Fridays at the Mic: The Recipe part 1
How do you make an episode of Radio Icebox? Step by step, here's how it's done, by me anyway.
GET THE IDEA: Sometimes it's from a notebook, some times it's from the news. Occasionally it bursts into consciousness all at once. Sometimes scribbled on paper, some times it's typed into an 'idea folder' on Evernote. But you gotta start with the question 'what if?'
FLESH THINGS OUT: How many characters are needed? What's a basic story with a beginning, a middle and an end and hopefully some growth and change along the way? Often yellow legal pads come into play at this stage.
OUTLINE: ENTER THE TYPEWRITER: Script writing is a very technical thing. And I learned a long time ago that the requirements of cast, timing, sound effects, etc can bog down the storytelling. So I starting taking time out from the 21st Century in my creative process and simply writing the story without any thought to dialog, sound effects, or any other technical requirement of audio. And I write it on my 1940's vintage Royal portable typewriter (yes, you can still get ribbons). The letters smush together if I go too fast, and the spacebar doesn't always work, but that's okay. The document I produce at this point is for my eyes only. And I don't always refer back to this outline. Some times, just creating the story brings it into a state of existence that makes every subsequent step easier.
CURING: One of the benefits of doing a podcast season is that there are a lot of stories to tell. And one of the benefits of having a lot of stories to tell is that there are natural breaks between one stage of creation and the next. For example, when I finish the outline for one story it's often time to start scripting the next. This means that by the time I go back to that first outline, I have some distance from the moment of creation and can view it a little more objectively.
SCRIPTING: Dust off the template. It's time to go to work. I start by creating macros for each character's name (keeps the flow going). Then, like a mason building a wall, I go to work brick by brick and row by row. Line followed by sound effect followed by another line until I've told the story that I created back on that typewriter. Some times I am aware of technical things like over-all length and number of characters but I try not to think about that. And with practice, I've gotten to the point where my scripts tend to come out the right length. Roughly a minute a page means 20-30 pages is a radio play.
MORE CURING: That's right, it's gotta sit for a little while (just so you know, I start writing episodes slated for Autumn in the early Spring).
EDITING: At some later point, it's time to open up the script and start going over things. At this point I'm both looking for mistakes and considering structure and dialog choices. Often this involves several days of reading the script and making changes. When it seems like I'm making fewer changes than I was earlier, I figure the script is about ready. I'm never NOT making changes, and I take it for granted that there are some typos still present (a downside of fast typing). That's okay. The cast will catch them at first table read and they always find them funny for some reason.
CASTING: Time to start thinking about getting this show on the road. First step, go through the script and figure out who of our wonderful corps of actors would fit into which role. Obviously, this job is done for me if we're recording a Radio Icebox episode. Next, I send messages to every actor giving them three potential times to get together for a table read. For you fledgling producers out there, this is vital. I learned a long time ago that asking people “When are you available?” is the path to insanity. You get a dozen different answers which creates hundreds of variables. Better to just come up with three date/times in the near future. You'd be surprised how often one of those times rises to the top. When it does, I send another message to the actors with the scheduled time for the table read. I do not try and schedule subsequent sessions at this time.
SET UP FOR TABLE READ: We begin with a big table in the middle of the studio with our odd assortment of hand-me-down chairs around. Two jars on the table, one for highlighters, one for pencils and pens. Then – finally – it's time to lock-in that script by printing it out. I only print out the copies I need (one per actor), usually on scratch paper with old scripts on the back because I'm cheap. On the day of first table read, I might bring some drinks or snacks depending on the time of year and my mood. Actors some times bring these as well. That's it. We're ready for Table Read. The story is ready to take the leap from my brain to the real world. Next week: Production!