Reflection – Script writing and recording for a short audiodrama

So here’s the script for our audiodrama in (what I believe is) the correct layout for a script. I’m not exactly sure if it is applicable for audiodramas as well, but at least it was a good exercise in writing in this format:

Father Doogle on his deathbed
Audiodrama script
by
Michael Abley, Rumena Zlatkova and
Matt Ridgley

INT – HOSPITAL HALLWAY

JOHN MCGRATH is in the hospital hallway, waiting to see Father Doogle on his deathbed. WE HEAR the sound of PENCIL WRITING ON PAPER, and JOHN’s voiceover.

JOHN

Dear diary,
I think this is the first time I’ve ever been in a hospital. It’s a strange place. It’s all white and hostile, no one is smiling. Well of course they’re not smiling – they’re all sick. Or dying…
Father Doogle is dying. God I… I can’t believe I just wrote that. My dear Father. What will I do without him? Why is he dying? He’s leaving me all alone. I mean he’s not perfect, but… he’s the only one who’s treated me like a son when I was growing up. I just wish that…

John’s monologue is interrupted by a sound of a DOOR opening.

INT – HOSPITAL HALLWAY

A FEMALE NURSE opens and closes the room’s DOOR:

NURSE

Father Doogle will see you now.

INT – HOSPITAL ROOM

We HEAR heartbeat indicator BEEPING. JOHN is sitting on FATHER DOOGLE’s bed.

FATHER DOOGLE

Come in my son, sit with me.

JOHN

Father, are you OK?

FATHER DOOGLE

I don’t have long now, John. I just wanted to make sure you are going to be alright when I’m gone.

JOHN

Shhh… I’ll be fine Father. Don’t worry about me. I’ll do you proud, I promise.

FATHER DOOGLE

John, I’ve been wanting to tell you something for a while now.

JOHN

What is it Father? You can tell me anything.

FATHER DOOGLE

It’s about your mother, John.

JOHN

What about my mother?

FATHER DOOGLE

Two years ago, I was buying groceries for the home, when I bumped into her in the street. I know it’s her because of that picture you carry around.

JOHN

What? You knew I’ve been searching for her. Why didn’t you tell me?

FATHER DOOGLE

I’m sorry John, I believe it to be in your best interest not no know her.

JOHN

Why? Who are you to make that decision?

FATHER DOOGLE

She is an alcoholic prostitute, John. I think of myself as your family, your father.

The heartbeat indicator is BEEPING twice as fast.

JOHN

Tell me where she is.

FATHER DOOGLE

Sorry John, but your mother’s whereabouts will die with me.

The hearbeat indicator is making a continuous BEEEEEP.

JOHN

I hate you! You’re not my father, you’ll never be!

We are left with a 1-2 second continuos BEEEEEP from the indicator.

THE END

When we found out we needed to produce an audiodrama, we got excited that we’d be able to add some more life to our character and his story. We chose this episode, because from Father Doogle’s death onwards a lot in John’s life changes. First, of course, because he no longer has his guardian. Second – because just before Doogle dies, he shares this secret with John – that he has seen his mother.

While we were discussing the audiodrama, we found out we would need three voices – two male voices for John and Father Doogle and a female voice for the nurse that invites John in Doogle’s room. We had met with one or two actors, and had a meeting to work on the script and recording with one of them, which makes us one of the groups that actually got the attention of an actor from the drama students. However, most members of the group came in late, and our actor was only available for 2 hours most of which we wasted waiting for the members in the group. So we ended up with no actors for the audiodrama we still needed to produce.

Left with no other choice, we decided to record the audiodrama using our voices. Each of the guys – Michael, Matt and Chris – tried to play each of the male characters, so that we can see which voice fits better. It turned out Michael had a talent in voice acting – he tried a few voices, different tones and accents. What is more, he was able to invent and play a voice for John and then for Father Doogle, both of which sounded quite well. Matt was sick, but since he was already there, we tried to record him as well. To our surprise, exactly because he was sick, his voice fitted to the sick (or even dying) Father Doogle – deep, dramatic, with lots of coughing, deep breathing etc. So we decided to use him as the dying Father Doogle. Chris’ voice didn’t actually fit in either character – he was speaking too fast and with a too obvious Birmingham accent, so it wouldn’t sound authentic enough. And Michael’s version of John was just the thing we needed.

Our recording process:

We used a Marrantz PMD660 and an XLR microphone. The room we chose for recording was the disabled refuge in the Ellen Terry basement. It is a very quiet room, not too big to lose sound, not too little to reverb, and with decent acoustics. There was a screen in the room for some reason, which Chris moved nearer to where we were recording to filter out sounds and unwanted reflections from the walls. I was responsible for the actual sound recording because I felt most comfortable working with the equipment.

What I learned about sound recording from this exercise:

  • Always wear headphones to monitor sound.
    The microphone’s cable was a bit loose close to the connection point (the place that always breaks first), so if the microphone wasn’t held properly, there was a background BZZZ sound which was going to the recording. Thanks to the headphones, we managed to avoid it while we were recording the important bits.
  • Always make sound checks before recording and monitor the level indicators while recording.
    When we were initially setting the recording levels, Chris gave Michael the microphone (Michael was going to record first), and started questioning him about how he got to university today. Apparently, it is a common technique for sound checking – because it’s a laid back conversation in which the person has highs and lows in the voice levels and you can set the equipment to work properly with it.
    While recording, there were a couple of times people’s voices peaked. We could easily work around it, because I was constantly monitoring the sound levels, so I just asked the person to repeat the last line or two to have a clear recording.
  • Don’t trust the MARK button.
    I thought the MARK button would produce a marker in the final file. It didn’t.
  • Record a separate file for each section.
    Because I didn’t create new files properly, we had files in which there were three consecutive versions of the same conversation recorded three times. It would have been much easier to make a separate recording for each ‘take’ so that we can easily identify them on the computer and either rename them properly or delete them safely.
  • When using one microphone, record in MONO WAV.
    After recording with a single microphone in Stereo, I realised there’s no reason why I would want to hear the voice in only one channel and/or need to remix it later. I had to reformat all files to avoid the empty right channel (which by the way had recorded some BZZZ sounds).
  • Make sure you don’t have any additional noise while recording.
    There is a background noise in our recording (probably unavoidable for this microphone/equipment). It could be filtered out in post-production, but it’s better to minimise it while recording so you don’t have additional work afterwards. It’s a real pain to play with sound levels when you have a background noise to deal with. Although I haven’t tested it yet, I noticed a Noise Profiles function in Audition which probably can filter out the noise, so I guess recording a couple of seconds complete silence (with only the background noise) would make it easier to set a noise profile for the frequencies which the program can then automatically filter out.
  • Make sure people have an expression on their face that fits the character’s feelings at the moment.
    There is a moment in our recording when one of the voices sounds overdramatic – when you’re rehearsing it’s OK to have it, but in real recording, it doesn’t make sense to the context.
    Another very important point to this is to not allow actors to smile when acting a drama scene. Even though the listeners can’t see a smile, the mouth form changes, which automatically changes the voice – and the listener can ‘hear’ the smile. In a drama about someone dying and revealing secrets, a smile doesn’t fit.
  • Have the actors rehearse with the text until they no longer need it.
    It’s always obvious when you hear a recording that the actor was reading – the brain and voice work differently when reading and when speaking things you memorised.
  • Don’t make compromises while rehearsing.
    Even though it’s a rehearse and is not recorded (or we could choose to record them as well), it’s better to have everyone act as if it were a real recording. Otherwise people would make illogical pauses and other variations ‘because it’s a rehearse’ and won’t be able to make it right in the real recording as well – because they didn’t rehearse it that way.
  • It’s not a good idea to record the voices separately.
    We were trying to record one main voice while having another person reading the lines of the other character in the background. It turned out that it’s too much editing work to copy and paste in place every small line and split files in small sections just to edit a 30-second conversation. When editing, it’s much harder to decide how long a pause between the two lines should be than to act it while on set. Even if you can decide it right while editing, you can’t just insert 1 second of silence – because it would insert a complete silence, and your recording usually has background sounds or noise, so it wouldn’t fit – you would need to select a ‘proper’ section of noise…
    What is more – each recording has a separate level of background sounds and noise and it’s always a compromise to try and balance them if copy+pasting from the two characters from separate files. My edit ended up to use a single cut recording with Matt as Father Doogle (recorded with higher levels) and Michael’s voice in the back as John – it turned out this was one of Michael’s best performances so when I decided to use it, I had to deal with the different voice and noise levels in the recording.
  • When using one microphone, have the people’s voices in the correct level balance you would want them for the final production.
    It’s much easier to place the microphone halfway between two people and work until you find the proper distance than to try and alter the levels later in post-production.
  • When you plan to have background sounds, record them separately.
    We wanted to have pencil scribbling sounds during the section with John’s diary entry. A very good decision we made was to record the voice separately and then record only pencil scribbles. It’s easier to edit one type of sound – so when you have a separate file with the voice, you apply filters and edits only to it, and you still have your pencil sounds clear. In the case of the beeping sounds, if we had recorded them as a background for the voices, we would have faced huge problems with editing – changes in level, rhythm, inserting silence, etc. And if the balance wasn’t right (voice was too low or the background sound too high), it would have been pretty hard to try and edit it right.

I think this is the first time I’ve ever been in a hospital. It’s a strange place. It’s all white and hostile, no one is smiling. Well of course they’re not smiling – they’re all sick. Or dying…

Father Doogle is dying. God I… I can’t believe I just wrote that. My dear Father. What will I do without him? Why is he dying? He’s leaving me all alone. I mean he’s not perfect, but… he’s the only one who’s treated me like a son when I was growing up. I just wish that…

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One thought on “Reflection – Script writing and recording for a short audiodrama

  1. Rumi, hey, amazing blog !
    I wanted to ask you about your email adress, ’cause you know I have some problems with my phone.
    By the way, I’m Dana :))

    Like

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