So a couple weeks back, I got the UNBELIEVABLE opportunity to interview Alex Brown. Alex is one of the co-creators of The Bridge, my all time favourite podcast. It’s a spooky atmospheric show about a crew of people living in the middle of the Transcontinental Bridge, a bridge connecting both sides of the Atlantic. There’s sea creatures, cults, and gays. I love it so so so so much. This was a huge honour.
What appeals to you about writing horror?
Ohhhh good question! I think that when horror’s done right it can shine a light on a societal issue in an interesting way. Jordan Peele’s “Get Out” and Jennifer Kent’s “The Babadook,” are both my go-tos for horror that’s terrifying and poignant because they take these very real things and give them a tangible form. The protagonists have something to either fight or reconcile with and we, as the audience, get to cheer them on but also acknowledge how messed up their situations are–especially as the layers get peeled back and complexity/horror of their situation starts to unravel.
On the less academic side of things I also just really love ghosts and spooky atmospheres in general. If any piece of horror has a paranormal slant to it I’m 100% there! Ghosts, in particular, are so interesting to me because they’re (in theory) remnants of someone who isn’t around anymore. As someone who doesn’t know a lot of her family history I think they’re appealing to me because they’re snapshots of what came before!
You and Rebecca briefly had a horror movie watch series called The Spooky Movie Show. You touched briefly on there about horror movie tropes. What are some horror tropes that you hate, and do you feel you can combat them by telling a story through audio?
Hopefully we can bring that show back when I have more editing time!!! And time in general lol.
And hmmm. We didn’t get to talk about Annabelle: Creation on SMS (yet) BUT I really hate when horror movies cast their one disabled character as the villain, or as someone who gets possessed by a ghost, demon, etc. I genuinely enjoyed Annabelle: Creation until they decided that their protag, who had a disability, would get possessed and start murdering everyone. That trope can be avoided in all types of storytelling by just…not being a jerk? And asking yourself why you’re deciding to tell that story in that way. And then not doing it because it’s a harmful trope that perpetuates really negative stereotypes and it completely takes away a character’s agency.
Jump scares are also not my favorite thing. I get why they’re used but I love subtle scares more in any sort of media. I think in audio storytelling jump scares can easily be avoided in editing/SFX choices and script work. There are so many ways to elicit a scare or creep someone out just using words and it’s something that we try to do a lot on The Bridge. To me, those are more effective and more fun. Rebecca’s script for The Transcontinental Museum mini-episode was SO CREEPY on it’s own merit, and without any jump scares. Sound editing that was a breeze because the material (and Stephanie’s V/O) were just amazing!
I also hate it in horror movies when one of the spouse’s (most likely the wife) thinks something is wrong/the house is haunted/a kid is possessed and the other spouse doesn’t believe them because that’s just not how I would roll. I think there are more interesting things to explore when everyone involved acknowledges that something spooky is happening but there’s still some grounding involved, for both the characters and the audience.
What horror stories were your biggest inspirations for The Bridge?
Hmm. I’ll begrudgingly give Lovecraft a nod even though I’d readily punch him in the face if I ever met him in-person. “The Others” is a very good movie about isolated places and ghosts, so there’s some good stuff there. Honestly, anything that has to do with isolation and spooky happenings so movies like “Alien” and “The Thing” and tv shows like “The Terror” all feed into it somehow. Goosebumps’ “Night of the Living Dummy” definitely contributed to my thoughts and feelings on Persnickety Pete, as well as my thoughts and feelings on dolls/dummies in general. I keep circling back to “The Babadook” because I love it A LOT but definitely “The Babadook” and they way it looks at grief/trauma/mental illness. And that one episode of “Boy Meets World” where they’re trapped in their high school and it becomes a slasher flick, because that was one of the sources I sent to Jake when he was coming up with Pete’s song!
As well as working on The Bridge, you are currently in the revision stages of a book. What do you find are the major differences between working on a story told solely through text and a story told solely through audio?
The biggest difference is that working on a book is a lot less collaborative. The thing I love most about The Bridge is working with all of my amazingly talented friends and showing them off! With the book it’s…just me, for better or worse. It can be a little daunting sometimes, especially when Imposter Syndrome kicks in.
My book also has an arc that only lasts for that one book, whereas we have multiple seasons planned for The Bridge. With this book in particular, there’s only a finite amount of storytelling that I can do. But with The Bridge I can keep the story going for as long as the story needs and not be constrained by only having one season to tell the whole thing.
With The Bridge it’s also easier to get out of the main character’s perspective and get a true sense of what’s going on in the world. We do a lot of heavy-lifting worldbuilding through our folklore and depending on the episode or mini-ep, we could have a different narrator (or a different take on an old story). In a book you only have your main character (or how many POVs you decide on). But with The Bridge we can see what the Watchtower 10 crew is doing, what POSEIDON is up to, how things are going in Ocean View with Frank and Persnickety Pete, what’s happening in Aqua Land with the Hunt Club, etc.
I think having sounds also makes the worldbuilding that much more immersive. There’s something so different when it comes to reading about ocean waves than hearing them and I think that’s pretty nifty!
You’ve made the decision to be very open on social media about your mental health, particularly your depression. You also wrote a mini episode that was entirely about your lead’s struggle with depression. Do you feel a pressure to get everything “right” with this representation?
Ohhh that’s such a good question! I don’t think I necessarily feel a pressure to get things right. For me, my experience with depression is what I talk about on social media and everything I described in ‘Home.’ I put my experiences out there because I don’t think there’s enough rep yet and that, hopefully, someone will find something to connect to. They don’t necessarily have to agree 100% with what I’m saying or how I’m describing the experience because everyone goes through life differently. But it took me a very, very long time to even acknowledge that I had depression and I want to put something out there that might help someone else recognize some aspect of what they’re going through. The stigmas around mental health are so ridiculous and ubiquitous (ohhh and that’s also a horror movie trope that I absolutely hate) but I think we can only push them back and mitigate them by communicating what our experience is. I don’t want anyone to go through what I did–carry around years of depression and trauma without seeking help and going to some very dark places–because they didn’t see it represented somewhere.
The reason I don’t feel the need to ‘get it right,’ is that I’ll never be able to get everything right. Humans, by nature, make mistakes. And I know I’ve made plenty of mistakes and will continue to do so. But my representations of depression are 100% true to my experiences and that’s how they’ll continue to be! And if I ever make a mistake I think it’s important to own it, acknowledge the harm, and not make that same mistake again. We’re all learning and have the chance to do better and be better.
Very little about The Bridge is described in physical detail. The audience isn’t given any indication of what the Watchtower or its crew look like, and even the sea monsters are given very little description. What lead you to make this decision?
Imagination!!! Since The Bridge is in an audio format we wanted the listeners to draw their own conclusions about what everything/everyone looked like. In horror especially, one of the best things a movie can do is withhold the monster for as long as they can because whatever the viewer imagines is going to be 2000% scarier than what it actually is. So, like, if we have a monster that sobs sad music and cries blood I’m not going to go into more detail because whatever response that elicits in you is going to be much more powerful than what I could conjure up with more words. Plus, it’s really fun to see the different takes that people have (shout-out to our amazing fan artists we love you and your creations). Like we never would’ve gotten Bob as a goldfish if we’d straight-up said he looked like Godzilla (he doesn’t…or does he?) or gotten really cool diverse interpretations of the Watchtower 10 crew! I think our philosophy is that we’re creating a playground for anyone who loves the show and wants to play in it–and the rest is up to you!
Also I feel like it makes everything a bit more ethereal and whimsical if we leave a lot of the details ambiguous!
What has been the most rewarding part of making The Bridge?
Selfishly: Being able to stay in contact with my friends and work on a cool project with them! But, putting me aside, it’s hearing that our show–this thing we thought like five people would listen to–means something to people. Hearing from listeners that, say, “Home” resonated with them or put words to how they were feeling, or that they love our goofball angsty children as much as we do has been an amazing thing to be a part of. It’s so surreal that there’s fanfic, fan art, and extensive essays analyzing themes in the show that we didn’t even realize were there. It’s the first time in my life that I’ve contributed to something that’s so much bigger than I am and that has so much meaning and love behind it. Knowing that we’ve changed lives and connected with others through our characters and their stories is something that leaves me in a great amount of awe each day. Our fans are so great and so fierce and I’m very thankful they found our spooky little show!
Horror is obviously a genre where the main characters are going to go through a lot of pain and suffering. With all the real world tragedies around being queer, why did you choose to write a horror story with queer leads?
Precisely for that reason! Aside from my lifelong passion to subvert the ‘bury your gays’ trope at all costs, I think there’s something very powerful in having our queer leads go through some shit and come out of it because that’s what’s happening every day. I think it was in “Home” where I dropped a line that was like “there will always be bad things,” — and this, to me, will always be true. The bad things are gonna come. You can’t stop ’em. But you CAN show people banding together, supporting each other, loving the heck out of each other *despite and in spite of* those bad things. So, yes, our characters will go through A Lot but it’s very important to us that they go through this together and have support systems in place. Rebecca and I both really love the Found Family trope and that’s 100% one of the driving tropes for our show.
I also think it’s important to show the hope in a situation that might seem hopeless. Even though bad things happen to our characters, there’s still humor and levity that can be found. There’s friendship, love, care, and someone playing the piano very badly in order to get her grumpy boss to smile for once in his life. Tragedy will change one’s life. But it doesn’t have to define it. And that’s one of the things we really want to represent with our show.
Why did you choose to voice Etta?
One of the first things Rebecca and I established was that Etta and Kate were queer. Around the time we were making the characters I was thinking about my orientation, so the fact that we gave Etta a huuuuuge crush on Kate was something that I related to but wasn’t quite sure I was ready to admit or say. Etta also wound up having a lot of my characteristics, sense of humor, and flaws, so she was basically turning into a cooler version of me. I wanted the chance to explore who I was through this character and, thankfully, I was able to do just that! Etta has given me so much, including the chance to be more comfortable with who I am. I definitely wouldn’t be the same person if I didn’t voice her!
I was also worried in the beginning that whoever played her would have to sacrifice a lot of their time as she was in the first three episodes so much. I didn’t want anyone else to have their schedules impacted, so that also weighed in on my decision.
Who is your favourite character from The Bridge?
My gut reaction is Persnickety Pete, which is 100% terrifying but like he’s a possessed dummy who loves showbiz! I think Yvette Breckenridge is probably my favorite character. I love endlessly skeptical characters and, with her, the skepticism was fueled and driven by something traumatic that she experienced–the loss of her sister. I enjoy characters who can be in the middle of a haunted location–could see a ghost right in front of them–and they’d need the ghost to prove without a doubt that they were a ghost in order to *maybe* start to believe it. Yvette still has a role to play in what’s to come and I think we’ll get to do some interesting things with her. But vaguely morally gray/driven characters are totally in my wheelhouse and I love them a lot!
If you could travel anywhere on the Bridge, where would you go?
AQUA LAND!!!! Like The Kraken was a disaster but honestly it sounds so cool I’d risk it! Also I want to give the blood-sobbing monster a hug
What are your favourite audio fiction shows that include marginalized characters?
Mabel, The Bright Sessions, The Far Meridian, and The Once and Future Nerd!!!
(I’m also woefully behind on a lot of new podcasts but am hoping to have an updated list this summer! But those are eternal faves!)
What would you like to see more of when it comes to representation in audio fiction? What would you like to see less of?
More neurodiversity, more mental health rep, more trans voices/characters/stories, more experiences pertaining to various diasporas, and just more diverse folx telling the stories they want to tell with who they want to tell it with! While audio fiction is relatively more accessible to creators than other forms of entertainment there are still barriers and I’d like to help bring those barriers down. Identity is so nuanced and intersectional and I still think there are so many great stories out there that people are longing to create. I want more of those stories that people just can’t shake.
In terms of less: people who’ve always had representation need to take a step back and help boost more diverse voices. And harmful tropes like bury your gays, queer baiting, and fridging can also go away!
Addendum to the last one: more stories with queer Happily Ever Afters of any sort!!!
What is your absolute dream story?
Other than The Bridge because it’s definitely a dream story—I really want to do a fantasy that’s inspired by Filipino folklore and being a part of the diaspora! I’m not super sure what that looks like yet but it’s been on my mind for a while!!!