#PodernFamily: Meet Bia Guimarães and Sarah Azoubel of 37 Graus

#PodernFamily is a new interview series where we catch up with audio producers and podcasters whose work we admire. In our first instalment we interview the team behind the podcast 37 Graus.

Bia Guimarães and Sarah Azoubel in the field.

Q: What were you both doing before you started making your podcast?

A: I (Bia Guimarães) am a journalist and Sarah Azoubel has a PhD in Biology. Sarah used to listen to many podcasts (such as This American Life, Radiolab, Invisibilia, Snap Judgment) while working on her PhD research, in the lab, where she was repeatedly pipetting substances from one container to another. She loves science, but realized she would rather tell stories about science and behind science instead of spending so much time on one experiment, on one specific hypothesis.

Sarah decided to take a course in Science Journalism at the University of Campinas (the city where we both live), in Sao Paulo state, Brazil. I was getting my Master’s degree in Science Communication from the same department, and there was a science radio show/podcast produced by the students. That’s how we met and became friends.

It was 2017, and at that time most podcasts in Brazil were amateur chatcasts. We wanted to do something different, inspired by those narrative shows Sarah used to listen to in the lab. We started studying and reverse engineering some episodes of This American Life, Invisibilia and Radiolab and trying on some of their techniques on that students’ show. But we soon realized we wanted to make our own podcast.

So, when we created 37 Graus, I had some experience as a reporter and Sarah had the science background, and we were both kind of familiar with radio/podcasts, but were still finding out how to make the show we had imagined in our heads. We produced a pilot season and continued studying, listening carefully to the podcasts we admired, and learning a lot in the process. Now we are about to release our 5th season, and have never stopped experimenting with audio.

Q: What’s your least favourite and most favourite part of the process/journey for you? Why?

We love to travel to places we have never been before, get close to the story we want to tell on the show, and interview people. We also like the geek part of audio, trying new equipment, finding the best way to capture scenes and then sound design them.

On the other hand, we don’t really like coming back from a trip and having to deal with all those audio files. Each episode demands a different structure and a new way of telling a story, so there is no recipe or formula we can use to write the scripts. But although it is painful, this is also the part where we can get creative and play with the story to make it even more interesting than it is in real life.

Sorting through audio files and writing scripts can feel very hard.

Q: What’s the podcast that made you want to get into this field? Why did it leave such an impression on you?

The radio storytelling classics: This American Life and Radiolab. TAL because we are passionate about stories that seem simple but hide a lot of interesting layers. And Radiolab because most of the stories we tell have to do with science, and we love the aesthetics they have created to explain the weirdness of the world around us.

Q: How has the last year affected your work?

Covid arrived in Brazil when we were about to release our series Epidemia (Epidemic), about Zika. Quickly we had to adjust the episodes to include references to Covid because it was impossible not to talk about it in a series about a virus. And we had to adapt both our personal and professional lives to the pandemic world during the launch of the season.

Before Covid, the Bia and Sarah would travel frequently to gather stories for 37 Graus.

Before the pandemic, we used to say that 37 Graus was the show where Sarah and I, a biologist and a journalist, travel around to tell stories behind Brazil’s iconic landscapes and events. When we realized we wouldn’t be able to go to places and talk to people in person for a while, we tried to come up with ideas to keep telling the stories we like in the way we like without leaving our houses. We decided to make a themed season about time and how lockdown made our clocks and calendars go crazy. As we couldn’t travel to other places, we traveled through time and told stories about this maestro of everything. We also started taking advantage of the surrounding places and the stories hidden in our backyards and in our own city.

Podcast production in the middle of a pandemic looks like this.

To prevent the episodes from being dominated by the (not so good) sound of remote interviews, we started recording more conversations between the two of us, and with other producers on the show. It was something new for us, and now we’re addicted to it. Embedding small snippets of conversation between the narrated scenes made our episodes more dynamic and more interesting.

Q: What are you working on right now/next?

We are producing our 5th season, which will be released by the end of August. At the same time, we are working on Cochicho.org, the website we launched last year to gather tips, articles, interviews and reviews that can help Brazilian producers tread their paths in this new industry. It is the website we wished existed three years ago, when we created 37 Graus.

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