Following a suggestion from Chris Horvath, the friend and talented musician who helped us with our recording sessions, we shot some behind-the-scenes video footage while we were in the studio recording our two most recent episodes of Dark Adventure. We've edited that down to a fun nine-minute glimpse of the production process. You'll be able to see some of the faces behind the voices of Dark Adventure Radio, and get a feel for the prep that goes into the performances. You can watch in the player at right, or download it at any of several sizes and formats: choose the one that's right for you from the links below!
Our friend Paul Maclean, who runs the British website Yog-Sothoth.com for fans of Lovecraft and Call of Cthulhu gaming, did a video interview with Sean and Andrew in January of 2009 talking about Dark Adventure. Paul has graciously allowed us to link to that footage here for those with nothing but time on their hands, patience with low-res video, and an abundance of morbid curiousity.
Some of you fine folks have been asking us about how we go about making our audio dramas. It's a rather involved process and if you're weird enough to be reading this page, you might be the sort who would find such information interesting. Although each episode of DART presented its own unique challenges, below is Sean Branney's step-by-step account of the production process focusing on The Shadow Out of Time.
The original Astounding Stories cover art
In the begining we set our sights on a story. We're looking for ones that have good dramatic potential and would make for an exciting listening experience. Adapting Lovecraft dramatically is a tricky deal; many of his stories are great, but they're not dramatic or well suited to dramatic formats like movies and radio plays. Once we settle on a story, one of us will go away and try to make a dramatic retelling of the story which will be suited particularly to listening. Our general policy is to keep as much Lovecraft as we can in our Lovecraftian adaptations. If we get too far away from Howard, we'll lose the quality about that writing that attracts fans in the first place.
To bring drama to a Lovecraft story often involves the process of externalizing. Many of HPL's stories are about characters going through intense mental events. Often documents, letters, and diaries play an important part in the story. But at the end of the day, our listeners don't want to hear a story about a guy reading his mail or writing his will; they want stories where thing happen. So, we take liberties with some of the stories to make things as active and dramatic as we can. For example, in the new script for The Shadow Over Innsmouth, we have Olmstead (the narrator) being intereviewed by a federal agent. In the story, Olmstead simply tells what happened to him in Innsmouth. In the radio play, he's divulging information to an agent who is very interested because he...well, we don't want to spoil it for you.
We add characters as need and often bring to life scenes which might be only referred to in passing in the story. For example in The Shadow Out of Time, Peaslee describes his family as being frightened of his post-amnesia personality. We wrote scenes wherein the family actually talks with Peaslee as he's waking up. We experience it with them rather than just having him tell us what happened.
Last, we have to work within the confines of form. We're trying to keep the radio shows under 80 minutes, because that's the most information you can fit on an audio CD. Because a page of script equates to about a minute of the show, we need to keep our scripts under 80 pages. Both The Dunwich Horror and The Shadow Out of Time required extensive cutting to get them down to a lenght that will be performable. Often HPL's florid prose suffers greatly in this process. We hope he understands.
a snippet from the SOOT script
So once somebody coughs up a first draft (often Branney) he turns it over to the other guy (often Leman) to have a go at it. The second writer will bring ideas of his own, clarify the murky, cut the extraneous, and overall do his best to make the script better. We'll pass a script back and forth a couple of times and usually by the 4th or 5th draft we have something of the right length that we both think will make a good show.
For The Shadow Over Innsmouth, we look some liberties with the end of the story in an attempt to have it end with a bit more of a bang than the original story does. We hope you'll thank us for the changes, not drag us down to Devil Reef.
We're very privileged to count a large number of professional Los Angeles actors among our friends. Sean and his wife Leslie run Theatre Banshee, a small professional theatre in Burbank, California. As a result we regularly cross paths with many very talented actors who work regularly in film, television and stage. And both Leman and Branney are classically trained actors with Masters degrees in theatre. But to get the right cast and to give everyone a chance, we usually hold auditions. Actors will come in a read scenes from the script. We'll work with them for a little bit and send them on their way. You'll see a lot of recurring names when you look at the casts of HPLHS productions. This is because we begin casting from our talented pool of friends. We regularly bring in new people because, (a) someone we meet might be just right for a role (not just anyone can be Wilbur Whateley) or (b) because a role requires something beyond the grasp of our usual gang . Once we figure out who we want, we call them up and ask them if they want the job.
Casting was a particular challenge for the most recent two episodes, as we were recording both The Shadow Over Innsmouth and The Shadow Out of Time at the same time and looking to use many of the same actors in both shows. Between them, the shows demand a cast that's facile with New England, standard British, Australian, aboriginal Australian, Swedish (including text in Swedish) and, of course, Innsmouth Fish-Frog dialects.
The cover artwork for our Dark Adventure Radio Theatre series has been provided by Darrell Tutchton. One of the creators of Cthulhu Lives, Darrell is an old friend and has been providing drawings of monsters for many years. He has a Masters degree in illustration from the Savannah College of Art and Design and now resides in Savannah. Usually we'll discuss a concept via email. Darrell travels a lot and often does illustration work on the floors of his hotel rooms in Korea, Singapore, Tokyo or god knows where. He'll send us some sketches and preliminary work. We'll provide feedback (usually complaining about something) and he'll typically revise the drawing or provide components which may be added to the illustration digitally. Usually each show has illustrations for the fold out booklet cover, the jewel case back and the disc front. It was Darrell who first introduced HPL to Sean (who in turn introduced it to Andrew), and he really gets the Lovecraftian world and marries it with the pulp feel of the 1930s.
The original artwork pretty much always goes through some digital enhancements and manipulations. Elements might be added or taken away. The artwork usually comes in two main pieces, so a scanned version of the right and left halves of the illustration are joined digitally. Andrew Leman, our Photoshop guru and vintage type expert then lays in typography with the flavor of the pulps of the 1930s.
For The Shadow Out of Time, Darrell provided illustrations of Peaslee fleeing the ruins with a shadowy dream Yithian in the background. Above you see Darrell's various original paintings, executed in traditional water color and pen and ink, and below is the final digital composite which features elements from all of them.
The Prop Inserts
All of our Dark Adventure Radio Theatre releases have come with props to enhance your experience of the story. We plan to maintain that tradition. To do so, we look at the stories with props in mind, thinking about what could we both produce and fold up to fit inside a jewel case. Those of you who bought The Dunwich Horror will know we've quite literally been pushing the limits of standard CD packaging.
For The Shadow Out of Time we chose to include another newspaper clipping, this time from the Arkham Advertiser with a story about Nathaniel Peaslee's first collapse. It's an iconic moment in Lovecraftian fiction, and one we thought fans would enjoy seeing presented in the form of a vintage prop. The clipping is printed on actual newsprint. Peaslee writes numerous articles about his dreams which are published in medical journals, and such an article seemed like an excellent candidate for another prop document, since it would provide an opportunity to provide a picture of his nightmare city and Yithian writing. It's printed on glossy magazine paper. A vintage shore-to-ship telegram seemed like another good candidate, and the Marconigram we included is based on a real vintage Australian steamship company telegram. It was printed and die-cut on yellow paper, then each one is carefully folded by hand and sealed shut with a stamp. Finally, a page torn from an ancient occult tome: Von Unaussprechlichen Kulten, one of the many books that Peaslee consults when trying to figure out what happened to him during the period of his amnesia. After doing our research into what's known about that terrible book, Sean and Andrew wrote the text for the page in English, and then handed it over to Peter Lang, a friend of the HPLHS who lives in Germany, to translate into German. Peter also consulted with us about the old-fashioned German blackletter typography needed to prepare the final prop, which is printed on a gray book paper with a laid finish, to feel as much as possible like the real thing. When the accursed page was finished, we then retranslated it back into English, badly, for the alternate English-language versions of the prop that are available only as website PDF downloads for people who buy the CD. For these bonus props, we needed to create a replica of the letterhead of the University of Uppsala as it looked in the 1930s. We turned to our many Scandinavian friends for help, and they came through with abundant research images. We'd like to thank David Munro, Björn Flink, Johan Forsberg, Peder Fredland Fuchs, Peter Möller, and Björn Lindström for all their assistance.
Once we've settled on a show title, we notify Troy Sterling Nies, the HPLHS staff composer. Troy composed much of the score for our film version of The Call of Cthulhu, and has been part of our team ever since, providing all of the music for Dark Adventure Radio Theatre. Troy has a great ear for old time radio music and orchestration and he will dive in thinking about his approach. While some of the music is consistent through the series (e.g. the Dark Adventure theme), each episode contains its own musical challenges. In particular, the transitions that lead from one "chapter" of a story to the next demand an appropriate tone shift. Troy's the one doing the dirty work to make those transitions smooth, natural and exciting.
Usually Troy will write a few pieces of music of a minute or two in length. Seldom, though, do we use music of that duration in the shows. So as we begin to edit the show, we often end up chopping Troy's compositions into smaller pieces and distributing them throughout the show. As we get farther along in the edit, we'll send Troy drafts of the edited version and ask him to help us in certain places or he'll make suggestions of his own in certain places. For The Shadow Out of Time, Troy wrote some much longer pieces that go under Peaslee's description of his journey into the ruined city in the Australian desert and his escape from the Flying Polyps.
Although much of the music is performed on virtual instruments, Troy also records real instruments from time to time. To capture an Australian feel for The Shadow Out of Time, Troy employed an authentic digeridoo, which he played himself. In the photo below left you'll see Troy at work. If it doesn't look like a recording studio, that's because Troy is recording in the ambulance garage in Kildeer, ND. When not composing, Troy is a Paramedic/EMT and has discovered that the garage where the ambulance and fire trucks are parked has pretty good acoustics. Troy and his son, Storm, used the same garage to record some foley footsteps used in At the Mountains of Madness. (They also trudged over plenty of actual snowbanks in North Dakota to capture a truly frosty soundscape.)
Troy Nies at work in the ambulance garage of Killdeer, ND.
For the first two episodes of Dark Adventure, we had recording sessions at our theatre, The Banshee. Although it's handy, in a great many ways it's not an ideal place to record. Thin walls and proximity to the Burbank airport are high on its list of weaknesses. We decided for our most recent two episodes to bite the proverbial bullet and rent a real studio with a real engineer. We turned to our friend Chris Horvath at Jamnation, knowing that using a real studio and a real engineer would yield us better quality and a more efficient process.
The challenge was to record two full 75-minute radio dramas as efficiently as possible. This meant fifteen actors playing forty-six roles in 160 pages of script. We held one rehearsal to get everyone on the same proverbial page, tune dialects and polish performances. In the end, we had one ten-hour recording session followed by a five-hour session. We managed to make it through both shows in their entirety and had a pretty good time while in the studio. We ended up with Australians, Brits, aboriginals and fish-frogs all doing a splendid job at recreating old time radio drama. At Chris' suggestion, we shot some behind-the-scenes footage of our studio time, which you can see in the video player at the top of this page.
Once all the dialogue is recorded, the arduous process of editing begins. We've got roughly six hours of recordings, chopped up into about 250 pieces comprising about 4.5Gb of audio files. The first pass through it all is what we call the assembly edit. We take the recordings, find the best performances and put them into the right order using Logic 8 software on a Mac G4. Once that's in place, we'll start finding suitable sound effects to complement the action. It should take us about a week to get the assembly edit done. Listening to the shows piece by piece and so intently can be very taxing on the ears: after a while it all starts to sound like this: the DART Symphony.
Once the show has been assembled into the right sequence and all the best takes have been selected, we go back through the show to add in sound effects. We select them from our own libraries, record them ourselves, or license them from online sources. As we insert the sound effects, we also clean up the edits, set the levels of volume on the different tracks, adjust the panning (what sounds come in the right and left stereo channels). We also use the computer to create different acoustic spaces (e.g. a lecture hall or a ship's radio room). We'll put in some temporary music to help Troy see what we have in mind as he writes the real music, and drop in his new cues as he completes them.
It's All in the Timing
A replicated CD needs to be 78 minutes or less for reliable replication. As we finalize the edit with music and sound effects, mixing and dynamics, we sometimes discover that the show is just too long. When every pause that can be shortened or eliminated has been handled, then comes the tough decisions about cutting lines or even whole scenes from the show in order to make sure the finished show can fit on a disc. Although it can be painful, the show is always better for it.
So once we get all of the pieces together, we mix the show and test it out on a bunch of different speaker systems (cars, ipods, households, theater speakers, etc...). We do a little last minute tweaking and finally proclaim it done. Then we take the final pure audio and apply the Mythophone effect to it. That gives the show a tinny old-time-radio quality at the beginning and the end; we lessen the effect during the middle of the show so it sounds good. Once that's done, we finally output the audio, burn a master CD and send the CD and the cover art off to our replication facility. They'll make a glass master and press our CDs for us and print the artwork on the disc surface. They should be back in two weeks. Then it's onward to finishing up the printed materials and props that will go in the jewel case.
Every time we do a production, we somehow delude ourselves into thinking that once the production is done, we're done. But we're not. The CDs are in production at a factory in New Jersey. Two of the props are being printed by a printer with a Lovecraftian bent in Seattle. The tray liners and booklets are being printed here in Los Angeles. Two of the other props we'll produce in-house. But right now lots of stuff is being made. Around the end of the month, boxes will start arriving and we'll start assembling the actual packages that will go out the door. In the meantime, we are setting up the web pages, the downloads, the review forms and the other infrastructure that we need to get The Shadow Out of Time from us to you.
So the discs are back from the factory. They look good; they sound good. The booklets and tray liners are done, delivered by the printer in big stacks. The props that we produce in-house are done. One other printer is sending us two of the props and then Chief Shipping Dude, Josh, will start assembling them. Because the prop inserts come in a variety of nonstandard shapes and sizes, some with torn edges and special folds and seals, each jewel case must be stuffed by hand. Josh laboriously prepares each prop insert and assembles each package, risking both his sanity and his carpal tunnels. Each jewel case is sealed and then shrink wrapped by hand. Meanwhile, even as The Shadow Out of Time CDs are being loaded into jewel cases, it's back to working on the edit of The Shadow Over Innsmouth for Sean and Andrew...
Right on schedule the discs and MP3s went on sale. And within 10 minutes people started ordering The Shadow Out of Time. We've had a great time producing it and hope all of you out there in radio-land or Lovecraft-land or whatever-land enjoy the show. Thanks for following us on the journey. And for those who are really into it, the first 30 pages of Innsmouth have made it through assembly edit....
Dark Adventure Radio Theatre would be nothing without the talents of these incredible, accomplished people. Go visit their links and follow their exploits!
Leslie Baldwin (TDH: Marion Armitage, Mamie Bishop, Operator; SOOT: Alice Peaslee; SOI: Operator) Leslie is a co-founder of Theatre Banshee and has extensive stage credits in the Los Angeles region. She also appeared as Mrs. Johansen in The Call of Cthulhu.
Gary Ballard (TDH: Wizard Whateley, Dr. Hartwell) Gary has extensive stage credits and has worked on TV shows including Mad Men, Big Love, E.R. and others.
Aidan Branney (SOOT: Robert Peaslee) Aidan, Sean's son, is our youngest performer and his work in DART marks his recording debut. Aidan plays basketball on three different teams and takes care of numerous pet lizards, rodents and dogs.
Sean Branney (Writer/Producer; ATMOM: Dyer; TDH: Narrator; SOOT: Mr. Fife, Woodville, Dyer; SOI: Station Agent, Creepy Customer) Sean is one of the founders of Cthulhu Lives! and the HPLHS. He wrote and co-produced The Call of Cthulhu, along with most everything else you see on this website.
Kacey Camp (TDH: Sally Sawyer, Luther Brown, Selina Frye; SOOT: Young Wingate; SOI: Anna Tilton) Kacey has been seen on many stages as well as on the TV shows Six Feet Under, Without a Trace and Haunted Hotels. Kacey's a Virginia native and a graduate of the College of William and Mary. She also appears as herself in the acclaimed graphic novel A Distant Soil by Colleen Doran
Mark Colson (TDH: George Corey, Wilbur Whateley; SOOT: Conductor, Dr. Chambers; SOI: Gilman House Clerk, Rude Passenger) Mark recently appeared in the film Flags of our Fathers and the television shows CSI:NY,Heroes, Angel and Invasion. He also received an Ovation Award nomination for his performance in Banshee's Of Mice and Men.
David Q. Combs (TDH: Zebulon Whateley, Professor Morgan) David's extensive resume includes on and off-Broadway credits and several national tours. He has also been seen on numerous televsion shows, including The West Wing and Star Trek: The Next Generation.
Seth Compton (ATMOM: Danforth; TDH: Sam Hutchins, Terrified Freshman) Seth hails from Lovecraft country, having grown up in Franklin, Mass., home of the nation's first public library. He has performed with many Los Angeles theatre companies including The Actors' Gang, The Celtic Arts Center and Theatre Banshee.
Dan Conroy (SOOT: Wireless Operator, Mackenzie; SOI: Agent McGraw) Dan has extensive theatre experience, and HPLHS fans have previously heard his amazing singing voice on An Even Scarier Solstice. He's recently been in the films The Lost Skeleton of Cadavra, The Trail of the Screaming Forehead and the upcoming Dark and Stormy Night. He is also the lead singer of the Celtic rock band Slugger O'Toole.
Steve Coombs (TDH: Fred Farr, Junior Librarian; SOOT: Tyler, Wingate Peaslee; SOI: Grocery Store Clerk) Steve Coombs has appeared on stage in New York and Los Angeles, and in numerous films and television shows. He is also the creator of Inspiring Players, a non-profit organization which empowers people with disabilities through the expression of performance.
Matt Foyer (ATMOM: Lake, Sherman; SOOT: Purser, Professor Freeborn; SOI: Robert Olmstead) Lovecraft fans know Matt from his starring role as "The Man" in The Call of Cthulhu. He works often on stage and screen, in Los Angeles and nationally. He plays numerous instruments and sings like a pirate for the Celtic rock band Slugger O'Toole.
McKerrin Kelly (TDH: Lavinia Whateley, Small Frye; SOOT: Fleur Girl, Mrs. Fife, Sally; SOI: Librarian) McKerrin appeared, among many other places, in The Call of Cthulhu as the bespectacled Museum Clerk. She was somehow omitted from the cast list announced at the end of The Dunwich Horror, a terrible oversight for which we are most deeply sorry.
Casey Kramer (TDH: Mrs. Corey) Casey often plays women in need of lawyers, guns and money. Los Angeles audiences flocked to see her “Martha” in the Actors Studio production of Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?. She has enjoyed wicked luck in other ancillary pursuits as writer, trompe l’oeil muralist and skydiver.
Andrew Leman (Writer/Producer; ATMOM: Nathan Reed, Ropes; TDH: Earl Sawyer, Professor Rice, Elmer Frye; SOOT: Nathaniel Peaslee; SOI: Nathan Reed, Joe Sargent, Uncle Walter) Andrew is one of the founders of Cthulhu Lives! and the HPLHS. He directed and co-produced The Call of Cthulhu, along with most everything else you see on this website.
Anna Lerbom (SOOT: Swedish Librarian) Anna is no stranger to horror material, having appeared in Passed the Door of Darkness, Lonely Children, Day of the Dead 2, and Horror 102: Endgame. Her impeccable Swedish accent is 100% real.
Barry Lynch (ATMOM: Pabodie, TDH: Henry Armitage; SOOT: Dr. Creighton, Professor Ashley; SOI: Zadok Allen) The incomparable Barry Lynch has now played numerous icons of Lovecraftian fiction, having previously appeared as Henry Armitage in A Shoggoth on the Roof, and as William Channing Webb in The Call of Cthulhu. He is a multiple-award-winning stage actor in Los Angeles, and you might even catch him on Star Trek, the Next Generation and hear his voice in several Star Trek video games.
John McKenna (TDH: Night Watchman; SOOT: Radio Chief, Professor Boyle; SOI: E. Lapham Peabody, Evil-Looking Man) John has appeared on stage with the Celtic Arts Center of Los Angeles and Theatre Banshee. He also plays accordian and other instruments with the Celtic rock band Slugger O'Toole.
David Mersault (ATMOM: McTighe, Larsen) HPLHS fans will remember David as Inspector Legrasse in The Call of Cthulhu. He's a former political candidate, congressional aide, and elementary school teacher in LA public schools, and was a Chicago Golden Gloves Boxing Champion. He has appeared on numerous Chicago and Los Angeles stages, and in a recurring role on CBS's "The Guardian" as Gene Everton, City Attorney.
Troy Sterling Nies (Composer; ATMOM: Williams) Troy wrote much of the score for The Call of Cthulhu and wrote all the music for every episode of Dark Adventure. He also arranged and produced the music for An Even Scarier Solstice, and wrote the music for the original carol "A Brumalian Wish." Troy has scored numerous other horror films and video games as well. We're lucky to know him.
David Pavao (TDH: Silas Bishop, Henry Wheeler) HPLHS fans will remember David as Rodriguez, the unlucky sailor who is first to die on the island of R'lyeh in The Call of Cthulhu. David appeared as the second alien from the left in Galaxy Quest, and is often seen on Los Angeles stages as a beloved and award-winning stand-up comic.
Josh Thoemke (ATMOM: Announcer, Gedney; TDH: Announcer, Curtis Whateley; SOOT: Announcer, Amaroo; SOI: Announcer, Bank Clerk) Josh's rich and manly voice has served for the Announcer in every episode of DART. He also appeared as Hawkins, the second sailor to die on R'lyeh in The Call of Cthulhu. He plays bass guitar with the Celtic rock band Slugger O'Toole, and is the Chief Shipping Dude for HPLHS. He has personally handled pretty much every CD you get from us, which is not as spooky as it sounds.
Darrell Tutchton (Illustrator; SOOT: Yog Whateley) Darrell is one of the founders of Cthulhu Lives! and the HPLHS, and has been providing paintings of horrible monsters for many many years. He has travelled the world many times over, recruiting international students on behalf of the Savannah College of Art and Design.
Noah Wagner (ATMOM: Chester Langfield; TDH: Chester Langfield, Dr. Houghton; SOOT: Chester Langfield; SOI: Chester Langfield) Noah played Captain Collins, skipper of the ill-fated schooner Emma in The Call of Cthulhu. He has appeared on stages throughout Los Angeles, and is an accomplished softball player.