Sometimes, telling an immersive story set in another world means being removed from your own, even if only for a week. The team behind the new six-episode fiction podcast “Earth Break: A Few Suggestions For Survival, With Additional Hints and Tips About How to Make Yourself More Comfortable During the Alien Apocalypse” got to do just that.
“We recorded on five consecutive days. And I’m so glad we did it that way,” director Aaron Katz told IndieWire. “We got to this intense place where our reality was this show for that week.”
In the show that eventually emerged from that process, Jenny Slate, who extensive voicework credits including “Big Mouth” and “Bob’s Burgers,” stars as Lynn Gellert, the sole survivor of an alien invasion who is recording her efforts to stay alive for an audience she knows she may not ever meet.
“Earth Break” takes some of its cues from a found-audio premise, but Morgan Ormond’s script is careful to reveal Lynn’s past relationships in a gradual way. The show balances her immediate need to avoid surprise extraterrestrial attacks with the occasional chance for her to dwell on her pre-apocalypse life.
There’s also a physicality that comes through in “Earth Break” that comes from the way the show is produced. For someone with plenty of experience in the film world — Katz’s previous films include “Cold Weather,” “Gemini,” and “Land Ho!” — there was one storytelling element that translated to audio form better than he was expecting.
“Even in the studio, we’d lay things out almost like ‘Dogville,’ all of the props that she would need to interact with. I wanted it to just feel like these very heightened supernatural events were taking place all within something that felt real and like it was growing out of this person’s actual experience,” Katz said.
One of the subtle elements of Slate’s performance is the way she can slip in details about what Lynn is seeing or experiencing without having them feel overly expository. That sensory help goes just beyond sight; when she opens a long-abandoned fridge, you can almost smell how pungent it is.
“You are taking it in passively but you are being asked, like books, to create images in your mind and to really listen and let the character suggest things to you,” Katz said. “But also Jenny is such a great actor. When she’s literally describing what she’s seeing to someone, there were times when I felt like it was actually really nice to let her describe things in a bit more detail.”
The more kinetic sequences of “Earth Break,” which find Lynn running away from pursuing aliens or winding her way through abandoned buildings, presented Katz with a more logical way to put the audio together. The scenes that were in some ways trickier were ones featuring Lynn in more solitary, serene moments of rest.
“We wanted to make sure that things felt like they were like moving along in a way that had some momentum to it. But sometimes we’d make things too tight,” Katz said. “It’s important, especially because of the storytelling format, that sometimes we should let there be silence. Sometimes we should let her think through things in a circuitous way. Giving Lynn space to just be was the biggest part of shaping the cut.”
The two didn’t plan for it to be this way, but the rehearsals for “Earth Break” ended up happening on the phone, with Katz and Slate on different coasts. It helped Katz capitalize on listening to a performance for the first time in a similar way to how the audience eventually would.
“I would read all the action and she would read all of her lines. We talked through all the things from each episode to make sure it felt grounded,” Katz said. “I remember the first time we did it and hearing Jenny’s voice, I could just feel her taking ownership over this character.”
The eventual production schedule required getting through a large chunk of material for each of the five recording days. Whether in a controlled studio or out on a Southern California ranch, keeping up with the demands of the script sometimes meant tackling 35 pages of the script in a single day. Luckily, even when recording the show’s exterior sequences, the flexibility of a small crew and a lone protagonist meant that there fewer times where Slate would have to be taken out of the on-set environment.
“Performance and blocking just got distilled down in certain ways to their essence. We would do about as many takes as I would do on a movie, somewhere between five and eight, and then move on. But instead of there being 45 minutes while everyone moves dolly track and Jenny goes back to her trailer, 10 minutes later we were recording the next scene,” Katz said.
The end of Episode 6 is one the show was always working to: a mix of a physical breakthrough and lingering uncertainty that would make for an appropriate finale. But Katz said that there’s still room to explore what comes next for Lynn, however those future stories might manifest themselves.
“I don’t think it’s final. It’s definitely something we’ve talked about Morgan and Jenny and I and our producer April Lamb, all of us feel that we really have come to love this character and want to spend more time with her,” Katz said. “Whether that means continuing this story in this format or other formats that you know, that’s something that we’re thinking about and engaged with that see what happens.”
All six episodes of “Earth Break: A Few Suggestions For Survival, With Additional Hints and Tips About How to Make Yourself More Comfortable During the Alien Apocalypse” are now available on all podcasting apps and services.