BEHIND THE SCENES with Stephen Erickson **

What attracted you to the story of The Forbidden Voyage

Two things

First, Earle was a good storyteller with this incredible experience. Then perhaps more important was the way this story unfolds -- the story behind the story. What begins as the story of a professor, a family, a dream, sailboat, a peace action, becomes a story about change. It's a story about unseen forces, about circumstance, about chance and how these play out in Earle Reynolds life. It is common occurrence, but seldom so clear to observe

Then, a Forbidden Voyage!!! Who wouldn't be attracted?

Do you think that The Forbidden Voyage is particularly suited for radio? Are there certain stories that really are meant to be told aurally rather than visually

I make radio. If I hadn't heard this as such, I wouldn't have begun. There are two important factors here, good stories and a good storyteller

The story is special. A professor of anthropology goes to Hiroshima in 1950 working for the Atomic Energy Commission and makes the first study about the effects of radioactivity on children. Then that he takes his family along, has a boat built, sails it around the world and then by chance meets this other boat, takes up their banner and sails to Bikini... Add to this that Earle is a natural storyteller

When I first made the recordings with Earle, I wanted to make a film. My first idea was to make a film with no picture, just a soundtrack. Now, with the soundtrack finished, I've thought a Ken Burns-esque pan across old still photos might work quite well. However, wouldn't what happens in The Forbidden Voyage , which would make a fine film, lose impact to the pictures? Would the story of change, which is never mentioned in the radio piece, be lost to great sailing pictures?

Did you end up developing a lasting personal relationship with the Reynolds family while working on the story? As a producer, how does a story change, as you become more familiar and intimate with its characters

Personal relationship is overstating it. I did get to know Jessica and Ted while working on this but our relationship was always professional. We still have occasional contact, for example I'll email them a note to let them know that this story is here

The close contact with the Reynolds, or any other subject, changes my ability to tell the story. The more I learned from Ted and Jessica, the better I understood Earle. In this particular case, what was interesting was the way their three stories ran parallel, at times dovetailed and at times totally diverged

For example the memories of Earle and Jessica when the around the world trip first began in Japan. Earle tells us that his wife, Ted and Jessica were all ready, in fact anxious, to make the trip with him. The story Jessica tells is quite different -- the whirlpools, the feelings of her mother whose father had died in a canoeing accident. It's a small point but it adds detail that informs our understanding of Earle

The story changes in its complexity. Then, as a documentary maker, I still have to decide what to tell, what to build into the production and what to leave out. The more I know the more that is left out. What is told, what is there, is perhaps a little closer to a true picture

What sort of effect did this story have on you personally? For instance, did it nurture any of your own nautical inclinations

I first recorded Earle in 1985, ten years after I had first heard his stories. I knew Earle was getting old and wanted to make sure the stories were preserved. When I came back to New York with the tapes, I put together a demo and tried to find some funding for a limited series, four half-hours about Earle Reynolds. I was told by funders at that point that they liked the proposal, but that the demo sounded like "a lot of other old people telling their stories." Perhaps it was just too early for personal story telling

I kept the tapes and knew that one day they would come off the shelf. In 1998, I approached WDR in Cologne about a production. They didn't hesitate. So, perhaps I moved to Germany to let Earle tell his story? My own nautical inclinations... A few years after I first met Earle, I thought a lot about sailing. I took a course when I lived in New York and then thought about buying a boat. I began a search in earnest, had a couple leads, then at that moment radio poked its ugly, noisy wonderful head into my life

End of story

Beginning of story.

Are you generally drawn toward stories with a historical side to them? What are the challenges you face in telling personal stories that also rely heavily on the past, and factual information

No. I'm generally drawn toward stories with a political side to them. Regardless, whether it's a historical or a political theme the challenge is to find a form that lets the story live. How do we make stories that touch the listener? For me this is this is generally letting people telling their stories

Isn't this what we are always dealing with even when we are involved in daily reporting? Everything I see, record, experience is only a small part of the story. My job as a radio maker is to make a connection between the subject and the listener, only then have I begun to communicate. The difficulty, communication isn't a passive act. Fortunately, I find that listeners here are willing to do their part of the work

You moved from America to Berlin in the 90s. How does being an independent audio producer in Germany compare with working in New York or anywhere else you lived in the States

Perhaps the most revealing comparison is in the diversity of programs on public radio systems in the U.S. and here. To start with, there are only 14 public stations in Germany and no community radio. Yet, I would offer that there is as much diversity and as good an audience. Moreover, there is diversity of both content and style

I live and work in Germany primarily because of the distinctive style of documentary feature that has evolved here (and in fact in most of the world other than the US) and because, as a program maker, I have tremendous freedom

I work every time for a station, generally on a single piece. This means there is already a support system in place. They arrange broadcast dates and take care of publicity. I don't have to become a marketing expert, or even hire one. I don't have to create a mega-series or become a grant writer. This of course also means that as an independent I don't have the opportunity to build a production empire

I'm only a radio maker

I know when a proposal is accepted how much I'll be paid. I'm free to find a production style that best suits my story. There is no "house style". I express my point of view and they want my productions because I have one. The myth of balance isn't an issue. Balance (don't we really mean diverse viewpoints?) is found in a broadcast system that presents hundreds of documentaries from hundreds of independent program makers every month. Consider, in Berlin alone, six hours of feature documentaries are broadcast each week. Add to this the political documentaries, the literary documentaries, the current affairs documentaries the special series. This adds up to real diversity, perhaps balance and for independents, opportunity.