Deadly Manners is Paragon Collective’s new scripted murder mystery podcast starring Kristen Bell, Anna Chlumsky, RuPaul, LeVar Burton, Denis O’Hare and Alisha Boe. Taking place in the winter of 1954, the story opens on a lavish mansion dinner party that, with the discovery of the murdered body of one of its gusts, crumbles into restrained chaos. With writing that is both campy and conscious, Deadly Manners is, to use a word I don’t use very often, delightful. Reminiscent of the golden age of radio’s audio dramas, this podcast is a sonic world all its own, and the style of recording truly creates the feeling that you are there among the guests.
Deadly Manners has already climbed to the top ten of the iTunes charts. The first three episodes are available here. I was lucky enough to interview the writer, Ali Garfinkle, and the director, Alex Aldea. Alex happens to be an old high school friend of mine!
CWS: What previous projects have you two worked on together?
ALI: I had previously worked on Season 2 of Alex’s audio horror series, Darkest Night. I wrote episodes 4 and 6.
CWS: What was the spark that inspired Deadly Manners?
ALI: The movie ‘Clue’ was definitely on my mind at the time while I was trying to brainstorm some new ideas for a podcast series. I wasn’t sure if it could work as pure audio but after I pitched it to Alex, he said that it was definitely doable, and that I should write the pilot right away.
CWS: What is the process like for writing a scripted podcast like this? I know Ali, you work as a writer for TV as well. Is it a similar process writing a fictional podcast?
ALI: Having a background in TV and having experience in writer’s rooms certainly came in handy when it came to structuring the story. The writers and I treated it as if it were just like a TV show, breaking and rearranging points on whiteboards and spreadsheets. We color coded the murders, and things were always in a constant shift. When we first started I was like, “this is my plan, these are the twists I want” and the writers were so down and ready to help get us there. When I couldn’t figure out how to show what I wanted and they’d be like “well if we do this and this for episode X, then you could have this happen here.” And it was really amazing to have so many smart and talented people in the mix, who by the way, all come from TV and feature backgrounds themselves, so they understood the narrative scope too. It’s important to not only have a vision for your story, but a team that understands it as well. And this team was integral in helping execute it. However, this is my first fictional podcast, so I’m not sure what anyone else’s process is like. I’d be curious to find out, though.
CWS: What was it like to work with this amazing cast? Kristen Bell, Anna Chlumsky, RuPaul, LeVar Burton, Denis O'Hare, Alisha Boe, Timothy Simons, Michelle Visage, Alona Tal, David Cummings; it’s an incredible group. Any memorable moments during the recording process?
ALEX: The cast was great. Working with Kristen and LeVar was a once in a lifetime experience. It has also been great to grow with actors we have worked with in the past like RuPaul, Michelle Visage, David Cummings, Mark Berry, Elizabeth McLaughlin, and Johnny Ferro, and to see how everyone flourished while working on this project. My favorite memory might be LeVar recording the line from episode four….”she could finally hear it clearly: the unmistakable sound of white people fighting.” We all had fun with that.
CWS: How important is the process by which you record these episodes? Is there anything different or interesting in just how you get your particular sound?
ALEX: Yes. We record a lot of the parts binaurally and really try to focus on music. C.W.S. and I actually grew up in Shoreline, Washington. I first met Andrew Joselyn when he was playing fiddle for a hippie Shoreline jam band called Handful of Luvin. He is a musical prodigy. Which is why he plays with everyone from Macklemore to Odesza to even doing strings on Katy Perry’s last record. I worked with on a ton of podcasts with Andrew from Upvoted by reddit, Casefile, Darkest Night and now this. So we have really grown together. He also records a ton of real strings on here. We really stepped up our game for the music scoring on Deadly Manners. Also, Victor Figueroa is a terrific editor, sound designer, and foley creator. We have worked together for two years. We also had James Kim from Dinner Party Download also doing some killer editing work this season. This show is really a process and our entire team has been incredible.
CWS: What can you tell us about the future of Deadly Manners? Will there be a season two? Will it be a continuation or a brand new story?
ALI: If there’s a season 2, it would definitely be a new story. I imagine we would have a different cast too, though I would not be opposed to any of our voice actors from this season coming back as new characters. But new place, new time, new murder!
CWS: What was your favorite scary thing as a kid, whether it be a movie, a book, an urban legend, or even an experience? Something that continues to inspire your work to this day?
ALI: Honestly, I’ve never had a favorite scary thing because I don’t like being scared, believe it or not. It’s probably because I’m someone who scares VERY easily, so it doesn’t take a lot for me to feel like I’m having a heart attack. I can’t even go on rollercoasters, I’m such a huge baby. If I’m watching something “scary”, it has to be funny too, like Beetlejuice. Although when I was young, I accidentally walked in the room while my parents were watching Tales From the Darkside, right at the moment where a mummy stuffs Julianne Moore full of Chrysanthemums. I was so traumatized, my mom had to make up an ‘anti-mummy dance’ to help me go to sleep. And hey, as far as I know, it worked.
CWS: And finally, what are you going to be for Halloween?
ALI: Haven’t decided yet!
ALEX: I do the same thing for Halloween every year. I put on a brown leather jacket, a bad attitude, and tell everybody I am Larry David.
Check out Paragon Collectives other amazing podcasts, including Darkest Night, here.