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BEHIND THE SCENES with Snap Judgment's Stephanie Foo


What makes a Snap Judgment story a SJ story? And how does American Dad fit that mold?

We made this flowchart to show what makes a Snap Judgment story. It has to follow all the criteria outlined there: something at stake, a conflict, great characters. But beyond that, the main character of the story should always start their journey at one point and end it somewhere different. This usually means that he/she must experience some sort of personal transformation. And lastly, there should be an element of surprise, some sort of unexpected twist right near the climax of the story. American Dad fits all those criteria to a T. Pilar travels from Mexico to California - so there's a physical move. There are a number of terrifying conflicts in her way, each of which changes her relationship with her father. And there's a horrifying twist that forces Pilar to question her American dream. It's a complex story with an emotionally complicated ending, and that's why it made it onto Snap

Let's keep talking about the SJ method... is there a particular approach to the recording/interview

I think every one of our producers has their own approach to the interview, but our experience with creating as many stories as we do gives us all a pretty similar style. The main thing is having a really solid understanding of what makes a good Snap story, and a clear idea of the arc you want to eventually highlight. That allows me to go in with only one or two prepared questions. Mostly, the interview is simply a very casual conversation where I listen to their story and occasionally guide them towards all the plot points I know I need them to hit. Though I do want my interviewee to feel as casual and comfortable as possible, I try to stay out of the tape as much as I can. It's all about their voice, their story

The music is much more front and center than in your typical public radio piece... In American Dad , I'm thinking about the use of the song "Freedom," what guides your choices? When I'm scoring a piece, I often listen to it dry the entire way through and write down emotions or moods that I want the listener to feel at different points in the piece. For example, in my notes for this piece, I wrote down, "Border shift change: kinda funny but dangerous, maybe Western or Mexican." Then I'll flip through my music catalog and try to find music that conveys those moods. I have a database with music that I've tagged with a lot of these emotions, so sometimes I'll go through that if I feel really stuck

There's a lot of subtlety to that process. We don't like to use too much popular music, because it brings a lot of people out of the story, but we want to use musicians we believe in and love. We don't want the music to be so busy you can't hear the speaker. And if it's a really tragic moment, we want the music to be as subtle as possible, if it's there at all. I think carefully about emotions and creating a sense of place because it's really important for us to take a cinematic approach to scoring our pieces. Just like sound design for a movie, we use music to immerse our listener in the story as completely as possible. In terms of the use of "Freedom," American Dad is a really sad story, and I wanted to take advantage of that happy moment to inject some humor. In that moment, Pilar was overjoyed and was a total badass. "Freedom" is joyous in that way, and Akon is obviously also a badass, so - bam. The hyperbolic music also winds up darkly ironic later, as we see that Pilar is not as free as she assumes. ### And maybe the boldest thing you do at SJ is add literal sound effects that make the story pop, but that wouldn't be permitted on news shows. In regards to American Dad , I'm thinking about the slamming of the jail cell door, the howling of the coyote and click of the gun

I actually don't think it's that bold, because - you said it - we're not a news show. We're an entertainment show, and in that, we often toe the line between recounting and re-enacting past events. We're a storytelling show, and we readily use every tool in the storytelling toolbox. Foley, music, found sound, occasional acting even. I frequently utilize music changes or sound effects to bring home major plot points. The coyote comes in as a transition into Pilar's encounters with coyotes, for example, and the jail door is a jarring, emotional transition. We like to foley things whenever they are appropriate to make the story come to life. Sometimes effects are preferable to music, depending on the mood. As I said, we want our listeners to really feel like they are there. If they are laughing or crying in their driveway, we know we've done our job

For listeners who want to share a story on SJ, how do they submit an idea, and what advice do you have for them

Listeners can send us their ideas at pitches@snapjudgment.org, or they can upload pictures, video, or audio to the Tell your Story section on our website. My tips would be to read our how-to guides, look at our flowchart, and keep in mind that we much prefer action to reflection. We're looking forward to hearing your stories!