While I was taking a class about Horror as my elective for my Master’s program, we did a week on podcasting and horror podcasts. During that week of listening to just so many audio drama podcasts, I discovered the wonderful show of King Falls AM.
I have described the podcast to friends as the delightfully weird quirkiness of The Addams Family mixed with the myth arcs of The X-Files with a twist of surrealist supernatural comedy. This show, which is a radio broadcast of the titular town (660 on the radio dial), has a sprawling cast of characters, endless creativity, and just a sense of unabashed fun.
Needless to say when creators Eric Kimelton and Kyle Brown agreed to talk with me, I was thrilled. They surprised me with another guest, Trent Shumay.
For those of you who are curious, Trent voices characters such as Archie Simmons, Herschel Baumgardner, Howard Ford Beauregard the Third (HBF3), Dr. Jeffrey Rosenblum, and so many more. Eric joked that Trent “plays most of our cast”. Yeah. It certainly seems like it, doesn’t it?
The show, and the idea to go into audio drama podcasting, came from a very parental place (and boredom). Trent and Kyle listen to a lot of interview based podcasts. When Kyle Brown’s daughter wanted to listen to Welcome to Night Vale, Kyle, being a good parent, wanted to listen first to make sure it was okay for his daughter to listen to. He listened to the first two episodes, then started talking with Eric about creating a character driven, story driven show in a similar vein. Kyle and Eric have done film things before, but, unsurprisingly, it’s really expensive.
“We found a way to be able to creatively and constantly tell stories with the talented people we know,” Eric said.
King Falls AM, according to all three, is the kind of story that Eric and Kyle usually go for: something comedic with a supernatural/sci-fi twist.
“We are comedy writers by trade. All the projects that we’ve done are comedy based. We’re always looking to bring our weird humor to something else story driven. It just so happened that I’m a big science fiction guy. I didn’t know we could do something like this,” Kyle said.
In order to keep their stories fresh and original, Kyle and Eric try to avoid watching or listening to things that are similar to King Falls AM. They want to give people something fresh and new. Kyle only listened to those first two Night Vale episodes. Fans of the show have compared it to the following shows: Twin Peaks, Gravity Falls, The X-Files, Welcome to Night Vale, and those are just the ones that were mentioned in the interview. Trent, however, confirmed that he has seen Gravity Falls with his kids and definitely sees the comparison to it as a huge compliment.
“When he [Eric] showed me the script, I was like this is like WKRP in Cincinnati meets The X-Files. This is something I have to be a part of. I too am a science fiction nerd. I love horror and comedy. This is everything that I loved. So I strong armed him into putting me in the show,” Trent said.
All of us enjoy a good story, and King Falls AM definitely has very tight, consistent stories. When they break the story, Kyle and Eric are always thinking about how to serve the longer term goals that they have for the show. They’ll come up with smaller arcs, but will sit on them to reach the overall arc of where they’re going. Usually, they’ll break story with an idea for a year. Apparently, there are things from the initial pitch of the show that they haven’t yet put into the show itself.
There are arcs for the show, but then there are episodes where things can be a little more episodic. They want people who have never heard an episode of King Falls AM to have some idea what they are about when listening to show.
Kyle pointed out that people are more likely to listen to the latest episode, rather than start from the beginning. So they want to serve both those new listeners and the listeners who have always been with them. Overall, they think they have struck a good balance. Ultimately, it’s all about timing.
Speaking of timing, the King Falls mayoral election had kind of an eerie similarity to the Donald Trump win in the US. According to Kyle, Mayor Grisham (voiced by Kevin Bulla) was always going to win the election.
“We wanted to absolutely mirror what was going on politically. I didn’t know if we hit all the points because we write these things so far in advanced,” Kyle said. He even joked that “Sadly, you can blame us for Donald Trump’s presidency.”
“It just worked out very well that sadly the bad guy won the real election and our election,” Kyle said.
“Sadder films usually have the greater storylines,” agreed Trent. “If you had Ron or Herschel win, then it wouldn’t be as interesting. Where do you go for there? Herschel, who has a place near and dear to my heart, has no business of being mayor.” Kyle thinks that the Herschel would last three weeks in office before retiring and going fishing.
Eric feels that the conflict is always the best route to go making good stories. With Grisham winning, it just means good conflict for the characters to fight against. The bad guy staying in place there is story.
“If the good guys win, then where do you go from there?” Kyle asked.
“You can still have the good guys win,” added Trent. “But you need to show there is loss to make the win feel worthwhile. These characters won’t give up the fight. They won’t give up on Emily. They won’t give up on King Falls. The good guys will prevail. It just may take several anniversaries before you see it.”
In this second year, the major question is around the return of Emily Potter (voiced by Lauren Denham) and Ben Arnold’s (voiced by Noah James) notebook. I didn’t learn what was in Ben Arnold’s notebook. At one point, they joked that I was just trying to get spoilers rather than interviewing them. They did say, however, that between now and the second anniversary of the show in May is when we will get resolution to the Emily Potter/notebook arc.
“There’s one thing about telling a continual story that we’ve never done before. We’ve written like pilots. You write a pilot and you have an idea where it’s going. You don’t write all the episodes. So it’s been a lot of fun plotting and planning and seeing where these arcs are going to go, seeing how they interweave and how the characters interact and how they get thrown into other situations. It’s been a lot of fun,” Kyle said.
“It’s fun to deviate from where you initially thought you were going to go based on who the characters become when you’re doing it. A lot of it comes from the performances given by our actors,” Eric added.
King Falls AM is very much a living, fluid thing.
Kyle credits the listeners for having input on the story as well. They like to see how things resonate with the dedicated fanbase. If something isn’t working, then it’s tweaked in the show. If something is, then they continue on. It’s this fan interaction that really makes the show special; Kyle and Eric are listening to how the fans are reacting to the show.
Actually, one thing that came from fan questions and interaction is the mystery of Sammy Stevens’ (voiced by Kyle) character. “Who is Sammy Stevens?” is something that fans have been asking since the beginning, before the question was discovered in Ben’s mystery notebook. Will we see that question answered? The short answer is yes.
“That’s not to say that people don’t like Sammy or they don’t trust him. But having been called out by his best friend, it was a big deal for us. It had to hit right for us in the King Falls world,” Kyle said.
“He definitely has a past and we will be going into that eventually,” confirmed Eric.
What they want to do, however, is not answer the question for the sake of the answer. They want to make sure that the moment information is revealed it is good for the characters and good for the story. They want things to resonate with the fans and mean something when information this important is revealed.
“We do this with all of our characters. In the episode after Emily is abducted, we have Ben have this heart to heart with Herschel. It gives us a peek into why Herschel is the way that he is. And that wouldn’t mean anything if we didn’t have ten episodes of Herschel bitching about everything and cutting people down,” Eric explained.
The one thing that they enjoy about working in podcast and in the medium is how “freeing” it can be. The show is seen more as a mental movie for the listeners. While, according to Kyle, they are “very descriptive in action,” they purposefully keep descriptions of the characters loose. Everyone’s vision of any of the characters is right and equally valid. That’s how they want it to be. Using a radio show format for the show also helps people easily digest the stories that are being told. Staying within those bounds to help push the story forward.
As for the characters, some of them come from something as simple as commercial. The show has commercials, local businesses in King Falls, buying air time.
“We think ‘oh that’s a funny character maybe we can do something with them after the commercial as well’,” explained Kyle.
Some of the characters, however, are inspired by the people who play them. For example, Ben Arnold was inspired by his actor, Noah James.
“We knew Noah going into this. Before we even pitched the show to anyone, we wrote ten or twelve scripts before we got started. Three or four of those scripts were written with Noah in mind. The Ben you guys know is like an amped up Noah. But, also, Trent is a voice actor so sometimes he will have a voice and throw it out into the room. And we’ll be like ‘oh how about this’ or ‘how about that’. So it’s a culmination of all sorts of things: people we know, cool idea, story needs,” continued Kyle.
As an actor on the show, Trent said: “When I first got the script, I took a look at all the male characters and just tried out all of them. Because, as these guys will tell you, I’m a whore. But a lot of times it’s just kind of playing with the guys. We’ll sit there and they’ll have a concept of something. We’ll just kind of spitball and go from there.”
They don’t want to force something that doesn’t sound real to them. The first role that Trent had secured on the show was everyone’s favorite crotchety old man, Herschel Baumgardner.
All told, the show has about twenty people that usually provide voices for the population of King Falls. It does certainly sound like a daunting prospect. They really want to take its story where it needs to go. They want it to be a big, big story for this cool town. Coming into their third year, Kyle said that he was so proud of what they had been able to accomplish in terms of fleshing out the world.
They write the scripts as if it is happening. Since they don’t have the budgets to visually show audiences what is going on, they can certainly describe them. And that’s why podcasting offers a different sort of way to tell these amazingly elaborate stories to the audience.
Kyle said, “Sound design really opens up worlds here. Even in filmmaking, the sound has to be good. You can see a beautiful movie, but if the sound is off then you’re like ‘this is not working for me’. So the sound design also helps play visually.”
Changing location and scene switching can be a little challenging at times for the show. Sometimes, it’s easy. For instance, when Deputy Troy (voiced by Eric) calls into the show to report something then it’s usually easy for the audience to get into the scene. He’s a cop and he’s probably calling in to talk about a strange happening around town. For huge story points, however, they need to do a little bit of hand-holding with the audience.
Naturally, talking about sound led into us talking about the recent Christmas episode for the show. The episode, for those curious, was a musical one. It was insanely amazing.
Apparently while making a web series in LA, one of their friends really wanted them to do a musical episode. Every time Kyle and Eric started a new project, the friend, Christopher Ninness, wanted to know when a musical episode would happen. The show itself is has a lot of musical references.
“It was trying to find a good plot device that didn’t seem super forced. And then Gwendolyn the Racist Witch was born and well we created a musical,” Eric said.
Eric, Kyle and Chris worked on the lyrics for the special together. In addition to this, the musical director for the series, Cameron Chambers, was totally game for doing it. They would get in the room and bang it out. It was an extremely collaborative process. It was also a really draining process on everyone that was there for every session.
“I was only present for a few days of recording,” Trent said. “But the genius of Cameron, Chris, and these two gentlemen, but to see the talent that was there recording in a very hot small room. But to see a magic in everyone’s eyes. You would see people bouncing ideas off each other. If it works, it works. If it doesn’t, then we’ll try. But there was such joy from everyone in this hot room.”
He went on to say the episode was extremely gratifying.
The process for the episode itself was around four months. The group started in August and it went until the wire of the episode’s release (December 15th, 2016). They had a lot of back-up plans for the recording in case they couldn’t get an actor in time. The finished episode had 95% of what they wanted to do in it. Of course, it was a major hit with the fans. It’s a fantastic episode, so it’s not really that big of a surprise.
As for what draws in these fans to the show, the guys took educated guesses at that.
“A big thing about King Falls is that its a place where anybody can be who they want to be and aren’t really judged for it. Another thing is that it’s weird and sometimes people just want to be weird,” Eric said.
Going off on that, Kyle said, “I think that people dismiss us. Like ‘we already have something like and we don’t need that in our world’. But I think the people that listen to us find that we are completely [different]. I think that one of the draws that King Falls is that they are real characters. They may be doing absurd things, but they are real people. You have an emotional bond with them.”
“I think these guys have a lot of heart in every script that they write. Everyone can think about people in their lives who they encountered who are similar to these characters. There is so much heart between Sammy and Ben, the relationship between Ben and Emily. There was enough there in the writing to pique their interest. It’s not the greatest love story ever told. It’s a mensch who is not great at telling the woman that he loves that he truly loves her. Now he has been robbed of her,” Trent said.
Kyle also said that this storyline is all about Ben needing to grow up and be a man worthy of Emily. The cornerstone of the show, of course, is the relationship between Sammy and Ben. Without that, according to the three, you wouldn’t have a show worth listening to. I agree wholeheartedly. Sammy and Ben’s friendship is so genuine and real that you want to listen to these two talk. Without that initial emotional investment into this pair, then you won’t have a show.
Expanding the podcast, however, is something that this group is interested in doing.
“There’s never a point where we’re not looking at where King Falls can go next,” Kyle said. “Realistically speaking, I think I can say for everyone that’s involved that we all want to see this probably as an animated show. But you don’t leave the people that you brought to the dance either. There’s never going to be a point where King Falls AM 660 on the AM dial will stop broadcasting to go build 660 on Cartoon Network on something. There’s a balance between that. We’re very, very thankful and great for the people that tune in and listen to us.”
You honestly have never met a crew more grateful for their fans. Trent talked about the passion and dedication Kyle and Eric have for making King Falls AM what it is today.
Although, can I just say how much I love the animated show idea?
Nothing is off the table to expand King Falls AM into other mediums. Kyle thinks that a King of King Falls e-book would be cool to see.
Even though King Falls AM is very much a passion project, as everyone has real jobs and families, there is always something to grab on to. When things get mentally and physically exhausting, there is always something to remember and enjoy. It constantly inspires them to keep going, keep pushing story, keep making character. Kyle and Eric praise the amazing people that they get to work with and the amazing fans that they talk with.
King Falls AM believes in talking with fans and putting their attention on the fans. It’s just really sweet and inspiring to hear their passion and love to their fans. They make sure to make an effort to talk with the fans and have a conversation with them. They love that their story is resonating with people. It’s very much, according to Kyle, a grassroots kind of promotion for the show.
The best thing about the interest is that there is an open outlet for anyone to be creative and to share their stories with the world.
Naturally, this led to a final question of advice for those kinds of people who want to be creative.
Kyle’s advice was very simple (and Shia LaBeouf-esque): “Do it. Just do it. Do it better than what is out there.”
“Do it,” agreed Eric. “And be willing to make sacrifices and keep doing it even when you feel like it is too hard to keep going on. You will feel that a lot. But it will always be worth it if you’re doing something that will make yourself happy.”
Trent’s advice was “if you have a friend, or know of anyone, who is writer, then get their number and call them on a regular basis. And force them to put you into your podcast. If you can strong-arm, then that’s good too. You’ll get a part eventually.”
“Just don’t be afraid of doing it,” Kyle said.
Trent added in, “And don’t be afraid of criticism. Everyone can critique, but not everyone can create. Just remember that the people you admired the most have heard the same things. They stuck to it and they kept on creating.”
So I hope this interview has you go and check out King Falls AM (on iTunes and AudioBoom). This town is wonderfully weird and welcoming. It’s created by people who care and are happy that you want to give them a listen. Episodes are the 1st and the 15th of every month.
See you on 660 on the radio dial, King Falls fans.