Late last year I recorded three audio comedy samples to add to my portfolio and you can now find them under the sample radio sketches page on my blog and also here on AudioBoo.
I’ve had them kicking around my hard drive for a while now and after a year of being half way through several different projects for one reason or another I just wanted to put something out there that I could say was finished.
I put them together with the help of some talented actor mates (Lawrence, Jo and Jonathan) and found an equally talented and enthusiastic sound engineer/designer (Billy), all of who were keen for some fresh radio samples to add to their reels.
I had a ball working with the actors and in the edit and look forward to doing it again. It was a great learning experience and in the end delivered a solid result that everyone can be proud of.
Now that the radio samples are done and dusted I thought it was worthwhile reflecting on the process and what I learnt.
don’t scrimp on recording time
Because of scheduling constraints we had one three-hour session to record four sketches. This turned out to be just enough but if I was to do it again I would have budgeted a little extra time or would have dropped one of the sketches. Often by the third and fourth take the actors where really starting to fire on all cylinders. If we had a couple of extra takes I think we could have given both them and me just a little bit more opportunity to play with the material.
I did a few pick-ups with a couple of the actors after our initial recording session to have another go at several moments and it helped immensely. I have to say though that the best and most nature performances that we got was during our first recording session when things just clicked. I think that’s because so much of the magic of comedy is in the timing and chemistry between the actors.
The other thing with pick-ups is that it can take a considerable amount of time in the edit to listen to and then place them. This eats into your editing time, which could be better spent working on the sound design. As the old saying goes, yes you can “fix it in post” but it’s always better to nail it on the day.
painting a world with sound
With only audio available as your storytelling tool it goes without saying that it is vitally important to be able to paint the world of your story with sound. I found that often it was less about creating a complex design with layer upon layer of sound and instead about finding the right sounds and and then the right moments to use them. The sound design has to not only add to the world of the story but also help move the narrative forward.
Because the sound design played such an integral part to making House Cat work, Billy created 90% of the sound effects and foley from scratch, including recording Lawrence’s stellar turn as the kitten. By comparison 3am only required minimal sound design work and then just needed to stay out of Jonathan and Jo’s way because the sketch hangs entirely on their performance.
real sounds are always best
Billy did a great job recording the foley tracks and sound effects for the sketches. We discovered during the process that nine times out of ten recording the real thing always produced the best result.
One example of this was the banging on the sink basin in House Cat. We recorded numerous takes of a small steel basin that we brought into the booth but it never quite worked. Later we discovered a nice big steel basin in an artist’s studio next door. So the next day Billy stretched a microphone and cable out and around and got exactly what we needed.
It can be easy to think that you can create anything in post production but as I’m sure any foley artist will tell you, more often than not, nothing beats the real thing.
make what you’ve got work
At some point I think during any editing process whether it be film, TV or radio you have to let go of the idealised vision of what you hoped for and embrace what you’ve got. Sometimes you find little gems that deliver something so far and above what you imagined. Other times you have to bite the bullet and just do your best to make what you’ve got work.
The end to 3am underwent some last minute editing because what we originally had dragged it out too much and didn’t add anything to the sketch. Even though what we now have isn’t as punchy as I would have liked to go out with I think it’s always better to get out early rather than overstay your welcome.
I’m not worried though because this is not the last you’ll see of this style of writing from me and not the last time I’ll get to play with these types of characters.
kill your babies
As I mentioned above, there was a fourth sketch that we recorded during our initial session. Once we got it into the edit and listened back to it though I soon realised it just didn’t work. It wasn’t written well for radio, was too long and put my actors in a situation where they weren’t at their best – completely my fault, not theirs. So rather than trying to persist with it I decided to shelve it. Sometimes you can make something work with a tweak here or there but sometimes you just have to be decisive and kill your babies as they say.
As I said, you can check out the samples on my blog or over on AudioBoo where you can share it on Facebook and Twitter and feel free to let me know what you think in the comments.