Film, News & Commentary, Screen

How an obsessive movie podcast got its Hollywood ending

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He proudly admits to having probably watched Michael Mann’s 1995 film Heat more times than any other human being on the planet.

In fact, Sydney-based film journalist Blake Howard loves the crime epic so much, he created a podcast devoted to analysing the movie one minute at a time.

With almost three hours of running time, that’s a lot of episodes. And just as Vincent Hanna (Al Pacino) stalks Neil McCauley (Robert De Niro) through the streets of LA, so too has Howard been wooing Heat’s director. His endeavour will pay off on Saturday, when Michael Mann himself appears on the final episode, discussing the last minute of the movie.

“It’s surreal, absolutely surreal,” Howard says. “As the show progressed, it felt like: how does one wrap up this behemoth? How would you, in your wildest fairy tale-like dreams, wrap it up for the people who have listened to every episode? There’s only one answer.”

Howard’s project has impressed the director so much that earlier this week Mann took to Instagram to say that he was “blown away by the insane endeavour”.

The result is a podcast that not only obsessively covers Mann’s film, but also acts as a testament to film culture generally.

Over the course of the project Howard has hosted a dizzying array of guests (disclaimer: I took on minute 81), from established critics including New York magazine’s Matt Zoller Seitz and New York Times critic Manohla Dargis, to filmmakers including Heat cinematographer Dante Spinotti and even an active duty Australian investigator of organised crime.

The result is a podcast that not only obsessively covers Mann’s film, but also acts as a testament to film culture generally.

“I never wanted to be just an echo chamber of two dudes talking heaps,” Howard explains. “There’s such a refreshing thing about being able to see your favourite thing through fresh perspectives all the time. I wanted to shake up my own biases, crutches and perspectives.”

He started out by bringing on critics and film buffs who he already knew. “And what happened very quickly, it sort of became a party that gets out of control, but in the best possible way. They would come on and then invite their great friends, or say: ‘you should invite this person, because they’re excellent and would have a great take’.”

The whole project kicked off after a “catastrophic failure of pitching,” as Howard describes it.

“I was sitting with two of my dear friends – Garth Franklin [of long-running film website Dark Horizons] and Stu Coote – at the Sydney Film Festival, bouncing ideas around, and I had a suite of ideas, none of which were One Heat Minute.

“And they were all terrible. The fundamental thing was: they didn’t sound like me. And the great moment for me was, Stu prodded me, and I came to this epiphany: I just want to fucking talk about Heat every day!

“He said, ‘well that’s something that I’d listen to’. He knew me. It’s like the moment in Good Will Hunting when Robin Williams says to Matt Damon ‘it’s not your fault!’ only Stu was chanting at me ‘no it’s what do you want to do?’ and as I tried to explain myself out of a corner he said ‘no, no, no, what do you want to do?’”

Popularised by a podcast that took on a minute-by-minute analysis of Star Wars, hyper-focused movie podcasts have become a subgenre unto themselves (this website lists at least 132 of them.) It might seem like overkill, but in an era when new pop culture is thrown at us with overwhelming frequency, it also offers the chance to drill deep – very deep – into one specific text at a time.

So, what makes for the most interesting minute in Heat?

“From just the amount of people who wanted to talk about this minute, the most sought-after minute in the entire project is minute 147,” Howard says.

That moment, which mostly takes place in a car driving through a tunnel after Neil McCauley (De Niro) receives a key piece of information from Nate (Jon Voight), is a major sliding doors moment for his character, and a turning point for the wider film.

“That moment, the agony of it, that fluctuation – Robert De Niro conveys a tsunami of different feelings, emotions and thoughts,” Howard observes. “Just from pure guest demands, it’s the most interesting minute of the film.”

After hosting 170 episodes of intensely focused observation, has Howard exhausted everything there is to say about Mann’s film?

“I think so. I feel a deep sense of satisfaction. I think I’ve said everything that I need to say about Heat.

Still, never say never. After all, there’s more material just around the corner. Alongside co-writer Reed Farrel Coleman, Mann is currently at work on a prequel novel to Heat.

Michael Mann will appear on the One Heat Minute podcast Saturday July 6.

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