Friday, June 24, 2011

The Importance of Spaces

With the weather much nicer in Spring I've been walking and listening a whole lot more often. At the behest of Ms. Julie Hoverson, I've been working on going through the back catalog of 19 Nocturne Blvd of and on for over a year now, and I expect at some point to have an initial review of that company.
But one thing that I have noticed 19 Nocturne and many other shows are bad about, is silence or rather spaces.

I'm not speaking about the silence within a scene. Those are difficult judgments and often change the tempo and tone of an audio drama.
Instead I'm speaking about a very simple fix of placing 2-3 seconds of silence as a space before commercial breaks.
We've all watched a particular compelling television show or movie on the TV only to be jarred by an abrupt cut to a television commercial. This not only slaps the viewer in the face of "remember this is just a story" but it also makes it much more difficult to set one's attention back into the story when the promo is over.

Some companies, (19 Nocturne and Icebox Radio come to mind) provide promos in between the acts of their plays. What makes the difference as to how effective they are is how they work their transitions. Icebox, for example often drops in a simple notifier "Icebox Radio will be right back..." reminder to help set expectations. Other companies fade the scene to silence for a couple of seconds to allow a smoother transition. Either way is much more preferable than launching into a completely different topic without any transitory splices.
Remember, your job is to keep your listeners hooked, not sell them products. If your promos take time out of the impact of your play by being just as brassy, you'll probably lose listeners as a result.
Use silence, and more importantly, spaces to your advantage. Leave a good two-three second silence between acts and a three to four second silence at the end of a particularly poignant show. Give listeners time to process your amazing works!

Thursday, June 23, 2011

The Best of All Awards

This reviewer's "Bleeding Ear" Award for the worst Audio Drama of the Year has certainly brought a lot of mixed reviews itself. While I have, unfortunately, another winner this year for the BEA, I'm most excited to proclaim, that a previous winner Lightning Bolt Theater of the Mind, is no longer even a contender.
When I heard this gem coming up on the Sonic Society's stealthily marketed 250th Episode, I admit to being more than a little reticent. Even after the Review on Radio Drama Revival by the mysterious Captain Radio, I wasn't sure what I was in for.
What I discovered was a fantastic tale in The Swamp! This feature is 44 minutes (just the right length in my opinion for an "hour long" episode) and displays a mature Director's hand. Tanja Milojevic has almost instantly with this one feature moved from being talented actress to a triple threat that would make any production earn a gold star for working with her. Ms. Milojevic's instincts in horror and the youth come together in this well crafted tale. The writing moves the plot at a perfect pace and provides just enough characters to tell the story without losing the audience. Ms. Milojevic's use of theme and mythic allusion is startlingly rich and the ending resounds leaving the listener impacted and thoughtful well beyond the credits.

Ms. Milojevic's acting is perhaps the most natural in modern audio amateur acting today. Her scream is terrifyingly real. Her voice is magnetic (She could read the phone book and entrance you) and her instincts to move through differing emotions are effortless. Ms. Milojevic doesn't perform the role of Rachel- she inhabits the character. A real treat!
The rest of the cast are equally good and varied. Richard plays a believable young attractive man and the demon switching emotional cues smoothly. Cary Ayers is a perfect choice for both the detective and Rachel's uncle and provides a counterpoint of maturity in the cast of voices but everyone comes across at just the right tempo to bring this horror to a boil.
The production is measured and even as well, and the music comes across as an inspired choice of mostly ambient tunes to provide deeply moody contrasts.

I went to the Lightning Bolt website and found it vastly improved and revamped. So much so that I didn't recognize it from it's earlier incarnations.
The transformation of Lightning Bolt Theater of the Mind is breathtaking. If this episode is any example of their new sound, move over everyone LBT is quickly rising to the heights of best new modern audio company out there.
My personal congratulations to Ms. Tanja Milojevic and all who are involved. This Most Improved Award belongs to you!

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Too Clever By Half

Too Clever By Half is the term we use when we speak about someone using their intelligence as a weapon.
It's especially hard to manage in a story and painful to listen in an Audio Drama.
Too many writers- who are for all intents and purposes very intelligent beings- wield their intelligence like a sledge hammer when they should be dicing small vegetables of wisdom with a paring knife.

I'm pointing this out today because in the last month of listening to audio drama I find that there's been several audio shows that have overworked their cleverness. Here is a brief list of how smarts can get you smarting.
A. Language- Inappropriate use of four dollar words.
Some writers write very complex and ultimately deleterious dialog for their characters that comes across unrealistic and counter to the character's personality and background. I'm not suggesting a writer lowers their writing abilities. Rather I would recommend that writers spend some time in coffee shops listening to how people speak, and vary those styles based upon the elements they create for their characters.
B. Plots- Overwriting a plot can hurt you in two different ways- losing your plot in the mud and over-explaining your reveals.
The mud soaked plot sees the characters track so much in the story that everything sticks to them. There are a thousand unanswered riddles, side plots, and tangents that the writer has included to try to keep the listeners guessing. This only confuses them completely to the point of giving up.
A writer who over-explains their plot suffers the opposite. Let the listener put two and two together, or at least give them the opportunity to go the last 25% of the way. Hint the solution, or state it simply but do not spend a long time explaining anything that becomes instantly clear when it is revealed.
C. Superfluous Exposition- Stifle the inner professor.
This has been the most egregious of sins in the Two Clever by Half book of wrongs. Too many stories have what feels to be an adjunct to the plot. A character will state an archaic term, or a political representation, and then proceed (unnecessarily so) to explain the entire details to anyone else listening, including the audience. This stalls the plot and makes the story more didactic than enjoyable. Introduce terms if you like or words that people are not familiar with, but instead of lengthy explanations, take the time to illustrate what the word would mean through the natural actions of the play. Obviously some exposition is appropriate in a story, and helpful to the audience. Most is not.

Look for the traps in your writing and put away your hard won university degree with a major in history and a minor in politics. Assume folks would like the color of what you can add to a story, but assume they have a decent idea of what you're introducing. If not, let them look it up, rather than take the time teaching it to them.
You'll win more respect from not talking down to your listeners.

Broken Pendant

Despite what people may believe (and people believe what they may), it takes a lot for me to turn off an audio drama in which I am listening.
Once I make the decision to listen to a series, I'm as loyal as they come. But, there are some things that I find unforgivable.
  • Gross overwriting to the point that I have lost what is going on in lue of the "catchy dialog" (I'm thinking of a particular show recently reviewed).
  • Production levels so abysmal that I can't hear what is going on or I'm annoyed that no attempt was made to make characters sound like they are even on the same planet let alone in the same room.
  • The "Too Clever by Half" writer/producer who is more interested in showcasing their vast knowledge, expertise, or experience than telling a good story.
  • Taking a beloved icon or franchise and making a mockery of it.
Pendant Audio has hit the last "sin" too many times in the last couple of years for me and with tears running down my cheeks, I find myself unsubscribing to many of their comic-based shows. I'm loyal to a company, but enough's enough.
"All right, James," you might very well ask. "What's your particular beef this time?"

After pointing out your undying patience with my frustration, I would answer that an audio drama based on a comic- let alone an iconic hero comic like Superman or Batman, has an expectation of adventures in that same genre- the fantasy action hero.
D.C. Comics typically set up their graphic stories with a little characterization each issue, but focused primarily on driving the plot into an inevitable action climax of hero against villain.

Pendant's "The Last Son of Krypton" and "The Ace of Detectives" feel more akin to "As the Daily Planet Turns" and "Gotham Nights"; soap operatic stories that have little to do with the title heroes and more with the relationships and sexual escapades of minor characters in the various mytho-landscapes.
Dear Pendant, when your characters make comments "Don't you think they make a cute couple?" more often than they throw fists and or eye-beams at an antagonist, you've dropped all pretense of a superhero comic and entered the realm of bad high school anime soaps.

I've long stopped caring about multiple episodes embroiled in such dire story lines as how the Kent's deal with sharing parenting time with their cantankerous grandparents- the Lanes or how Red Hood's love life is progressing.
Neither of these nor the many other threads were ever designed to be major story threads in an action adventure series.

What happened to my beloved Pendant comic series? It seems that through the years they have turned into Mary/Barry Sue parody of shipping wish fulfillment and it just hurts too much to keep listening and hoping that things will change..

For those good people who write these shows, all the best to you. I'm sure there's an audience for what you're doing, and goodness knows I sit in awe at the sheer volume of work Pendant has done through the years.
But, I'd rather see them produce less, and give me more action. So bring me back with some real action stories. I'd like to see Domino Pizza moment from Jeffrey Bridges in which there's a rededication to quality work again. Goodness knows, if I have to go through the love life of Robin one more time, I think I'll put on a green speedo and leap off a cliff...

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Edict Zero

Edict Zero is the name of a new audio drama science fiction crime drama series by Jack Kincaid and focuses on a fictional governmental group FIS in a near future or parallel universe Earth. According to the About page, EZ has been "compared to Bladerunner, The X Files, Fringe, Hill Street Blues , Lexx, and a diversity of [other] shows."
Edict Zero is a Slipgate Nine production. Episodes tend to run at AD-PG13 ratings.

The Edict Zero website is slickly designed with easy access and a simple white on black template. The graphic for the series at the top easily meshes with the over all theme and provides a focus point for the reader. The top menu includes Home, About, Contact, Glossary, and Series Extras.
The About section gives a nice short form about how their listeners describe the show, and how many episodes were released in Seasons 1 and 2 and the release schedule (nice!).
Happily they also include a section on "The Story" to give a bit of the background on the background of the "world" of Edict Zero, although none of the characters are mentioned. This is strange since the characters are absolutely the focus of the series.
The Contact section briefly outlines that all music should be contacted at the source and provides the Slipgate Email address for those who are interested.
The Glossary is a fantastic opportunity to fill in more of the blanks in the universe that the listeners may not have caught, or haven't been explicitly detailed in the series. While mostly containing the four Edicts, the glossary could be improved by including the character names and a little background for the listeners as there are a lot of moving scenes in the story.
The Series Extras section is of special benefit. The Prologue read by Jack Kincaid provides a needed backdrop to where Edict Zero takes place. Having the soundtrack attached also is a great bonus and I've found myself playing the tracks for fun at various points of my day.
The website is easy to access and full of little gems. It's missing a few elements that would provide some more clarification into the story, and I'd like to see the glossary grow more than the few entries now that we've gotten into Season 2, but still a joy to revisit!
Rating: 4.5/5

Audio Drama Style- Modern
Edict Zero provides music from Nine Inch Nails and other orchestral ambient music throughout each episode. The scenes are tight and there is minimal narration only at the beginning. Along with developed sound effects, these are all hallmarks of the modern audio drama style. Episodes tend to vary in length but usually are slightly longer than an hour in length. The intensity of the performances create a compelling listen from the get-go and the production levels are tight and and professionally offered.

Acting- Amateur
While technically, the acting is from the amateur class of non-payed performers, producer and writer Jack Kincaid gets stellar performances from his cast. Voices are expertly selected to stand out and contrast in a scene. Stand out performances are Phil Rossi and Kincaid himself who provide excellent depth and fingerprint like clarity to their voices; Tanja Milojevic, who is fast becoming my favorite female actor in the modern era (she has a voice that could melt butter in Alaska), and Russell Gold who has become synonymous with, tight, well-controlled and expert craft.
It would be hard pressed to find better actors in any current series running for free in the modern audio theater set. These folks are a delight in which to listen.
Rating: 5/5

Production- Detailed
Jack Kincaid knows how to produce.
There's little more to be detailed beyond the fact that Edict Zero has the perfect blend of sound effects, panning, and sound that is rare in an freely distributed production. Kincaid has obviously spent a lot of time getting solid recordings, powerhouse performances, and mixed them with just the right amount of music to provide tone, mood, and a deeply compelling world.
The best compliment for any producer is saying that the sound goes nearly unnoticeable, in that it flows easily around the scene and the listener is lost in the depth of the soundscape created. Kincaid does this in spades. And yes, that rhymed.
Rating: 5/5

The writing of Edict Zero is it's Achilles heel. It's overwritten to a point of sometimes losing the audience entirely. Characters bicker pointlessly when there's a plot waiting in the wings to be fed. I listened to an episode where two characters were involved in a testosterone excretion battle for who would pay for a cheque. While funny for the first five seconds, I was with the women in the scene thinking this was pointless and distracting.
Many of the scenes end up this way. There are whole scenes where great background exposition is discovered about the new Earth (Edict Zero), but it doesn't drive the plot forward or do anything to reveal more depth to the characters. There are arguments that go no place and last precious minutes, gut ripping decisions that really last far longer than they ever need. For example, in one episode a character bemoans the fact that he has chosen his job before his relationship with his wife. This is good dramatic fare, and yet the wife is entirely supportive of his choices and encourages him to get back to the plot. The character continues navel gazing for such a long time that he comes across as weak and needy instead of introspective and thoughtful. The wife has created a solution for his angst, and the plot should move on, or the wife should agree that he is being neglectful and an actual fight can ensue.
An hour long audio drama needs to be kept at a strong pace, or it will lose listeners. Edict Zero would do much better if Kincaid took out his editors pen and cut the scripts to half the size. Certainly this would cut out much of the back and forth of characters but it would provide for a clearer path into the story which gets lost from time to time.
Rating: 2/5

Over All
Despite the near perfect acting and production, the writing of Edict Zero is a wound to the side of the production that sadly made me put the show down more than once. I want to love Edict Zero. It has all the great elements of what could become a modern science fiction classic series. It's got a deep mythology and really compelling characters I want to know more about, but more importantly a plot that I wish Kincaid would focus better. I feel as a listener that the series is too stretched out. There are points in the story where some "clever" information is dropped in and the characters spends unnecessary exposition explaining how smart the author was for sharing it with the listener. I beg folks to drop educating ham-fistedly in their audio dramas and instead clear away the debris of a story to keep it moving. Most scenes that have characters walk or travel by elevator from one site to another can be cut as superfluous. Bring Edict Zero stories down to a manageable half hour and make those 30 minutes compelling listening. I'm not suggesting that all characterization be removed, I'm asking characterization to relevant to the plot and meaningful to the story.
Until those badly needed edits occur, Edict Zero will be the show I sample, put down, sample, put down, and sample again. All because I want so much more from it.
Rating: 2/5