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More About Editing The Byfar Hour Than You Ever Wanted To Know - EXCELSIOR, YOU FATHEAD!

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November 1st, 2009


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10:46 pm - More About Editing The Byfar Hour Than You Ever Wanted To Know
This was originally written in response to a post by prog about the length of The Big Broadcast. It was a very long show and there were definite spots which could have used, or outright demanded, editing for length and time. Not surprisingly, everybody has their own opinions on exactly where those spots were. prog thought that the Byfar Hour was perfectly paced, and others felt it dragged in parts. I feel exactly the same way. Both ways. The show could have been tightened, but given the time we had, what we presented on stage was the absolute best that it could be at that point.

Anyway, the full text of the comment is below. Ironically, I was unable to post it as a comment because it ran over the character limit. (That meant it was more than just a simple comment response anyway and demanded its own post.)

I can only speak for the Byfar Hour, considering, but I'll tell you it was the most challenging thing I have ever had to write given the nature of the show, dwindling time, emergency show structure changes, and life issues which aren't worth getting into here.

The production time was the biggest challenge for me, mostly because of those unexpected revelations that always seem to come out of nowhere. The Byfar Hour as a whole was constantly changing and the script went through many permutations as a result. It was seriously gutted two weeks before the August auditions due to major re-thinking with regards to the music and our potential audition pool. The vocalist was originally written as a male Irish tenor in the style of Kenny Baker and Dennis Day. (There were no Putnam Sisters, either, because the original version was set in a hotel ballroom.)

I didn't like it once I'd looked it over. The FCBH cast was seriously gender imbalanced (I'll be the first to say that the end result still wasn't perfect, but it certainly was much better.) I also knew our usual audition pools always had an insane number of talented women singers, and it wasn't fair to preclude their musical participation. Out went Billy Brennan and in came Jenny. The overall character was improved, too. Jenny was still as naive and as charming as Billy, but now I could give her some of Gracie Allen's sense of sideways logic and her scenes turned out wonderful.

The Putnam Sisters came shortly afterwards, and that made auditions much better. Casting four women in different voice ranges was going to be a lot easier than finding one guy, in our extended audition circles at least, with the right combination of youth and vocal range. This also led to Neil's idea of using the vocal trio for the Martian calls, Jeff Wayne-style, and that gave an amazing new dimension to the show. There's even been demand for Martian call ringtones, and I think it's gonna happen. Watch this space.

The first Byfar Hour reading draft wasn't very good. It didn't flow right and everybody was just a little too mean to each other (the aforementioned life issues and passive-aggressive transference seem to have been the culprit there.) But first drafts ain't nohow permanent, and there's always major edits after the first table read.

The first table read provides the absolute best feedback for the editing process and not just because there are many more eyes looking at the script, but because it's the first transition from the written word to the spoken. Some lines look great on paper but when you hear them out loud, man are they awkward and difficult. I always want to make sure my actors are completely comfortable with the lines they've been given. (In Red Shift, difficult lines are sometimes referred to "Jesus, Rob!" lines after a particularly expressive outburst by Mare during a table read.)

I retooled a lot of the jokes, softened the characters and cut big glaring hunks of chaff. Michael McAfee gladly helped reword some of the worst clunkers and gave me great advice for other sections. His help is invaluable and I'm always grateful for it. More editing came during rehearsals, with revisions being compiled every time pencil edits became too numerous. I'm happy to hear suggestions from my actors and other readers. I promise to respect their speaking up and not take any remarks personally, provided they're respectful in their suggestions and that they respect my decision if I refuse. On the whole, though, most suggestions and ideas are incorporated into the script.

Where was I? Oh yes. Digressing. The final performance draft went out a little over two weeks to go after re-arranging the Chowderhouse Gang sequence to go out on Willie's scene, which had proven to be the strongest. And even then there were still more pencil edits, but nothing really substantial.

This editing process would not work if we'd staged this as a traditional theatrical production. The radio/audio drama format is a staged reading at its core, so we perform with scripts in hand without worrying about line memorization. That's one hell of a luxury for both performer and writer.

A lot of that work, though, is polish. Editing down would have taken a lot more time. The Byfar Hour script could have definitely used some tightening for The Big Broadcast, and I can see those spots. But by the time we got to figuring out those spots, there just wasn't enough time for it all to get sorted out.

However, I think what we ended up with was a completely amazing show, and I am very proud of the script, the characters, the band, the crew, and my wonderful cast who ably rose to every challenge. There is room for improvement, and that improvement will most likely be seen in the next Byfar Hour script.

I learned a lot of things from this experience and gained an amazing amount of respect for the radio people who had to routinely accomplish in five or six days' time what took us four months to produce. The overall project time was well over a year, what with research and technical groundwork, but I'm considering the weekly radio show's process as "Write the script, compose and arrange the music, rehearse the material and edit as you go, then stage and perform it." We also had to create the entire show from scratch in our four months, but that makes the weekly process no less impressive.

Man, that was long. But I ain't editing it so there.

(19 comments | Leave a comment)

Comments:


[User Picture]
From:lillibet
Date:November 2nd, 2009 05:14 am (UTC)
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It's always great to get inside the head of an author like this.

I'm one of the people who would have edited it even more, but also one who knew the constraints (time and otherwise) that you were working under.

Or, as I like to point out, part of MCTC's non-profit description is that we're an educational institution. So learning experiences are part of the deal :)

In any case, congratulations again on a gargantuan success.
[User Picture]
From:derspatchel
Date:November 2nd, 2009 05:10 pm (UTC)
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Or, as I like to point out, part of MCTC's non-profit description is that we're an educational institution. So learning experiences are part of the deal :)

If that's the case, MCTC's one of the best teachers I have ever had.
[User Picture]
From:gee_tar
Date:November 2nd, 2009 05:24 am (UTC)
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Thanks for this. I am often just as curious about the creative process as the final product. If only it were possible to do a commentary track over the audio track :)
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From:wellstar
Date:November 2nd, 2009 05:42 am (UTC)
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If only it were possible to do a commentary track over the audio track

Mime? Interpretive dance?
[User Picture]
From:derspatchel
Date:November 2nd, 2009 05:02 pm (UTC)
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We've actually done commentary work on previous productions. All the shows from Tomes II have commentary from the directors, techs and at least one actor from each. Havoc over Holowood has a similar commentary track. We all sat around an omnidirectional recorder with headphones on and provided commentary. Some of it was from notes, but mostly it was freeform conversation between the participants.

The real problem, besides giving the audio-over-audio levels a lot of finesse in post, is getting both the regular show and the commentary to live peacefully on the same CD. As a podcast, though, they'd be perfect.
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From:gilana
Date:November 2nd, 2009 05:08 pm (UTC)
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Really? There's commentary on those? I had no idea. I should really get a copy!
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From:radiotelescope
Date:November 2nd, 2009 07:09 am (UTC)
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I spent this evening at cthulhia's party; hahathor was there, and also prog, and lots of other people who were either in the show or had worked on it or had seen it, so naturally we talked about it a lot.

It became really clear that (1) everyone agreed that the show was too long, and (2) everyone agreed that every individual element was terrific, and (3) everybody had *completely different* ideas on what to cut and how. No agreement at all. Act 1, act 2, act 3, musical numbers, monologues, action scenes, comedy solos, reporter scenes, mob-club scenes -- all of these got thrown around as "the thing that should have been less of".

So there's a pickle. And absolutely *not* a problem that can be solved from the inside of a three-day four-show schedule.

The best idea I heard (legal issues much aside) was to mail the script to a dozen theater groups who haven't *bled* on it, and say "Dudes, you should try putting on this show. It's kind of Boston-y, so take it apart and, you know, run with it." And then wait a year and see how it comes back to you.

(Damn legal issues.)

But let me reiterate (2) above. *That was terrific.* It was an Event. People will be talking about it for years -- and "how to do it differently" is just one of the threads of the tangle.
[User Picture]
From:derspatchel
Date:November 3rd, 2009 04:45 pm (UTC)
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I am perfectly happy to accept "Too much good stuff" (2) as both a well-spun summary of the length problem and a lesson to heed for the next show.

(This problem is also very Wellesian; his stage production of Around the World in 80 Days was, by all accounts, a mind-bogglingly huge production. The equivalent of shoving a three-ring circus onto a stage. People left exhausted. Orson loved it, but he didn't learn from it.)
[User Picture]
From:cthulhia
Date:November 2nd, 2009 08:10 am (UTC)

(o:

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the next Byfar Hour script.

yay.

Ian's booking March these days.

*ducks*
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From:tigerbright
Date:November 2nd, 2009 01:37 pm (UTC)
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You definitely need another Byfar Hour. Arisia? Maybe even Boskone? :) I could totally see a first act of Byfar Hour, and a second act of a suspenseful mystery of some kind.

I absolutely agree that every bit was amazing, and that there were too many bits. :) Had this been a Real Radio Show, it would have been a serial, and there would have been *more* amazing bits. :)

All in all, I think my only complaint is that not everyone in the Byfar Hour had a part in the War of the Worlds... not least because my husband stole my laptop to play with while waiting for his curtain call. ;)
[User Picture]
From:derspatchel
Date:November 6th, 2009 12:14 pm (UTC)
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I'm working out a plan of attack for shows. Arisia is typically when we perform an episode of Red Shift, Interplanetary Do-Gooder (and last I heard we're still on for that) which will be a nice change of pace. Red Shift has its own challenges and stresses, but only about a quarter of the cast and crew of BB1938.

Byfar will be back again, I'm sure, schedules and other theater obligations permitting, but the challenge now is to figure out when. As this is my Week Off creatively speaking, you can tell that I'm not thinking about any show in any way whatsoever. Not a single bit.
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From:vanguardcdk
Date:November 2nd, 2009 03:57 pm (UTC)
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Just a quick note on the musical bits. One, Jenny worked amazingly well. Part of this is just becuase of Marty's charm of course, but the character was written very well.

The sister's martain calls were amazing, it hit the Jeff Wayne style perfectly so it was cool for both the people who knew of the musical version and those who didn't.
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From:antikythera
Date:November 2nd, 2009 05:06 pm (UTC)
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Okay, it was long, but I was helping out in between shows and I got to see it three times, and it never got boring. None of it.
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From:lifecollage
Date:November 3rd, 2009 02:10 am (UTC)
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Ditto. I was there every night, and I laughed every night, and got chills every night. I've got my own ideas on what might have been tightened, but it was still a damned fine show.
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From:beowabbit
Date:November 2nd, 2009 11:16 pm (UTC)
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It certainly would have been somewhat easier on the audiences if it had been 2½ hours rather than 3½, but I prefer to think of it as “epic” rather than ”long”. We gave them their money’s worth! And I am excited to hear that there’s likely to be another Byfar Hour performance. (Also, Martian signal ringtones? *WANT!*)

The Byfar Hour and WotW could each have stood alone, but I think it was great to have the Byfar Hour introducing a mostly-unfamiliar audience to the medium and loosening them up, so that by The War of the Worlds they were beyond the “Look at that — that’s a trash can!” stage (which is perfectly fine while they’re watching Byfar), and I like the Tomes tradition of having a comedy portion as well as a drama/horror/suspense portion.

As I’ve said many times, I am deeply honoured to have been a part of this whole epic and epically successful production.
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From:susskins
Date:November 3rd, 2009 06:03 pm (UTC)
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"Jenny was still as naive and as charming as Billy, but now I could give her some of Gracie Allen's sense of sideways logic and her scenes turned out wonderful."

That right there sold me.
[User Picture]
From:derspatchel
Date:November 3rd, 2009 07:55 pm (UTC)
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And you really ought to see how she even had the Gracie look every now and then.

Heck, all the pictures in wolfenkatz's set are pretty sweet, but damn if Jenny didn't capture Gracie right then and there.
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From:susskins
Date:November 3rd, 2009 08:40 pm (UTC)
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Wow. Jenny nailed it. I'm in love.

And then I looked further in the set, and fell in love with Miss Stamp. And then I found the Cigarette Girls. Yowza!
[User Picture]
From:derspatchel
Date:November 4th, 2009 03:11 pm (UTC)
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Why Mr. Susskins, I never knew...

Miss Stamp was played by Renni Boy, the actress who's played our Tomes of Terror host, The Librarian, for the past few years. (The sinister Librarian oversees the ethereal Library where all the dangerous and scary stories are kept, lest they break free and terrorize all and sundry. I definitely took cues from old EC comics hosts for her on this one.)

When it was clear The Big Broadcast wasn't going to be a Tomes show it meant no librarian host, and I really wanted to make sure we had some kind of nod to her. Miss Penelope Stamp was created just for her and she played it very well, very much like her original Librarian but not as sinister. Plus she got a lot more comedy this time around and it was a lot of fun.

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