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.
Writing words about writing words.