29th June 2019
The Saturday Interview: 'Magus Elgar' audio drama with Kennedy Phillips
Thanks very much for your time. Could you please introduce yourself and your audio drama?
Greetings! My name is Kennedy Phillips, I am a sentient bowl of pudding come to spread my cultish ways to the- I’m a Sound Designer by trade and creator of Magus Elgar: An 11 episode fantasy comedy inspired by the works of Terry Pratchett!
Has audio drama always been a favoured medium of yours?
It took me a while to get into audio dramas, but I had a few in the past I loved to listen to as a kid. It wasn’t a serious part of my entertainment diet until college.
What inspired you to write a fantasy comedy?
Fantasy has always been fun but so many fantasy shows falls down the ‘ye olde epic’ sort of style. But what really stood out for me from Terry Pratchett’s works was they were smart, but very silly. Comedy’s always come a bit easier for me than straight up drama, and I always wanted to work on something fantastical.
Are you not a fan then of more traditional fantasy like, say, the Lord of the Rings?
Far from it! I love that stuff; you certainly won’t see me turning up my nose to C.S. Lewis or J. R.R. Tolkien The problem is that newer fantasies take SO many pages from those books, it makes it difficult for me to differentiate from their roots. Traditional fantasy is great, but I will always gravitate towards a story that has a novel approach to spice up those standard fantasy tropes.
Considering that, what’s your opinion of A Song of Ice and Fire/Game of Thrones?
I’ve never been great at following political heavy stories. While the twists and turns are certainly exciting, the world is a tad lighter on the magical side. If you want a story that’s similar to Game of Thrones but makes the ‘white walker’ threat much more front and center, I recommend The Demon Cycle book series by Peter V. Brett. It’s an exciting series that focuses a lot more on the magical effects of the world while maintaining the drama and excitement between the two opposing cultures dealing with a demon uprising.
Would you describe ‘Magus Elgar’ as being different from a podcast, as it was all released in one go?
Yes. Most podcasts are a weekly (or monthly) venture of streaming storytelling. I’m not that great at that. I prefer to be prepared and have my story contained and focused so I don’t end up spewing nonsense…. Jury’s still out on that last part to be honest. But doing it this way allowed me to go all out in my sound design and production value. It’s like listening to a fully produced cartoon.
Can you see future projects of yours being developed in a similar manner?
I would. I am experimenting with a more ‘podcast-y’ format for a side series but boy, is that proving to be a challenge. I like the limited series. Having a handful of tightly produced epics is way more fun to me than hundreds of smaller looser scenes.
Your publication model is different to other audio creators I’ve interviewed: ‘Magus Elgar’ is available to listen to on YouTube and via paid download from maguselgar.com, but not through podcatchers. What made you decide on a different approach?
I wanted to make sure my production was the best it could be right out the gate. So I personally funded everything in season one. This did mean I needed to get some kind of return in order to keep myself afloat. But I knew that would be a hard sell. The entire season is about 8 dollars (a little over a dollar per 23-30 minute episode), And we have lots of other goodies if they get the Fancy Edition, like bloopers, the sound track, and some sound effects I designed you are free to use with a creative commons license. As far as podcatchers, all I knew was that paid podcatchers were not really much of a thing at the time, so I went through Bandcamp and others to get myself off the ground. Of course a paywall is always unappealing for a virtually unknown show, which is why the first three episodes are free on Youtube for everyone to enjoy. That’s about an hour of content to dip into with no real commitment. we’ve dipped into other areas to make the show more accessible to people who want to enjoy the show without feeling like they need to put money down on it. We’re broadcasting on a few stations and some streaming podcast channels like ANEW Podcast and other great platforms. At least until I figure out how to strangle an RSS feed into cooperating.
Do you think you’ll use that same funding model next time or do you’ll think you’ll move to the paid podcatcher/patreon/kickstarter route?
I’m going to seek some kind of investment opportunity for this so I can get the show to as many people as I can. I’m probably not going to do a patreon, if only because that will require a level of attentiveness I know I can’t provide when I’m making the series.
‘Magus Elgar’ was a finalist at the Audie Awards for Best Original Work this year and won a Telly award for ‘The Birth of Magic’. To what do you ascribe this success?
I think a lot of people find my particular voice of writing to be a peculiar one. The way I ramble incoherently and end with a groan-worthy pun is probably a reason. But what I really think it is falls back to the people that worked with me. When you work on something you know is garbage, it’s very hard to jump all in with genuine enthusiasm, even if it means more work down the line. But every actor, every sound engineer, every person who helped this project and took the time to listen to me ramble at 3 in the morning like a prophetic homeless man with a hot sauce packet addiction truly showed me a genuine passion that matched my own. They wanted to see Magus Elgar off the ground, and I could not have been luckier or more honored that they believed in it THIS much. Maybe it motivated me to work harder, maybe people missed Terry Pratchett’s style as much as I do. Who can say?
How did you go about assembling a team?
Chapman University gave me the opportunity to meet a lot of talented people. I had chosen a handful to be part of my team. From there, the team had their own recommendations for contacts of people who were eager to prove themselves. I had no real precedence about audio drama production, so I was willing to take risks. I can’t pretend we didn’t have some slip ups though!
What do you feel was the most important lesson you learned?
Everything starts as garbage. Me, you, even the best of the best. Nothing is brilliant the moment you put it to paper. But that’s why stuff like this is a collaborative experience. We polish, we improve, and we realize how stupid we were. So that once we’re ready to show it to the world, it’s hopefully a lot less trashy!
Do you think that comedy is a difficult genre to write?
It’s a fickle muse, I can tell you that much. I have days where I’m wincing in my writing chair till I’m a bundled knot that concerns those I live with and have nothing to show for it. Whereas other days I’m walking home from the store and start bursting out in laughter rather suddenly as if I was decked by a giggle bat (I have been stared at more times than I care to admit.) Comedy is, in a lot of ways, more challenging to write than drama. A bad drama can still fall back on the notion that there’s a message that comes from the heart, and even if that falls flat, the story might resonate with someone. A bad comedy is oftentimes more painful. Like an alien masquerading as a hyoomon trying to blend in by facilitating mouth seizures until they leak fluids. It’s an instinctual reaction to vilify bad comedy. I’ve had enough blunt objects thrown at me to know when it’s going south.
How long did it take you to write and hone an episode of Magus Elgar?
A first draft would normally take me a few days. Oftentimes because I would be pulled away with other jobs or get a writer’s block. Once I got my episode figured out, I’d toss it over to my valued colleague and proofreader, Tsumi Anne-Woodside. Who would proceed to break it (and my confidence) down to its base elements and help me rebuild it from the ground up. This would happen several times through several drafts until it was in a place I was proud of. It’d take me about 8 drafts and a month or two, give or take a few weeks if we’re in the groove. There was even a point where I got through the whole series and decided I needed to go back and start over.
What do you listen to when not creating your own work?
I often listen to something with high concepts behind it. Sci-fi, fantasy, Lovecraftian horror, I love something with a fun idea or a cool setting to sink into. A few books I’ve read are The Nightside Series by Simon R. Green. The Demon Cycle Series by Peter V. Brett. But I read a lot of Terry Pratchett, like The Color of Magic, Hogfather, Guards! Guards! I also will freely admit I not prudish enough to pretend I don’t read a lot of Dav Pilkey. Captain Underpants, Dog Man and others are definitely what I cut my teeth on as a manchild KID. I’m certainly not the kind of man who has Captain Underpants and Neil Gaiman on his shelf. As for audio shows, I listen to Professor Nebulous, The Shadow Remake, Oz 9, Girl in Space, The Call of the Flame, and so many others.
Some in earlier interviews think that the creative arts on the internet are getting swamped by the volume of new content, while others feel that the market is reaching maturity. What’s your take?
For the consumer, that can be a challenge. It’s very hard to find a reliable source of solid content anymore. Even the greatest companies in the world are throwing whatever they can at the wall. We live in a day and age where anyone can pick up a microphone or post a video and make it big. While this isn’t perfect, it’s had an unusual benefit. Back before the internet, you could write a book and watch it never find its fanbase, regardless of quality. Now, the internet is such a friendly place full of people hungry for something new, anyone can find their fans all over the world. I’m sure there’s at least 1000 people on this planet where your story is perfect for them. All it takes is time, patience, and a lot of luck.
If people are interested in your work or would like to talk to you about it online, what’s the best way of doing that?
Both Maguselgar.com and kennedyphillips.org have email systems where you can contact my team or myself about whatever! I’m also on Twitter @maguselgar, Instagram @magusserling and Facebook. You can also find me on Discord, but please ask me for my contact info!