Sarina Rowell, On why Scriptwriters should consider Podcasting.

MORE THAN JUST YOUR AVERAGE RECORDING SITUATION - THE SITCOM PODCAST SETUP

2018 Best Comedy Podcast Childproof was the result of extensive pre-production, post production, and capturing a live recording at an iconic Melbourne venue. The result is immersive comedy storytelling and triumph of audio production.

Creator Sarina Rowell gives a detailed run down of how her, Tony Martin, Matt Dower, the venue and cast of actors brought a story - originally intended for TV - to life as a podcast.

 Childproof's Tony Martin and Sarina Rowell accept their award for 2018's Best Comedy Podcast.

Childproof's Tony Martin and Sarina Rowell accept their award for 2018's Best Comedy Podcast.

How did Childproof Podcast come to be?

SARINA ROWELL:  I wanted to write a sitcom about being childfree, and, luckily for me, Tony Martin agreed this was a rich, untapped area. No TV stations concurred, but, fortunately, Tony had already thought of doing Childproof as a live sitcom podcast – out of all the excellent podcasts we’d heard, none of them combined having a narrative with having an audience.

So, with Tony as director, we did a live read of Childproof over three nights for the Melbourne Fringe (at the much-missed Bella Union at Trades Hall), and were beyond lucky in having a great cast and great audiences, and in having audio genius Matt Dower recording it (all technical info below comes from him).

Then he and Tony did an incredible job of post-production, including adding music and sound effects, so the audience could feel they were hearing what the TV show would have been like.

What preparation went into recording?

There was very little rehearsal but the cast were such pros that they got it right their first – and only – go at being recorded, having also done a lot of work to familiarise themselves with the scripts in advance. 

A week out from the show, Matt had a site check at Trades Hall to assess room dimensions and the technical specs for recording the performance; the day before the first night, there was a rehearsal there with the cast.

The front of house engineer for each show, Julz Hay, was on hand to discuss specs with Matt, and help get the right balance between the PA sound for the audience on the night and ensuring the best results would be on tape, minimising unwanted room sounds and PA bleed.

Access to the venue was limited to two hours before each performance, so time was at a premium to configure and test all mics and the recording set-up, do the soundcheck and have a final cast rehearsal. As Trades Hall was being used for other functions during the day, there was a pack-down after each performance.

What mics, editing software, studio gear and facilities were used to produce Childproof?

Childproof had a number of recording challenges, particularly with the bouncy acoustics of Trades Hall’s high ceilings and wooden floors. With the cast numbering up to eight on stage at any one time, coupled with the need to capture audience reactions throughout, it was decided early on to add all sound design and music in post-production.

Given the unpredictability of live recording, it was clear a multitrack record would be needed for clean edit options. Matt’s recording rig for this project was:

  • MacBook Pro with an external solid-state drive running Pro Tools software
  • Focusrite Clarett 2Pre interface and Clarett OctoPre for added mic inputs.

Capturing the best possible audience-reaction sound was key, and achieved using:

  • A pair of Sennheiser MKH416 shotgun mics mounted behind PA speakers facing the audience on both sides of the stage, with
  • A large diaphragm AKG C414 mic centre stage.

All audience mics ran direct to the Focusrite Clarett OctoPre (bypassing the front-of-house desk), with performance mics feeding directly from the front of house desk.

For performance mics, a Neumann KMS 105 was used on narrator Jay Mueller’s voice, for a sound well apart from everything else, and all other cast were miked with six Shure Beta SM58As (a slight compromise, the preference being for condenser mics all round). This was mainly to prevent feedback but also to ensure we had enough readily accessible mics for busier scenes.

Following the live records, post-production was done with the same hardware and software, in a four-stage process.

  1. Preparation edit, isolation and normalisation of performance channels/files
  2. Editing and arranging of each episode’s performance and pick-ups
  3. Sound design and music soundtrack overlay, and
  4. Numerous drafts and refinements to final mix for upload.

What aspect of podcasting took up the most time?

Because this was a sitcom podcast, writing the scripts took the most time. Tony and I tossed around ideas for a couple of years while he was flat-chat on other projects; then the actual writing took several months. However, it’s clear from the above that easily the second most time-consuming aspect was the production, with each episode’s post-production taking a minimum of 20 hours.

What advice would you give to a podcaster who's just starting out?

As a novice myself, I don’t feel qualified to advise podcasters but would strongly advise scriptwriters to consider the podcasting route. I found it a total joy, and those TV-station rejections turned out to be a blessing; you can get your work out there relatively quickly and do it exactly how you want, without the headache of visual logistics or having to deal with a lot of script notes.

Please complete this sentence: "I feel most connected with my audience when..." When reading a nice comment someone has taken the trouble to write. It reminds me I should always rate and review. 

Where should listeners start? And any other plugs?

Given it’s a sitcom, I’d have to nominate episode 1, but will say that episodes 3 and 4 are personal faves. So, essentially, even if you hate episode 1, we’d so appreciate it if you kept listening anyway.

We’d love to do more Childproof, depending on the availability of a lot of busy people, and Tony and Matt are, of course, currently super busy with the brilliant Sizzletown.

Finally, though, I’d like to say Bad Producer are the best, their creativity and expertise having been integral to Childproof succeeding as a podcast; and also to express our great appreciation of the Australian Podcast Awards!