Audio Producer/Story Editor Juliette Luini ‘18.5 talks to intern Noah Hochfelder ‘22.5 about her exciting new career development, winning a Tribeca Film Festival Award, and her time working at NER.
Noah Hochfelder: You recently became a story editor for the Spark and Fire podcast at WaitWhat. Can you briefly describe the work that WaitWhat does?
Juliette Luini: WaitWhat is creating a portfolio of content at the intersection of daily habit and human potential. It’s not just a podcast company; WaitWhat extends its content into formats, including tech products, live events, higher education, corporate curriculum, publishing, video, and more.
NH: What does a day look like in your work for Spark and Fire? What are you finding to be the most enjoyable aspects about this work? Most challenging?
JL: I just started this position last week, so my focus right now is onboarding. While onboarding is a challenge in the era of remote work, the team is giving me time to adjust to the company culture and familiarize myself with the WaitWhat ethos. I’ve been meeting my coworkers one-on-one on Zoom and listening to WaitWhat podcast episodes and taking notes. I’ve really enjoyed being able to continue living in Colorado while having the opportunity to work for a NYC-based media company that is making really innovative stuff.
Once I start digging into my role, I will be editing scripts and audio from a longform interview into a compelling non-narrated story. So on a typical day, I may be spending time in ProTools cutting tape, in Google Docs leaving comments on possible story beats, or in production listening in on an interview. The most challenging thing I anticipate will be figuring out a creative process that works for everyone and is productive and inspiring even though we all are working from home.
NH: With the Denver-based podcast production company House of Pod, you helped produce Guardians of the River, a podcast which won the 2021 Best Narrative Nonfiction Podcast at the Tribeca Film Festival. Describe your experience working on this project. What about this project did you find most fulfilling? What was your reaction to winning this award?
JL: I joined House of Pod in the summer of 2020 as an assistant producer. My primary job was to help produce a show about a group of people trying to protect the Okavango Delta, one of the largest wetlands on the planet. We had hundreds of hours of tape from National Geographic expeditions, but no sense of the characters, tension, or, really, what the story was. (Not to mention, my boss, Cat Jaffee, who reported the story, was going through cancer treatment, our team was spread out among three different countries, and it was, of course, a pandemic.) So I dug into the tape log, lucky to have studied Portuguese at Middlebury to translate the tape from Angola. I went to the hospital to storyboard the series with Cat as she went through chemo. And in a few months, I was promoted to producer to create the outline for the series, scaffold each episode, and audio edit.
The most rewarding aspect of this project was helping produce Episode 3 in Portuguese so that the podcast would be accessible to folks in Angola. Working with our host, Kerllen Costa, a biologist based in Luanda, to make this localized version of the episode was very rewarding. It was beautiful to hear him express this story that is so close to his heart in his first language and speak directly to his people.
Our team’s reaction to winning the award was complete shock! We actually all got to attend the Tribeca Film Festival in June 2021, but booked our tickets back in Denver before the awards ceremony because there was no way we thought we would win. It was deeply gratifying to know this podcast—the lush sound design, folklore, and exploration of what it means to protect a place—resonated with the judges. It felt like all of our hard work during these unprecedented times was worth it, and that care and resilience was reflected in the final product.
NH: I see that you graduated Middlebury with a degree in Contemporary Literature before ultimately attending (and graduating from) the Salt Institute for Documentary Studies in Portland, Maine. What led you to pursue graduate work in documentary storytelling?
JL: I pursued a degree in documentary studies, specifically audio storytelling, because I knew I wanted a career in podcasting. After being part of the Narrative Journalism Fellowship at Middlebury, interning with the Kitchen Sisters, and producing some of my own passion projects (including starting a podcast at NER), I wanted more tools on how to create a podcast. I wanted to learn the technical skills of working in ProTools; I wanted a cohort of fellow audiomakers who I could collaborate with; and I wanted to explore the ethics of journalism and how to handle the responsibility of editing someone else’s story.
NH: Are there any memories, moments, or skills you developed from your time at NER that have guided you professionally?
JL: I am so grateful to NER, because the team gave me the opportunity to help launch and produce the podcast, NER Out Loud. The podcast was an amazing learning experience for me to practice my audio production chops. It also affirmed how much I love audio as a medium; it was so rewarding to hear how student actors could bring poems and essays to life. I loved working with the team at NER so much that I kept working as a contract producer for the podcast after I graduated. NER felt like a safe, supportive space for me to experiment and grow. It also showed me that I had a lot to learn, and ultimately guided my path in choosing to study at the Salt Institute for Documentary Studies.
NH: Who is your all-time favorite storyteller—whether it be a writer, podcaster, or documentarian?
JL: My favorite podcaster is Dan Taberski, host of The Line, 9/12, Missing Richard Simmons, and many other shows. All of the stories Taberski tells give a fresh take on something we think we understand. He takes the listener on a journey with the perfect balance of humor, surprise, and seriousness, and like any compelling story, at the end, the listener leaves the show transformed, but craving more.
NH: What are you reading for pleasure these days?
JL: These days I’m reading Norwegian Wood by Haruki Murakami and Invisible Cities by Italo Calvino.
NH: Juliette, it’s been such a pleasure hearing how you have taken some of the passions you developed at NER and explored them through your various career paths. The folks at NER wish you a smooth transition into your new job!