Seasons of Fear
A couple of months ago my Movie Maintenance compatriot Carney came to me with an idea. Basically, joining forces with our other colleagues Drobb and Handsome Tom we would write an anthology of horror novellas. Each one of our stories would be based around a different season, we’d spend the next few months writing and editing them then self-publish the book in time for a Halloween release. Looking down the barrel of enough projects that I was already feeling like I was drowning, I said yes to the idea but didn’t initially give it a ton of thought.
I vaguely knew the story I wanted to write; one about a couple of backpackers who stumble on a secluded town in the Australian wilderness only to find they can’t leave and the locals are a little rougher than your standard Aussie larrikins. It’s somewhere between Wake in Fright and Wolf Creek with thematic similarities to the plays The Golden Age and When The Rain Stops Falling. The concept had been kicking around in my head for a while, but I only started planning and writing in earnest a couple of days ago and now I’m really excited.
I’ve never really written outright horror before. To be honest I’m not even sure if this counts. I know the others are angling for more supernatural stories, but mine is going to be a down and dirty, brutally violent, sickening satire about some kids who go looking for the real Australia and get way more than they bargained for. It probably veers closer to a thriller than actual horror, but I’m pretty sure if I do my job right you might get a sleepless night or two out of this story. Above all, I want it to feel somewhat credible; there are plenty of urban legends out there about Australian towns you should never go to and this is a way for me to explore the notion without, y’know, actually subjecting myself to any danger. Plus (not to get too political) I feel like in the age of Reclaim Australia and Pauline Hanson shrieking away on the news there’s probably something depressingly relevant about what this story has to say.
But I don’t want it to feel preachy. I want it to have you on the edge of your seat; a visceral, nasty thrill ride unlike anything I’ve written before and hopefully unlike too much I’m going to write in the distant future. It’ll be called Sunburnt Country and at the rate I’m going I think a first draft will be done soon.
All that said, this will only be one part of a bigger work I can’t wait for people to read, a collaborative effort combining four very different creative voices in an effort to make you really, really afraid. So yeah, get excited. Or get scared. Either way, get ready.
So as I’ve gone on record as stating, 2017 has been a bit of a busy time for me. These past few months have involved a deluge of creative projects, but the grounding one has been my ongoing hosting of Movie Maintenance. And just to add more to an already hectic slate, we recently went and launched two spinoff podcasts.
One of them, Movie Maintenance AGM, is a subscriber only pop culture talk show, which pretty much involves Tom, Carney and myself sitting around shooting the breeze about recent events, but the other has proved rather more challenging. Movie Maintenance Presents was conceived as a series of monthly radio plays, at least initially a way to immortalise some of our Bitten By Productions shows with the theory being that down the line we’ll start producing episodes specifically written to be radio plays, bringing out one new story every month.
Yeah, look, I might have been a little over-ambitious there.
As it turns out, radio plays are hard work. Firstly you have to convene a whole cast, then get a solid recording without any flubbed lines or sound interference, then there is the editing, which requires adjustments to the raw recording plus the adding of sound effects and music and many other things way beyond my understanding. When the first cut of Springsteen was turned around in a week I figured a monthly release schedule would be a breeze to meet. That was before the production of Dracula: Last Voyage of the Demeter.
As a play, Dracula was very visual, with a violent, action packed climax that required several sessions with a fight choreographer to get right. Translating that to a radio play proved difficult. The initial recording already presented challenges in how to capture the final fight, and listening to the first cut of the radio play illustrated that we decisively did not nail it. What was shocking and powerful on stage was just a confusing succession of yelling and biting sounds in the audio-only format.
Add this issue to the fact that the play required a lot more in the way of editing than the predominantly dialogue driven Springsteen did, and we soon passed the proposed release date with no real indication of when this thing would be ready. People on the Sanspants Plus forums and Twitter were wondering when the next play was coming, and I didn’t have an answer. Even once Dracula was finished, was there any guarantee we could get the next play together in a month?
Getting episodes of Movie Maintenance Presents out monthly is important, but producing quality content in that time is challenging. With currently a single editor doing the hard yards of actually stitching the radio plays together, and only a finite number of scripts that are a) in a good enough state and b) suitable for radio, the prospect of a new play every month starts to look less challenging and more impossible.
But, almost by accident, we seem to have stumbled on a solution. When Damian Robb (Drobb) suggested he wanted to record a couple of his short stories for his website and the brilliant Greg Caine went and recorded a full audiobook of Dracula writer Sean Carney’s sequel novella Where The Captain Goes, a new notion dawned on us. After all, the title ‘Movie Maintenance Presents’ doesn’t necessarily imply only radio plays. Essentially, this new podcast is a means for us to get our own work out there to a wider audience, using Movie Maintenance as a platform, and as writers our own work is not just theatre.
Personally I think that radio plays are the lifeblood of Movie Maintenance Presents; what’s special about this show is offering full scale audio dramas with special effects and a cast of professional actors, but that’s not to say that we couldn’t apply the same basic principles to a reading of a novella or a short story. Where The Captain Goes, already a heartrending and gripping story, sounds amazing with an undercurrent of music complementing Greg’s excellent reading. Hearing it made me immediately jealous and I ended up getting Greg to record my short story The Wall with a view to it being another episode of the show down the line (before I listened to it and realised it was way too dark for Sanspants Radio). The prospect of other stories of ours given this treatment is really exciting.
All that said, I’m determined to ensure that we don’t end up at a point where all we’re releasing are short stories. The reality is that a half an hour reading by one person is way easier to edit than a full cast audio drama, but they will only be every second or third episode; I never want to have two short story readings in a row. The radio plays need to be the focus.
The next four episodes are already recorded; we’re not a hundred percent sure what order they will come in yet, but at the moment it looks like next up will be Where The Captain Goes, followed by my play Regression, then Drobb’s short story The Fox’s Beard then Heroes, my most recent play. That brings us to November, and gives us plenty of time to work out what is next. I have a pretty large back catalogue of plays that can be repurposed, and we all have short stories and novellas floating around.
I know a few people have asked about us adapting some of our more popular Movie Maintenance Pitches into radio plays; legality aside, the truth is that the very reason I find Movie Maintenance Presents so exciting is that it provides a home for our original work. The parent show is an outlet for our fan fiction-y ideas, the spin off our more personal passion project. Granted this might limit the audience somewhat, but this show isn’t exactly designed to be a ratings-conqueror. Above all, it’s a place we can point people to show them what kind of writers we are, separated from the need to reinvent a pre-existing property. And if we’ve done our job right, it should be pretty entertaining at the same time.
A few months ago I wrote a short story called The Wall, essentially my attempt to explore what it would actually mean to have superpowers. It's probably one of the darkest things I've ever written, exploring some territory I'm in no rush to return to, but I'm pretty proud of it as a piece of writing.
Recently we've been looking at recording a bunch of short stories with music and special effects for our radio play series Movie Maintenance Presents, and in preparation for this I asked my friend Greg Caine, one of the best actors I know, to record The Wall. Greg, predictably, did an exemplary job, but listening back to the recording it struck me how heavy this story is; in my opinion too much so for a release through Sanspants Radio. As such I'm just going to release Greg's reading directly here for people to listen to. I hesitate to say I hope you enjoy it; I'm not sure you enjoy a story like this, but I do hope you like it.
At this point it’s probably safe to say that 2017 has been the busiest year of my life so far – and we’re not even halfway through yet.
A few months back I made the decision to no longer do any work that wasn’t in the field of writing. This was a bit of a dice roll as, while writing can be lucrative, it’s usually the exact opposite. Still, my assumption was that while I might be a little hard up financially, at least I would have more time.
Yeah look, it hasn’t exactly worked that way. I hit the ground running in January with the final rehearsals for Springsteen, and ever since then this year has been a non-stop marathon. We filmed and released Bogan Book Club, my first foray into a web series, we turned Springsteen into a very successful radio play (number 3 on the iTunes performing arts charts, not bad for another first crack at the medium), I returned to ‘acting’ for a bit part in my friend Sean Carney’s debut play Dracula: Last Voyage of the Demeter, which is also about to be released as a radio play, I was in another Sanspants Radio live show in Melbourne and two in Sydney, my play Heroes debuted to glowing reviews and is about to start touring the one act play circuit and the second Boone Shepard novel came out a day before it was announced that the first instalment was shortlisted for the Readings Young Adult Prize.
For a long time now I’ve maintained that busy is better than bored, and I hold to that but looking back at the last few months it verges on absurd just how much I’ve done. It feels like Christmas was only a couple of weeks back, and here we are in June. And even now things are happening; I’ve spent the last week up in the country doing talks to schools about Boone Shepard and I have more coming up in the next couple of weeks. And while it’s awesome that anybody would even want me for something like that, I can’t help but feel like I need a bit of a break.
Just to give an indication of how stretched my time has been; ever since I was ten I’ve bought and devoured every single issue of Empire Magazine. It’s a tradition I’ve sort of always clung to even as the internet became a thing and superseded my need to get film news from a magazine. But the last four Empires are sitting in my room unread. I just haven’t had time. Even the brief moments I get to sit and read have been consumed by finally being on the home stretch of The Wheel of Time, and I’m barely finding the hours I want to finish off that behemoth.
But I think there’s light at the end of the tunnel. The next few months are looking surprisingly empty, up until my next play The Commune in November. And while there’s a good chance that the third Boone Shepard will come out in that time, for now things are looking pretty free. Of course, as appealing as freedom is at the moment, I know that the second I start getting bored I’ll wish for busyness to return. So the key is to keep myself doing stuff, but not to drown.
Luckily I’ve got no shortage of projects that, wonderfully, don’t have a deadline. This means that I can work on them at my own pace while taking the time to breathe and regroup after the insanity of these last few months. Currently I’m working on The Girl From The Sea, the screenplay for a low-budget indie horror, a TV adaptation of Heroes which may or may not end up being a web series, a new novel version of Windmills, based on the script that won the Ustinov Award a couple of years back and a violent horror novella for an anthology that myself and my Movie Maintenance compatriots Tom, Sean and Drobb are gonna collectively self publish later in the year. Plus pre-production is starting on Moonlite, the bluegrass musical I’ve been working on with my friend Dan Nixon that tells the story of real life gay bushranger Andrew George Scott. It’s an amazing story that is begging to be told, and I’m very proud of the script and music we’ve come up with. At this stage we’re hoping to debut it at the Midsumma festival early next year.
So yeah, even breathing room looks a little bit hectic when you put in like that. But the truth is I don’t do well without new projects to work towards, and while my intention remains to spend some time relaxing and having fun with friends in the near future, I also want to find the time to just write for fun the way I used to, to write stories just for me that have no real purpose other than being a bit of a decent yarn. Because the more writing has become my livelihood, the more I miss the time when it was just something I did because it made me happy.
Telling stories will always be my favourite thing to do, irrespective of whether or not it’s for money, and ultimately the fact that I’m at a place in my life where I get paid for doing what I love is pretty much all I could ever ask for. But one thing I’m learning as I get older is that I also need to find time for myself and the people in my life. So that’s what I’ll be doing the next few months.
Well, that and a whole bunch of other stuff.
Writing words about writing words.