“When You Finish Saving the World” creator and performer Jesse Eisenberg reflected on the creative freedom that comes with producing an Audible original drama.
Variety, in partnership with Audible, hosted a conversation with the team behind the original drama, including Eisenberg, actor and musician Finn Wolfhard and Audible’s executive vice president and head of content Rachel Ghiazza. The Variety Streaming Room discussion, which was moderated by film and media reporter Angelique Jackson, explored the development of the audio drama and its future as an A24 film, which will begin production this week.
“The thing about audio that is so fascinating is it’s a much more intimate format and it gives creators an opportunity to reach audience in a different way. And I felt like Jesse really embraced that format in such a beautiful way and I think you hear that when you listen to the story,” Ghiazza said.
The project came together during a meeting with Audible had with Eisenberg. The audio company and podcast service was piloting original content and Eisenberg had always wanted to tell a story about a father who was indifferent to his child. The result was an “audio diary” of the father’s life experiences.
Ghiazza said that it was a perfect match, as Eisenberg had previously collaborated with Audible for a collection of short stories.
“Our favorite mix is finding someone who’s naturally creative but has something that they’ve been thinking about or dreaming about that maybe haven’t found a format or a way that works, so it was actually a perfect kismet,” Ghiazza said.
The Audible drama, which plays like a set of confessional monologues according to Eisenberg, follows a small family through three generations. Kaitlyn Dever voices Rachel, a freshman in a liberal arts college in 2002, who is recording tapes to send to her boyfriend who has been deployed to Iraq. Eisenberg voices a character recording in present day using an iPhone, while Wolfhard plays Ziggy, an adolescent musician who is speaking to a bot therapist in 2032.
Given the creative freedom of the medium as a mode of storytelling, the panelists said they were able to toy with sounds, such as manipulating the bot therapist’s voice to sound automated and using closets as home studios following the onset of the pandemic, to emulate intimacy.
“There’s something about this medium that allows for more flexibility, because people are kind of monitoring themselves and calculating how it is that they best absorb a story,” Eisenberg, whose background is in theater writing, said of the freedom to pen the script. “I was able to have this very freeing experience of writing everything I wanted to write, knowing that people will take it in in the way that they’re going to.”
Wolfhard admitted that recording was physically challenging, with the script entailing 10-page monologues at a given time, but ultimately, it was rewarding.
“It was like a no brainer,” Wolfhard said, of agreeing to take on the role. “It was kind of everything that I am interested in as a person: it’s music and it’s a character I hadn’t played before and it’s a medium that I hadn’t played in before, so I was really excited to do it.”
The upcoming film adaptation, which marks Eisenberg’s feature directorial debut. The script is based on the Audible original story, but comes with tweaks to the story, including more fleshed-out characters and a grown-up version of Dever’s character Rachel. The film will star Julianne Moore, Wolfhard, Billy Bryk and Alisha Boe and be produced by Moore, Emma Stone and Dave McCary.