Let us set the scene: It’s spring of 2006 — Facebook is barely two years old and its users are exclusively college and high school students, Twitter is a text message experiment, and the first widely adopted smartphone (the iPhone) won’t exist for another year. While avoiding grading papers, I stumble across a Craigslist ad seeking writers to help reinvent a classic form of entertainment for this brave new digital age: the idea is to tell a story as captivating as anything on television today (like Lost or The Office) using only dialogue, sound effects, and music, like in old time radio. This show (and future ones like it) will be distributed via “podcast.”
“Be good. Be kind…” Turn every story you love into a creative project.
At least that’s what I have discovered since I started streaming tabletop roleplaying games weekly and, one by one, falling in love with casts, characters, and stories. One stream stands to become a novel, one a roleplaying game setting, but the first stream I ever played? That’s becoming a podcast.
As the reader or viewer, the final product can feel inevitable to you — how else would you end 2012’s The Avengers except with the “A” in Stark tower flickering alone, the other letters all knocked off? But, if the director’s commentary is to be believed, that idea came shockingly late in the process. And have you ever read the first draft of “The Star Wars”...?
One of the best parts of making audio fiction on the modern Internet is you can, in theory, work with anyone. Actors in the U.S., United Kingdom and Australia? Yup. A co-creator in Hong Kong? Totally!
But if you are a glutton for punishment (like me) and favour recording sessions where your cast all get together to play off each other live, at some point you’re gonna lose sleep.
It’s often said that actors are believed on stage until the moment they open their mouths. This mouth-opening moment is critical, because it’s when the audience forms their first impression of the person they are listening to: are they an actor performing in a play, or are they a real person? In podcasts, we give up our visual credibility as actors by default, relying purely on our voice to convey our character’s entire personality.