This little history of HOPSCOTCH CHAMPIONS is provided so others with no experience who are contemplating their own production of whatever sort might get an idea of what happens in the real world. Other producers might make their production faster or slower, with a bigger or smaller budget, and using more or less experience. The time extended out on this production due to expected and unusual family commitments that completely ruined the time frame we were working to. So I’m just giving you a brief look at what happened with our production.
HISTORY OF HOPSCOTCH CHAMPIONS
HOPSCOTCH CHAMPIONS was originally conceived and written by me, Ron Steele, in 2009. The idea was triggered by the comical voice of an American friend who was and is good at impersonations. The purpose behind the play was to provide a recording people could simply listen to on a CD or Mp3 player. And, importantly, to give them something which would bring a smile to their faces.
Furthermore, I realized more and more people are listening to audio books and downloaded music so there is a ready market there, however small or large it might be. People find it convenient to listen to something at those times when they can’t read printed material or watch a screen, like when driving, walking or on public transport. They not only use listening for entertainment reasons but as a way to catch up on those books they have been meaning to read. There’s also something about the act of listening without pictures like in the old days before TV when people would gather around the radio and use their imagination to get carried into a whole different world.
So with all that in mind I considered something along the lines of an audio play with no visual content might be a good idea.
The original script sat for a while doing nothing. In 2010 I happened to meet someone who worked at a community radio station and for some reason mentioned I had an audio play sitting in the drawer and described it a bit. She said she would play it to her audience. I was a little taken back by this unexpected announcement. I never thought I’d hear my production freely played on the radio.
Around this time I realized that no one was going to do anything with it even if they read it and loved it. It was up to me to get it turned into something and take it to the market somehow or another. So I decided to get to work and somehow make it myself.
I started researching the process and learned that there are three divisions to any art work and they each require a fairly equal portion of time and money. They are One, office/administration/organizing/pre-production sales. Two, the actual production. And, Three, distribution/marketing/post production sales. While each of these have many functions within them, these three divisions are good enough for a basic understanding. Numerous artists think it’s all about the actual production and would like to work solely on producing their art or playing their instrument and forget the rest but what’s the good of a painting if it’s not displayed in an art show of some sort? How can you play in band if you don’t make a few contacts and join one? Of course, these three areas tend to get mixed up and overlapped by people and this is not the time for a study of business techniques—which is vital for art in our world at this time but there you have it, three divisions. Have a look for yourself if you’re an artist.
After discussing HOPSCOTCH CHAMPIONS with my wife she decided to come on board as the Executive Producer. She put her faith in the project and put aside a number of other financial needs and plans we had in favor of this one.
The first audition call for HOPSCOTCH CHAMPIONS went out on 12 December 2010. And were held in an upstairs office where voices were recorded on semi-pro equipment so they could be reviewed and judged later. We did this on a weekend when there was no one around and things were pretty quiet. We also got to use the office for free so that saved us paying a sound studio or other location.
Christmas and the summer holidays hit straight after this so there weren’t many actors available for auditions and the second run of auditions didn’t take place until February 2011.
It was promoted as a non-paying gig, although when we got to the actual recording we did manage to scrape up some money to give payments for fuel and, as is courteous for any acting arrangement, we provided plenty of food and drink.
As it was non-paying the “professionals” weren’t interested in auditioning for me but by promoting through internet sites and word of mouth around town we had enough really good talent come forward. After all it was the talent of the actor we were after not their reputation. This was also a chance for us to help up and coming actors by giving them an experience and, hopefully, in the end, something they could proudly put on their resumes. I even decided to write one particular commercial specifically for the voice of one actor, Lucy Baxter, in order to help increase her confidence in acting and make use of her unique vocals. So I tried to make all of it a win-win situation.
The voice of Mister Rhee Voice was the most difficult to find. But persistence paid off and the perfect voice of Dave Wollesen came to us through a friend of a friend. And at the same time we were hunting for Rhee we found another voice for the methadone commercial in the form of Hayden James who’s voice was more suitable to the message and style of the commercial than using an altered voice of one of the actors we already had.
With everyone found and ready our first rehearsal was on 4th June 2011. This was more of a run through than real rehearsal. Some changes were made and suggestions taken on board. Me being Australian using American voices meant some of the nuances and words needed changing to become more like what an American might say. A number of spelling errors were found and some confusions were taken out plus a few good ideas were added in.
The tricky part was not so much the words but getting the actors to get the general “feel” of the play and getting them to co-ordinate at the same level. Some got it faster than others and some still missed the point right through to the day in the recording studio which meant we had to redo certain parts or somehow edit it later so it wasn’t out of place.
The first recording session occurred on Saturday 11th June 2011 at Flatspin recording studios. We recorded the whole play and all but the singing commercial in the one day. As noted elsewhere this might not have been the best idea as it added a lot of editing time but that’s what happens when you don’t know.
We wanted to record each act and commercial on separate tracks. It didn’t matter what order we recorded them as they could simply be rearranged at the end but in order to avoid people with small parts sitting around all day the tracks were arranged by which actor was in it. So as the main two actors were in all of the play plus a number of commercials they were there nearly all day. We recorded the acts which only featured them first. Then gradually brought in the other actors as we progressed into acts which required additional voices. We then did the commercials which required the main actors and others until the main actors had done all their parts and we only had parts for other actors to do on their own. This meant that no one was standing around waiting too long. It didn’t work out perfectly as sometimes the main actors needed a break so while they had those we slipped in the recording of something they weren’t required for. Mind you I don’t recommend this procedure as it was hard work for our recording technician who had to change microphones and adjust levels for each person. In addition a lot of our actors were working in a recording studio for the first time and did not have recording studio experience so it was a bit of a battle to get them to find their range and not peak out on the equipment. However the basic plan was still good and those who finished were able to leave although all were invited to dinner afterwards.
The enormity of the editing job wasn’t at first realized. I didn’t want to have to re-record things which could simply be fixed on computer in the sound studio however it was suggested that re-recording could have been faster and maybe it would have been. We’ll never know for sure
The editing process started by fixing the peaks and valleys (too loud, too quiet) by evening them out, then by using cut and paste small errors were removed or patched up and the delay between speakers was closed up or extended. After this we were able to start adding the sound effects and music.
We needed a second recording session which we did on 24th Sept. 2011. This session is where Shirley and Scott added a couple of missing voices and helped with a lot of sound effects and background voices.
We had nearly all the voice recordings now but there was still one commercial I wasn’t happy with, the Californian or Valley girl accent had to be better. Our Aussie girls tried real hard but couldn’t quite crack it. Using the internet I found an artist over in the USA with her own recording set up. I sent her the script, she recorded three different run throughs and by just mixing a couple of words from numbers 2 and 3 in our studio we got what was needed. Very professionally done, at a great price and fast. She didn’t want credits so that’s why you won’t see her name. Not my preference but hers. Thank you again mystery girl.
Getting the sound effects was a little tricky. I tried various sources over the internet. I managed to get some free stuff but ended up finding a professional sound effect site and paying for most of the sounds we needed. Of course, they needed to be royalty free otherwise the paying of royalties later was going to be nightmare to share over 100 different sound sources and if that was the case we would have done them ourselves. There were some sounds I couldn’t get from the main supplier and I found someone on the internet who would make or record sounds. I bought a couple that way and the rest we made in the studio.
Something else you might want to know if you decide to make your own production is that when I wrote the script I didn’t always put down the sounds that were needed so as we were editing the voices and listening to them on review I discovered more sounds were needed. Also I found some sounds I thought we should have were not needed as the rest of the voices, reactions and other sounds got the message across. I wasn’t trying for a silly comedy full of outrageous sound effects; the idea was to make a ridiculous situation into something realistic but always with a hint that it is comedy so you will still find a few silly effects and exaggerated ones.
I consider myself very lucky to know Peter Altmeier-Mort our musical director. Peter originally introduced me to Stuart, our sound master and studio owner, and had a working relationship with Stuart for years. Peter’s extensive music experience and superb talent were all we needed music wise. All I, as the producer/director, had to say to Peter is we need some action music or some elevator music or something that sort of goes with this or that sort of situation and he did all the creative work, writing and composing. At the sound studio Peter played the various instruments and added keyboard backing, drum beats, etc while Stuart recorded and help sculpt the final result. As the music is quite entertaining on its own we had the idea of making it available as a bonus feature or able to be listened to on the website.
At our second music recording session Zalia Joi added her singing talents and made a string of tap dancing sound effects for our Steps Stevenson character.
By putting all that together we had our first draft, test version A on the 7th March 2012. Maybe we could have made it better and better, both Ron and Stuart could find little bits that needed tweaking but the fine tuning could have gone on for another year. The important question though was not what we saw in it good or bad but what others were going to see.
Like any artistic piece, like just about everything in the world, there were going to be people who liked it and people who didn’t. Okay, so we weren’t creating the Mona Lisa or the Harry Potter series, both of which are also liked and disliked, but we wanted to find out if we would have some sort of fan base out there. Would other people like it, buy it, play it?
And due to the fact that people have different play back devices we had to find out if the sound levels were right. It’s okay to make something in a professional studio and play it back on equipment worth quite a lot of money and have it sound nice but the reality of it is people were going to be playing it in their cars, on their Mp3 players and all sorts of different equipment with varying levels of quality.
So with those unknown factors in mind we ran off twenty copies and distributed them, along with a survey of questions, to different people with the specific instruction of giving honest feedback. And we got it.
There were some who liked the whole thing and some who said it didn’t fit their tastes at all. Then there were some who liked some parts and not others. That’s right you can’t win ‘em all!
All the responses were tabulated and although we could never make everyone happy we still had to take negative comments into consideration and see if we could make small adjustments to make them happy without destroying what others liked. And keeping what is liked in an art work is always far more important than what isn’t liked. There wasn’t much we could do for people who really didn’t like it but the technical feedback was helpful.
If we had the time and resources we could have surveyed many more people and gotten a much wider viewpoint and more consistent feedback.
There was a big problem if we wanted to re-record anything in that at least two of our actors had left the country including one of the main actors. So that fact plus the added time and expense which we really weren’t willing to put in at this stage meant we could only make minor adjustments. The rest was going to have to stand as it was and the critics be damned.
So we went back to the studio made the adjustments to the overall sound levels and tweaked a few points to do with the sound effects. On 17th June 2012 we had the final version ready for release to the market.
While all this was happening the Website was being built. Thankfully we found a terrific person who took the many back and forths it took to get the website to its current state in her stride. My sincerest gratitude to Charissa from e-professional for all her hard work. But it wasn’t over for Charissa because we also needed a CD and CD cover design but as a lot of the design work from the website could be used on the CD cover it made things a lot easier.
At some stage earlier on I considered the need to have both a clean version and a regular version but the surveys showed no one was offended by only two swear words in the entire 78 minutes. However, we did cut a “clean” or “Radio Edit” version for the radio stations which is also available to the public.
In September 2012 HOPSCOTCH CHAMPIONS was finally released to the public on its own website: www.hopscotchchampions.com.