Decorated sound designer Jeremy S. Bloom discusses his work on Audible’s fun and frisky new podcast series Hot White Heist.
Enlisting the talents of an exemplary ensemble cast, creator Adam Goldman and director Alan Cumming bring a provocative, queer heist dramedy to life. Premiering on Audible as a scripted podcast, Hot White Heist tells the story of a group of queer misfits, ranging from all ends of the LGBTQ spectrum, as they attempt to steal the sperm of former U.S. presidents to fund their separatist queer island paradise. The series’ extensive cast lists stars such as Bowen Yang, Cynthia Nixon, MJ Rodriguez, Jane Lynch, and Shannon Woodward. It also includes RuPaul’s Drag Race royalty Bianca Del Rio, Katya Zamolodchikova, and Peppermint. Arriving just in time for Pride Month, the series is delightfully witty and deliciously absurd with the perfect dose of found family and queer joy.
The Knockturnal: How did you get involved in this project?
Jeremy S. Bloom: One day, I was sitting in my studio editing sounds I recorded all around NYC harbor, and I got a call out of the blue from our producer at Broadway Video, Mark Valdez. He and writer Adam Goldman were fans of “Nancy,” another Queer project I worked on produced by WNYC. They looked for someone who could connect with the material and had the design experience to realize all the amazing creative challenges written into the script.
The Knockturnal: What were your first impressions of the project?
Jeremy S. Bloom: After I was 3/4ths through reading the script’s first page, I knew I had to work on Hot White Heist. Cynthia Nixon’s opening monologue does a fantastic job of teasing the hilarious story that follows and previews many exciting sounds that reoccur later in the story: Laser fields, swat teams, secret elevators, drag queens defeating facial scanners, airlocks, high-heeled chases. Sign. Me. Up.
The Knockturnal: What made you want to be a part of this project?
Jeremy S. Bloom: After reading the script, I quickly became a super fan of the story and its absolute brilliance, but other factors drew me in. The story has all the high-tech shenanigans, car chases, and intrigue of a James Bond film butut without the visuals. An action film told only through audio. As a sound designer, that provided me with an exceptionally fun challenge. How could I clearly depict every twist and turn of a heist film without any visual support?
That challenge is what guided the entire sound design approach. For every moment of the show, our audience depends on sound alone to clearly communicate exactly what is happening and where. Adam Goldman, who created the series, has a deep respect for sound and made the exciting choice to use sound design and music to support the story almost as much as dialog itself. This was no typical radio drama with the occasional door opening here, doorbell there, and coconut-shell horse clomping by. He understands the power inherent in using audio to access an audience’s imagination. Every scene was like a little creative puzzle he gave me to unlock… and I wanted to solve them all.
The Knockturnal: What creative challenges did you face while working as a sound designer on this podcast?
Jeremy S. Bloom: Here’s an example of one of those puzzles I mentioned. Do you know that scene in Ocean’s 12 where Vincent Cassel cartwheels over moving laser beams to the tune of The a la Menthe? The script challenged us to create something similar, but how do you clearly communicate all those details to an audience purely through aural means? I like to think of it as a recipe, so first, we collected all our ingredients. I created the sound of lasers moving from left to right using an experimental analog synth, the Makenoise 0Coast. Shannon Woodward, one of our actresses, happens to be a former gymnast, so we had a whole session where she imagined sequences of actual gymnastic flips and performed the vocal grunts and breaths that might accompany them. Our foley artist Joanna Fang has an entire library of footwear and different floor surfaces over at Alchemy Post. She put on some heavy boots and recorded all the sounds of Shannon hitting her landings on a concrete floor and the swishes of her clothes as they fly through the air. I spiced that up with some Jackie Chan-style swishes, bamboo sticks whipping through the air. Combine them all in just the right way, add some secret sauce, and you can hear it and immediately picture what’s going on.
The Knockturnal: How did your work on this particular project compare to others you’ve worked on?
Jeremy S. Bloom: As a Sound Designer, I’m used to coming on to projects very late in the game. After all, sound editing and mixing are so often the final steps of making a film. Hot White Heist was different. I had the privilege of joining the project very early before the script was even finalized. I weighed in on the role sound design might play in the writers’ room, get to know the script, and prototype ideas with my heistly collaborator-in-crime Dan Timmons. Dan handled all the initial episode assemblies and far more. The project really benefited from this early involvement. The main reason I feel the sound design is so well integrated is because of producer Mark Valdez’s foresight to call in a sound designer so early. It’s an idea that many of my favorite leaders in audio post evangelize. Involving sound design early, even in pre-production, can really elevate storytelling. I’ve heard it and have believed in its power, but now I’ve lived it!
The Knockturnal: What does this show mean for queer representation?
Jeremy S. Bloom: So the show stars Bowen Yang, Cynthia Nixon, Shannon Woodward, MJ Rodriguez, Alan Cumming, Abby Jacobson, Bianca Del Rio, Peppermint, Cheyenne Jackson, Katya, Jane Lynch, Jonathan Bailey, Margret Cho, John Cameron Mitchell, Stephanie Beatriz, and Tony freakin’ Kushner. That’s an entirely Queer cast and a damn good one. Our creative team was majority Queer as well, but representation is about way more than a cast list. Ultimately for me, it meant that it was about drawing from our vast range of experiences to tell a story that is first and foremost for Queer people. At the same time, the process also served to build a meaningful Queer community as we made the show itself.
The Knockturnal: This is a scripted podcast. Did that produce any unique challenges in your sound design when compared to television or theatrical sound design?
Jeremy S. Bloom: I’d say the most significant difference between podcast work and traditional sound work for film\tv is this… On a film, the sound is restricted in many ways in that it needs to stay aligned to what you see on the screen. That means we can orchestrate music or sound effects according to the dialog, but we can’t re-time the dialogue much because it needs to correspond to the action and moving lips you see on screen. In audio drama or podcasts, we don’t have this restriction. That presents a challenge because there are more moving parts, but it’s also an opportunity. We can place music and effects around the dialog as one might in a film, but we can also intricately re-time the dialogue to make music or sound effects without impacting sync. Ultimately this means we can create a complex and intertwined collage of music, dialog, and sound effects.
The Knockturnal: This story involves queer escapism, fun, found family, sexuality, joy, and troublemaking heroism. What does it mean to you to work on and create multifaceted queer stories?
Jeremy S. Bloom: I’ve been thinking about this one a lot. Working on Hot White Heist and WNYC’s “Nancy” have helped me to realize how few Queer stories there are that don’t revolve around coming of age or dating and sex. Those stories are important too, of course, but there are a lot more to the Queer experience than coming out or hooking up, and not many stories that depict it. I’m excited and optimistic that we may be entering an era where people like Adam Goldman are dreaming up what those stories might be, and places like Broadway Video and Audible and willing to take a chance and give them a home. It’s super exciting to have a part in telling them and rewarding too when I hear how profoundly they resonate in my community or even change lives.
The Knockturnal: The duties of a sound designer cannot be underestimated. Describe your daily responsibilities on set that allow this project to take shape.
Jeremy S. Bloom: Sometimes, being a sound designer exclusively means being responsible for creating raw original sound effects. That’s not wrong. Creating the authentic sounds of a secret bunker, laser fields, car chases, cold storage units, helicopter landings, and more were undoubtedly a large part of my role, but I see sound design as that plus so much more. On Hot White Heist, I was responsible for overseeing the creation of the show’s sonic landscape, much like how a production designer or art director might be responsible for overseeing the visual landscape of a film. For me, sound design is also all about facilitating artistic conversations, supporting my collaborators to make their best-informed choices, translating conversations about emotion and character into the craft, helping people do their best work, and more. I take the most pride in when clients end a process with an increased understanding of just how powerful sound can be and how fun the process of crafting it is. I think those priorities have helped me find work designing sound not only for podcasts and films but also for immersive exhibits and interactive projects. Some of the technical specifics may differ medium-to-medium, some aesthetic expectations may differ genre-to-genre. Still, the root principles of storytelling with sound are universal, be it a Queer heist audio drama, U.I. sound design for Google, immersive exhibits at The Statue of Liberty, doc films like “Hail Satan?”, and beyond!