Almost Ready…

It’s been somewhat quiet on the 4amcab website this year and that’s partly because of Rachel’s crazy plan.

Well, excuses aside, the gears have been turning and very soon you will start to see the fruit (mixed metaphors allowing).  I thought it might be interesting to share what has been going on and fill you in on the plan for the rest of the summer, with the forthcoming release of series 3.

This time around, I decided to try things a little bit differently.  With previous series we had found that the conveyor belt of writing, script editing, recording, editing and releasing (then starting all over again on the next episode) was a difficult one to maintain.  Something had to change to make the project more manageable.  I decided that for the third series I wanted everything to be written before I began the recording.  The good news is, that’s nearly done.

Right now, at time of writing this, there are just a handful of sketches to complete.  Next week I will be recording the first three episodes followed up with another recording session of the second half of the series.

So the big news is, I’ll release a short tease for the new series on 1st July and then two weeks later, on 15th July, the first episode will come out.  As all the writing and recording for the series will be in the bag, this means I’ll release the rest of the series weekly.  You’ll be able to hear all six episodes by the middle of August.  Phew!

CALENDARThe final bit of 4amcab news, for the moment, is that I’m hoping to have a few new voices on the show.  More on that shortly.

Set your podcatcher to stun* and get ready for the 1st July.  It’s going to be a bumpy ride**.



*automatic download
**no, it won’t

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Making 4am Cab – Part 3: Editing

We thought it would be interesting to give you an insight into how 4amcab gets made, so this is the final part of a three part blog post doing just that.  Lee shares his secrets for making the show sound as good as it does.

Part 3: Editing
For the writers and the actors, their job is done.  For me though, the hard work is just beginning.  Rachel has named the editing process TLWE, or The Lee Wilson Effect.  She’s very kind.  All I really do is trawl the internet for podsafe music (more on that later) and bung in a few sound effects and there you go.  Sounds simple but it’s actually painstaking.

The first task is really to get the best version of the actors performances into one final take.  Usually it’s the second run through and the odd retake of the punchline but ocassonally it’s a complete mix of the three.  In S2Ep1: Writers Room, one of the storyline characters takes Spood, our fictional drug with the opposite effects of speed.  For the recording of this scene I needed to keep the actors voices separate.  The scene relied upon a lot of post production to slow down and add reverb, so any overlap of the voices would make it impossible.  As anyone that’s worked in drama will tell you, you get the best performance when the actors react to each other.  However, that’s the last thing I technically needed for this to work.  So what we ended up doing was running the scene several times, then recording both parts separately with the same energy.  I think it worked.

Another device that I use to great effect in 4amcab is stereo.  I use this to add depth, movement and perspective to the show and it makes it sound slick too.  As our budget is zero, I record with just one microphone, so I have to create the stereo image in post production rather than during the recording.  To do this, I need clean takes (no overlapping of the actors) to be able to split up during the edit.  Simply put, I chop up the recording and then adjust how much of each actor comes out of each speaker.  When the music and sound effects are layered on top it makes the show sounds so much better than if it was a mono production.  Of course all this is irrellevant if you listen on your iPhone speaker, so I must also make sure that it works well as a mono listen too.

We think the overall sound of the show is very distinctive.  In fact, most people’s first comment is along the lines of, “It sounds fantastic.”  Although we don’t have a regular theme for the show, each episode does have it’s own identity which also conforms to our overall style.  This theme also forms a leitmotif to inform the listener when we’re returning to the storyline.  Finding the theme, and in fact all the music for the show, is a long process of auditioning and rejecting a variety of music until I find the one that works.  You probably wont recognise any of the music we use as it is created by talented people doing it for the love of it and then sharing it with a Creative Commons licence.  We do credit everyone that we use, so if you like the sounds please do check out the links and listen to other music that they have created.

The sound effects come last.  Once the bulk of the episode is edited, the final touch is to add in the noises to make the sketches, dare I say it, more believable.  This can be anything from a door opening to the beep of a ghost detector.  I take two paths to find the sound effects, firstly I try find them online and secondly if there’s nothing suitable I make them myself.  There are many websites that share sounds for free that other sound designers have created and this is the easiest method of adding them to the mix.  Sometimes, though, they just don’t sound right and I have to make them.  I have recorded car doors, engines, footsteps, paper rustling and oven doors, to name just a few.  Incidentally, footsteps are the hardest one to get right, to my ears, they always sound fake.

Once the first edit is done.  I try to leave it for a day or two and then come back and listen through to the whole thing with a pad and pen, writing down anything that doesn’t work as well as it should.  I then go in for a second edit before sending the finished mp3 off to Rachel for her to tell me what she likes/hates.  I then ignore Rachel and publish it online and on iTunes.

Then we get ready to do it all over again.

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Making 4am Cab – Part 2: Recording

We thought it would be interesting to give you an insight into how 4amcab gets made, so this is the second part of a three part blog post doing just that.  Lee shares his process for recording.

Part 2: Recording
Once the script is finished, usually a day before the recording, it’s emailed out to the actors.  The 4amcab Company will all have been roped into booked for the recording date and be chomping at the bit to get to the biscuits with the most amount of chocolate on them.  We’ve recorded the show in a plethora of locations, including my shed, my car, my garage and a few local venues that have been kind enough to lend their facilities.  We currently use a basement room in the Alban Arena, which sounds surprisingly acoustically good.

I arrive slightly early, something for which I’m not known and set up the mobile studio.  There’s a mixing desk, one microphone which has switchable polar patterns (that just means that it’s suitable for any number of actors recording at the same time – it has nothing to do with Derek!) and a small solid state recorder where all the voices of the actors are transfered into 1’s and 0’s.

Gradually the actors arrive ready for their moment to shine.  I’ve got an unusual directing style in that I don’t immediatley give any, or at least it’s minimal.  The thinking behind this is that the actors all give their time freely and I want them to give the best performance that they can and play to their own strengths.  Most of the time they are very good and just require only a little nudge or explanation of the sketch to find the humour.  In fact, I’m constantly impressed with how flippin’ brilliant they all are and we tend to only do two takes and the occassional pick up to give a variation on the punch line.

Due to the last minuteness of the script, the actors sometimes won’t have had the chance to read the whole thing through before we start.  With that in mind, and as the episode is broken up with other sketches along the way, we always start recording the story first.  This ensures continuity of the characters and for the flow of the story to make sense.  From here on in, it’s just ploughing through the episode’s other sketches and getting the best takes possible.  As we have our own company of actors and we write with them in mind, they are cast into their roles before they arrive.  It is very rare to have to make changes, however, it’s at this point that I know if a sketch doesn’t quite work and I can try a different actor or even a frantic last minute rewrite.  So far we’ve only ever cut two sketches and that is testament to the quality of the writing, awesome acting and flow of the episodes to date.

Once we’ve wrapped the recording, assuming I don’t drop the recorder on the floor without saving and have to record the whole thing again (this actually happed for Series 2 Episode 2!) we all toddle off in our various directions to relax and return to normal life.

If I’m lucky there’ll be a chocolate biscuit left!

Oh yeah, then there’s the small matter of the edit.

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Making 4am Cab – Part 1: Writing

We thought it would be interesting to give you an insight into how 4amcab gets made, so this is the first part of a three part blog post doing just that.  Rachel shares her writing process.

Part 1: Writing

I jot down ideas as they come to me, to be written up later. When I get stuck, I put it away for a bit, and come back to it. If that fails, the method described by John Cleese here is very useful for getting a creative solution to a seemingly impossible problem. When writing sketches for radio (or, podcast), this excellent blog post by Dan Tetsell is pretty much the definitive guide in terms of formatting etiquette.

This book by Sally Holloway can show you how to get comedy out of nothing by brute force, effectively.

So Lee and I write up as many sketches as we can think of, put them in a drawer for a week, go to work, put the kids to bed, look again at the drawer, wince, sleep, get up, look at th- you get the picture. Then, finally, we make a really strong cup of #tea, open the drawer, read everything we’ve written, and hone it down to make it ‘better.’

Lee is in charge of the final script. He decides on the final order, and might include sketches that have been submitted to the show by other writers. Then we read it half a dozen times, make tweaks and usually decide that everything needs completely re-writing.

Luckily, we have a solid deadline in the form of the recording date, so there is absolutely no choice but to get it finished by, in series 2 episode 2’s case, 7pm tonight.


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