Aaron Mahnke is a shining star in the world of podcasts and has built an impressive lineup on Grim & Mild. Mahnke is most known for his award-winning podcast Lore, which delves into real life scary stories.
Now, Mahnke, along with iHeartRadio, is releasing a brand new fictional audio drama titled Bridgewater, which is set around the Bridgewater Triangle. The cast includes a stellar lineup featuring Misha Collins, Melissa Ponzio, Nathan Fillion, Karan Sori, Hilarie Burton Morgan, Jonathan Joss, Kristin Bauer, and Wil Wheaton.
The first two episodes are available now on iHeartRadio, Apple Podcasts, Spotify, and anywhere you can listen to podcasts. A season two is already in the works.
Read our chat with Aaron below!
*There are spoilers for Bridgewater below.*
Nerds and Beyond: So, we’re very excited about this podcast! I know, most of the podcasts on Grim & Mild are sort of non-fiction. Bridgewater touches a bit on the Bridgewater Triangle, which is a real thing, but the characters are fiction. So, what inspired you to explore the fiction realm with Bridgewater?
Aaron Mahnke: Well you know I’ve spent the last six and a half years talking about the weird and unusual history of people, places, and things through my show Lore and like you mentioned, with Grim & Mild, other shows that we do as well. It sort of fills you with a lot of inspiration, if you’re a lover of storytelling. It’s easy to read those things, or hear those things and walk away thinking, “Man, I’d love to see that come to life or I’d love to see that in action.” You know the funny thing about all of this is that it’s sort of a full circle for me because I started Lore back in 2015, because I had all these leftover bits of like folkloric and supernatural research that was leftover from writing novels, this fiction world that I was writing in, and I wanted to do something with all these really cool, neat historical facts. And I created Lore as sort of an outlet to get those leftovers out into the world. And now, here we are, six and a half years later and sort of taking the lessons that I’ve learned historically over the last six years and turning that into more story, which is fun; it’s a neat full circle.
Nerds and Beyond: This show does have quite an amazing team behind it, between you and Lauren Shippen, and the cast like Misha, Nathan and Melissa. So can you tell me a little bit how the podcast came to be and how you got the actors on board?
Mahnke: Lauren and I have been friends for quite a long time, kind of in the adjacent spaces… me doing historical supernatural stuff and then her dealing with the fictional side of things. And we’ve known each other online for a long time and we always knew it’d be really fun to work on something together. I really wanted to create a fictional world that was rooted in a lot of the facts and details that you’d find in an episode of Lore, but had the freedom in this space to tell the story our way, not beholden to very specific events or people’s lives but to make up a story and tell it, and there’s so much really good material in the Bridgewater Triangle. I always joke with people that it’s like, maybe you take everything from a Lore episode and you put it in one geographical location like that… because you can find ghost stories there, and you can find things that feel a lot more like true crime like in the late 70s, there was the Satanic Panic and evidence of people doing rituals in the woods there and Freetown State Forest. You’ve got cryptid sightings… I mean I feel like it’s just got everything. The idea of curses is really heavy in the area. So, it was just sort of a natural fit as a first foray into fiction for me. And having Lauren on board to write the screenplay or the script for the audio is just… it was a great fit.
Nerds and Beyond: And then going into that cast, you’ve said before on social media that you’ve been a fan of Supernatural yourself. So, was Misha someone you went after specifically, or how did he come into play?
Mahnke: Well, so, for us, I approached casting a little differently than maybe a lot of other fictional podcast companies did. I decided that it was better to stay within a genre, you know, partly because of the audience. I mean, if you want people who love supernatural thrillers, you might as well be working with people who already have that fan base behind them. So I think of somebody like, you know, Kristen Bauer who was on True Blood. She was in an episode of Lore season one on Amazon. She’s a friend, and she made a good fit for the character that we cast her. Misha is another great example, obviously, on the show literally called Supernatural with monster hunting as a main premise, so we really tried to stay in our genre, finding genre actors. Melissa Ponzio was amazing. But, she’s got her experience on Teen Wolf, and across the board, it just felt right to have all these people together like that. Some characters get more airtime than others because that’s how things work, but it’s a really good what I feel like is a genre cast and they bring that excitement and that, that passion for telling creepy or suspenseful supernatural stories to the show.
Nerds and Beyond: So I did listen to the first two episodes which are great. What I love about audio dramas is all of the added sound elements that really make you feel like you’re there. So, with the sound production, how did you tackle that as an element, as usually like Lore features primarily music. How was it adding all of these sound elements in there?
Mahnke: It was… it was a very different thing for me. I mean, I think Lore is big enough that most people assume I don’t do a lot of… like I voice that, I write it, but, I still do the audio production on board as well so I know the workload involved in making more with Chad [Lawson]’s music in the background by voice on top. I knew going into this, there’s no way I was going to be able to produce an audio drama… I don’t have the skill set. I think it’s a totally different wiring in the brain like keeping track of all these different pieces. So that’s my team at IHeartRadio… they’re super skilled and talented. Matt and Alex and Trevor really knew how to bring that to life. What a lot of people just don’t know when they listen to the episodes is that all of it was recorded in the world of COVID instead of bringing everybody into a theater or studio like Lauren likes to do. Like, she wants to interact with everybody in the same room reading off scripts together. We did everything solo with solo recorders and then had everybody meet for their scenes in rooms on Zoom, so that they could hear each other and they could bounce off each other. We had tips and tricks for getting around audio lag and things like that, but for the most part, it was all recorded in individual places. I think Misha recorded from the closet, Melissa was recording from a spare room in her house, Nathan Fillion has the most amazing sound studio in his own home. Then of course, in our show his audio, which is the most pristine and most beautiful audio, gets processed down to a 1980s tape machine, which is just, you know, very very apropos. It was really weird doing it in the world of COVID. I’m hoping and watching health stuff in the news and hoping that when we get to record season two that we can actually do it like Lauren likes it, in the room together and all of us bounce off each other. So fingers crossed for that, but it was cool. I know that there were some scenes where a couple of my producers took a day trip out to the woods of Georgia, and recorded crunching through the leaves and snapping twigs and all that just to get a bit of extra Foley sounds for what we were doing in the show. I think it came together really nicely. Absolutely.
Nerds and Beyond: The first few episodes do mention many of the lore that Bridgewater Triangle is known for. So as the season progresses, will Jeremy dive deeper into those various accounts and legends?
Mahnke: Yeah, I think what you’re gonna see with this show is we’ve got 10 episodes in the first season… you’ll get two of them on launch day, [and] this guy who is teaching it from an academic standpoint but [has] zero belief whatsoever. What happens to him over the course of season one plays with that boundary of the 30,000-foot level scholarly view of things, and the intimate firsthand knowledge or how you even interpret your own experiences. I definitely feel like the triangle will come more to life as the season goes on, but also in a way that I think for folks who are sort of those armchair experts on a place like the Bridgewater Triangle, they’re gonna see familiar stuff that they’re also going to get some really interesting takes on thrown at them through this. Again it’s fictional, [and] we can play with stuff like that so it’s gonna be fun.
Nerds and Beyond: So, also adding on top of that, what can listeners expect for this journey with Jeremy as he searches for the truth of his father’s disappearance?
Mahnke: Well you know I think echoing back to that last answer I think we’re going to watch him wrestle with this idea of skepticism versus belief, loss, and letting go versus wanting things back. There’s a little flavor of The X-Files in there where you’ve got Scully as the skeptic and Mulder the believer and there’s always that interplay there and I think you’re going to see that a lot with within Becker and Jeremy Bradshaw sort of toggling back and forth with each other. Then there are other characters as well who are involved through their own ways [and] are blurring those lines too, so I hope that by the end of season one, we’re closer to the truth. And then season two [we’re] ready to start scripting it and hopefully start recording that at the start of the new year.
Nerds and Beyond: I don’t know how much you can divulge because you’re still planning season two, but is the arc of Jeremy’s father’s disappearance going to wrap up in season one, or is that something that’s just going to be a kind of theme throughout the story?
Mahnke: I think it really depends on how Lauren and I sit down and hash out our vision for season two. I think what happens a lot of times when you resolve a plot is you walk through a doorway, and you find yourself in a brand new space. So, you know whatever gets resolved always opens up possibilities for new things because now you know you’re drawing a line in the sand and you can move forward from there. So I think that there’s a lot of… I mean look at Supernatural where [Eric] Kripke planned on that being a five-season show, and then a lot of ways they did sort of wrap it up in five seasons, but it also opened up so many more possibilities that allowed them to get 10 more seasons out of it. So I’ve got a lot of hope that what we do in season one really gives birth to a lot more.
Nerds and Beyond: Do you have a plan beyond two seasons? How many seasons ideally would you want to go for this?
Mahnke: We’ll see as we get into the nitty-gritty of writing the scripts. Sometimes it’s a scrap that you can’t work into the plot of an episode or even a season and you realize you really want to use it and so that becomes the seedbed for season three or whatnot so we’ll play by ear, but we haven’t mapped out those, you know those multiple years yet, but we’re also exploring other ways to tell these stories too. Lauren and I are discussing right now a prequel novel that we could get written and published sometime before season two comes out. We feel like it’s a world with a lot of great characters and cool stories that we can move into other mediums.
Nerds and Beyond: There’s another podcast that Lauren has done called Passenger List and I know that is being turned into an actual television show. That’d be really cool if Bridgewater kind of took the same thing and you guys got to explore outside of just the podcast.
Mahnke: Absolutely, I mentioned this on Twitter yesterday but a lot of Lore is just the love letter to shows like The X-Files and Supernatural, and I feel like Supernatural was popular because it was awesome, but also because it filled a void. The X-Files left, you know, many years before, and Supernatural‘s off the air now and I feel like there’s all those people still out there, they’re still loving those kinds of stories that make you think about what we know and what we don’t know, what can we believe and what can’t we believe. I really hope that Bridgewater, even if just an audio format but maybe in other formats, can sort of save that thirst for that kind of story.
Nerds and Beyond: The first two episodes have ended on sort of a cliffhanger.. is that going to be theme for the rest of the season?
Mahnke: I think it’s like any good episode of television, you want to leave people going, “No way!” or “I wonder what that is?” so that they come back for more, and I want people to finish this season, it’s gonna be a fun ride.
Nerds and Beyond: Do you foresee yourself doing any more fiction podcasts like this in the future?
Mahnke: Yeah… I have a slate that I’ve signed with iHeartRadio for another handful of fiction shows that [I] will do over the next couple of years. One of them is in the earliest stages… I have the story in the hands of a writer who’s wrapping up a TV project before he moves into helping me… so we’re moving in that direction for another. If I have my wish list fulfilled, we’ll be able to tie all of these fictional podcast series together through tiny little connections, almost like what you see with Stephen King novels where they might mention fictional towns, you know that they all have in common, or maybe a character pops up in one that was in another one so that could be. That’s sort of a running wish list for me is to get that connected universe of supernatural thrillers put together.
If you’re a fan of Lore, Aaron also mentioned that Chad Lawson, who composes the music for Lore also did the theme song for Bridgewater as well as the music at the end credits.
Make sure to check out Bridgewater! The first two episodes are available now on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, and anywhere you can listen to podcasts. You can also check out Lore and Aaron’s other projects on Grim & Mild.