The end is near. But for those of us who listen to The Black Tapes, we’ve known that for a while.
Created and written by Paul Bae and Terry Miles and launched in May of 2015, The Black Tapes is a docudrama hosted by Alex Reagan, a public radio journalist for Pacific Northwest Stories, and follows her as she investigates the mysterious Strand Institute and its more mysterious founder, Dr. Richard Strand. Over the course of the first two seasons, things go from creepy to downright apocalyptic.
The podcast quickly went from a spooky serial to igniting a small pod empire, leading to sister podcasts Tanis and Rabbits, both written by Terry Miles. A television version of Tanis has been announced and will be produced by Sam Raimi and Debbie Liebling’s POD 3 along with Dark Horse. Bae has his own solo project launching around Halloween of this year, and the two have other projects together and apart. “We have lots of stories to tell,” Miles says.
Today, the premiere episode was released for the third and final season of The Black Tapes, the podcast that started it all. I talked to the writers and creators about the end of the show -- and the end of the world as we know it.
What is the writing process like?
Paul Bae: It’s a switch-off. We do it half and half. It’s like a feedback loop; we’ll feed it to each other and go off what the other wrote, especially for Alex’s narration.
Because the other shows, Terry, you write those yourself?
Terry Miles: Yeah.
How’s that experience different?
TM: It takes longer. (laughs) I don’t have Paul’s genius to lean upon. I go back and forth with myself.
How much input do the actors have in their characters?
TM: Well, accepting the fact …
Yeah, I kind of wondered if we’d talk about that at all, since you’re both pretty adamant about the show being “real.”
TM: Yeah ... If they were actors -- which they are not -- they would stick to the script.
This is really a reality prison you’ve built yourselves.
TM: Yes. Definitely. But it’s fun.
Well, you guys are so good at the social media aspect, where it does feel like these are all real people. Was that important to you, or did that come organically?
TM: It was important. I didn’t grow up with radio dramas. The affection is there, but not necessarily the enjoyment. If it didn’t have hinged-upon-reality element to it, I probably wouldn’t be that interested.
What were some of the influences -- for the story in general, but also the universe you’ve created around it?
PB: We talked about War of the Worlds quite a bit, about what the impact would have been at the time, and how immersive storytelling is a thing we’re both really into. The world of podcasting is another way in; it’s so intimate. Someone’s in your ear. It feels more direct and intimate than, say, watching something on a screen. That’s what it felt like when we started this, so we thought we should capitalize on that intimacy.
TM: In regards to the shared world of characters [between The Black Tapes and his other shows, Tanis and Rabbits], a big influence on me was Michael Moorcock and Elric and Eternal Champion series of books, because the characters in those books crossed over into the other series and it was just so exciting as a kid. It was like, “Holy shit. No way. This character is in this novel all of the sudden?” It was so thrilling.
Has that been a challenge to figure out how much interaction there would be between the characters and how much crossover there would be? Because there’s no Black Tapes and Rabbits crossover, but Tanis exists in both worlds.
TM: It becomes more complicated when you look at moving the podcast into other media. That’s the short answer. Initially, you think “All things combined!” and it’s going to be one amazing universe, and then it becomes, “Well, Paul and I are doing this podcast, and I’m doing these podcasts, and someone else wants to turn this into this,” and it becomes more challenging.
Getting into the story itself, how much was outlined off the bat? Was Season 1 its own distinct thing, or did you know pretty much how things were going to go over the course of all three seasons?
PB: I think of myself as the psychic there. We saw the end coming. We had to write all of Alex’s intros first, so we had a good idea of where it was headed. That way we could just allow the story to unfold.
TM: And there were definite surprises along the way. We really leave ourselves room to let the characters and events drive our recording of them, so to speak. There are all kinds of large tentpoles that were surprising.
PB: When you kind of allow the characters to do what comes naturally, we were sort of surprised. We surprised ourselves bringing some characters back, like Dabic and Simon.
Did you have Strand’s journey mapped out, like how his childhood would play in?
PB: As producers there’s always things you hoped would happen, but sometimes a character, just the way they are, it takes a direction you didn’t expect, and it’s always a pleasant surprise when that happens.
TM: Strand and his family remain enigmatic to us to some degree. I mean, there’s a limitless podcast there about the Strand family. The Strand Family Radio Hour.
It seems like with podcasts specifically, because since there’s not a canonical look for a character, people feel more empowered to decide what a character looks like or “off-camera” headcanons, the same with books.
PB: I just read that word "headcanon" for the first time about a month ago. I like it. I find it fascinating. I’m kind of honored people would spend their time doing this, spend a chunk of their day expanding our world, this world we’ve immersed ourselves in. I’ve read some of it, and a lot of it’s quite good.
TM: Yeah, it’s quite impressive. It’s hard to go down that path and not spend six hours looking at fan art.
PB: Oh my God, the fan art is amazing.
TM: I feel like I have to set aside a day because you get lost so deeply.
Anything you can tell me about this final season?
PB: It’s gonna satisfy a lot of people in some ways, and it’s gonna piss off a lot of people in some ways.
Is the world going to end? Are we all gonna die?
PB: *laughs* I can’t answer that.
TM: I mean, eventually yes.
Was there any conversation about continuing it, or did you know you were done?
PB: We knew this story would have to close here, right now, at this moment.
Was there a reason for that? Did it feel right narratively, or are you both just so busy?
PB: There are a lot of factors. It’s hard to talk about. When you get to the end, it will become self-explanatory.
TM: It’s not that other projects are taking away from Black Tapes, contrary to what we’ve heard on Twitter.
PB: That’s not the reason.
TM: We could continue, but it feels like this is where the story ends. For now, at least.