Monday, August 20, 2007

Writing Old Time Radio - The Sounds And The Fury

When I was writing comic book scripts for Roland Mann under the Silverline banner, he had me work in what was then--and possibly still--called the Marvel Comics style.

DC, at least once upon a time, had writers do full scripts -- action, dialog, the whole megillah in one package. Marvel had writers provide a script with just the action first.

The artist would then take that and draw the panels. Once those were done the writer would come back and decide what people were saying, trying to match the facial expressions as much as possible.

It's kind of like lip synching with line art. You have to come up with words that describe action too like Thwapp! Remember Batman, the Adam West one? Google it, Junior. It was a big hit in its day.

The thinking behind the Marvel style is that it involves the artist in the storytelling a little more and keeps him/her from worrying about where the word balloons are going to go.

So, when I was shifting gears to write for audio--which was not that hard because as my resume notes I'm incredibly versatile and adaptable though also modest and self-effacing--I read some material on how to tell stories in sound and then I set to work.

Step one is adapting expository material to dialog. "Look there's a green streak in the sky. It's going down behind those hills."

To punctuate that you need an appropriate sound effect, not unlike those Thwapps I was talking about earlier.


I approached the adaptation of H.G. Wells War of the Worlds, now available at and on iTunes, the way I approached comics. Tell the story - don't worry where the word balloons go.

Or in audio terms, write the sound effects needed, let the sound artists worry about the rest.

WARNING: That can make the producer a little frustrated:

"You put this many sound effects in again I'm going to kill you."

Fortunately it's a long drive from Utah, where he resides.

A large number of sound effects can also lead to arguments with the sound engineer.

"That's not what a telegraph sounds like. That's what a morse code transmitter in World War II sounded like," sez I.

"How do you know?"

"I watched Hellcats of the Navy on cable."

"Well what does it sound like?"

"What am I? Michael Winslow? Go watch the Big Valley or Bonanza or something. Eventually they'll have to go into Stockton or wherever the Cartwrights lived and send or receive one."

Eventually, once the artistic differences are worked out, you wind up with a nifty audio program with sound effects helping to paint the picture in your mind's eye.

It really is theater of the imagination.

Now it's time for to save this.


And hit SEND.

SFX: Keyboard thwick.


Charles Gramlich said...

Putting in the sound effect details sounds tough. You really have work on almost two levels it seems to me.

Too bad you don't have that guy handy who used to do sound effects with just his mouth for the Police Academy movies.

Sidney said...

In real old time radio they did the effects live, so you almost had to have a Michael Winslow. They reportedly achived the sound of a crowd talking by having people in the background go "Walla Walla Walla Walla."

RK Sterling said...

Funny, Sidney.

I saw a tv program once about how they produce sound effects in movies. It was interesting. They used things I would never have guessed - like recording the sound of fresh celery being broken by a stick.

Can't remember why exactly - I think it was supposed to be gravel crunching or something? Apparently it was easier to record that in the studio than go outside and capture only that sound.

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