When David Chen ’06 started his first podcast in 2008, the medium was not the ubiquitous pop-culture phenomenon it is today, with podcasts being adapted into feature films and TV series and selling out live tours across the country.
“Back then, it was kind of the wild, wild West,” he explains. “Every single celebrity did not have a podcast.” But Chen, a tech-savvy cinephile, had become a fan of a podcast produced by the now-defunct video-game website 1UP.com. He wanted to create a show with the same kind of knowledge and personality, but focused on movies.
Chen connected with his former roommate Devindra Hardawar ’05 to create The Watchers. “We had a shared love and passion for genre films, John Woo movies, movies that had a lot of martial arts and action and gunplay,” Chen says. “And from our shared love of that, we decided to launch a movie podcast.”
A few months later, The Watchers became The Slashfilmcast after teaming up with movie website slashfilm.com. In 2009 Chen branched out as host of The Tobolowsky Files, a podcast featuring stories from character actor Stephen Tobolowsky.
“Tobolowsky was a guest on The Slashfilmcast, and his stories were hilarious and moving and poignant and profound,” Chen says. He gave the actor a platform to preserve and promote his stories, and in turn, Tobolowsky put his trust in Chen. “He has a philosophy: Good things happen when you say yes,” Chen says of Tobolowsky. “So this random dude is pitching him on doing this podcast. He took a chance, and I think the podcast has been immensely rewarding for both of us.”
His podcasts explore Twin Peaks, Game of Thrones and other shows.
Chen’s podcasting slate has only grown since then. He’s launched podcasts devoted to dissecting episodes of obsessed-over TV series: Game of Thrones, Twin Peaks, Justified, Breaking Bad. The most recent season of A Cast of Kings, Chen’s Thrones-focused podcast co-hosted by writer Joanna Robinson of Vanity Fair, scored 2.3 million downloads for its nine episodes.
Just as he was when starting a movie podcast, Chen was ahead of the curve in using the medium to discuss small-screen episodes. “When I first started A Cast of Kings with Joanna, there were very few TV podcasts out there,” he says. “I would wager less than a dozen that even had any kind of audience. And I think there’s at least 50 or 60 now about Game of Thrones.”
Chen, an LJST major at Amherst, stands out in this saturated market, while still insisting that he’s “squarely in the middle class of podcasters,” and he maintains a full-time day job as a senior marketing manager at Amazon.
He cites his interview with Rian Johnson as among his proudest podcasting moments.
While he pursues podcasting as a sort of high-level hobby, he also feels strongly about the power of the medium, and is optimistic about its future. “I knew very quickly that doing a podcast and listening to podcasts—as a podcast listener myself—there is kind of a unique connection that you have with those hosts that you don’t really in other media, even with video,” he says.
He cites his long-form interview with Star Wars: The Last Jedi writer-director Rian Johnson on The Slashfilmcast and an episode of The Tobolowsky Files called “The Alchemist” (featuring some of Tobolowsky’s memories of his mother) among his proudest podcasting moments. “There’s something really interesting about that connection, this asymmetrical connection you have with people, that I found really compelling as a podcast listener,” he says, “and felt really grateful to be able to give to people as a podcast host.”