Arts

Empire Podcast host Helen O'Hara on bringing the show 'home' to Belfast for Cinemagic

Empire Magazine's official podcast is coming to Belfast for the first time this week at the Cinemagic festival. David Roy spoke to Co Derry born co-host Helen O'Hara about bringing this weekly feast of movie-related chat back home

The Empire Film Podcast team (l-r): Chris Hewitt, James Dyer, Helen O'Hara and Terri White

IT'S the perfect storm for fans of film and popular film magazine endorsed podcasts: the long-running Empire Film Podcast is coming to Belfast tomorrow night courtesy of the Cinemagic festival.

Thursday evening's event at Odeon Belfast marks the climax of The Empire Film Podcast Mini UK Tour 2019 and will be a special moment for two of its hosts, Helen O'Hara and Chris Hewitt, who hail from Portstewart and Banbridge respectively.

They'll be joined onstage by their fellow podhosts Terri White – also editor-in-chief of the weekly show's best-selling parent magazine – and Empire scribe James Dyer for at least an hour of movie-related news/discussion/interviews/banter and possibly some special guests too.

Previous stops in London, Edinburgh, York, Liverpool and Brighton have been resounding successes according to O'Hara, a freelance film critic and former Empire staffer who currently holds the uber-cool job title of editor at large with the esteemed movie mag.

"The tour has been amazing," enthuses the London-based Co Derry woman, who qualified as a barrister at Oxford University before signing on as an intern with Empire in the early 2000s.

"It was a bit of an experiment on our part – we didn't know if anybody would turn up, but it's been absolutely lovely. The venues have been full and we've been chatting to people afterwards and arguing about some of our reviews, which has been really fun.

"So it's been really good and we've never been over to Belfast before, which will obviously be great for myself and Chris."

Chris Hewitt in action during a recent Empire Film Podcast Live

The team have been doing pretty well at nabbing top film-making talent for their live tour. Thus far, guests have included Jurassic World and controversially fired Star Wars director Colin Tevorrow in London, Good Posture director Dolly Wells in Liverpool and director Ben Wheatley and director/pumpkin speed carving champion Corin Hardy in Brighton.

"The difficult thing about going out on tour has been persuading film-makers to come out with us," admits O'Hara. "They have to be free on a school night, basically. In fact, we basically didn't promise guests at first just in case something awful happened."

While the writer/podcaster refuses to give much away about who might be joining the fun in Belfast ("I haven't been in the office yet, so I don't know" she tells me in a veritable masterclass of plausible deniability), given the legendary 'pull' of Cinemagic and indeed Empire itself – both of which are celebrating their 30th anniversaries this year – it's almost certainly going to be someone pretty damn good.

In fact, Empire proclaims itself to be 'the world's biggest and best film magazine' (eat that, Total Film), with its continued success no doubt at least partly attributable to its hugely popular downloadable audio offshoot, which began long before everyone and their silver surfing granny had their own podcast.

"It was 2012 we started, around about the Oscars I think," explains O'Hara. "We do the weekly podcast which is film news, reviews and interviews, then we do spoiler specials for the big 'talked about' films [most recently IT: Chapter II], the ones where you have big questions afterwards.

"Those have actually been delightful just because you get to actually talk about the spoilers and the things that you can't discuss in advance."

As for the secret of their podcasting success, O'Hara admits that the weekly recordings are pretty much audio snapshots of "the banter in the Empire office – only slightly turned up a little bit and some of the language slightly cleaned up, although probably not as much as it should be".

Thus, when fans get the chance to be in the same room as their favourite film podcasting team, the live shows take on a pleasing communal vibe where hosts and crowd are very much on the same wavelength.

"Stepping up on stage in front of hundreds of people can be a bit more intimidating [than the non-live episodes]," explains O'Hara, who tells me her legal training helped prepare her for public speaking as well as penning well-structured film reviews.

"But the audiences absolutely feel like friends: they're in on all the in-jokes and come back at us with them. And when people come up to us afterwards for a chat, it's clear that we're all speaking the same language – they're really a part of this with us."

:: The Empire Film Podcast Live, Thursday October 17, Odeon Belfast, £7pm. Tickets £11 via Cinemagic.org.uk. Catch up with previous podcasts at Empireonline.com

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