The author of The Silent History brings his literary skills to the creation of the psychological thriller podcast Homecoming, now headed for TV.
We’ve interviewed Eli Horowitz twice previously about his literary projects The Silent History and The New World. Now he’s back with one of our favorite narrative podcasts, Homecoming, from Gimlet Media. The podcast stars Catherine Keener, Oscar Isaac, David Schwimmer, David Cross, and Amy Sedaris and “centers on a caseworker at an experimental facility, her ambitious supervisor, and a soldier eager to rejoin civilian life — presented in an enigmatic collage of telephone calls, therapy sessions, and overheard conversations.” The six episodes of Season 1 are all available for binging; we’re pretty sure you’ll be staying up all night.
Shelf Unbound/Podster: How did Homecoming come about?
Eli Horowitz: I started, kind of like I do with all things, with the form. I started by looking at the shape of the thing and what kind of story could fit into that.
Shelf Unbound/Podster: What did that mean for you?
Eli: I wanted to avoid the artificiality that can sometimes come from having a narrator or any kind of heavy-handed exposition. It was a challenge; it’s hard in audio to convey where the characters are, who’s talking, what the movement is, without the corniness comes from trying to insert that thing. Like, “I’m running. I’m running through a field, there’s a lot of grass in the field!” So I tried to think of what kind of situations would give rise by themselves to episodic storytelling.
That’s how I came up with the element of repeated therapy sessions because I wanted conversation rather than physical action to be at the core. Then you begin to conjure the story: Okay, there’s two people talking. Why are they talking? Why is this repeating every week? How long, how many weeks is this going to go for? Why are they talking about the same thing again and again?
Shelf Unbound/Podster: Have you ever written anything where the dialogue needed to be so tight?
Eli: I’ve never written a script before, which is why I partnered with Micah Bloomberg, who has experience as a screenwriter. Plus it made it more fun.
Shelf Unbound/Podster: What was your process like in working together?
Eli: We figured it out along the way. I had the germ of the idea, and then we’d send drafts back and forth. I think I was more useful with some of the structural things and he was more useful for the seemingly trivial turns of phrase—like putting a plot beat into a scene format. For instance, for the scenes where Collin the boss was talking to Heidi, I knew what needed to happen from a story perspective, but Micah was great about Collin being in different places for each of those calls. That came from imagining the actual reality of these moments rather than just story function of these moments.
Most of the other podcasts I was listening to were conversation based or interview based. I was fascinated by how suddenly powerful the conversations can be when they drop into being honest and genuine and you hear the person think. So I was wanting us to take the power of human conversation with the voice immediately in your ear and put that within a plot structure.
Shelf Unbound/Podster: You have some well known cast members; how did that come about?
Eli: That was totally ridiculous. I was working with an indie movie producer named Alicia Van Couvering, on the casting process, and she encouraged us to just go for whoever we wanted to cast. So we made a list and ranked them. Catherine Keener was our first choice, and I don’t know what it was but she agreed. I guess because the script was fun or she was looking for something weird to do.
Shelf Unbound/Podster: It’s a great part and she’s fantastic.
Eli: Yes, she is. She commented to me that one of the things that drew her into it was how simple these scripts are, in that there’s nothing in them aside from the dialogue. I think it strikes something that’s central to why they are doing this job in the first place. But still, it was a total fluke, no doubt about it.
Shelf Unbound/Podster: You’ve got six episodes in the first season. Did you do them all at once?
Eli: We recorded them all at once in the course of about a week. We did all of the Heidi and Walter scenes in one day and all of the Heidi and Collin scenes another day. Then we turned it all over to the sound designer Mark Henry Phillips and he would put everything in sequence.
Shelf Unbound/Podster: Are you going to have a second season?
Eli: Yes, I’m working on it today, actually. It takes up pretty quickly where Season 1 leaves off. I’m also excited to give each season its own engine and its own flavor. It’s not just the same mystery continuing to unspool—what does she remember, what does not? Even though the pieces are the same, the engine behind it and the concerns of the season are totally new.
Shelf Unbound/Podster: What interests you about pioneering new ways of storytelling as technology evolves?
Eli: When I reduce a project to pieces and build from those, it’s like my mind is searching for a logical rational solution to a problem. And it feels like there’s more room to run when everyone else is also trying to figure out the form, instead swimming upstream against it.
Shelf Unbound/Podster: Do you have other fiction podcasts planned?
Eli: Gimlet and I are looking for more shows to add and I’m excited for those to be created by totally outside people. Maybe I’ll do editing, maybe I’ll advise. It will get really fun when other people start coming to us with their own ideas.
Shelf Unbound/Podster: Do you have any authors that you would love to work with on a podcast?
Eli: Oh sure. One person I’ve been thinking about is, Patrick DeWitt, who wrote The Sisters Brothers. I am in a slow seduction pattern with him to try to get him on board. There’s so many people. It’s interesting because I’m trying to get a sense of am I looking at authors? Am I looking at screenwriters? Or TV writers? What’s the best source of these things? A big part of it is seeing who is going to be really eager and really open. Who’s going to take this, who is going to bring a lot of skill and expertise but also a sense of experimentation? It’s a really nice moment in podcasting where the audience is there, the energy is there, and it just needs fun new material.
Eli: I’m going to sort of bracket out all the Gimlet shows cause that seems—
Shelf Unbound/Podster: We’ll assume you listen to Gimlet.
Eli: I like You Must Remember This. I like bastketball podcasts so The Lowe Post Show, you have to care about NBA news, but I love it. Song Exploder I am enjoying a lot. Hello from the Magic Tavern is a fiction podcast but it’s more like a fake talk show podcast. It’s like a jokey Middle Earth talk show.