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Squadron Leader Jack Steel – The Missing Episode

Way back in 2008 we released the first episodes of our twelve part audio drama Squadron Leader Jack Steel and the Starblade. Between them the twelve episodes have been downloaded around 70,000 times, as well as being broadcast on actual radio in Canada and the USA (apparently – no-one we know actually heard them…) SLJS was It’s a Trap’s first big project outside of organising one-off LARP events and the first time we not only presented a finished product but also took a look behind the scenes as well.

It also represented the first and (probably) last time that we tried to create income from a project with merchandise. Although this means that most of us still have stylish Jack Steel t-shirts and hoodies, it also meant that we put a bit of effort into making the physical media worth buying as opposed to just downloading the episodes for free. To that end we produced an extra prequel episode that we claimed would never be podcast. So, since this is a blog and not a podcast (and with apologies to the two people who bought the audio CD…) may we present the long-lost prequel episode Mordred’s Mission

(nb – the “play” icon is hidden to the left of the time counter on this particular player plug-in…)

 

 

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From Raw Audio to First Draft – Stitching Together a Radio Play

Our Ravenskil project has been ticking along for some years now and has reached the stage where the majority of the voice recording is complete and we’re starting to pull the episodes together. There are eight of these in total, each coming in at thirty minutes in length – so you can imagine the vast amount of raw audio we’ve recorded in the form of takes and re-takes (and out-takes) which needs sorting through and editing into a final product.

Gill Dean and Leighton Williams - two of our voice actors
Gill Dean and Leighton Williams – two of our voice actors

Due to hardware and (lack of) studio constraints, voice actors were recorded individually. We’ll take a look at the H4N and associated hardware setup in a later blog post, but suffice to say that we ended up with this sort of thing:-

 

(Tom Butterworth ran a close second for the role of Emily…)

The next stage was to transfer it to a PC and sort through all the different takes of an actor’s lines for an episode and select the best one. In some cases where the line has been recorded with a number of different inflections, both/all might be taken so that the one that fits best can be used.

Normally plastered across two monitors...
Normally plastered across two monitors…

Each line was exported as a single audio clip which could then be inserted into the appropriate character track on the master recording. We then inserted some ambient noise and sound effects for each scene to form a rough draft of the complete episode, so that the original clip now sounds like this:-

Although it sounds much better this is still not the finished product – for example in this clip Emily’s voice still has too much “room reverb” due to the recording being made in a room with a hard floor. Once the entire episode has been put together to this standard it will be edited down to the correct run time and then passed to one of our friendly neighbourhood sound engineers to tweak and fiddle with until we have the finished product. So until then it’s back to work!

 

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“Locke” 85 Second Movie Challenge – Production Update

Setup began at 1pm on Sunday. Not only had Josh Davies come on board at very short notice to act as DOP, but also generously allowed us to use the FXHome office in central Norwich. The scene we were filming was of a character being interviewed in front of two doors – this location both gave us the necessary office vibe and miraculously enough even had two adjacent doors with plenty of space for us to film (once we had moved a few people’s desks out of the way – apologies to the FXHome development team for any signs of disturbance they noticed on Monday morning!)

Josh sets up the initial camera angle whilst Nigel reviews the script
Josh sets up the initial camera angle whilst Nigel reviews the script

 To help with the lighting we had to improvise various methods of blocking the natural light reflecting off the glass walls that would be in shot. Luckily being in an office meant that there were plenty of sofa cushions, whiteboards, unassembled bookshelves and the like that could be pressed into service.

Our actor Tom Butterworth arrived shortly after two o’ clock and got to work learning the lines that had been hot off the press only two hours earlier. Fortunately he had written some of them himself which must have helped, but even so it was a big ask – an eighty-five second time limit seems very short to everyone involved with the exception of the actor who has to memorise the script…

How difficult can memorising a page and a half of dialogue at short notice actually be?
How difficult can memorising a page and a half of dialogue at short notice actually be?

The scene was filmed from a face on perspective and then from an angle to both left and right – for reasons that will hopefully become stylistically apparent in the final edit. With such a small crew on set we all had to pitch in most of the time – for example when we realised that two of us were needed to be in position behind the doors during a shot Nigel found himself directing whilst also wrangling the microphone boom.

 Director, sound engineer and apparently make-up artist
Director, sound engineer and apparently make-up artist

 Josh was filming on a Sony Nex FS700 which gave us beautiful picture quality but also imposed another time limit in the form of camera battery life. We also realised fairly early on that battery drain was also greater than it would normally be as our Rhode boom mike was drawing its power from the camera as well. Consequently we were slamming the battery into the charger whenever we had a break in shooting to gain a few more vital percent of power.

Our attempt to power the camera through the power of Christopher's mind didn't succeed
Our attempt to power the camera through the power of Christopher’s mind didn’t succeed

 We remained very conscious of the film time limit all the way through – often Nigel would re-shoot a line minus a couple of words that weren’t vital; saving mere seconds but seconds that might make the difference for coming in under time in the edit. Perhaps an extravagant three minute long director’s cut might appear in the future – watch this space…

Hand-held close ups
Hand-held close ups

With all the “must-have” shots in the can we made use of the final few minutes of camera battery life to try a couple of glide shots on a wheeled camera dolly – another advantage of working in the office of a visual effects software company! By seven o’ clock the battery was down to 1% and Nigel called the wrap – after six hours of solid work we were all pretty tired but hopeful that we had everything we need to edit together a nice looking (very) short short.