Episodes

Episode 12: Live Table Reads

This is a RadioPublic embed for Scoring Magic, “Live Table Reads“.

Date Published: 12/07/2019
Written By: Katie Youmans, Anne Baird, and Wil Williams
Produced By: Wil Williams

We’re RECORDING, folks! In this episode, we talk about the ups and downs of having you cast record together versus just asynchronously. Buckle up for talk about scheduling nightmares, Anne’s Hell Sheet (TM), and welcome babies / byebye babies.

TRANSCRIPT

KATIE

Chemistry. We named our show after a word related to it. High schoolers are forced to take it. Anakin and Padme didn’t have it. (#TeamYoungObiWan, #TeamSand)

In all seriousness, though, chemistry is important to us here at the House of Hugs. When it comes time to let VALENCE out into the world for all of you to hear, we want every word of dialogue to feel natural. We want every character interaction to make sense, to give you a feeling that the character relationships are what we say they are. We want the friendly teasing to feel like . . . well . . . the way friends would tease each other. And we want the more fraught, passionate, tense moments to feel real, like there are really people feeling strongly and having an emotional conversation together, rather than by themselves, in their closets, two hand-lengths from their mic, in different parts of the world.

This week, on Scoring Magic, we’re talking about live table reads. We told you we’d get here eventually!

[intro music]

KATIE

First up, some housekeeping. We’ve started sending out certain IndieGoGo rewards – the custom magic sounds created by our absolutely incredible sound designer, Julia. If you were one of the people with a custom magic sound, please go on Twitter and let us know what you think, using #VALENCEsound. We’re nosy! And we love hearing from you! And Julia worked hard on those and deserves validation.

And speaking of sounds that are magic, we have also gotten to hear the music that will be the VALENCE theme! Raul Vega is brilliant and so, so good, and we can’t say enough nice things about him. We pretty damn excited to share this with you in January.

KATIE

But back to table reads. Now, the only acting experience I have, outside of a handful of small appearances in podcasts, is in live musical theatre. Because of this, I’m used to having someone right there to play off of. However, I realize many podcasts don’t do this, because we’re all on the internet and in different states and countries. 

I was once involved in a project where I got my lines, but no direction, and was asked to send back my audio before a certain date. That was all the info I was given. I recorded and sent it back with plenty of time to spare, and a note saying I was happy to redo anything that wasn’t what they were looking for, or didn’t have the right energy level. I was told that it was great, and I was thanked for my time. When I heard the project with all the actors and sound design put together . . . it was bewildering. The person playing the character my character interacted with most had given a performance that made no sense with mine. They were wildly different energy levels, emotional states, everything.

I don’t say this to drag the people running that project. I’m just illustrating the kinds of things that can happen when actors who don’t know each other, and aren’t getting to play off of each other. And while that approach can work, it wasn’t the approach that we, personally, wanted.

[Recording]

WIL

So, I, ugh . . . I wanna talk–I–uuugh.  I wanna talk about . . . a thing that’s been making me anxious — not about auditions, but about stuff. I–uh–so, in a perfect world, we would record . . . by doing table reads with everybody, and everybody recording remotely during those table reads. So, like, literally, we’re having actors play off of each other and react to each other, and have some room for some light improvisation and really get, like, an organic feel to the conversation. Um, that’s always how I’ve written this story in the past. I–I really like a natural, conversational feel to it, with a lot of imperfections. I don’t like it sounding super scripted, um, but I am- [sigh] -worried that scheduling is . . . not going to allow us. 

KATIE

Mhmm.

WIL

And I guess–I mean, I guess we should just talk about that being a possibility. I feel like I’m probably the most tied to this out of all three of us, but I don’t know, I still feel like we should discuss, just in case.

KATIE

Yeah, I mean, to be fair, most of my experience with acting is . . . like, live, uh, just because of having done theater in school, and so, the idea of not having a person there to play off of–I don’t–ok, real talk? I don’t see it being feasible for every scene ever; I do think we want  to make sure that . . . we try and get them to have at least one or two scenes at some point–early days–starting out, where they read with someone, just so they can get an idea of . . . of what the people they’re gonna be working with sound like?

WIL

Mhmm.

KATIE

Because the idea of not knowing what any of your co-stars sound like until the finished product is released is wild to me, and I don’t care for that idea. I don’t–I don’t want that to be what happens.  

WIL

Yeah, big agree. Anne, what do you feel on it?

ANNE

Um . . . I got distracted–I was playing in Excel with charts and-

KATIE

[wheezing laughter]

ANNE

[unintelligible] . . . auditions . . . 

WIL

Iconic Anne.

KATIE

Aaaaaanne

ANNE

. . . in Excel making charts . . .

[laughter]

KATIE

Aaagh!

[Narration]

KATIE

In the early days of our VALENCE scheming, we agreed we wanted all of the dialogue to sound as natural as possible. And we had a couple of tactics we wanted to use to make this happen. First, we were not going to be insisting that people stick to the exact letter of what we wrote in the scripts. If a different phrasing sounded better to an actor, we would encourage them to say it that way instead. So long as the original meaning of the line was preserved and no crucial plot info was lost, they could improv . . . pretty much however felt right to them. 

And second, we wanted to have as many scenes recorded live, in group calls with everyone in the scene present, as we could manage. We included this in our casting call, because we wanted to give everyone auditioning as much relevant information as possible. It’s obnoxious when you apply for a job and get through the interviews and get the job offer, only to realize that nope, there’s a key detail they left out that makes it so you can’t take the position, and everyone’s time got wasted. We didn’t want to do that to anyone willing to spend the time to audition (or to ourselves, and wind up having to listen through a bunch of auditions from people we couldn’t cast anyway.)

KATIE

This came with potential issues of its own. We’re asking our cast to act out panic attacks, grief, and other emotionally raw moments. And we were asking them to do so with their fellow actors and us on the call. We needed to, from day one, make sure we were taking care of our actors, meeting their needs, and letting them know that they could come to us if they had concerns. We tried our best to prep for this with one-on-one actor meetings.

KATIE

At Podcast Movement 2019, there was a panel on “Bringing Life to Your Story: Directing Audio Fiction”. In that panel, James Oliva (hi James!) mentioned how he set aside time to meet with every one of his actors on What’s The Frequency to get to know them, to discuss their character, what they would be bringing to that character, and so on. On that same panel at Podcast Movement, Faith McQuinn of Boom mentioned how one of her actors, after an especially traumatic scene, needed a break to hug his wife and to have some cotton candy and a soda to get out of that headspace. 

KATIE

We loved that, and we borrowed some of these ideas, having one-on-one calls with our actors before we started up our recording schedule, talking about their characters, and asking how we could best take care of them during and after scenes where we were asking a lot of them, emotionally. And sometimes, it meant that certain parts don’t get included in those table reads. One of our characters has some intensely negative and destructive self-talk, and we agreed from the beginning that we would not be asking that actor to read those lines on our time, with us sitting on the call as silent witnesses. We wanted those to be recorded asynchronously, giving that actor time to choose when they’d be in the best headspace to manage them, and the freedom to take whatever breaks they needed, however they needed.

KATIE

So, everything I’ve talked about so far has been what we did to prepare for live table reads and the recording sessions. But now, I’d like to talk about the sessions themselves.

KATIE

In case you were unsure, scheduling is a goddamn nightmare. An absolute trashfire. We have eleven major characters, only three of whom were able to record all of their lines asynchronously. The other eight had to be involved in the live table reads, and they all live in different places, in different time zones, on wildly different schedules, and sometimes they have to sleep. 

(Sometimes we have to sleep too. I’m told. Nobody’s proven it to me yet.)

Now, I look at a spreadsheet and my brain says no. I find a well-organized one very satisfying to see, but when it comes to using one to make plans, I . . . don’t wanna. I don’t. But Anne. Sweet, wonderful, very powerful Anne is an absolute champion who saved me from having to try.

ANNE

Listen, Katie, yes. I am powerful. But I sometimes need sleep. Actually, I need sleep a lot. And, probably more than I’m getting. But let’s–let’s talk about spreadsheets. I love spreadsheets. 

ANNE

Our major organizational document for VALENCE lives in Google Sheets, and the tab that was originally created had a breakdown of each episode in the season, then with each scene, and listed every character that appears in each scene. And one night I found myself being haunted by thoughts of having to figure out how to record everything in the easiest manner. And that’s when Anne’s Hellsheet was born.

[dun dun DUNNNNNN!]

ANNE

You heard me right, I did say “Anne’s Hellsheet”. Because that’s what it is, and even I hate to look at it. It’s bad to behold. What it is, in essence, is a sheet with check boxes for each of our 11 main characters for every scene in season 1 of VALENCE, and the boxes are checked off if a character appears in that scene. Once I had that breakdown complete, I found the scenes that had characters in common, and grouped them together. And those groups ended up being our recording blocks.

ANNE

The goal was to have the least number of recording sessions needed, and to make it so actors that didn’t appear in any of a block’s scenes didn’t have to be scheduled at that time. Sounds like a good idea in theory, right? Wrong! It actually didn’t work out too well in practice!

ANNE

After all was said and done, we ended up with seven good recording blocks, and one 8th “nightmare block” which was just all the scenes we wanted to do live but didn’t fit anywhere else. What ACTUALLY happened was that Block 8 got split into the other recording blocks and we just made a lot of the lines in it asynchronous, and then a few one-off recording groups were created to accommodate funky scenes that just didn’t work out as being part of a larger recording session. Go figure, right? All that work, still nothing.

ANNE

I was on a panel at PodTales this past October, in 2019, before we started recording but after I had created this hellscape. I don’t remember who said it, or how exactly it was worded, but… I think the verdict was that what we did probably wasn’t the best idea. I mean, it was too late! I’d already done it and we were committed to doing it! So . . . we figured we would just roll with it and see what happened.

ANNE

I mean, I guess it did kinda work, since we did it! But for next season… we’re not doing that and are planning on doing more asynchronous recording between the actors. Everyone’s schedules are just… too damn full, and we’re tired. 

ANNE

For the scheduling of the recording groups, we used our old friend, Doodle, which has saved our asses more times than I can count when trying to schedule things. 10/10, would recommend to anyone trying to schedule anything ever. I’ve used it in my day job to schedule meetings, I love it that much. But, okay, now shoo! Go back to Katie!

KATIE

Once you’ve got everything blocked out and everyone’s schedules wrangled and time slots figured out, you get to do the most exciting bit! You get to actually record! Working with people who have become your friends does mean you can get a little goofy on the call. Personally, I love that. I think it helps foster an environment in which the actors feel more comfortable letting you know what they really need. When creating the scripts for our recording sessions, Wil added several details to the start and finish that I love.

WIL

Meowmeowmeow it’s my turn!

I knew that we were gonna have scenes that were emotionally difficult, as well as scenes in which characters had to seem like they’d known each other for forever, even if the actors just met. Throwing them in cold just didn’t seem right or feel right. So at the beginning of each block’s script, I added a little welcome prompt for everyone–questions like, “What color would your magic be?” or “What is the best breakfast cereal?” (It’s Cinnamon Toast Crunch. Almost, like, everybody got that wrong but it’s Cinnamon Toast Crunch.) This have the actors a moment to just be kind of goofy, to talk to each other, and to relax. So, it created a really chill environment where, I think, people trusted each other a lot more.

WIL

And all of that is fine and cool or whatever but what REALLY matters here is the welcome baby and byebye baby. So, the welcome baby and byebye baby are pictures of baby animals put at the beginning and end of each script. The babies are never repeated. The babies are never human babies–duh. Often, the babies will be very special, like a porcupine baby or an ocelot baby. But also sometimes they are a baby puppy, because puppies are always good and also always special too.

I wanted something cute and sweet and nice and I wanted our actors to be able to easily access them if shit got too real and they wanted something to cheer them up. I also liked the idea of just having something sweet to thank them for their work. I think it’s super dope to just, like, thank your actors up front in all of the ways that you can, and sometimes–sometimes receiving thanks in the form of just a little bébé is more comfortable for some people than, y’know, being very over-the-top about thanking people, but sometimes that’s good too, so we just try to do it in all of the ways and hope everyone feels really loved, and also I like to look at them too. It’s a baby!

KATIE

Our actors seemed to like the welcome and byebye babies, to the point that some of them snuck a peek ahead of time at their byebye baby during one recording session–yes, this is a callout— and Anne had to find a backup baby. Ok, as I say it, I’m realizing that “had to find a backup baby” is a wild thing to say, but here we are.

KATIE

During our table reads, we try to have the first pass-through be a fairly close reading of the script. Personally, I know that I like to have the first read’s direction limited to “go with whatever feels natural and we can play around with approaches on the next take.” I do this to try and get rid of any pressure hanging over that first time. After that first pass, I ask the actors how they’re doing, if they need a break for water or to do a quick lap before going through again, and then I give notes and suggest different ways to try for the next pass. 

KATIE

In that same panel, Dania Ramos of Timestorm mentioned that the actress who plays the mother, in high-emotion moments, will sometimes improv her lines in Spanish. Now, I mentioned improvisation earlier in this episode. Sometimes that meant changing the phrasing, and, in the case of Ely’s character, Sol, there is one scene where it did mean changing the language for a few of the lines, much like with Timestorm. I can’t wait for you all to hear that performance. Ely absolutely killed it. And us. We’re all ghosts now.

[maybe you could take some audio from Anne and Ely’s read of this scene from trycast? We recorded changing up those lines for Sol’s speech!]

[Recording]

[laughter]

ANNE

Ely, that was beautiful

ELY

Oh man!

ANNE

Oh no! Oh, that’s gonna hurt so many people!

ELY

[devious giggle]

ANNE

How are you feeling?

ELY

I’m feeling good. There are a couple of, like, places where I stumbled because it doesn’t, like, fit my grammar, but I don’t think that matters.

ANNE

You can change it to fit your grammar if you need to. 

ELY

Yeah.

[Narration]

KATIE

Doing these live table reads has been an amazing way to get to know our actors even better, and to get some remarkable performances from them all. Every cast and every show are going to be different, and their needs are going to be different, but I’m so, so glad we were able to go this route for season one. We have a lot of ideas for how to tweak the process for even better results (and a little bit less of that scheduling hell we talked about) in season two, but if you threw me back a few months and had us plan out all of our recording system again, I don’t think I’d change a thing.

Episode 11: Social Media is Scary! (But Necessary!)

This is a RadioPublic embed for Scoring Magic, “Social Media is Scary! (But Necessary!)“.

Date published: 11/23/2019
Written by: Anne Baird, Katie Youmans
Produced by: Wil Williams

Sometimes you’re a social media grandma. And that’s okay. Like everything with Hug House, our first step in finalizing our social media strategy was to identify our shortcomings and reach out for help–and then the second was all organization. We promise, running your socials doesn’t have to be as scary as it seems.

  • Read the Edison Research’s 2019 “The Podcast Consumer” report here
Continue reading “Episode 11: Social Media is Scary! (But Necessary!)”

Episode 10: We Wrote the Finale

This is a RadioPublic embed for Scoring Magic, “1.10: We Wrote the Finale“.

Date Published: 11/09/2019
Written By: Katie Youmans
Produced By: Wil Williams

We did it. We wrote the finale. The finale is written for season 1, and we did that, and we’re the ones who wrote it, and we did it. But like . . . not without panicking a little. A lot. Join sweet Katie as she breaks down what the process was like.

Continue reading “Episode 10: We Wrote the Finale”

Episode 9: Check-In 1

This is a RadioPublic embed of the Scoring Magic episode “Balancing Responsibilities”, which can be found here.

Date published: 10/26/2019
Written by: Anne Baird, Katie Youmans, Wil Williams
Produced by: Wil Williams

It’s high time we checked in with our progress, but also ourselves. How are we feeling? Well, um . . . FUGUE STATE! FUGUE STATE! FUGUE STATE!

  • Find out what your magic sounds like with our quiz!
  • Find the episode of Start with This about writing quickly here
Continue reading “Episode 9: Check-In 1”

Episode 8: Balancing Responsibilities

This is a RadioPublic embed of the Scoring Magic episode “Balancing Responsibilities”, which can be found here.

Date published: 10/12/2019
Written by: Wil Williams
Produced by: Wil Williams

It’s time for Wil to explain some of her overworking crimes. This week, take a dive into what Wil’s daily workload looks like, how she’s learned to manage it, and the BIG life change that’s hopefully going to make things a lot easier for her.

Scoring Magic is presented by Hug House Productions. You can support us for behind-the-scenes details and early previews of upcoming projects on Patreon.

Continue reading “Episode 8: Balancing Responsibilities”

Episode 7: Money, Please!

This is a RadioPublic embed of the Scoring Magic episode “Money, Please!”, which can be found here.

Date published: 9/28/2019
Written by: Anne Baird
Produced by: Wil Williams

As the Hug House team’s Indiegogo for season 1 of VALENCE winds down, Anne brings you sage knowledge about how money works. No, don’t run away! We know–money is super scary. But it’s also important, and you gotta know about it. Besides, don’t you want to hear about the time Anne, Josh, and Alex went to Medieval Times?

Scoring Magic is presented by Hug House Productions. You can support us for behind-the-scenes details and early previews of upcoming projects on Patreon.

VALENCE IndieGogo Campaign

We’re crowdfunding our first season of VALENCE! You can find our campaign–which includes rewards like your own bespoke sound of magic–over on IndieGogo.

Continue reading “Episode 7: Money, Please!”

Episode 6: The Casting Process

A RadioPublic embed of the episode, which can also be found here

Date published: 9/14/2019
Written by: Wil Williams
Produced by: Wil Williams

Last episode, we told you about our casting call. This episode, we’re going to talk about what happened when we started listening to auditions. Learn from our mistakes! Trust your gut! And hear some of our initial reactions to auditions along the way.

Scoring Magic is presented by Hug House Productions. You can support us for behind-the-scenes details and early previews of upcoming projects on Patreon.

VALENCE IndieGogo Campaign

We’re crowdfunding our first season of VALENCE! You can find our campaign–which includes rewards like your own bespoke sound of magic–over on IndieGogo. For every 10% raised, we’ll announce a new cast member!

Continue reading “Episode 6: The Casting Process”