A few weeks ago, I got to sit down with the friendly folks at the Grit City Podcast to chat about my work as a writer, podcast creator, and filmmaker. We talk about my podcast “The Adventures of Captain Radio,” my involvement as a member of the Creative Colloquy board and as a contributor to Grit City Magazine, and Tacoma’s amazing arts community. See the post below from Obscure Studios to listen to the episode. Thanks to Scott, Justin, and Jeff for having me on the show!
This week, you can catch Obscure Studios president Jonny Eberle on The Grit City Podcast! The Grit City Podcast has a simple premise—in every episode, the hosts sit down with Tacoma-based creatives and entrepreneurs over a couple of drinks to learn more about them and their projects. In this episode, Jonny joins the crew for […]
Let me start out by saying that I didn’t intend to create a podcast. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve always enjoyed podcasts, having been a fervent Radiolab listener for more than 10 years, and I regularly recommend shows like 99 Percent Invisible, Levar Burton Reads, The Moth, and Imaginary Worlds to anyone who will listen. But I never thought I would make one. These shows were highly produced works of art. Coming from a film background, I knew how much time and energy that takes to pull off.
But then, the whole world changed.
A deadly pandemic upended my daily routine. I was out of work, alone at home, for days…and then weeks…and then months. I read a lot, but I also dove headlong into every podcast I could find, sampling from genres and formats I never knew existed. I listened all the time—in the shower, while weeding the garden, out walking the dog—trying to shut out terrifying reality with comforting voices in my ears.
All that listening dredged up an old idea. Back in college, I used to joke with my friend and frequent collaborator Will McDonald that someday we were going to make a black-and-white sci-fi B-movie called Captain Radio and the Mutant Mole People from the Eleventh Dimension. For years and years, it was only an inside joke. Then, in the fall of 2020, something clicked and I realized that Captain Radio wasn’t a movie at all, but a 1930s radio show.
I started writing. Soon, I had dashed off three scripts bursting with rocket ships, ray guns, robots, mad scientists, rapid-fire dialogue, melodrama, and (of course) a valiant hero. It was silly stuff, popcorn fare of the highest order, but it felt good to write something hopeful in the midst of a global catastrophe. I needed the escape, and I suspected others did, too. So, I pitched the show to Will and asked him to come along as the star and co-producer. For some crazy reason, he agreed. Together, we assembled a talented voice cast from across the country, many of whom we knew from Theatrikos Theatre Company in Flagstaff, AZ.
After a lot of work finalizing the six-episode story, organizing recordings, learning my way around Audacity, creating sound effects with random objects lying around my house (wine glasses, bags of rice, and a wet sponge among many others), the first episode dropped on December 31, 2021. Chapter 4 is out now and as we rocket toward the season finale in a couple of weeks, I’m proud of the work we’ve done and hope listeners have enjoyed coming along for the ride as much as we’ve had fun putting it together.
If you’re interested in checking out the show, you can find The Adventures of Captain Radio in all the usual places you consume podcasts, including Apple Podcasts and Spotify. If you enjoy the show, please take a moment to leave a rating and review telling others one thing you liked about it — that helps us immensely. You can also buy merchandise featuring artwork and quotes from the show, or you can skip all of that and make a monetary donation on Ko-Fi to help pay the bills. You can learn more on the Obscure Studios website if you’d like to dig deeper.
I didn’t set out to become a podcaster, but here I am. I’m so excited to be sharing this spacefaring journey with you. Thanks for listening.
There was a time in my life where I could call up a couple of friends with a wild idea, grab my handheld camcorder and make a short film in an evening or a weekend. It was a freewheeling, fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants style of filmmaking that prioritized creative freedom over everything else — including scripts, plot, lighting, sound — and it’s what allowed Obscure Studios, the film company I founded and ran with a few friends, to rack up well over 100 videos in just two years.
After moving from Arizona to Washington and away from my cadre of usual collaborators, filmmaking took a backseat to my writing and other creative pursuits. Last year, with the 10th anniversary of our minor hit, Reilly’s Dorm, looming, I had the chance to travel back to Northern Arizona. There, I carved out a couple of hours with my go-to partner in crime, the incomparable Will McDonald, to write and shoot a brand new short film.
We were a little rusty, but five years between short films can do that. We cooked up a story outline at my favorite coffee shop and the next morning, filmed the opening and closing scenes of the film in the Airbnb where we were staying and the woods behind Will’s house. That afternoon, we set up shop in the basement of Theatrikos, Flagstaff’s community theater and a longtime support of Obscure Studios. We rigged up a lighting setup, cobbled together a campy alien costume for me to wear, and filmed the scenes that make up the heart of the film, as well as a quick promo video.
And that’s all we had time for. We left straight from the theater to catch our flight back to the PNW and dove into a remodel of our house a few days later. It wasn’t until January that I remembered the footage that was waiting on my iPhone’s hard drive.
Over the course of a few weeks, I pieced together the shots we’d captured that summer day. I was pleasantly surprised to see how good most of it was and how well the pieces fit into place. I played around with audio effects to give my voice an unearthly quality, tossed in a couple of visual and lighting effects, and added a 1914 public domain recording of “Stay Down Where You Belong” by Arthur Fields, slowed down to 10% of its regular speed as the soundtrack (I had originally planned to perform my own synthesizer music, but I quickly remembered that I’m not very musically talented, so only a few notes made it into the final cut).
Overall, I’m really happy with how “As Seen On TV” turned out. Much of the credit goes to Will, a fantastic actor who’s immediately likeable on screen and blessed with impeccable comedic timing. And of course, I would be remiss if I didn’t mention my inspiration: my lovely wife who said, “You and Will should really make a movie while we’re in town” and provided both an unplanned cameo and makeup/special effects assistance with the alien goo (aka dish soap).
Filmmaking is one of those things that demands so much time and attention to detail that you always feel exhausted at the end of a day of filming or editing. But, as soon as you see the final product, a dose of endorphins convince you that the sweat and tears were all worth it and all you want to do is make another and another. Making “As Seen On TV” makes me want to break out my camera and tell more stories, so don’t be surprised if you see more in the coming months and years. I feel a renaissance coming.
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Jonny Eberle is a writer, photographer and filmmaker in Tacoma, WA. Incidentally, Tacoma would be an amazing setting for a noir thriller, don’t you think? When not engaged in cinematic plotting, you can find him on Twitter. Learn more about Obscure Studios on our fancy website.
When I started making short films more than 15 years ago, a decent, mid-range consumer video camera was about the size of a brick and recorded either to miniDV tape or mini DVD, which was good for 60 minutes of recording. Tapes got chewed up during playback, DVDs got scratched, and in the general the process of making a film was tedious and technical.
In the time before YouTube, once you had finished your film — provided that you hadn’t lost footage to the magnetic tape gods — you had to connect to a tape deck to transfer your finished film to another format that could be easily shared. Somewhere in a box, there’s a stack of old VHS tapes with handwritten labels documenting my early filmmaking efforts.
I bought my first digital camcorder when I was 18. It was a hot rod red Canon FS200. It fit in the palm of one hand and recorded video in 720p to an SD card. To me, it was magic — like the leap forward from horse and buggy to the automobile. Suddenly, my media was reusable and my footage could be easily edited and shared from a computer. It was revolutionary. It fundamentally changed the way I made movies and allowed for my film studio, Obscure Studios, to really take off in my early college years.
Then, a few weeks ago, there was another revolution. Stephanie and I made a short film for Halloween entitled “The Closet.” Instead of breaking out my trusty Canon, I decided to take a risk. We filmed the entire thing with an iPhone 6. Not only were we able to film in full HD, an astounding 1080p, but it acted like a real camera. In low light conditions and noisy rooms, it outperformed my old camcorder handily.
What’s most amazing to me isn’t just the fact that I can now carry a high quality video camera around in my pocket, but the way technology has allowed the technical difficulties of filmmaking to slowly take a backseat to the creative difficulties. When filmmakers don’t have to spend time and money on expensive cameras to achieve good looking film, they are freed up to tell a great story. No longer are amateur filmmakers in a different class than the professionals. Now, we all have the power to tell beautiful stories without needing a $20,000 camera to do it.
The easy availability of inexpensive video equipment means that anyone with a story to tell can tell it. And that’s amazing.
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Jonny Eberle is a writer and filmmaker in Tacoma, WA. You can find him on Twitter at @jonnyeberle.
After seven faithful years of service, I’m retiring my old Macbook. The time has come. Looking back at my trusty laptop, I can see the damage of the years, but also the stories it carries etched into every surface.
I bought it for college when George W. Bush was still president. I remember opening up the white box to see it gleaming inside and I remember thinking it was the most beautiful machine I had ever seen.
Now, it bears the battle scars of time. I have dropped it in every kind of weather, from a snowstorm to a monsoon cloudburst, utterly wrecking one hard drive. Its tattered power cord is held together primarily with electrical tape. My most-used keys have taken on a glossy sheen from years of abuse. My friend Nathan dropped a camera on my computer from six feet up while trying to get an artsy shot of me working and broke off the option key. To this day, part of the ritual of starting up my computer is clicking that loose key into place. The screen is marred with scratches and small clusters of dead pixels that bloom like algae with each new year. The optical drive is shot from too many marathon DVD-burning sessions for my film studio. The edges are chipped on every side, giving a glimpse at its silicon guts in the right light. The overworked fan often gives up, causing the computer to shut off without notice.
My Macbook has had one foot in the grave for a long time and yet, I’m sad to part with it. I wrote my first stage play with it. All 96 episodes of Obscure Studios’ webseries Reilly’s Dorm were shot with its webcam and edited with iMovie 2008. I can see the imprint of every short story and every attempted novel in the patterns of wear on the keyboard. It has been with me everywhere, from the mountains of Flagstaff to swampy heat of New Orleans to the frozen wastes of Minnesota to the gritty streets of Tacoma.
It may be the end of an era, but every generation must make way for the next. My Macbook has had a longer life than most of its contemporaries and it’s time for it to rest. My new Macbook Pro has some awfully big shoes to fill.
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Jonny Eberle is a writer in Tacoma, WA who gets weirdly nostalgic about his tech. You can find him on Twitter or in your nearest coffee shop, typing away.
Ten years ago, my good friend Ian approached me with an idea for a script. He had an idea to cast our high school friends in a musical and he wanted me to write the script. The resulting epic story of a pirate who gives up his pillaging ways for love, two fighting Siamese twins, a Pope who befriends a squid and a dastardly Canadian plot to destroy the world never saw the light of day, but it did spawn the creation of my film company, Obscure Studios.
For a decade, Obscure Studios has churned out short films and webseries. We’ve made 150 videos. We haven’t been as prolific since our college days and especially not since a few of us have moved across the country, but filmmaking is still near and dear to my heart. I hope to find the time to create more shorts in the coming year.
In the meantime, I decided to commemorate 10 years of silliness by finally finishing “Poverty With a View.” This pilot episode for a webseries starring myself, Ian Olsen and Will McDonald was filmed in the summer of 2013 in the weeks before I packed up and moved to Washington. We had originally intended to complete a 12-episode story arc, but ran out of time and only just barely squeezed out the first (and only) episode. It tells the story of three college graduates who discover that the world outside of school is harder to navigate than they ever feared. It’s a comedy that I think resonates with those of us who came into the workforce during the recession. It’s also a little love letter to one of my favorite places, Flagstaff.
It’s rough. We never had time to grab pick-up shots. But in its flaws, I am reminded of why I love film. It has a special power to pull us into another world. For a few moments, we can walk in the shoes of the characters. I hope you’ll enjoy watching our effort come to life and I hope you’ll stick around for more videos in the future.
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Jonny Eberle is a writer and erstwhile filmmaker in Tacoma, WA. You can follow him on Twitter. His newest project with Obscure Studios, Poverty With a View, was shot entirely in Flagstaff, AZ except for two shots. See if you can spot which ones and let me know in the comments! Thanks for watching!
Filmmaking is often a fast-paced process. You have to be ready to hit record at a moment’s notice and then run off to set up your next shot. Actors have tight schedules (even more so when you’re not able to pay them). Lighting conditions are in flux. It is constant movement; constant anticipation; constant, simmering chaos.
Except when it’s not. Rarely, a filmmaker has an opportunity to relax while working. While filming my latest project with Obscure Studios — Poverty With a View, a satirical look at life after college in the recession — I decided to grab an iconic shot. In Flagstaff, the most recognizable feature of the landscape are the San Francisco Peaks.
The Peaks are actually one mountain, one huge volcano rising over 12,000 feet into the sky. The dominate the northern horizon and can be seen from almost anywhere in town. So, if I was going to make a web series set in Flag, the Peaks had to be in it.
I decided to film a sunset on the night of the summer Solstice. I staked out a clear spot in Buffalo Park and waited. Just waited. Once I had framed the mountain and hit record, there was nothing left to do but wait for the sunset. That was the strangest part. Filmmaking for me is such an involved process — there are so many variables to control and monitor — that to sit by idly for an extended period of time felt wrong. But after fidgeting for half an hour, I finally allowed myself time to enjoy the sunset.
And it was beautiful. The way the golden light paints the dead grass on the mesa; the way a violet shadow grows over the face of the mountain; and the gathering burnt orange glow around the sun. It actually made me stop thinking about the technical aspects of what I was doing and forced me to soak in the grandeur of the world.
I think we all need that from time to time. We get so wrapped up on our own little problems that we forget how small they are.
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Jonny Eberle is a writer, photographer and filmmaker in Flagstaff, AZ, which was almost the town in the Eagles’ hit “Take It Easy.” Sadly, Winslow won out and ruined a lot of great marketing opportunities. Please feel free to comment or follow me on Twitter: @jonnyeberle.