Bob Tinsley: Adventures in Audio Drama – 2

Chapter 2
by Bob Tinsley

Seeing_Ear_Theater

“Audio drama is just radio drama, old, poorly recorded and badly acted.”

This is just a matter of perception. Modern audio drama can be as slick and professional as a television show.

Check out “Seeing Ear Theater”. From 1997 to 2001 they put out some amazing audio dramas written by people like Neil Gaiman, J. Michael Straczynski (creator of Babylon 5), Harlan Ellison and others. The actors were big names as well. You can find all their shows here (http://tinyurl.com/lfkepzn) for free download. Check out “Black Canoes”, or, if you are a Gaiman fan, the two-part “Snow Glass Apples”. That one is guaranteed to make you look at Snow White from a different perspective.

Another wonderful place is ZBS.org. One of their new series is the “Dixon and Sparks Mysteries”. The first episode is free here (http://tinyurl.com/kdaqlew). One of their other series, “Ruby: Galactic Gumshoe”, has been running since the late 1960s. Many of their shows have been recorded in 3D binaural sound. Listening with headphones really immerses you in the story. People walk behind you!

Then there is the Wireless Theatre Company in Britain (www.wirelesstheatrecompany.co.uk), Radio Drama Revival (www.radiodramarevival.com), Darker Projects (www.darkerproject.com) and many others. You can actually find shows produced from my own original scripts, for instance, “Heroes” (http://tinyurl.com/l3nxd66). I published the script for that show on Amazon and Nook. Just search for Robert W. Tinsley, if you’re interested.

All these stories, these audio dramas, transport the listener to a different place. The world created in the listener’s mind is boundless, unconscribed by the limits of budget, space or technology. It is a world of limitless possibility.

Don’t books or TV or movies do that just as well or better? No, in those formats you are constrained within the author’s/director’s world. He describes the characters leaving you with his vision of them. He describes a beach or a forest the way he sees them.

Norman Corwin, a famous radio writer/producer said: “Features and dimensions of a place, of a room, of a landscape, are not, in a good radio script, described in so many words. They are perceived by characters and brought out by speech, sound, by allusion. Obliquely.”

In audio you “see” the character based on his voice, his manner of speaking. He becomes “your” character. You hear the sound of waves, the cry of sea birds; you are on “your” beach. The whole experience is more intimate.

Why is this; why this intimacy? Sound; sound is more imagination-centric than sight. Sound stimulates the imagination. How often has a song taken you back to a particular time in your life? Elicited an emotion? That’s called “anamnesis”, an often involuntary recall of memory caused by the evocative power of sound.

Audio drama is a complex experience requiring more listener participation than video.

As far as wide acceptance of audio drama goes, the question then becomes, “Does audio drama require too much participation for the Average Joe to deal with?”

I’ll look into that next.

Bob Tinsley: HEFALUMPS and WOOZLES PART 3

AdCopy

by Bob Tinsley

When last we talked we went through getting the cover for your ebook and all the front matter. And you’re still not ready to upload it to Amazon.

First you’ll need to write the ad copy for your book. Amazon calls it the “book description”. That’s the copy that goes in the listing of your book telling everybody what a wonderful, sexy book you’ve written. Go look at some on Amazon to get an idea of what works.

Now comes the hard part. What? You thought the cover was hard? Just you wait.

In what format does your literary treasure reside? If you said Microsoft Word you’re halfway home. If it is in Final Draft, Scrivener, CeltX, Fountain or any of the other myriad of proprietary formats, the first thing you have to do is generate a Word file and make sure that it looks the way you want it to.

At least that’s the way I go about it. If you are a CSS or HTML wizard you might be better off going with those formats. Since I don’t even know what CSS and HTML mean, I stick with Word.

In my experience after having uploaded 10 of my ebooks to Amazon, a Word file will give you an end product that looks the most like what you have been seeing on your computer screen.

Only one caveat: DON’T use tabs. Tabs do not translate well. You need to replace all the tabs with enough spaces to make the format look right. It sucks, but there you are.

Now I have only brushed the surface here. Do this and you’ll get a vanilla ebook. If you want to get fancier (and spend about ten times the amount of time you’ve used up to now) there are more books about formatting for Kindle than you can shake a stick at. Believe me, I’ve tried. I got tired.

Search for “Kindle formatting” on Amazon and you come up with 351 books that will tell you everything you need to know about the subject. I wish you luck. Maybe, one day, I’ll get brave enough to delve into that particular tar pit.

Or you could hire someone to do it for you.

You’ve now got your formatted Word file – or whatever – and your cover illustration in JPEG format (ideally 2500 pixels high with a 1.6 aspect ratio, height to width). It’s time to upload everything and let the gremlins churn out your ebook.

Kindle Direct Publishing is the website.If you have an Amazon account (and who doesn’t?) you can sign in with that. You’ll be taken to a dashboard, and among the things you’ll see there is a yellowish button labeled “Add new title”.

When you click that button you’ll be taken to a page that leads you by the hand through every step to get your cover uploaded, your book uploaded, putting in your description, claiming your rights, deciding whether you want DRM (a big NO, at least for me) and setting your price. Then it will ask if you are ready to publish. Press “yes”, and you’re on your way. It will take, they say, approximately 12 hours for your listing to go live.

It’s all pretty easy these days.

One thing. When you upload your Word file you will be confronted with the Whirling Circle of Death and the message “converting”. Once that is done, you will be asked if you want to preview your book. Say “yes”. This occurs at the bottom of the first of two pages. At this point you will see a mostly accurate resprentation of what your ebook will look like on a Kindle device.

If it doesn’t look the way you want it to, don’t despair – too much. You can fix it. Just save what you’ve done so far, get out of the browser, and spend whatever time you need to tweak your file.

Sign back in to KDP, and you will be taken to your “Bookshelf” page. You will see a line item with the title of your book. Click the selection box on the left, click the “Actions” button just above, and select “Edit book details”. You will be taken back to the page where you uploaded your file and given the chance to replace the file.

Everything will be fine this time, and you’re home free. Break out the bubbly, light a cigar and wait for the sales to come rolling in.

Um, no. This ain’t the Field of Dreams, buddy. Just ’cause you built it don’t mean they’re gonna come.

Now comes the really ugly part: marketing. I’m still figuring that one out.

Bob Tinsley: Adventures in Audio Drama

Chapter 1
by Bob Tinsley

audio-bookIt seems like audio books (audiobooks[?]) are a burgeoning market.

Again. Still?

The Wall Street Journal wrote a whole article about it.

About a month before the WSJ article the NYTimes published a piece about how audiobooks are helping struggling actors make a pretty good living at their craft.

Julliard and Yale have gone so far as to offer audio narration workshops, Julliard since 2008. With Audible.com having hired 2,000 actors and produced 10,000 works last year voice actors are suddenly in demand, at least more than they used to be.

In reality, audio books have been a growing market since, well, since there have been audio books. It’s the rate of growth that’s been bouncing around like a ping pong ball with a mouse inside. The thing is, people like to have things read to them. The human voice is the most powerful communication tool we have and perhaps the most important sound in our lives

So, people like to listen. They like to listen to audio books. Can that – will that carry over into audio drama?

I, for one, certainly hope so. Audio drama, what used to be called radio drama (and still is in Europe), is a much richer experience than simple narration. Himan Brown, who over a 65-year career produced over 30,000 radio programs, said, “The key to radio drama is sound – is imagination – is what you can do by stirring somebody. . . . There’s nothing bloodier than the blood you see in your imagination.”

Sound is just as complex as visuals and is better at evoking emotion. A horror movie without the sound is just a series of pictures. Next time you watch one on Netflix try turning off the sound. You’ll hear what I mean.

So why isn’t audio drama climbing the commercial and critical success ladder right alongside (or at least just behind) audio books?

I think it’s a matter of perception.

“Audio drama is just radio drama, old, poorly recorded and badly acted.”

That is a perception I want to correct. Join in the discussion. If you have questions, I’ll try to answer them. If you have opinions, chime in. All welcome.

Bob Tinsley: HEFALUMPS and WOOZLES PART 2

tinsleys heroesby Bob Tinsley

When last we talked I had the “shooting script” in hand and was ready to publish an ebook with it.

Well, not quite ready. What I had was the body of the book. What I didn’t have was what is called the “front matter”. This stuff is usually taken care of by the publisher without the author having to worry too much about it. Guess what? YOU’RE the publisher. You’ll see this again.

Take a look at a book, either dead-tree or ebook, doesn’t matter. I’ll start with an overview, then take each element individually.

Starting from the outside you have the cover. The cover has a picture and some text. Then there’s the title page which has, you guessed it, the title of the book and the author’s name as a minimum. Most times the title page also has the publisher’s name. We’ll get back to that later.

Following that you have the copyright page with whatever disclaimers and lawyerly weasel words the publisher wants on there. Then there’s the dedication, preface, introduction, glossary and any other stuff that you feel might be interesting to the reader.

Then you have to make sure the manuscript is in the right format for Kindle or Nook conversion. This will require its own post. Later.

Unlike screenplays (attractive covers verboten) a book needs a cover. And not just any cover. The cover needs to be attractive and well layed out. The more it resembles the cover on the latest NYT best seller, the better. The Big Six (now Five) publishers have graphic designers on staff that do that sort of thing all day every day.

Congratulations! You are now a graphic designer. Unless you have a real graphic designer in the family or have enough disposable income to hire one, you will be designing the cover of your ebook.

Don’t get all freaked. If I can do this, you can.

The first thing to do is find a photo or illustration. There are some killer photos out there in the public domain, but the safest option is to go to a stock photo site and spend a couple of bucks for one you know you can use without getting into a rights hassle. I use www.istockphoto.com. Most of the photos I use cost less than two dollars apiece. Read the purchase agreement under Approved Uses. If it says “book covers”, you’re golden.

Now you need to put text on the cover, the title and your name as a minimum. If you have Photoshop, you’re good. If not, use GIMP. It’s basically the freeware (free!) Photoshop. With a little experimentation putting text on your photo is pretty easy. There’s a large selection of fonts to use, and you can change color and size easily. Realistically it will take you a couple of hours to learn how to do this with ease.

We’ll continue this stroll through the minefield of indie publishing in the next post.

Meanwhile, should you wish to see my first pass at ebooking an audio script, HEROES, is now available on Kindle.

I say first pass, because if I don’t like something, I can go back and change it. Typically the changes are made within 12 hours. Your mistakes aren’t there for eternity.

The formatting translated pretty well, though I may want to tweak it for readability. Or not. I’ll have to think on it a bit. Or – you could give me your opinion in a review on Amazon or in the comments here. Or both.

Bob Tinsley: Hefalumps and Woozles, or, Ebooks and Scripts

transmediaby Bob Tinsley

Transmedia.

That’s a hot new buzzword making the rounds of the prose indie publishing interwebs. I searched for it on TVWriter and got two hits; in neither of them did I find the word “transmedia”. Don’t know what the deal with that is.

But I digress.

Among the indie publishing crowd transmedia means taking the book you sweated blood and cried tears over and migrating it to other forms of publishing, i.e., audiobooks or screenplays or some other means of distribution in order to reach a new audience and generate new income streams.

I first came across this word on Monday, August 12. It took about three days for the bells to start ringing in the back of my head. I gotta tell ya, that’s very distracting. Amongst the clamor it dawned on me that I had some audio scripts that I could make some minor changes to and indie-publish as ebooks on Kindle and Nook.

Back in the mid-2000s I ran across a website called “Darker Projects”. They produce original audio dramas for distribution on the web. I have always been a big fan of Old Time Radio (The Theatre of the Mind!), so I figured this was the Best Thing Ever.

Surfing around the site I discovered a tab called “Contribute”. Clicking on it I found that they were looking for people to help expand their offerings, from voice actors to producers to sound engineers to directors to – wait for it – WRITERS!

This was my new favorite site. A few years earlier I had purchased a book by J. Michael Straczynski called The Complete Book of Scriptwriting and in this book was a section on writing for radio drama. Radio drama/audio drama, potaytoe/potahtoe.

I devoured that section of the book and began surfing the web trying to find examples of radio scripts and advice about writing them. Oddly enough, I was able to find quite a bit.

After doing what was probably way too much research (does ANYONE do just enough research?) I began to write and submit scripts to Darker Projects. At the time, the King of Submissions (aka slush pile reader) was a guy named Elie Hirschman, a real mensch. He also did more than a little voice acting and directing. He actually liked some of the stuff I sent in, immediately endearing him to me like a brother.

Over a period of about three years, DarkerProjects produced five of my scripts with a full cast, original music, sound effects, an intro and outro, the whole magilla. The product Darker Projects put out was as professional as anything available then or now.

HEROES is the title of the produced script I chose with which to dip my toes into the Transmedia Stream. The “shooting script” was about 13 pages and resulted in a 21-minute audio.

The DarkerProjects crew are still producing new audio, so you should go to their site and listen. Everything is available for free download or streaming. These guys are good. And so, I think, is HEROES.

Go there. Now!

Bob Tinsley Sees CYBERGEDDON: A New Web Series by Anthony E. Zuiker

The creator of the most successful series of series on TV brings us the most expensive series to ever hit the web – but how’s it doing?

So, no less a personnage than CSI creator Anthony E. Freakin’ Zuiker thinks the future of video entertainment lies with web video. He is so convinced of it that he has invested a tidy $6 million in, CYBERGEDDON, a 9-episode series that debuted on Yahoo Screen the first week in October, with multiple hints that CYBERGEDDON 2 is in the works. But is it any good?

In a word: Yes.

So far I have watched the first episode and about half of the second. Each episode is 10 minutes long. Connectivity issues interrupted my viewing of the second episode, but I WILL watch the whole thing. In addition to the 90 minutes of episodes, there are another 48+ minutes in what he calls ZIPS, one minute videos that inform the back stories of the main characters.

The series stars Missy Peregrym (ROOKIE BLUE), Kick Gury (an Aussie of some repute), Manny Montana, and Olivier Martinez (a French actor). IMDB credits both Miles Chapman (“ROAD HOUSE 2: LAST CALL” and the upcoming “THE TOMB”, now in post-production) and Mr. Zuiker as writers, but some of the PR pieces (more on this later) mention only Chapman as the writer.

As far as I’m concerned this series is as good as, or better than, anything on legacy TV these days. Production values are through the roof, and the editing (Jordan Krug) is first rate. His split screen work is as good as it comes: not too much, and what there is really catches the eye.

How is it doing? I have no idea. Unlike You Tube, Yahoo doesn’t, so far as I know, list the number of views. But I suspect that it isn’t as well known as it should be. Why? I blame the Legacy Promotion that launched this series and continues to this day. I see an almost complete lack of understanding of New Media Promotion.

Just before launch, they had a traditional Hollywood Premier, followed up with articles in the NY Times, the LA Times, and Salon.com. IMHO, nothing there that would bring in large numbers of web-dwellers. I had a conversation about this with LB on the New Media section of the TVWriter™ Message Board under Web Series. Basically he advised: do as Felicia Day does. (There was, of course, more, but you need to read the post for that!)

They do have a FB page, but I see little effort toward engaging the fans that post there. Queries as to the plans for a second “season” were met with a canned blurb, exactly the same each time. Other comments were met by stony silence. Whatever PR firm is running the FB page would post questions, i.e., “where should AEZ’s next series take place”, and other questions designed to draw out the fans, getting from 20 to 50 comments.

Where they failed was in the response: NONE! Not one of the comments garnered a response from the Cybergeddoners. That is not the way to engage your fans. In the words of “The Cluetrain Manifesto” (google it!), marketing is a conversation. Conversations require full-duplex communication. From my own experience, if you want to drive traffic, you have to respond to comments.

CYBERGEDDON also has a Twitter account (with hash-tags #cybergeddon, #thereisnoesc) that shows the same lack of understanding of the use of social networks as does the FB page. What little activity they was, including a “Twitter Party” on Oct 4, was only one way.

AEZ does, however, recognize that he is blazing a new trail here. He has said on more than one occasion that he doesn’t know what works yet, but he intends to find out.

What does this mean to those who hope to work in the TV/video/web field? It means keep writing! Write, submit, write, submit. The future here belongs not to those who sit and wait for the field to mature (with the kind of series now being produced, it will mature, though the exact form is still up in the air), but to the pioneers who go out and put it on the line, risking the inevitable arrows that will appear in their backs (Josh Hudson, this means you! As LB says, take a bow.)

As LB also says (he talks a lot), right now the web series field is the Wild West. This field is a BIG part of the future, and like the Wild West, the Big Dogs a few years from now will be the ones that establish a small presence now and keep an eye on how things develop, adapting as they change. And they will change. So get in now; the barrier to entry will only get higher.

Bob Tinsley’s Been Thinking About New Media

…And, frequent TVWriter™ visitor that he is, Bob has a few questions (as well as an opinion or three):

LB and Munchman seem to believe that web series are, if not THE future, one of the major elements of the future of TV (is that term even relevant anymore? More later.) writing. I decided to force Monkey Mind into investigating this phenomenon.

First up is *Ark*, a science fiction web series created and written by Robbie Thompson, most recently, I think, story editor on *Supernatural*, before that on the late, unlamented *The Cape* and staff writer on *Human Target*. The first (and only, so far as I can tell) season of Ark is made up of 9 episodes, each running between 3 and 10 minutes, for a total series running time of 47 minutes. I watched the whole series in one block on Hulu and have to say that, overall, I was impressed. But I will say that if I had to wait a week or more between episodes, I don’t think I would have stuck it out. The episodes are just too short to be watched on an individual basis. While each episode ends on a compelling cliff-hanger, I think they are too short to develop a strong enough connection between the characters and the viewer to survive a long intermission.

Aside from episode length, the only other fly in this ointment is in the final episode when Thompson makes the main character, a woman, behave in a way that defies logic and causes her to act out of character. Threw me right out of the story, reminding me of that lamentable horror movie trope where you are screaming at the screen, “Don’t go down those stairs, you thrice-damned idiot!”

That said, the ending made me want to see the next season, which will likely never happen.

I’ve also been watching some originals on You Tube from Wigs and MachinimaPrime channels. These episodes tend to run 7 to 12 minutes on the Wigs series and 16 to 20 minutes on the MachinimaPrime series. I think the 7 to 12 minute time range is pretty much the minimum you need to establish a character that the viewer will remember long enough to wait a week between episodes, while the 16 to 20 minute range is much more likely to bring a viewer back.

So what do you guys think? What is the minimum episode length that would allow you to develop a character and story line that the viewers would want to wait a week or more to see again? And what about the wait between episodes? Given the shorter viewing time, is a week too long to wait for the next episode?

As for the term *TV writing* as applied to web series (see, I told you there would be more), I think we need to redefine this as *video writing* (or something similar) to distinguish this from that antiquated legacy form, television. Again, any other nomenclatural suggestions?

EDITED BY LB TO ADD: I have some thoughts about Monkey Mind’s issues, which boil down to:

  1. 3 minute episodes definitely work for me as a viewer (and writer), and I’ve read several studies that show that today’s web video audience (think “millennials”) is happiest with videos that are shorter than 5 minutes. That being the case, it’s the longer episodes of ARK that I’ve had problems focusing on. (Oh, and I think it’s a real sign of the future that a real production company – marginal as it may be – has put up the money to hire a real writer and real actors as well. Really.)
  2. I don’t know if the way to achieve clarity when discussing web series’ writing is to change the term from “TV writing” to something else (hey, “video writing” is fine with me) or if it’s to change our definition of TV/television. BigMedia and its flunky, Mainstream News, seems to be headed in that direction, redefining TV as any video content available anywhere that can also be shown on a television set. On one hand, that in itself is a good reason to go Bob’s route because who wants to agree with BigMedia? OTOH, the last time I used BigMedia’s commonly accepted term for a New Media development (“peer production” for “user-made content”) I found myself the only one. Yeah, I’m still using it here on TVWriter™ but that doesn’t keep me from feeling lonely.
  3. Speaking of “What is TV and where do we watch it?” we just happen to have a choice little article on said topic right here on TVWriter™. Posted today, in fact. HERE.

So, in the words of Bob Tinsley, “What do you guys think?”