November 1st, 2009
|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.
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!
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.