A couple of years ago, Mark Borchardt visited Los Angeles for a film screening. We sat down at a table, surrounded by intoxicated Hollywood people, and in the midst of the noise, made a deal: he would write a radio drama for me to produce. My only request? Don’t base it in modern times. Other than that, I told him to write anything he wanted and I would execute it.
Mark is the one who got me into listening to old radio dramas (Suspense, X Minus One, Mercury Theater On The Air, Campbell’s Playhouse), so it was an honor to bring Mark’s own dramatic writing to life. I’m a devoted listener to his weekly radio show CINEMA TONIGHT on WXRW out of Milwaukee, on which he talks filmmaking and literature. I’ve listened for so long, that I was curious to find out what his own recent creative writing is like! And having the chance to execute one of his creations was also kind of a dream come true.
It turns out, the scenes are fantastic! Mark goes deep into extended dialogue strokes, which is something I have never had the chance to do with my own writing. He’s built a pretty deep backstory for the town and its inhabitants here. There could easily be a prequel TV show made based on the world of Mr. Gradville.
When producing my animated shows, I ask the voice actors to improvise around the scripts. We mess with the wording to find out what works in the moment, coming out of their mouth. I look for creative clues, new directions we can go in. But for this project, I was strict in sticking to Mark’s script. There were probably 2-3 spots where a single word was cut out or substituted. The result is a high percentage of pure Mark, right off the page.
Still, I love directing, because it lets me stylize a scene or beat in a way that it wasn’t necessarily written. There’s the obvious choice that the words on the page tell you… and then there’s the reverse choice. I can slow down or speed up the rhythm, change the timbre for dramatic impact, or switch the feel of a scene from serious to comedic. Sometimes it’s necessary and sometimes it’s purely for exploration. Mark’s writing was solid, had clear arcs, and was ready to go. As director (and composer) I got to put my own creative interpretation into it, gluing all of these elements together to tell the story. If I may say so, my sense of rhythm is one of my strong points, and I am proud of how this all turned out.
The virtual interaction between all the characters is performed by only TWO VOICE ACTORS: Julia Aks and Dan Foster. That’s right. It’s two people acting out a dozen characters between them! And they weren’t even in the studio on the same day together. Both Julia and Dan did such a superb job of digging into the personalities and scenes. They really pay attention and do their homework. (My favorite character is Tom, Linda’s husband. Dan should win an award for that.) Julia came up with some unexpected voices (Marcy, for example, wow), which totally worked and added another dimension of humor.
Getting to score the music was the treat at the end of the whole process, and I intentionally referenced Bernard Hermann and another specific composer I will not name (as a challenge to the listener, can you name the song?).
Aside from writing the script, Mark didn’t even hear the end result until it was released to the public, and thankfully he was pleased with it. I look forward to more collaborations with him in the future. (He has previously appeared on The Carl King Podcast, my sci-fi concept album Grand Architects of the Universe, and my animated pilot That Monster Show.)
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