This week Suzy catches up with Blatherskite’s True Crimez podcast producer Madeleine Keeble and assistant director Conor Cocks. Blatherskite is a Situated Creative Practice unit completed in third-year. This unit brings together students from different disciplines to produce something epic and represents real-word creative industries. Our aim with these interviews is to give first-year and second-year students an insight into what working on these projects is like.
Suzy: It was cool to see a little bit of your process as a whole group during the table reading. Do you go through the script every time?
Conor: For the whole script, it depends on what you’re doing. During a table reading, it’s very important for everyone to be there; that way everyone kinda knows what the script is and what we’re doing. It’s good for the actors because it gives them practice and—as we were working out today— helps finalise our actors and their roles. It’s also good for the writers because they can actually hear it out loud and hear how the actors interpret certain lines and phrases. So they can go, “okay cool, that’s what we can do, or we can change that line up”.
Suzy: So they do actually make edits because of how it sounds in the table read?
Suzy: So when you’re choosing your actors, do they volunteer or audition for parts?
Conor: Because it’s for the assessed SCP project everyone has said, “oh, we’d like to do these types of roles,” so we had our actors. And we went, “okay, we have four actors and four roles—perfect”. Last week we had a draft script that we were just bouncing off everyone and we were like, “alright, who has chemistry with each other” because this podcast is centred around two key people so we want to make sure that dynamic is good. So through working out who’s got a good dynamic, we’re also working out who would work as our other two side characters who are also going to be involved in the episodes.
Suzy: So does everybody have a go at all the characters before they’re cast?
Conor: Everyone tried every role, so different people and dynamics were tested. So we had person one and person two try our main characters first, and then one and three, two and four, two and three, one and four…
Suzy: Wow. That’s a lot of combinations.
Conor: Well, when you think about it, it’s very important to do just so that you’re not kicking yourself at the end thinking, “argh I should have had persons one and four read those lines because they’re great together”.
Suzy: So not everyone is in every episode then? What do they do when they’re not working on a particular episode?
Madeleine: They are our supporting characters–
Conor: The episodes they’re in, they have big roles. They help characterise the two main characters and also the wider place that they’re in. The first episode—as you probably caught the end of—we have a landlord character who comes in, has a chat with them, is on the podcast, and then goes off at the end of that episode. Then the next episode we have a different character coming in—it helps comedy, because our main focus is a comedy podcast.
Madeleine: I haven’t done a radio play. [To Conor] I’m sure you have.
Conor: I’ve done podcasts for about six years.
Madeleine: Yeah, I’ve done podcasts but not this style. Have you done this style before?
Conor: Not a narrative podcast, per se.
Madeleine: As someone with a theatre background, personally, I think it’s been interesting finding the dynamic of a supporting character kind of stepping back, because it’s all about their voice. In a theatre production—I’m a drama major—supporting characters are still relevant. They’re still on the stage, they’re filler people, they’re helping with crew stuff. Whereas with this, because it’s just the voices, it’s interesting to find a way to navigate that.
Conor: Yeah, it’s really interesting because a lot of people going in think, “righto, I know how to act”. And it’s like, “cool, but we need just your voice”. You can do whatever you want; wave your arms in the air, make the weirdest looking faces, but what we’re mainly looking for is the voice.
Suzy: And in some case the gestures must help with expression…
Conor: Oh definitely. There’s so many behind-the-scenes stuff you see on movies; for example, animated stuff, where the person [talking in the recording booth] has the widest of faces, moving their head around, their arms and everything, because acting with your whole body does help, even if it’s just the voice coming through. Before, I was just listening and looking directly at the script, not looking at anyone so I could actually hear what the voices sounded like and hear how they interplay and interact with each other. See how different actors interpret certain lines and be like, “okay we like that interpretation but maybe for this actor,” you try that or swap around.
Suzy: That’s an interesting process. Is that something you’ve developed just for this project or has it developed over time because you’ve been doing podcasts for so long?
Conor: Most of the time since I’ve been doing podcasts, they’ve been online, so I don’t usually have that face or visual element. It’s just the audio. But for this, I was sitting there today, and it was probably a good thing if you imagine yourself as part of the audience—how are they going to be hearing this? They’re not going to be seeing who the actors are or what they look like, and the cuts in between where we go, “What do you think of the script?” “Oh, I thought it was pretty good.” What the audience are going to get to know are these characters. So just looking at the script, just looking at the dialogue, and hearing how the actors interpret things and how they go about it is a good way of doing it.
Suzy: That’s way more involved than I thought that process would be. There’s a lot of nuance to it.
Conor: Oh, definitely.
Suzy: What are you up to at the moment? You’re doing the table reading. When do actually start recording? What are the major things you’re doing in the process right now?
Madeleine: We are going to be collaborating with Vermillion, hopefully, so they’re going to be helping us. None of us are sound designers or anything, so we need a little bit of help with that and recording studios and all of that. So hopefully in the next few weeks with the process of the production schedule getting finalised, we’ll have the script finished—the writers are in the process of that—and then we are going to work some foley into it. I’m not sure if you know much about foley?
Suzy: No… [laughs]
Madeleine: Basically, it’s sound effects and audio. I don’t know if you’ve seen those videos of people crunching lettuce or standing on bark—it’s making sound effects. We’re going to write that into the script and then we have our foley designer, so she’s going to be doing that. We’ll be recording that. We’ll be recording the audio and blending them together in the coming weeks.
Suzy: Do the sound effects actually get that cool, in a serious, professional sense, here at QUT?
Madeleine: Apparently, we have a foley pit, which I didn’t know about.
Suzy: Oh wow.
Suzy: So they just put stuff in there and make noise?
Madeleine: Yeah, to play with. We’re kind of in the process of figuring out where that sound and audio can go, because just listening to people talk wouldn’t be super entertaining. You need the ambience, and to create place, yeah.
Suzy: I’ve never actually heard a narrative podcast like this before. It’s mostly been interviews, or people chatting, giving advice.
Conor: It depends on the kind of podcasts you’re finding because there are some podcasts that use foley to some degree. They tend to be your action play;, Dungeons and Dragons or other role-play games in which some podcasts will do a fancy thing like have music, footsteps, or extra sound effects, but most podcasts don’t usually. Narrative ones might, but of course, most podcasts you’re going to find is someone interviewing someone, talking to people, spouting nonsense, [or giving] reviews.
Suzy: And that’s more the style of podcast you’ve had experience with before?
Conor: Yes. For a while I was part of the QUT podcasting club. I worked with them for a couple of podcasts. I did a little review thing—I don’t know how many episodes came out; I wasn’t the editor on it, so who knows? There was review stuff, there were shorter ones that talked about life on campus. They did a little DnD adventure which I was a part of. They did a variety of different types of podcasts—mostly uni-related which was pretty good and pretty fun.
Suzy: That’s kinda good for new students trying to figure out uni life.
Conor: I wish I remember what it was called.
Madeleine: Was it QUT Hype?
Conor: Yeah, QUT Hype. You can find it on Spotify and Apple podcasts. It should be around.
Suzy: What are your studio sessions like? Do you slip into work mode once you get up here into the studio, or does it take a little bit to orient yourself in the group with lots of moving parts? Because you’ve got your producer, director, assistant director…
Conor: So what we have at the moment is our main director, and then me—the assistant director—and I help out where the main director can’t. For example, because it is a big space with a lot of people, last week I was handling the actors, while the director, Ella, was [checking in] with the writers, and that way it’s not one person managing so many people.
Suzy: Okay, so where does the producer fit into that? What’s your job?
Madeleine: I am the organiser lady. [laughs] So I’m the one collaborating with other people. I’m the one figuring out people’s availabilities. Taking notes—I just sit there with a big sheet.
Suzy: A massive To-Do list?
Madeleine: Yeah, a to-do list. And then we have a producer for the other part of the project as well. So she and I work in collaboration, make sure the marketing’s going to be happening, that sort of thing. But to answer your initial question, I think we actually do pretty well because we have set roles. We’re all pretty organised and on top of it, so we all sort of fall into, “well, I’m doing this and this.” The writers are really on top of it, so hats off to them.
Conor: Oh, amazing. Genuinely amazing, I don’t know how they do it.
Madeleine: Yeah. So it’s hard because we’re all university students so finding time outside to meet is something that we’re still navigating.
Suzy: So you do find you have to meet outside of the studio sessions?
Madeleine: The writers have been. And we’ve been trying to figure out ways … When it comes to the recordings, we’re going to have to do that outside [of the studio sessions] but for now we’re doing table reads in the big group, and all the big things in the big studio.
Conor: Here [in the studio sessions] is the most likely when everyone’s available, so it’s the best time to do as much of the work as you can.
Suzy: They’re kind of brain-scrambling, the studio sessions, in that regard, aren’t they?
Madeleine: Absolutely, but then we can go away and do stuff, and come back the next week [to work on it].
Suzy: How do you find collaborating with the other projects across Situated Creative Practice?
Madeleine: So far, pretty good. In our project we have a group of drama students, creative writers, film, visual artists, so that’s our group. So we don’t have anyone in that audio/music space, so to be able to reach out—that has been really helpful. As well as with ScratchThat, there’s a lot of creative writers, so our writers feel comfortable reaching out and getting help. I’m really enjoying it. I think getting knowledge that we don’t have in our skill set and reaching out to other people has been really nice, actually.
Suzy: It’s cool that you’ve got people from a lot of other disciplines.
Conor: It’s very good, because pretty quickly we were able to work out our roles and everyone is very good within their roles. I could never do the producer thing, that’s insane.
Suzy: Yeah, reaching out to a lot of people scares me. [laughs]
Madeleine: I’m a drama student. I’m fine!
Suzy: Actually, I was going to ask about the script. Do the writers come up with the script based on ideas, or does the subject of the script come to them and they just sort of edit?
Conor: In the very beginning we went into groups and roughly worked out what we wanted to do. We basically, as a whole group, threw out ideas and tried to work on a plan, like “what do we want to do, can we do this, how do we want to do this?” And from those ideas we had a list of questions, like “what can we do on our first episode?” And we gave that to the writers; they went away and made a script, then came back to us and that was the week I said, “okay let’s start working on acting and casting and stuff.” After we did a table read of their first draft script, they went back and did up a script that was pretty close to finalised, so now we’re just doing [small edits] on it.
From that, the process is they come back each time and we do a table read, then we throw out a couple of our ideas—what we think might be good—they go away again, adjust it, or fix up minor things. With the new script we’ve already had that beginning discussion—”okay, what can we do next?” It’s a very collaborative experience.
Suzy: Yeah, so it’s like big iterations down into fine-tuning. So really, the ideas part, that’s a democratic process? Just, whoever’s got ideas, let’s throw them out there?
Madeleine: Yeah, pretty much.
Conor: How this idea started at the very beginning was we all went, “does anyone have any ideas at all for anything?” And one of the writers—Jamie I think—said, “we were chatting about a comedy, true crime theme.” As a group we weren’t keen on drama, and obviously the other group are doing a drama and it sounds really good, so we thought, “we don’t have to do drama, right? We’re going to do something fun and have a goofy time.” They [the writers] vaguely pitched their idea, and I spun around in my chair and said, “You could do this with that idea.” We fleshed out that idea and then reached further, like “what if we did this? What if we did that?” This is way back when it was a bigger scale thing with a lot more people doing a lot of things that were scrapped early on. We pitched that one, and everyone thought it was a good idea and we got started.
Suzy: That sounds like collaboration in its truest sense. So you get on with everyone in your group? As in, you all work well together?
Conor: This is probably—and no offense to any of the other groups I’ve ever had over the course of uni—but this is probably one of my best.
Madeleine: Yeah, we’re collaborating really well.
Conor: Genuinely, it has been amazing.
You can listen to the first episode of True Crimez already on Spotify (search “Blatherskite”) and all the usual public domain places. Listen out for episode 2 in the same places as well as local Brisbane radio station, 4ZZZ.
Suzy Darlington writes science fiction fantasy stories and consumes more of the same than is probably healthy. In another life she wrote copy for game streaming academy, GGWP, and reported on the Capcom Pro Tour for Canadian news outlet, Dailyesports.gg. When she’s not having unexpected (but totally welcome) dreams about being Timothée Chalamet’s best friend, she’s searching for high-angst, LGBTQ+ romantic tension in fiction.