Claire Darcy, Contributing Writer
What started as a zero-budget passion project for a group of Northern Virginia teens during the state’s stay-at-home order has become an international chart-topper.
“Rockfish Gap” is a fictional investigative drama podcast created by a team of Falls Church students, including VCUarts freshman Andrew Nguyen.
Nguyen, a cinema major, knew he wanted to be involved in media production at a young age and didn’t believe that he needed to go to New York or Los Angeles to make it big in the entertainment industry. Being a long-time Virginia resident, he thought VCU would be a perfect fit for his passion.
“I think you can make it anywhere now these days, especially with the internet,” Nguyen said, “and Richmond always seemed like a really cool city.”
Nguyen is the show’s executive producer and one of three main writers. With a background in filmmaking, there was little he could work on due to social distancing restrictions. Then, brothers Colter and Charlie Adams reached out to get him involved in “Rockfish Gap.”
“I’m glad I had this project because it’s like the closest thing I can get to filmmaking without actually having to go outside and make a film,” Nguyen said.
Nguyen said editing is his favorite step of the video-making process, which carried over to his role on the podcast. Each episode takes around two weeks to create, from writing the script to finalizing edits — which requires re-listening several times to check for errors, desired changes and audio quality.
“You want it to sound good on every device so you gotta listen to it on your phone … through a laptop speaker, through the best headphones you have, through bad headphones, ‘cause you never know what the audience is gonna listen through,” Nguyen said.
Named for the show’s setting, “Rockfish Gap” explores a case of four teens that have gone missing in Shenandoah National Park during COVID-19 and a journalist that investigates their story. Episodes have dropped every Wednesday since the series’ July 1 launch.
“We never anticipated ‘Rockfish Gap’ would amount to more than a community passion project, so being featured on Apple’s New & Noteworthy section and coming close to a hundred thousand downloads in our first week was a complete shock.” — Colter Adams
As the podcast’s creators, the Adams brothers say the show got its start during a late-night Zoom call with friends looking for a creative outlet.
The podcast production was restricted to online-only collaboration, but it allowed them to work with cast and crew members from across the commonwealth, including an actress that moved to Cambodia.
“I think that the medium really lends itself to working at a distance because making an audio drama is kinda like putting together a puzzle,” Colter Adams said.
Without sets, props or the ability to read lines with other actors, Natalie Ingalls, lead actress and voice of journalist Jessica Matthews, said that voice acting requires a lot of imagination.
“It’s almost harder because when you’re on stage or you’re on camera, you have not only your voice, but also your face and a context around you,” Ingalls said.
The podcast’s first season has eight episodes, the final of which is set to release on Aug. 26.
Ingalls and Nguyen will be finishing the finale while starting college. Provided each has a reliable internet connection and a quiet space to work, they said they aren’t concerned about completing the podcast and balancing their studies.
“I’m not a stranger to working under pressure and under time limits,” Nguyen said.
Each episode reaches an average audience of approximately 20,000 to 25,000 listeners, according to estimates by Adams and Nguyen. The show has made it to listeners across the globe, including in New Zealand, United Kingdom, Iran, Iraq and Saudi Arabia.
“Rockfish Gap” was recently featured on Apple Podcasts’s New and Noteworthy section in the U.S. and Australia, and reached No. 2 and No. 3 on Canada’s Apple Podcast drama and fiction charts, respectively.
“We never anticipated ‘Rockfish Gap’ would amount to more than a community passion project, so being featured on Apple’s New & Noteworthy section and coming close to a hundred thousand downloads in our first week was a complete shock,” Colter Adams said in an email.
While the first season comes to its finale at the end of the month, the podcast’s creators anticipate that the story won’t end there. There are plans for season two, which they hope will come with an increased production budget and the ability to collaborate in-person.
Nguyen said he would like to release a behind-the-scenes producer’s podcast, and that his long-term dream for “Rockfish Gap” would be to develop it into a mini-series or film.
“Rockfish Gap” is available on Apple Podcasts, Spotify and Youtube, as well as at the show’s website, rockfishgapshow.com.