself and my partner Skip Bronkie, we are the whole company, as it stands. We met each other at NYU and we both went to film school. We met sophomore year and it was on a film shoot and we instantly clicked as just human beings. It was just like we bonded and we liked each other and we liked a lot of the same things. So we became quick friends and then eventually we became roommates. And then eventually he produced my senior thesis film at NYU, which I wrote and directed and he produced it and it was a whole thing. We went down to my hometown in Tennessee. So it was a big project, a big ordeal. And it was just one of those collaborations where you’re like, “Oh, this works.”

Zack Akers: Like when you find a life partner in any capacity, it’s always pretty valuable. So it was just like one of those things like, “Okay, this works, we should do this. We should try to figure out a way to do this.” It only took a decade, but he went out to San Francisco and he was directing commercials for Facebook and then eventually Pinterest. And I was in New York doing sports documentaries with Flagstaff Films, we made films for HBO, Showtime, CBS. We just did a lot and it was a great job and I learned a lot, but it was also one of those things where I kept wanting to do something else. It’s like, I went to film school because I wanted to tell stories and I wanted to entertain in a non documentary format.

Zack Akers: It’s funny how I think documentary was really instructive to what ended up happening with me as a writer, but I felt a pull towards that. And it was just several years of Skip and I trying to figure out what to do. And then it was fall of 2013 when I was riding the subway to work one day and I was listening to a podcast. I always listened to Radiolab or This American Life at that point. And I was just looking around the subway car and everyone was wearing headphones. And it was just one of those moments like, “Wait, there’s something here, right? There’s this active audience, we should do something for this.” And it spiraled into this idea of like we could do the storytelling or the film work that we want to do in this form, in this audio form and this podcast form.

Zack Akers: And so that seemed like something we could manage on different sides of the coast with full-time jobs. So we started formulating ideas and started kicking things around. And that eventually became the impetus for Limetown, and I wrote that pilot that winter into early spring, and then we recorded it in May of 2014. And then we were in posts all the rest of that year until the start of 2015. And then from 2015, January to August, we were trying to get another company to buy it or put it out into the world because we had no idea what to do with it. We had a pilot episode and nothing else, but it was just like we thought it was cool, we thought it was different.

Zack Akers: And so we went to every podcast company that existed at that point, it was like, “Hey, what do you think of this? What do you think of this?” And everyone either didn’t respond, that was the majority of it. Or they responded with like, “We don’t do fiction or we don’t know what this is.” Like, “We don’t know what to do with this.” So we had this deadline for ourselves, it was like, “Okay, we’re going to put it out this day and we’re going to do everything we can to market it, which is everyone in your social media.” And then you reach out to random people that [inaudible 00:05:35] and you’re like, “Hey, could you listen to this?”

Zack Akers: And it was just one of those random things that I think Skip got an email to someone over at Apple and they listened to it and it was just one of those things that they thought it sounded different and they thought it was interesting and they put it on the homepage of Podcasts and that still is the most exciting moment of my life. It’s one of those things that’s going to be burned into my brain forever because I knew even in the moment that my life was different, I was with my parents watching a Mission Impossible movie, I can’t remember which one, it was like whatever one was in 2015.

Zack Akers: And I started feeling my phone buzzing and it just kept buzzing and buzzing and buzzing. And I looked, and I saw it was Skip. And he was just sending curse words at me. He’s like, “You’ve got to look at this, you’ve got to look at this.” And I stepped out of the theater and I was looking and it was right there. And I just was in shock the rest of the day because I, and it’s one of those things too that’s so weird because 2015, podcasts are still not really… Serial is what made podcast podcasts, right?

Geri Cole: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Zack Akers: And so that was the moment that podcasting happened, but it still didn’t reach people like my parents, right? They knew I’d been working on this thing, but trying to explain to them what this meant, was just they were like, “Okay, I’m excited because you’re excited, but I have no idea what this means.” But I knew and Skip new, this is the moment that what we were making actually was put in front of everyone. And we knew once it got in front of people, that it would catch on because we knew it was good. The problem was we didn’t have any other episodes, because it was one of those things where we didn’t want to produce anything else until we knew this was something that people would listen to.

Zack Akers: Not just because of the money or anything else, but the emotional toll, it really hurts to spend that much of your creative life on something that doesn’t matter. And everyone knows that feeling, but for something like this to not work was a lot, because I guess I should mention, in the meantime, Skip quit his job in San Francisco and I left my job and it was like, “We’re going to form this company and our first thing is going to be this. And we’ll see how this goes.” And it was in that moment where it’s like, “We can invest all of the money that we’ve been saving for 10 years into this project or we can do a short film or a more traditional path for a production company, try to get commercial work, try to do things like that, that just generate income that allow you to do the creative work.” And we decided to pour all of our resources into this podcast, which is nuts.

Geri Cole: It was a definite leap of faith.

Zack Akers: Yeah, but it also meant that we had to produce in real time, the rest of the season from August to December. And that is still the most intense time of my life, where it was just like, I was writing, we were casting, we were recording, we were editing, and it was just like, boom, boom, boom one after the other. We got it down to three weeks from beginning to end, but there were stretches there where we didn’t have episodes out for weeks at a time. And it became a thing with the audience where like, “When are they going to release a new episode?” They didn’t know.

Geri Cole: We are trying.

Zack Akers: Yeah, we didn’t have a cadence. It was because we didn’t have an episode earlier. We weren’t being coy. It’s like, we didn’t have anything. And meanwhile, as the show is growing and I should say, for our second episode, it was featured in the podcast banner. And then that same week, Cup of Jo, the lifestyle blog out of Brooklyn, she wrote a post about Limetown and it was the day before my wedding. Yeah, I think it was the day before my wedding. And she just said, “Here’s a great show.” And she just talked about it. And so our show went to number one, the number one podcast the day before my wedding. And again, it was one of those moments where I’m setting up in the reception area, where we’re going to have it. And I had just banged my knee and I was cursing and I checked my phone.

Zack Akers: And again, I had all these texts from Skip and I’m just like, “What is happening?” He’s like, “We’re number one, we’re number one.” It was just one of those moments where I’m like, “I’m getting married tomorrow. This is happening.” And I literally turned my phone off and I was like, “Mom, take this phone from me. I can’t deal with whatever this is and all of this.” So that is happening. I get married, the show is number one, and we’re still producing the show, and we have agents reaching out to us. We have production companies, we have publishing companies, and it was this really overwhelming time. But again, it was one of those things where it’s like, “Okay, we gave ourselves six months as a company.” Like, “We had six months to make or break and we made.” And it was one of those sort of like, okay, now what?

Geri Cole: It’s like, “Oh, this isn’t the end, this is the beginning.”

Zack Akers: Yeah, this is the beginning. You dream about things your whole life and you work towards them your whole life. And then when you get them, you realize like, “Oh no, there’s so much more.” And it’s really easy to lose yourself in that moment too, because it’s like you’re new, you’re fresh. Everybody’s interested in what you’re thinking and saying. And it’s really easy to get caught up in that and lose yourself and whatever that is and lose track of what it is that you want to do.

Zack Akers: And I’m thankful that it happened when we were both old enough and both had been around production and entertainment enough to be like, “All right, we care about the work. That’s what we want. What’s the next job?” That was always our focus. So luckily since then we did the 36 Questions Musical, we did The Wilderness with Crooked Media and Jon Favreau, and we did Shipworm and we did the Limetown TV Show. So we’ve still been able to keep working. And that’s always the thing, it’s like, “What’s the next thing?” And we gave ourselves six months and we’re going on six years now. So it feels pretty good.

Geri Cole: That’s incredible.

Zack Akers: That’s really, long-winded. I’m sorry that I talked so much.

Geri Cole: No, that’s all right. It’s such a good story. It’s such a good story. And it’s super encouraging and inspiring to hear, but I do, I want to talk specifically a little bit about Shipworm. It was the first podcast covered under the [inaudible 00:12:40] Minimum Basic Agreement, which is the contract that covers film and television writers. Do you have any advice to podcast creators and/or production companies about why they should consider covering and making their production company a signatory? What was the decision, I guess, to make this podcast Guild covered?

Zack Akers: I think there’s lots of reasons, but I think the biggest reason is it legitimizes the medium to be an industry that The Guild protects because the Writers Guild is so important. It does so many different things. But I think that to me makes it a legitimate place for writers to do work and to feel safe in doing that work. And I feel that needs to keep pushing forward because I mean, I’ve been in the Guild for a few years now and I’ve been lucky to be in the Guild for the last few years. And it’s really, among other things, just calming to have a community, but also you feel like you’re being taken care of, you know that you won’t be taken advantage of, that there’s all these tools to help you out if you feel lost.

Zack Akers: And it’s a network of human beings who are all broken the same way you are, they have the same brain. I don’t know what it is, as writers, but it’s just to us, we didn’t even know it was an option until The Guild reached out to us and they were like, “Hey, we want to start doing this. And we want to start offering this for podcasts.” And it was just a no brainer thing for us. Like, “If we can do this, we should.” And we just so happened to be the first one, but I know that there are more coming and that there are more that are going to be produced and it’s a great thing. I think it’s a game changing moment for podcasting and I think that it’s really important to keep pushing it as much as possible.

Geri Cole: So let’s talk specifically about Shipworm. What was the seed of the story and what drew you to this character?

Zack Akers: We had been talking about doing a feature length podcasts since Limetown. I remember it was one of those random mornings where, I think Skip hates what I do this, when we’re in the middle of a project and I come in, I’m like, “I’ve got an idea.” And he’s like, “Can you sit on it for another couple months until we need it again?” But I come walking in, I’m like, “Why don’t we do a movie?” And he’s like, “Oh, that’s cool. Yeah, we should think about that.” But life happens, things happen, whatever. We just never had an opportunity to do it.

Zack Akers: And then when the pandemic happened and where everyone was just at home, and then whatever we had been doing and other forms of entertainment, it was just like, “Okay. Well, this is not going to happen right now, why don’t we do something in this space? Why don’t we do that feature length project?” And I’d had the idea for a while like, “Oh, I think it would be interesting if a character was wired and you’re hearing back from their perspective.” So that format and reason to be hearing it was something that I was playing with, but then we read the article about the underwater forest off of Dauphin Island, which contained these shipworms that were very valuable to pharmaceutical companies because these-

Geri Cole: Oh, that’s real?

Zack Akers: Yeah, it’s real. It’s a real thing. That part of it is real, where the shipworms, they eat the wood and their stomachs basically break it down and digest the wood and kill all the bacteria. And in that process, they develop these antibiotics in the stomachs. And they’re really valuable for pharmaceutical companies, because they generate brand new antibiotics and ways to combat things that we don’t have. And these game-changing medical things can lead to not only fighting the next superbug, but possibly cancers and other medical things that we’re not even thinking about right now from these creatures that are eating this wood that has been preserved for 60,000 years.

Zack Akers: So it’s this really bizarre lining up of events that it’s creating this really valuable, weird mollusk in the middle of the ocean and this location is top secret. There’s only certain people who know where it is because it’s so valuable. And so we thought, “Well, that’s interesting. That’s an interesting world to play in and that’s just a wild concept generally that these weird clams could be so valuable, what would a person do to get them?”

Zack Akers: And that started this idea of like, “How do we get a person here? How do we make it raise the stakes? How do we do that?” But then it was also, as we were thinking about the character, is during this time of the pandemic, and there was this moment that really was something that Skip and I thought about and talked about a lot was this doctor was talking about how he had spent a double shift, doing everything he could to help people with COVID and people are dying all over the place.

Zack Akers: People are on ventilators and he’s just, “It’s soul crushing work.” And then he would leave the hospital and there would be people lined up to yell at him about how COVID is fake and how this is all generated by the media or whatever. And this doctor was like, “I don’t know why I do this.” And it was this really powerful moment of like, “We live in this time where good people aren’t rewarded and really shameless, awful people are.” And that’s something we need to talk about. And that’s something that we need to focus on. So it was like, “That was the impetus of this character and how we started thinking about them and talking about them.” And that led to the story of Shipworm as much as anything else

Geri Cole: Wow, I love it. It’s pulling in all these real world elements. One of the themes that I felt really stood out to me was this sense of personal responsibility versus following orders and that speech about him wearing the Wallace suit, which was incredible. I guess, did you speak with any veterans specifically, or I guess, where did that come from?

Zack Akers: No, I didn’t, but I did a lot of reading and I threw myself into the pit of the torture reports, which was really a foul thing to spend any amount of time in, but reading what had happened during the period of torture during the Iraq and Afghanistan wars and what the governments had sanctioned and what was done.

Zack Akers: And then just trying to imagine how the people who had done that must have felt afterwards and how it’s sort of projecting my feelings onto someone who has done something that I couldn’t imagine, but I was thinking that if you do anything under orders like that, you could either justify it in your head or it’s something that you battle with the rest of your life like, “Could I have said no? Could I have done anything else?”

Zack Akers: And that idea of just doing what you’re told versus free will and how sometimes you feel like you don’t have that choice. And I definitely read a lot about veterans who are dealing with PTSD and their struggles and all that, but it was more just writing what I felt was true and building out this character that was tortured by that choice.

Geri Cole: I feel like I found myself feeling very intimately connected with the character. And I don’t know if it’s… Rather or not, I guess is my question is like, do you think that that’s one of the benefits of the medium, because it was in my head and I felt like I was almost in his body in a way?

Zack Akers: Yeah.

Geri Cole: I guess talk about what the benefits of the medium in that way in writing.

Zack Akers: It’s one of the things that I love most about the audio storytelling is that there’s this great quote that I heard Ira Glass say, but it’s not an Ira Glass quote. It’s a quote that he heard from someone, but that radio is the most visual medium. And it’s one of those things that I really like thinking about because it’s what you’re talking about. It’s so intimate and it’s so personal for every single person who listens to it and they paint the picture in their head. So everybody has their own version of Wallace, everybody has their own version of his office and his adventures and the underwater forest.

Zack Akers: And that’s a beautiful thing to me and everybody because of that, because your brain is constantly building out the space, you’re also projecting your own feelings. You’re involving yourself in this and that’s really fun. And that’s also why I think I tend to lean towards the thriller or the more terrifying elements of it, because I think that that’s the most exciting thing to do with someone, if they’re leaning in and paying attention. And you want them to stop doing the laundry or have to pull over the car for a second to be like, “Whoa, what was that?” So I absolutely love that part of it.

Zack Akers: Another thing that I love about it is how you can create a much bigger space and have much bigger events than you could in the visual version of whatever the story is that you’re telling. The budget for Shipworm, the movie, a visual movie, is so much more than the budget for a podcast, but it’s not going to feel any bigger or more expansive than what we did in the podcast, because of how intimate and because of how invested you are and because of what you’re doing in your own brain to fill out the visual space. So that is always the thing that excites me most about podcasting.

Geri Cole: Man, that is such a great way to think of it where it’s like, “It’s not taking up any more space, but that space would cost more in a visual medium.” So do you have a different approach in… I guess this is an obvious or strange question, but writing for screen versus writing for… Is there anything that changes, do you think as you’re writing?

Zack Akers: For sure. I think when you talk about the strengths, you should also talk about the limitations. And the limitations of podcasting are that everything has to be told, and that is a tricky thing to navigate in storytelling. Exposition is the hardest part of audio storytelling, and it’s something that I still listen to radio dramas from the 30s, 40s, 50s on. And the biggest problem any of those stories have, the example I use is, if you’re in life and imagine you’re going to punch someone, and I’m sure that you’ve never punched someone, but imagine that you have gotten to the point of, “I’m going to punch this person,” you don’t say, “I’m going to punch you,” and then punch them. You just punch him, right? But in radio and audio, if you just hit someone, without context, it doesn’t make any sense, right?

Geri Cole: Yeah.

Zack Akers: So you have to step out of real life a little bit, but if you step out too much, then the audience tunes out because it’s like, “That doesn’t sound real. Or that sounds like a writer is doing something.” So it’s definitely something that… And Limetown was a documentary formatted, fictional thing, which makes sense, because in a documentary radio broadcast, you do have to explain everything. So everything feels natural when the narrator comes in and it’s like, “And that’s when he started crying.”

Zack Akers: Because you do have to inform the audience, but we have expanded Shipworm to be just straight audio drama. So the rules of writing definitely change for that than they would for… And that’s a lot of why we’re doing it is because it’s like, “Oh, this is different. This is new. Let’s keep pushing things for ourselves and see what’s possible.” But it was weirdly, writing for the Limetown TV Show liberating. Sometimes it would just be like, “Oh, we can just show that. Cool.”

Geri Cole: Oh, we can just cut to that.

Zack Akers: Yeah, there it is. Cool. Great anyway. Great. And of course, writing for TV is really hard too, but the going from that to that, going from podcasts to do television, it was a relief in a weird way.

Geri Cole: Wow. Were there any lines that you felt like you had to toe in terms of mental health? Because I think another thing with Wallace, this character is obviously, spoilers, a bit like the idea that is whether or not he’s having a mental break, which I’m still not sure about. What were the, I guess, the lines or guidelines or guard rails, rather?

Zack Akers: We knew from the beginning that we needed this story to work in either case, right? So if you think that he actually is being held hostage and forced to do these things, that the story works. And if he’s having a mental break or some sort of disconnect that, that story works too. But I guess what we told ourselves was we need to be respectful as possible towards the version where these events are playing out only in his own head and never blaming that. It’s like we wanted the trauma to be the source of all this, in any case, sort of like dealing with grief was the problem, dealing with trauma was the problem.

Zack Akers: And that is something that I’ve had to deal with in my own life where, and that was the source of that sort of thing. I lost my mom unexpectedly a few years ago and it was one of those things that changed my life so profoundly that I’ve been writing about it ever since. And I think that was what I was most curious about exploring with this character is how you deal with grief, the person you become on the other side of a traumatic event. And if you can ever fix that fracture between the two versions of yourself and in that healing process. And that was more what I was writing about than anything else. So that was what was true to me as far as that goes. So that was definitely more my focus than anything else was putting trauma at the forefront and sort of like what you do and what you become on the other side of it, I guess.

Geri Cole: Wow. I’m sorry about your mom passing. Yeah, that’s a very smart, I think way to handle it is making sure that we’re not putting the drama and/or the issue on the mental health, but on to who you become. Let’s talk a little bit about the sound design, because it was incredible.

Zack Akers: Thank you.

Geri Cole: How did that happen? How’d you guys put that together?

Zack Akers: We work with this amazing sound designer. His name is Joel Robbie, and he has been who we’ve worked with on all of our podcasts since Limetown. He’s someone that Skip had worked with a few times out in San Francisco. And when we were doing Limetown, it was just those long shots. He’s like, “I know this guy and maybe he’ll want to do this.” And he instantly was like, “Yeah, cool.” He’s like, “I don’t really understand this quite yet, but yeah, I’m in.” And for him, it was like complete freedom. Normally when he’s sound designing to picture, he has limitations on everything. Everything has to make sense as to what you’re seeing, but with this, it would be like, “Joel, he’s underwater, he’s in a scuba suit, have fun.”

Zack Akers: And so all of the credit on the sound design goes to Joel. I mean, we certainly… I write in all the sound design into my scripts and what I’m looking for and the emotion and all of that. And I’ll even send him separate notes with pictures like, “I want it to sound like it’s in this car and this kind of road and the bridge looks like this,” so I’m very specific about the notes, but Joel does all of it. I mean, one of my favorite things is for 36 Questions, the musical, we had a duck as a character, one of the characters had a pet duck. And so Joel actually literally went to a farm and rented a duck and followed him around all day, just recording this duck and getting all of these sounds.

Geri Cole: I’m sorry, you said you rented a duck?

Zack Akers: Yeah. So he got all of these bespoke duck sounds for the project. And it’s like, that’s the kind of detail and passion that he puts into it.

Geri Cole: That’s incredible.

Zack Akers: And because we’ve been working with him for so long, I find myself trying to find the limits of Joel like, “Can he actually sound design this? I don’t know, but let’s try it.” And so far he’s been able to do everything flawlessly, which is probably bad for him because I’m just going to keep pushing it as much as possible.

Geri Cole: No, it’s good. I love that he’s getting you fresh duck sounds. No [inaudible 00:31:19].

Zack Akers: No, he does not tolerate [inaudible 00:31:22] duck sounds.

Geri Cole: Wow, that’s incredible. Also, I love that it’s like have fun. Just go wild.

Zack Akers: We had done this enough to where we understand the power of panning sound and making things louder than they would be naturally or making things more quiet, so people lean in for important moments. So all of those tricks that we’ve learned over the years are something that we work with Joel a lot, but he is a wizard. I call him a wizard all the time, but I genuinely believe that he is one.

Geri Cole: He’s an actual wizard. Let’s talk also a little bit about the performances because they were also incredible. Did you, or do you write with having certain folks in mind or did anything change once you had the project cast?

Zack Akers: Not really. I mean, one of the good things, if you can call it that about the pandemic is that you have a lot of actors who need work. And a lot of really talented actors who otherwise wouldn’t be doing podcasts, who need to do something. So when we were casting, we were just so lucky to have so many talented actors audition for basically every role in the show, every role in the show. And the great thing about casting for podcasts is it’s just the performance, that’s it. There’s no other consideration, right? It’s just like, “Who gave the best performance? Who has the best voice to listen to?”

Zack Akers: And then once you get your leads, it’s like, “Whose voice sounds different enough from that person so you don’t have conflicting voices that way?” And so those considerations go into it, but it doesn’t matter about age, race, anything. It’s just, who gives the best performance? And actors love it because there’s no blocking, there’s no lighting, there’s no makeup. They just come into a booth, they pour their soul out and then they go home. And so once we cast Quentin and Miriam and then everything else fell into place, it was just like, “Oh, this is going to work. I feel like everything here is going to work.” We did a read through with Quentin and Miriam and Lee and Jessie Shelton.

Zack Akers: And I just remember coming away from that being like, “Wow, I can’t believe how good everyone is.” It feels so good when you have such talented people to do it, but nothing that I can remember really… Well, I will say because Quentin is a black man, there was the moments around the cops and those really loaded moments like, “Is there anything that we need to think about here? Is there anything that we need to engage with here?” And luckily, most of it is him being away from the cops, right?

Zack Akers: There isn’t a moment of confrontation until the very end when he does confront them, but that felt like a moment to me that was all about him, it didn’t have to do with them. And we did write it in the moment of the chief being like, “He committed the act of violence to himself, to be clear. We had nothing to do with it.” Realizing that that’s something that would be considered, but most everything else just felt like a human experience.

Geri Cole: There are two questions that I want to ask. One is, is there a different… It did feel open at the end. I believe that he was truly being controlled, but is there a definitive answer on that?

Zack Akers: I can’t answer that.

Geri Cole: Okay.

Zack Akers: I can say that I have an opinion as a writer. I have my own opinion, but I hate the idea of me saying if you’re right or wrong. I want you to be right. And I want you to experience the story in your own way. And the fact that you don’t know is what we wanted. We wanted the conversation to happen outside of the project and amongst people who had listened to the show. So I feel like I would be doing a disservice to give you, but there is… I mean, in my mind there is an answer, but I don’t want to give it.

Geri Cole: That’s totally fair except, which leads me actually nicely to my next question, is there a desire, I guess in a general, Limetown obviously has been adapted into a television series. Is there a desire to adapt this into a feature film and that’s just in general? Again, there are many benefits to this medium just as there are many drawbacks. And so it’s like, “Is there a desire to cross pollinate, if I’m using that correctly?” Do you mean or no?

Zack Akers: I mean, it’s one of those things that the reality of it is, of course, we would be open to the adaptation because that’s what gives you more money to do other things, that is definitely where more money exists. It’s also really fun, any sort of production is fun. And to own property that’s being adapted is valuable. And we understand that as a company, so it’s good for our company, but I do bristle at the idea of you make things to have them adapted, because I think that, that demeans this medium in a way that I find gross and I think is actually something that happens a lot where it’s like, “Oh, my pilot didn’t work, so I’m just going to do it as a podcast.” Thinking that it’s just like, “Oh, that’ll work.”

Geri Cole: Like it’s an easier thing.

Zack Akers: It’s like it’s an easier thing, when it’s you have to ask yourself why something is a podcast and why it’s being told that way, not just because you can’t tell it as a TV Show or as a movie. So that’s one of the biggest tests for us. That’s why we don’t do many shows. It’s why we only do them when they feel like, “Okay, this is right for this medium, this is what we’re going to do. And we’re going to make the best version of this possible for this experience.” And if it becomes something else, great, but if you don’t do it well here, no one’s going to care about it in any other form. So that is always our priority when we’re making these projects.

Geri Cole: So in The Guild Podcast Series, the OnWriting guide to crafting scripted podcasts, which you kindly participated in, you talked about the creative and business side of creating podcasts, since those episodes were about two years ago and the podcasting landscape has changed a good bit, I’m curious to know your thoughts on the industry shift and how it’s impacted your work and mindset.

Zack Akers: Well, I think it’s changed for good and for bad. Well, bad is all in where you are in life and who you’re working with, but I think in my mind, the bad part of the industry is that it has certainly become more corporate and it has certainly become more like television and that there are studios and that there are very certain paths to get things done, as opposed to in the days of Limetown when we first started, it was just sort of like, “Yeah, we just put it out there and it could do just as well as anything else,” where I feel like now, because there is a massive podcast market, I think I read something like there’s more than a million podcasts now.

Zack Akers: And it’s like, there’s so much just noise and how you penetrate it and how you break through is definitely a lot harder than it used to be. And you’re forced into avenues of following a studio system, which again is good and bad. It’s good that the industry is being legitimized in such a way, but it’s bad for independent producers or people who are just starting out. But I do think the exciting thing and the unknown thing is the new subscription model that’s being introduced by Apple and Spotify and I’m sure everyone else, that will allow for a direct payment to the creator.

Zack Akers: So it means that you no longer have to rely on advertising for money, which is also a busted system for fictional podcasts and it’s hard to make money that way, but if you have 10,000 loyal listeners to whatever you’re doing and you charge a certain amount, you can make a good amount of money that way, and you can be an independent producer that way. So I think that, that might change this industry in a way that people don’t fully understand yet. And when I say people, I mean, myself too. It could either fall flat or it could be something that is truly game-changing and allows more people into the space and allows more people to make a living doing it this way.

Zack Akers: And I’m hopeful for that. And I think the fact that Apple is committing to it does make it more possible than it’s ever been, because people are just used to paying for things through their system and it’s not going to be a lot to be like final pay, 2.99 for six months or whatever. Whatever you want to do to subscribe to this company and whatever they’re making. So I am excited about that and to see if that makes the changes that we think that it will.

Geri Cole: You have, again, just perfectly led me to my next question, which is, and I like to ask all the guests to the podcast this question, is success. Rather, I like talking about the idea of success, because I feel it looks different for everyone. And so I’m curious what success looks like for you, what it used to look like for you, and what it looks like for you now?

Zack Akers: That’s a good question. I think for a long time, I felt insecure about calling myself a writer, because I knew writers and I knew what they did and what they wrote and I felt like I wasn’t at that level, or I didn’t deserve to be one.

Geri Cole: Same.

Zack Akers: Right. Yeah, I feel like that’s a universal feeling among writers, but I think when I realized that it’s all that I wanted to do, and when it was when I had the full-time job doing documentaries, and it was like, all I was doing when I wasn’t sleeping or eating or trying to maintain a relationship with my wife was daydreaming or writing. And it’s what I wanted to do and what I did when I had free time. And so it’s like the fact that I can do that for a living and that I can call myself a writer, that I feel comfortable saying I’m a writer. When people are like, “What do you do?” I’m a writer.

Zack Akers: That’s a really powerful moment in your life when you can say that and feel confident in that and feel like I can make a living doing this. And so that is the criteria for myself, which is like, “Can I support myself and my family by doing something that I love?” And if I can, then that is amazing success. That’s all that I want, because if this didn’t work and I had to go work at Whole Foods or something else, I would still be writing. And it’s what I would be doing anyway. So the fact that I can do this, and it’s how I can support everyone that I love is just a miracle. And I don’t know if that will ever… If that does change, then I’m a bad person. I don’t know what’s happened to me. But that’s all that it is to me now.

Geri Cole: Yeah, that’s such a fantastic answer. And I also think that that’s probably a good place for us to wrap this up. Thank you so much for taking the time to talk with us today.

Zack Akers: Thank you.

Geri Cole: This was a really lovely conversation.

Zack Akers: Great. No, thank you very much. It’s a real honor to be here talking to you. So thank you very much.

Geri Cole: Well, actually, also one more question. What’s next? What’s coming out next?

Zack Akers: We just have several things bubbling right now, but there’s nothing that I feel confident enough to be like, “This is the thing right now,” but we have a lot of things brewing right now that I’m excited about.

Geri Cole: Okay. Well, I’m excited to know what they are.

Zack Akers: Yeah. Thank you.

Geri Cole: Awesome. That’s it for this episode. OnWriting is a production of the Writers Guild of America, East. Tech production and original music is by Stockboy Creative. You can learn more about the Writers Guild of America, East online at And you can follow The Guild on social media at WGA, East. If you like this podcast, please subscribe and rate us. I’m Geri Cole. Thank you for listening and write on.

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