Interview: Bob Koester, Director of Companions

Interview took place on 01/04/2017. MB=Michael Bergonzi. BK: Bob Koester.

You can check out the review of his audio drama: Companions over at AudioDramaReviews.com shortly after the 200th review celebration on the 29th of January. Check back here to get the link. Also be sure to follow us one Twitter and Facebook. And don’t forget, we have a Patreon.

MB: So, what sparked this story?

BK: The story began with the ending, sort of. I imagined a specific post-apocalyptic scenario basically like the one that Companions ends with, and then decided I wanted to get there by starting from before the apocalyptic event happened.

MB: Interesting. What was the hardest thing about writing this story?

BK: Probably capturing what makes the leads, Harry and Cailyn, fall in love. That’s a pretty big mystery in general, and as I say the original idea was more of a Big Picture Science Fiction thing. I kind of borrowed a trick from Shakespeare by having them already kind of like each other before the story begins, so they just need some incidents to become mutually aware of it.

MB: Yeah, one thing I noticed while listening was that the virus affecting everyone back on Earth sort of took a backseat to the romance. Speaking of that, was the idea of the simulation from the story’s inception or did you think of that later?

BK: Yeah, the love story definitely took over during the course of writing it. As to the simulation, I knew there’d be some sort of long-distance communication from the beginning, with some people far off and isolated in a classic sci-fi way. The simulations came in about halfway through, when I was looking for something that would require the characters to really invest in each other if they wanted to relate.

MB: So you were pretty set on the isolation aspect of the characters and didn’t want Harry and Kay to meet each other in real life. Why make this an audio drama?

BK: Well, it started first as a movie idea (I have a hobby of making short films), then I decided the setting made that too difficult, so I thought of making it a short novel. That’s when I came up with the character of CO, to be the narrator of the novel. But then I decided that the simulation sessions made it all very theatrical. They’re putting on a show for each other, and kind of living their relationship in scenes. It was actually put on as a one-day minimalist stage show. But then I decided as an audio drama I’d have great ability to use background noises and the like to indicate places and events to the audience.

MB: Interesting. I never would’ve pictured a simulation as theatrical. Were the actors in the same room when they recorded or was this all done remotely?

BK: All in one room. For a while it seemed like that wouldn’t be possible, but I’m glad it worked out that way.

MB: Cool. The structure of the narrative is less than traditional. What made you want to tell a story in such a non-linear and unconventional way when so many of the ideas in the story are difficult to grasp? The simulated Harry and Kay vs their real life counterparts and the technical jargon being the two main examples.

BK: Well let’s see. Telling it all as a story from a future point was a way of making that post-apocalyptic future kind of permeate it. It quickly became clear that I wasn’t going to spend a lot of time there, narratively, because the romance became so central, so I wanted a kind of developing sense that the events we were seeing had let to something else later. Even though the audience spends a lot of time not knowing exactly what that future was or exactly what the significance of these future characters could be.

As far as the audience picking up on the simulations vs. real-life people, that is a lot to ask and it was kind of a leap of faith in the audience. I think in a stage play there’d be ways to telegraph some of it, or I could have done the same by having the simulations have some sort of voice effect to differentiate them from the real people, but I decided the potential sense of accomplishment the audience would get from figuring it out themselves could be worth the risk.

In the YouTube version of the story, which has accompanying abstract computer graphics, I put in a hint about who is real and who’s a simulation in each scene, but less than half of people I ask pick up on it, and even they all had figured it out before they noticed the clue.

MB: Well, let me just get on record as being one of those confused listeners. You said this was originally a movie idea. Did you have trouble adapting for a medium without visuals?

BK: Um, I didn’t THINK I had trouble, I guess you’d be a better judge of the result. I did definitely have to make some changes. I drastically altered a scene because the early version had relied on visual cues and just using the way a play stage works. But in my head at least it seemed pretty natural once it changed. If challenging.

I’m sure I lean on a bunch of science fiction stuff that makes sense to me and doesn’t occur to me to explain. And pretty much every version had more and more explanation cut out because it can be kind of dead air if it’s not necessary.

Also some more basic stuff, like Harry telling Cailyn that she “sounds worried” rather than “looks worried”. Which is almost counter-intuitive but I liked the idea that the audience could judge for itself whether he was reading her rightly, rather than having to imagine what expression she had that was worrying him.

MB: I get that. I’m the same way with my own writing, never sure of how little information I’m actually giving the reader until someone actually experiences it. Anyway, thanks for taking the time to chat with me. Are there any social media channels readers/listeners can find you at?

BK: You’re very welcome! I’m @hamletseries on twitter. Companions is on Facebook at facebook.com/playcompanions, and I have a blog at hamletseries.wordpress.com that is currently dominated by Companions-related stuff, including ways to listen to or download it.

Caalo Xan Season One

Caalo Xan is as science fiction as one can get, having a hound as the leading character, a team of swashbucklers travelling through the Galaxy, and meeting a weird and alien cast of friends and foes along the way.

Multiple things about the audio drama can hook the audience. It has an excellent original song playing at the beginning and end of every episode, which can draw anyone into the atmosphere and tone, very much like how an audio drama should. Another excellent thing are the sound designs. Actions scenes are given a boost on life due to the laser sound effects, the soft, creeping footsteps of enemies, and the speed of the spaceships. The characterization is extremely well done, as the dialogue flows naturally and their topics of discussion really humanize them into something more than a ragteam of misfits.

However, there are some technical problems with the audio drama that might make it hard for people to listen to. First, some of the voice acting could’ve been better, as they are often monotone or just feel like an actor reading off a script. There is little believability when it happens.  Another problem I noticed was the inconsistent volume levels, ranging from extremely low to intolerably high. As such, immersion is almost immediately broken when this occurs.

It’s shocking to learn that over forty people have given their voices for this project, so it’s obviously a collaborated effort to mimic the 1940’s radio drama style, which succeeds splendidly. While science fiction isn’t my favorite genre, the compelling stories and memorable cast of characters overshadows the technical problems the show has.

3.5/5 Stars

Ray Gunn and Starburst: Series One

This superhero origin story achieves the same effect as the Deadpool film, while at the same time fulfilling the promises inherent in the genre of space opera comedies. Ray Gunn and Starburst starts off a little lackluster. There’s nothing new here, aside from the fourth wall breaking, and even then that feels like a gimmick. It’s not until episode three when we learn of the larger world and thus the stakes of the galaxy.

That being said, the evil overlord is not all that threatening and his terror comes from characters reacting to him rather than him doing anything all that evil. If you’re the kind of person who enjoys a good villain, you may be disappointed. They do rectify this in the last episode, but by that point it’s too little too late.

The cast of characters are a delight and the ending surprisingly works, despite it essentially being deus ex machina. I won’t spoil the end other than to say the fourth wall break keeps it from being a poor story choice.

Ray Gunn and Starburst is a breath of fresh air for the audio drama medium, because it adds something new to the overpopulated space opera comedy genre. Also, if you’re a fan of fourth wall breaking, you’ll certainly get a kick out of this. It’s not quite the same as Deadpool, because it’s not the character who breaks it, but it’s still very much the same in theory. The foreshadowing commercials are a nice twist on the typical fake advertisements found in shows such as Hadron Gospel Hour as they serve more than one function.

4.5/5 Stars