How losing at the Webbys launched two storytelling careers - Issue #00014
Singapore production startup Andas Media made their first audio drama on a shoestring
Every interview this year was inspiring, but I was personally most inspired by this one, featuring young creatives venturing into the jungle armed with those tools easily wielded by youth: digital savvy and optimism. We laughed a lot during the interview, and I highly recommend giving the podcast episode a listen.
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INTERVIEW: How losing at Webbys launched storytelling careers
Temujin is a limited-series audio drama about the life of Genghis Khan. It has a fan base in the audio drama world and was a finalist at this year's Webby Awards in the Podcasts - Scripted Fiction category, where it competed against The Daily Show with Trevor Noah and entries from HBO, the BBC, and Wondery.
Spoiler alert: Temujin lost to Trevor Noah. But it was comfortably in second place with 34% of the 2 million votes cast. (The Daily Show with Trevor Noah got 40% of the votes. Third place got 10%.)
It has opened doors for the show’s producers. Writer and director Roshan Singh was brought on as a writer on the animated adaptation of the beloved graphic novel The Art of Charlie Chan. He and fellow Temujin producer Isabel Perucho have set up Andas Productions to create narrative stories for audio and video games.
But back in university (they graduated from Yale-NUS three years ago, although it feels like a lifetime in the past), Temujin was a capstone project Roshan worked on with his classmates.
Most thesis projects simply get printed and sent to the archives. He wanted to put it out into the world, despite little encouragement from mentors.
“One thing a mentor of mine said was that Temujin was just a silly little side project I was doing with my friends and that I would have to grow up soon and figure out what my actual career is going to look like.”
He first pursued it as a play, but there was no interest. So Roshan considered audio. “The beauty of audio is if you have the resources, nobody can tell you not to do it.” With Isabel running marketing, they raised $10,000 on Kickstarter to fund the production. “We decided to push ahead because we had this faith that if it meant something to us, then it'll mean something to someone else.”
In this interview, Roshan and Isabel reflect on the experience of finding a listener base for Temujin and how they're navigating the industry as young producers.
Listen to Roshan and Isabel tell their story on the podcast.
Here are excerpts from our conversation.
Finding Temujin’s first listeners:
It’s been months and they’re still talking about us?
Isabel: One of the most important things we did was post on Reddit. r/audiodrama. Passionate community. That's where most of the following really started.
We had always had Twitter. Didn't know what to do with it. Revisited it after a few months and realized people were tagging us and we didn't even know it. And we were like, “It's been months and they're still talking about us?” The community is here. Let's engage.
Roshan: When we talk about marketing and target audience, we've given up on the idea of targeting our shows by geography -- we want to reach the Americans, or we want this one to hit with the locals -- because it's so much, pardon my language, a crapshoot.
And there's that well-known miserable truth that to make it big here, you have to make it big there. And it is true, right? It took Webby recognition to get Singapore recognition. Southeast Asian recognition is almost the last thing, you have to come home with an Oscar.
Isabel: The real lesson we learned is that we had conventional ways of thinking about how this was going to grow — you start at home and then you go outside. When we can so easily connect with people who are so far away, why start close when you can start as far as the ocean will take you? We don’t even need the ocean, we just need wifi. It really changed for us what the idea of success could be.
Creating original work in Southeast Asia for a global audience:
It’s nice to know there isn’t one correct answer. Everyone’s just in this giant mosh pit trying to figure out what works.
Roshan: Temujin is a show that we mixed and edited in a college dormitory. We rehearsed it in classrooms. Why shouldn't it have the kind of reach and success that anything made in America can? There is no good reason why it can't.
And I think... I'm trying to figure out how to phrase this. I'm a TV screenwriter as well. With TV, I've noticed there's a sense of defeatism in the other local screenwriters that I've talked to. Not an unwarranted defeatism, mind you. But there's a kind of wariness.
I was at a talk surrounded by other screenwriters. One person started yelling at the guest speaker, "What's the point when everything's so neo-colonial?"
Then someone else in the front row turned around to that guy and went, “You just have a bad attitude, man.” And it was just chaos.
It was nice knowing there wasn't really a correct answer. Everyone's just in this giant mosh pit trying to figure out what works. The best thing we could do is have a positive attitude.
On promoting your own work:
You must make senpai notice you.
Isabel: What's valuable about the peaks and valleys [of our listener growth]? We were always putting ourselves out there. We were always continuously engaging with the community.
And we had faith that we had crafted something good. Part of the success was having that confidence. So when you shuffle it around to different awards or tell different people to listen, it's because you've done something that you can put your stamp on.
As creators growing up, we were told that if you put good work out there, the audience will come. But there is also twiddling your thumbs and being, “When will senpai* notice me?” And you must make senpai notice you because there are so many things to look at.
*senpai: A Japanese honorific used when someone is older than you in age or they have more experience in a field. The opposite being kouhai. It is usually a trope in anime or manga for a kouhai to desperately seek their senpai's attention but fail. (source: Urban Dictionary)
Submitting to the Webbys:
We applied for Diversity and Inclusion because we thought that we wouldn't stand a chance in Scripted Podcast Fiction.
Roshan: For the Webbys you have to submit your show. We didn't apply for Scripted Fiction originally. We applied for Diversity and Inclusion because we thought we wouldn't stand a chance in Best Scripted Fiction.
Isabel: It was 10 PM. Roshan checks his phone and says, “Hey, we got the Webbys!” And we looked at it and noticed Trevor Noah's face next to our cover art.
And it's just the mother of all screenshots. The moment of realization that we were being seen by people that we had admired growing up. I can't begin to describe the short-circuiting in my brain. Wow, we have to make this moment count. We have an opportunity for all eyes to be on us and get this story to an even bigger audience. We couldn't pass on the chance.
The Webbys campaign:
We wrote to everyone [in the Singapore press]. Most of the time they didn't write back. There were some who specifically told us nobody cares.
Isabel: The voting period was two weeks, so it was very compressed. One of the first things that we wanted to do was reach out to the press because this indie Asian story from this corner of the world was being recognized among studio giants, like HBO, Comedy Central, BBC, and Broadway.
Roshan: More than just supporting us, we wanted to make the statement that if we made this in our university dorm in Singapore and it's being recognized on the American stage, then imagine what else?
Unfortunately, this is another semi-negative bent to the story. We got told flat out by a lot of Singaporean news sources that they're just not interested in covering it.
We wrote to everyone. Most of the time they didn't write back. There were some who specifically told us nobody cares. That was a bit disappointing. Only Mothership featured us.
There was still an outpouring of support in Singapore. It just wasn't coming from the press. It was coming from TikTok influencers, it was coming from the podcast folks. It came from Reddit.
Isabel: The sheer thought of tens and thousands of people voting for us is wild. We got in touch with the community that we had built, and the support was so forthcoming.
Roshan: Oh, I'm really proud of one thing. Dirk Maggs, my personal idol, I grew up listening to his audio shows. He did Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy for the BBC, American Gods, Neverwhere, Good Omens… Dirk tweeted about us and made a Facebook post.
We started talking on Facebook and he was so supportive. He made a whole push for us and introduced so many people to our show.
To have him listen to our show and enjoy it and then make two different posts while working on Sandman season two. What an honor, right? Who needs a Webby?
How to behave in meetings:
The vice president of Marvel content creation told me to chill out.
Roshan: The vice president of Marvel content creation told me to chill out. [laughter] He told me that I can't afford to be so visibly nervous the next time I talk to someone like him.
It was really kind. Because I came up with this huge list, I wrote down what I wanted to say. This is amazing! I’m so glad to meet you! And he said, “Okay, first: chill out, calm down.” And that note helped a lot.
How else do you learn this stuff other than by being in a position Isabel and I are fortunate to be in? Meeting people we never thought we would meet and doing things that we never thought we would do.
Starting up a production company:
It’s 10 different things where it could pay the bills, or it could not materialize.
Roshan: Once we've gotten over the fact that we're speaking to [industry executives] at this level, what we have to do next is: What do we offer? What can we do? What do we in high-pressure business meetings present ourselves as? Let's consolidate all this ethereal positivity and good vibes and positive work environment into something which is sustainable so that we're not just, “Hi, we're Isabel and Roshan.” It's “Hi, we're Andas.”
Isabel: Our strategy is producing good stories that people enjoy experiencing. We're trying to make sure our next thing isn't a sophomore slump. The second thing is the moment that people either say, “they just got lucky” or “they know what they're doing.”
Roshan: Capital's hard. We're in this tricky stage where Isabel and I are trying to translate that goodwill and the critical recognition into finances. We'll get a lead one day, someone who's interested in seed funding, for instance. And then for four months, we don't hear anything. And we're like, ah, did we lose that?
And it’s 10 different things where it could pay the bills, or it could not materialize. If even a single one did that would change the game for us.
Every day we have exciting news, but that exciting news always stops just shy of, here's 50K seed.
Your career lives and dies in these moments of learning how to politely start difficult conversations.
Isabel: I sometimes forget that I'm 25, Roshan's 26. I always go to this interview that Taika Waititi did. He started directing at age 33 and he said that people always told him to take a break. And he said ‘I'd been taking a break for 33 years.’ I feel like I'd been taking a break for 25 and I'm not gonna wait. But even though we have that mentality, there's room to refine and polish so that what comes next is something we're proud of.
Roshan: For the first day [after the Webbys loss], I felt this migraine headache thinking of all that support. We're going to have to log on to Twitter and Facebook and tell everyone it didn't work out.
I always knew that this was the likely outcome, but I just felt so guilty because we were pushing this narrative. We wanted to make this thing about hope. If we can do this, then maybe any of us can do this. Does [losing] mean that hope doesn't exist?
And I snapped out of it by reminding myself, I'm 26. I idolize people much older than ourselves who have never won a Webby or been recognized at award shows. I don't care if they won these things.
In the past two weeks, I've been negotiating for a bunch of shows. I've been learning how to send chaser emails for writing payment or contractual negotiation. This is the thing, right? Your career lives and dies in these tiny little moments of learning how to politely start difficult conversations. It's not about whether you can write a pretty piece of dialogue because so many people can. And that helped me take it way less seriously.
Isabel: What I tell people all the time is that, no matter what, our name is on the website forever, because you can't take back anything on the internet.
Yes, of course, we would have loved to win. But when we submitted, we just wanted to be nominated.
We got here through being told no. And then saying no back. We're going to do it anyway.
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