Before diving into the Behind the Scenes for this season, I just wanted to make mention that now there is an audio version of this post now. With the show being designed with an audio first mentality and these Behind the Scenes getting longer, I thought recording myself reading the post would be helpful. If you would like to listen, the episode is right in the feed. I hope you enjoy!
It’s been a long season with you, the fans. And I’ll tell you all about it when the season comes to an end…
Which would be right now!
Welcome to the Behind the Scenes1 for Chapter Select Season 4 – The Fast & The Furious. Our longest season to date gave us the opportunity to explore the evolution, design, and legacy of an entirely new form of media for the show. And with the seasonal pivot to film, new creative challenges revved up during our production.
Why movies? So we could play more games! We explained it in the Season 4 trailer; we wanted to tackle an ambitious Season 5 with Resident Evil. Instead of drowning in a ton of games, we took the opportunity to explore films, which have a far lower time commitment to consume.
The decision wasn’t all time focused. I have wanted Logan to watch the Fast films for years now. They are movies I knew would be in his wheelhouse. Having a fresh perspective on movies that I have seen countless times was just as exciting as waiting for Logan to finally witness iconic moments like dragging a safe through the city or a real deal street fight.
The challenge for us was shifting to a new subject matter. Logan and I almost exclusively podcast about video games. We have for almost eight years. Of course we talk about anything and everything under the sun off the microphone, but rarely have we discussed films on air.
Now Chapter Select‘s signature bouncing back and forth format was directly inspired by James Bonding, a podcast that did just that for James Bond. The format is quite adaptable to film—really any media. What we needed to discover was how would our personal dynamic play out on a show about movies?
It was fun to stretch these critical analysis muscles for film. Logan and I even watched a couple movies together, chatting along the way. We haven’t really played a game together yet for the show (although Resident Evil presents an opportunity for some co-op). The season from start to finish was a success. It was a blast! I wager we will return to Hollywood someday, but until then, it is time for a deep, rich dive behind the scenes of this season’s production.
- Chapter Select Download Totals – 39,682 (unique) / 6,226 (IAB) (as of 1/4/23)
- Overall Season 4 Download Totals – 12,575 (unique) / 1,771 (IAB) (as of 1/4/23)
- Top Episode – S4E4 – Fast Five 1,893 (unique) / 256 (IAB)
- Twitter Followers @ChapterSelect by the end of Season 4 – 24
Right off the bat, you’ll notice a brand new stat entering the roundup—IAB. That stands for Interactive Advertising Bureau and Libsyn began offering those numbers with their initial stats tier. These seem to be the industry standard these days and are what advertisers prefer to look at. So why the disparity? According to Libsyn it comes down to what the IAB filters out.
In general, IAB metrics filter out more downloads than the Unique metric. As explained above, IAB does not count downloads from bots or from other automated sources —such as servers caching content. For this main reason, you will normally see that you have fewer IAB downloads than Unique downloads.
Thirty thousand is quite the difference. And I won’t lie, this contrast brings my excitement about our growth down a smidge; after all 39,000~ is a much more exciting number to share.
The important fact to take away though is the undeniable growth that Chapter Select had in 2022. Whether you look at the IAB or the unique, our show more than tripled in size. And that growth is the real nugget I should be (and am!) excited about.
Consistency is key to growth. Two seasons a year maintains its manageability with a bi-weekly release keeping the feed active during a season. With 15 episodes released in 2022, that is feed activity for 30 weeks. For 2023, we have 21 episodes planned. Combined with Chapter Select‘s quality, which I believe to be quite high, I expect our growth to continue throughout the new year. Will it maintain its tripling cadence? I think expecting to maintain that clip would be setting myself up for some form of disappointment. But I do expect healthy growth in our numbers. Our planned seasons are exciting and popular. The back catalog will continue to grow with timeless discussions on beloved franchises giving new and old listeners a library to explore.
Outside of Libsyn’s stats, we can look at the larger platforms a glean some insight there. On Apple Podcasts we saw a total of 986 plays, an increase of 331 over the end of Season 3 – Banjo-Kazooie. There are now 11 followers, 33 listeners, and 23 engaged listeners on Apple devices.
Spotify had much healthier growth this season, essentially doubling all of the totals from the end of Season 3. Starts went up from 350 to 711, streams flowed from 152 up to 365, our listeners grew from 147 to 266, and the follower count bumped up from 10 to 18. Now all this cannot be attributed to Season 4. Glancing at the all time numbers, I’m seeing changes in the back log of episodes. Spotify continues to be a platform where older episodes are discovered and steadily grow out.
YouTube also had a lot more action this season. The whole season total was 382 views, which smashes last season’s 56 views. It doesn’t take a critical eye to see why there was this difference. The episode count (and therefore the season duration) was doubled. I’d also wager that Fast & Furious is slightly more popular than Banjo-Kazooie.
Besides all these raw metrics, I’m eager to look at the performance over time when compared to other seasons. Obviously, our audience was only familiar with Chapter Select discussing video games. We explored a new medium this season and that can turn some existing listeners off to the show and its direction. It also opens the door for new listeners to discover the show.
When compared to Season 2 – God of War, which is close in episode count, we can see S2 ended with 7,805 unique downloads compared to Season 4’s 12,575 (unique) / 1,771 (IAB). Today, Season 2 has 13,086 U / 1,894 IAB. So what should we credit to this difference? Is Fast & Furious more engaging content for folks to hear about? Is it the age of Chapter Select itself? Does being on the market longer give a season’s initial run better performance, regardless of the topic?
These self-reflective and analytical Behind the Scenes posts are hardly scientific. Answers to these questions cannot be determined from numbers alone. I’d have to conduct some actual research, but asking these questions is enough for me. It’s why I write these in-depth posts. I want to be able to look back and parse meaning from each season.
Download numbers aren’t the only digits I have to pour over! The reason we opted for a film franchise this season was the time commitment to just consume the product. The entirety of the Fast & Furious franchise to date is 20 hours and 38 minutes. I spent more time playing Paper Mario: The Thousand-Year Door in 2021! It was so nice to have a shorter commitment. Granted, we filled all that time with Resident Evil and beyond.
When it comes to editing this season, I tracked just over 42 hours. The longest edit was Episode 7: Furious 7 at 6:01:28. In my defense, in the middle of the edit, my daughter was born and I wasn’t fully attentive when I sat back down to finish said edit. The snappiest episode to chop up was Episode 3: Fast & Furious at 3:03:35.
You may look at these times and think "Sheesh Max! You are slow!" That’s partially true. Since I started time tracking Chapter Select last season, I learned something about my process. I do it all at once. I tried separating my tracking by audio, video, and miscellaneous. That was a fundamentally broken approach for how I actually make the show. I sit down to edit the audio and I’ll hear a reference I need to add to the show notes or I’ll want to whip up some chapter art.
So now I lump all the time tracking together. My tangents can be a waste of time – they certainly inflate my pure edit time – but I find the fluidity in my workflow keeps me agile and engaged. I find my general rule of thumb for estimating my time on an edit to be, take the recorded length, double it, and add a smidge extra time. If I get in a solid, two-cups-of-coffee groove, I can bang out an episode in better time, but with a baby in the house now, being in the zone is a smidge more difficult.
This season’s slate of guests is all about old friends and co-hosts for Logan and myself. You might say it was about getting the family back together.
Mario Rivera is one part of Model Citizens, a movie buff, and dear friend. When we announced we were tackling Fast & Furious, he was the first to call dibs. His pick being Fast & Furious 6 is fitting: a film about everyone coming home and being together. And tanks and planes too. No better guest to help decipher wrestling moves and dissect the meaning of family.
Michael Ruiz is the other part of the OG Model Citizens crew. He’s at least ten times cooler than me, especially when he’s skating. That coolness (and his love of the movie) made him the perfect guest to talk Tokyo Drift with us. Watching the films in chronological order gave our chat a unique perspective you won’t find anywhere else.
And lastly, Ricky Frech tagged along for Furious 7. Ricky has been with us since the beginning with Season 1, Episode 5 – Super Paper Mario. We almost made Ricky watch Hobbs & Shaw with us because of how much he despises that movie, but we decided to be nice to him. It makes me feel good that one year later (or, one could say, four seasons later), Chapter Select is able to have returning guests. It brings familiarity to the show, while adding to the legacy of the podcast itself.
Chapter Select made big leaps forward in its audio production this season. I implemented new tools to improve the quality of the show, while maintaining my thorough edit and a healthy sprinkle of easter eggs.
The beginning and end of every episode this season had car sound effects. This addition was directly inspired by the Accidental Tech Podcast (ATP) whenever they enter a Neutral chunk of the show. Marco always adds a door opening/closing sound effect to indicate that they’ve left tech and entered proverbial parking lot. Why not do the same for a season wholly dedicated to movies about cars?2 I scoured the SFX library in Logic Pro and layered four effects to create the intro of a car starting up, revving the engine, and then peeling away. I think that is a fun start to each episode. The closing is an homage to my ATP inspiration with the same closing of the door.
Leveraging sound effects is part of the magic of the medium. Being an audio-first show, I can use sound to enrich the conversation and story. I also stretch myself to think about how to communicate with sound. I know how I’d show or write an idea or comparison, but how do I convey that to folks’ ears? It’s an exciting question and challenge I get to face; or at the very least, one way to add a joke to the show. Expect sound effects to show up in future seasons. I’m already proud of some implementations I’ve come up with in Season 5 – Resident Evil.
The actual big leap forward is regarding prep work to the audio tracks before I start slicing and dicing. Logan and I do not record in sound treated studio spaces; few of our guests do. I don’t think any of us have the same microphone or recording setup. The quality varies.
We’ve maintained our high quality by having everyone record their own track, which I then line up to a sync track and edit. These individual tracks make fine editing possible; like the removal of cross talk, long pauses, isolated uhs and ums, etc. As the editor, I remove these hiccups while keeping the cadence of conversation natural and polished.
The elements I have no control over, like recording environment, always irked me a bit though. Logan and I recorded an episode in the summer and neither of us had air conditioning. We both had a fan on for obvious reasons, but moving air is the mortal enemy of recorded audio. We did the best we could to mitigate the whoosh, but the sound of our sweaty desperation was there in a low hum.
I had always heard of the amazing power of iZotope’s RX suite of audio software from the like of Jason Snell and Marco Arment. I bought RX 8 Essentials last year to help with clicks and pops. I used it during Season 2’s production and wrote about it in that season’s Behind the Scenes post.
I invested in some new audio software to help clean up rougher audio. I bought iZotope RX 8 Essentials on sale to help remove clicks, hums, and pops. I am certainly unqualified to use this software, but it has definitely helped make some audio better. I’ve even used it to clean up six year old episodes of Millennial Gaming Speak to use as clips.
Essentials is the cheapest version of iZotope’s software, so it didn’t have some advanced features. RX 8 also was the last version without Apple Silicon support. So during a huge sale this year, I was able to upgrade to RX 10 Standard giving me the slate of features and native support on my iMac. But like I said last year, I was pretty unqualified to use most of this application. I decided to try and change that this season.
My main tool of choice was the Voice De-noise. It’s tailor made for cleaning up consistent noise in a voice track. So I found a tutorial and some support pages and took to learning a bit about the de-noise tool and how to take advantage of it.
To pick on Logan for a bit, take a look at his raw recording for our Hobbs & Shaw episode.
Now look at it after running the de-noise tool.
The difference may appear subtle. The apparent visual change is less orange haze over the track. This view is a spectrogram, which is a "photographic or other visual or electronic representation of a spectrum." You can see on the right hand side the frequency range. The De-noise tool is cleaning up undesirable and distracting frequencies behind the speaker’s voice. We want to hear the person, not the fan or the hum or the whirl.
This allows me to clean up audio before matching the loudness and chopping up the show. It could be considered subtle, even unnecessary to some, but I find it instrumental to elevating the quality of our podcast. Given the range of audio quality I could get from guests and environments, this shrinks the gap. I do my very best to make everyone sound great on Chapter Select. It takes very little time to make these improvements and the quality I reap is worth it to me.
How do you design a video version of a podcast when the subject matter is entirely a copyrighted film?
That’s the question I was tasked with answering for Season 4 here. I considered just recording our faces like most other shows that produce audio and video. This was scrapped. Adding talking heads limits my ability to do a thorough edit of the show. Our talking heads clipping and cutting to match the audio is undesirable. No go on recording our faces.
So I thought, why not make an audio player setup? I did it for Behind the Pixel, my interview podcast I did in 2017. Here’s what that used to look like. It was super simple. I decided to try and make a modern player, so we could keep delivering the show to anyone that prefers to listen on YouTube.
My first idea was to buy a template/generator for Final Cut Pro. Throw the audio in and animated waveforms come out. This is entirely doable—if you pay for a subscription. I could not find a generator that I could buy outright, no matter the cost! Everything for video production these days seems to be tied up in never-ending subscriptions and vague licensing lingo. It was quite maddening.
The logical next step is to make my own! I own Motion. I can follow video tutorials. Make it, own it, no questions at all.
This also turned out to be difficult. Call it user error, Motion vs After Effects, or whatever you’d like, but I could not get the waveform animation to perform consistently like they did in the tutorial. I won’t even link to said videos since I could not reproduce the promised effect. I threw my hands up and decided to forget the dream of animated waveforms.
Marco Arment comes to my rescue once again. His podcast app Overcast, which has been my preferred player for years, has a share feature. Users can share clips up to 90 seconds long as little videos to then share on social media. It’s how I share those clips from Chapter Select between episodes.
So I took Overcast’s template and added my own tweaks. It’s the same structure: art on the left, a timeline that fills up as the show goes on, and badges underneath. In the title area, I put the episode name, chapter titles, and the original recording date. The chapter titles were the most tedious of the bunch. I had to make individual PNG image files with each chapter name and then set them to the chapter’s length.
By the end of the season, I was in a good flow and it wasn’t that bad. This offers some parity with the audio version in podcast players. One element I did not add was special chapter art or visual easter eggs. That struck me as one step too far.
Last season, I made the switch to simpler video edits. One might think that making a podcast player would be the easiest video work in the history of the show. I may have gotten slightly ambitious with the first few videos and exporting them at a full 4K60…The export and upload times were just too time consuming. I switched down to 1080p60 and thanked myself for it. Turns out I am still learning to let off the video gas a bit.
Welcome to the art portion of the post. This was by far, the most creative and fun part of making the season. It was also the most expensive.
When we decided on tackling Fast & Furious, the pre-production gears began turning in my head. How would art work for a film series? What will reflect the movies? Cars were the obvious answer. Each character has their persona distilled into a vehicle.
My first idea was to use Gran Turismo 7‘s Scapes feature to setup and take pictures of F&F cars in the locations of the movies. The technology at work is bonkers and it’d be a relatively simple process with high quality results. The biggest catch was car limitations. How would I get the Fast Family’s cars? Were they even in the game? Maybe I’d have to engage with micro-transactions to buy certain ones. These were what deterred me from using GT7, although, buying credits may have been cheaper than what I ended up going with…
The idea I could not shake was using Hot Wheels. It’s a match made in heaven, right? I figured there were little licensed cars from the movies. It’d be perfect. I even doodled out the concept in my notebook.
I did cursory research on pricing and was discouraged (but not for long, obviously). I whipped up a list on Amazon and found some cars on eBay. I found the best balance of cars I wanted to snap pictures of and the price of them. One bundle I bought did mislabel a car as one from The Fast and the Furious when it was in fact from Fast & Furious. Turns out even major brands and marketing are not exempt from the poor naming conventions of the franchise.
With the art being so varied, I want to take the time to share how I came up with and got each shot. I’m proud of each of these. Of course, I want to talk about them. Most of these pictures were taken with a Canon 90D and the kit 18-55mm lens. During production, I bought a Sigma 18-35mm lens that I also used for a few shots, as well as my iPhone 14 Pro Max.
The season art had to represent Dom and Brian. They are the lifeblood of the family. There is a park with a dock near our old apartment. I went during "Golden Hour" and snapped pictures of all my Hot Wheels. The shot of Brian’s GTR and Dom’s Daytona Charger was an immediate favorite and I knew it’d define the whole season’s art.
The Fast and the Furious definitely was the joke art of the season. Needing to replace the mislabeled car, I went with the red pickup truck that Brian drives around, specifically to Dom’s little shop for those tuna fish sandwiches. So of course I took the Hot Wheel and my DSLR to the grocery store to snap pictures in front of cans of tuna. I did heavily blur the cans to avoid Big Tuna coming after us. It still works though, since I had one listener tell me they appreciated the joke. Worth it.
2 Fast 2 Furious was taken at the same dock and the same time of day. The sun is off to my right and wasn’t as set. As the one movie that takes place in Florida, I wanted to lean into the scenery of the state. Since the climax is set in a body of water off a road, I felt the background of a swampy Florida lake made the picture feel like it was from the movie.
The Tokyo Drift picture was the first one I took. Given the car was from the movie’s opening race, I went to a construction site to mirror the scene. I was getting my feet wet with the concept and enjoyed placing the toy in odd spots at unique angles.
I snapped the Fast & Furious art at work during lunch one day. There are these huge yellow speed bumps around the office building. I plopped the car and myself down on the ground and took the picture. I wanted to capture the end of the movie where Mia is driving the Honda to bust Dom out of the bus. The car is so lean and I tried to represent that with the low, front angle.
Fast Five was tricky. My original idea was a beach, but there really isn’t a beach scene in the movie until the very end. The featured Porsche only shows up in scenes under an overpass or in a garage. So I got artsy with it. I took my wife’s mirror with lights and lied it on the ground. Then I jammed the wheels on the Hot Wheel with toothpicks so the car wouldn’t roll around on the glass. After finding an angle I liked, I then used Pixelmator Pro to recolor the lights to give the image a more dramatic effect. It may not feel like the movie itself, but I think the style compensates for it.
I tried to avoid reusing sunset shots, but I couldn’t come up with any other ideas for Fast & Furious 6. Same car as the season art, just all by itself. The other issue I had was framing. The original picture was too tight. So I extended the top and the bottom just a smidge. The logo placement was also tricky. Covering up the gorgeous spoiler felt like a crime. It took me a while to come up with the idea to place it behind the car and at an angle: I even got some of it poking through the windshield.
Furious 7 felt so obvious. I picked Dom’s demon love child as the car of choice, so I had to put it on a mountain. Or rather, a rock in a park near my current apartment. Angles are everything in this kind of photography. Squatting down and getting on the subject’s level. The rock that no one looks twice at now looks like a craggy cliff’s edge with the car crawling down. What a fun picture!
The prep work for The Fate of the Furious was by far the most put into any art from this season. I took two different baking pans, filled them with water and toy submarines, froze them for over 24 hours, and then hopped in my in-laws pool hoping to get the shot before the ice melted. I should have had Abby take some behind-the-scenes photos to show the ridiculous lengths I went to for this shot. Having my DSLR near the water was nerve-racking. For shots in the water, I opted for my iPhone Xs Max. To give it a more frozen appearance, I went with the black and white filter and added grain.
Both Hobbs & Shaw and F9 were my most challenging pieces to come up with. How do you make these cars stand out? I don’t have a jet to slingshot the Charger to or cobbled streets of London for the McLaren. As I write this paragraph, I still don’t have the shots. The Hot Wheels are sitting on my desk, taunting me with their generic nature…
Now that I have the images, I was surprised to find their locations were right in my “backyard.” We have a pool area in our apartment complex that I’m sure I pay an exorbitant amount for in our rent. There are palm trees and tropical plants scattered about to give the pool a jungle vibe. It’s quite nice; maybe I need to actually use the pool.
From the word go, I envisioned F9’s art to be jungle themed. Mostly because all I remembered from the settings was the jungle chase at the beginning of the movie. With time to publish fast approaching, I took the toy car down and plopped it on the drooping leaves. Gave me the style I was looking for without having to go down to a river, which was my original plan. I even was able to get a patio’s Christmas lights blurred in the background to add that artsy flare.
For Hobbs & Shaw, the only idea I had was snapping a picture of the McLaren in front of the Orlando Eye ferris wheel. That’s an hour away though and getting the perspectives to line up would have been tricky. I was stuck. Then two days before a hurricane, an opportunity presented itself. The overcast sky and rain-soaked ground gave me an atmosphere that of Hollywood’s version of London (and perhaps the real deal, I’ve never been). There were two parking spots vacant near my building with a lamppost beaming down the center along the white parking line. I placed the sparkling McLaren down on the line and used my iPhone 14 Pro Max to snap a few shots. Sure, the end result is similar to the Fast & Furious art, but it’s more thematic. The line splitting two halves helps portray the split between the titular protagonists.
The Super Logo
The other element in the episodic art are the logos for each movie. On the whole, these were easy to add and scale. Only one logo gave me a creative challenge and that was the Japanese logo for Hobbs & Shaw. As I bought up in the episode, Fast & Furious is called Wild Speed in Japan. For the spin-off film, they came up with the name Wild Speed: Super Combo. During the chapter when I share this with Logan, I wanted to switch the art to use the Japanese logo. The immediate problem with this idea was the litany of low-quality images of said logo that appeared in Google’s image search. So I recreated the whole thing.
The english bit was the easiest. They use the same Antique Olive Std Bold font the Fast franchise is known for. Using the eyedropper tool made snagging the eye-popping yellow a breeze. The challenge was with the Japanese text above and below the words "Super Combo," which I believe is katakana based off some reading.
Comparing to other Wild Speed posters, it didn’t take long to figure out the upper katakana (ワイルドスピード ) represented the franchise name. Since I couldn’t find higher quality versions for Hobbs & Shaw, I set out to find posters from previous movies. I came across one for Fast Five (aka Wild Speed: Mega Max) that had the title in big, bold, white text. I edited it out and had two crisp chunks of katakana.
The bottom characters (スーパーコンボ) represent the "Super Combo" portion of the title. Those proved to be more difficult to acquire. I’m looking for a far more niche phrase in Japanese styled a specific way. I went deep in the Google Image search rabbit hole. I even found a sticker from some podcast that I may have used, had I not come up with a better solution.
Why limit myself to what Google thinks I want? I’m an American searching for a Japanese product. There has to be official Japanese promotional material for the movie. The question is where?
My first stop was YouTube. I tracked down the official Universal Studios Japanese YouTube channel and found a trailer for Wild Speed: Super Combo. The logo was at the end in all its 1080p glory. It had a lens flare that I would have worked around, if needed. But then I thought, if there are official trailers in Japanese, there should be promotional websites! Those may just have high quality PNG files for the taking.
Alas, the site only had 114 x 42 sized logos. But the official site turned out to be the right direction because I found the official press release section. I dug through all of F9‘s promo material and found Hobbs & Shaw. On July 16, 2019, Universal Studios Japan gave me what I needed: a clean logo on a black background. The katakana was mine. I cut it out and scaled it to match my own reworking. The logo was finished.
All for a 90 second Easter Egg.
Absolutely worth it.
Here at the end of Season 4, I feel satisfied. We took on new challenges with the show; tackling a medium we’ve never explored on a podcast before. We gave ourselves the opportunity to have fun and build the groundwork for future seasons. I elevated the quality and pushed myself artistically.
The longer the show goes on, the more drive I find myself with to make Chapter Select even better. It’s encouraging to have our show growing with each season. You may read these Behind the Scenes posts, see all the work that went into just one season, and wonder if all the work was really worth it. I ask myself that sometimes.
But I use the work as an opportunity to grow. I learn from mistakes (like exporting a fake podcast player at 4K60). I learn new techniques (like professional-ish-ly cleaning up audio). I flex creative muscles (like photographing tiny metal toy cars). And at the end of the season, if I’ve grown as a podcaster and creator, then the show has grown – hopefully all for the better.
I would be remise if I didn’t mention my own family once. This season has become a time capsule of my own journey to fatherhood, one that Brain and Dom experience themselves throughout the franchise. While my family was not born out of bank heists and globe trotting espionage, my daughter was born during this season. Nothing is quite like a 10-second car boost to life like having a kid. I find it rather fitting we took on this season at this point in my life.
Our next season, which is all about Resident Evil, starts next week on January 11, 2023. There is no slowing down the Chapter Select train at the moment. And wouldn’t you know, Season 6 has been in production all year long too. 2023 is our biggest and best year yet. We are excited to share our ambitious plans with you all later this summer. Thank you all for tagging along with us as we rode with the Fast Family.
1. Formerly titled Looking Back. Behind the Scenes is clearer.
2. and stunts, super heroes, family, and stopping world disasters.