2nd February 2019
The Saturday Interview: Amity Bros.
Hi guys - thanks for your time. Could you introduce yourselves briefly?
I’m Erik Saras, the director and showrunner for Marsfall. I write episodes with Dan, edit music with Sam, and work with the engineers and actors throughout production and post-production. I am a professional writer and music composer/arranger living in New Jersey with my wife Rika and dog Zoe. I’m a huge fan of science fiction, fantasy, and comedy television, as well as an avid hiker and Civilization VI player.
I’m Dan Lovley, the voice of ANDI and one of the writers of Marsfall. I also work with Erik, Sam and the sound engineers during post-production to edit and polish the show into what the listener will hear in each episode. My wife, Shannon Lovley (the voice of Jacki), and I live in Los Angeles where I also teach high school English. I have always been interested in theatre from a young age, and this love has expanded to include acting, writing, producing, and making art more interesting and more accessible to all.
I’m Sam Boase-Miller, the voice of Chip Heddleston and composer of all the original music for Marsfall. I also spend time in pre-production working closely with Erik and Dan on story, and editing their scripts. I am a professional cellist; living, teaching and performing in Northern Michigan.
Without spoiling anything, Marsfall is a podcast about colonists surviving on and exploring Mars. What made you decide to make a speculative fiction podcast?
The three of us spent many years working on different ideas for movies and television shows, having a lot of fun creating characters and building new worlds. We fell in love with an idea to follow some of the first colonists settling on the Red Planet, grounding the show in a sci-fi universe but filling it with emotional characters and some fantastical elements. Since producing that kind of a story in a visual medium was cost-prohibitive, we quickly shifted into preparing Marsfall as an audio drama. After spending a year listening to lots of shows, researching a lot of scientific fields, and developing our techniques for writing a series, we had the first 4 episodes written. We then found an amazing recording and sound production studio (Sonic Union) who wanted to partner with us on making a high-quality podcast.
Your production company ‘Amity Bros’ was founded by the three of you. How do you divide the work between you?
All of us spend a lot of time creating the series. Erik mainly handles big picture ideas, while Dan is very good at filling in relationship details for the characters. Sam has an incredible eye for editing all of the scripts Erik and Dan write. While Erik directs the recording session, Dan and Sam serve as assistant directors for any scenes they are not acting in and solve any issues that arise during recording. In addition to acting, Dan also serves as line producer who coordinates everything with SAG, while Sam is always on-call to research anything on the fly and make sure our pronunciation, geography, and other factual lines are all correct. Beyond production, Erik handles the bulk of the admin work including tracking all expenses and making a budget, coordinating the recording schedule, planning conventions and other trips, curating merchandise, and raising money/networking. Dan and Erik run the company Twitter and Facebook accounts, while Sam works with our website designer on Instagram and Tumblr. In addition to acting, Sam composes, performs, and assembles all of the music in our series. We all do our best to respond to our fans on social media as well.
I guess this could be a question for you separately or collectively: what’s been the biggest surprise of running your own production company?
The biggest surprise for us is the support we received from our friends and family, as well as the immediate support we got from this wonderful audiodrama community. Even though it’s a lot of hard work to run a production and we learned lots of new skills, everything was surprisingly manageable thanks to expert advice we received from other creators, internet resources, and colleagues.
Did you guys do a lot of preparation work and research before starting production on Marsfall then?
A fair amount of research went into this show before we started writing it, and we are always checking our facts as best we can as we continue along. I’ve read a lot of books, blogs, and articles about Mars terraformation, artificial intelligence evolution, nanobot replication, etc. and we also have advisors from the medical, machine learning, and technical fields on our staff. There eventually comes a time when you have to force yourself to stop researching and start writing, so as much as we love the hard science, we do lean on the fantasy as well to make sure we tell an entertaining story. We also had a fan point out our incorrect use of Melissa’s military ranking, so we decided to rectify it as a plot point. It challenges us to be more creative to always be accurate.
For me, a lot of the emotional core of the first season of Marsfall focused on ANDI - the colony’s artificial intelligence - and Chip, his best friend amongst the colonists, especially when ANDI was forced to make some momentous decisions. Was exploring ideas around artificial intelligence a particular interest?
Absolutely. People don’t realize how close we are to having revolutionary artificial intelligence enter our society, which is why we wanted to address this issue in a realistic time frame. Studying works on the Singularity by Kurzweil, Bostrom, and others we saw how creating a new sentient species would fundamentally alter our perception of the world. That’s why it’s called a Singularity, because everything leading up to that point doesn’t matter for the future, and we have no idea what the future holds for us. Some people believe this technological breakthrough may be less than 30 years away, hence why we picked 2047 as our launch date to Mars. A lot of Season 2 episodes delve into the relationship between our AI characters and our human characters, and there’s so much more we want to explore with this concept in further seasons and projects.
Marsfall is currently in its second season. Do you have a conclusion planned for the podcast or will it run for as long as you’ve got stories to tell?
We definitely have a finale planned, which will come at the end of our 4th season. While we admire those rare shows (usually comedies) that have hundreds of ideas for episodes, our favorite stories have always been dramatic epics with a clear start and finish. We’ve set up a lot of mystery in our first season and while we do answer some of those questions in season two, we also throw more mystery into the mix. All that being said, Marsfall is just the first series in a much larger connected multi-verse that will continue with a new show once our final season wraps. While these other series will follow different characters in different locations, they are all connected to the same “cinematic universe” as Marsfall, so we have already dropped some Easter eggs we know won’t pay off until ten or even twenty years from now.
That’s an interesting idea. Will all of the spin-offs be podcasts too?
No. Most of these stories are designed for television. One or two of them might be a book. No matter what form of media these stories take, the important thing is that they all connect to each other and we’re super excited to keep growing our production company and continue working with expert artists in new fields of media.
What type of costs do you incur running your podcast and how do you support it?
There are some large hard costs involved with hiring the amazing engineers Brian Goodheart and Owen Shearer from Sonic Union, but it’s always worth it to us. Beyond the fees we pay to the studio, we also fly Dan, Shannon, and Sam to NYC for at least one big recording session each year. We also provide food for our actors during the entire session and pay them for their work.
We also employ a website designer/logo artist/social media assistant who is invaluable to our operation. Beyond website and RSS feed hosting fees, we also have to pay for travel, booth rental, lodging, and merchandise when we attend conventions, and recently had to pay expenses for a live show in Chicago. We’ve been super lucky to have a large benefactor who believes in the project, which helps us offset some costs. The rest of our expenses are helped by generous donations from our fans and supporters, and then Amity Bros. covers the rest of our costs out of pocket.
A live show! Wow! How did that go? Was it a performance of a previous episode or new material?
We performed Chapter 1 with an added scene at the beginning which we pulled from Chapter 4 (Melissa’s flashback to the landing). While the venue was different than what we expected, we still had a fun time performing and getting a live run in front of an audience before we hope to do it again in front of huge crowds on a big stage. We rehearsed for several hours the day before to get all the actors back into it, and then ran it the morning of which made the performance go off with very few mistakes. It was also a really fun team bonding experience for our actors and engineer to hang in Chicago and eat deep dish pizza. We also played Whirly Ball which was AMAZING!
How do the recording sessions go? Is everyone tightly focused? Do your actors ad lib?
We’ve had 3 major sessions so far and each one got better. As the actors found their voice and Erik got comfortable with directing, we stayed closer to our original schedule and barely fell behind in our last session. Everyone is focused and on their game when we start recording. It can be tiring as we usually do 8-10 hours per day, so when energy dips or we start to have too much fun we can take a break and bring the focus back in. Some of our actors ad lib which brings a lot of life to the characters. These ad libs aren’t huge though, tweaking a word here and there or adding some colloquial speech to give the character more life always delights us from a directing and producing standpoint. Especially for our characters who speak foreign languages, it’s really wonderful to trust the actors who know how to speak in a natural way when our dialogue doesn’t quite capture an ESL speaker. Occasionally we have to reel in some overzealous ad libs, and although it makes writing transcripts a pain to get every “Ah” and “um” it makes the show feel real and in our opinion, that makes the art better.
Do any other podcasts inspire you?
Oh yeah, there are so many amazing shows! We’ll give you a top 5 with reasons, but please note that the one consistent thing about all of these shows is that the creative teams behind them are full of AMAZING and lovely people. We're so glad to know most of them at this point and it was great to reconnect with our friends and meet new creators at PodCon.
Greater Boston - a fantastically funny, creatively complex, and delightfully weird show that sits so well with our sense of humor. Erik and Dan also grew up outside of Boston, and Dan attended Boston University, so a lot of the jokes hit close to home.
The White Vault - one of the scariest shows we’ve ever listened to with incredible acting, chilling mystery, and a unique narrative form presenting the story as a pseudo-documentary.
2298 - we were all blown away by how this show packs in so much excitement and information into these short episodes, all with amazing production value and story-telling. Great build to an awesome ending, and a perfect example of a compact story with a clear purpose.
Wooden Overcoats - such a well written and phenomenally acted audio drama! The show follows the success and failures of rival undertakers in a small island community off the British coast. They are three seasons in and are consistently still entertaining.
Dan Carlin’s Hardcore History - we don’t listen to many non-fiction podcasts, but Hardcore History has been a staple of our library since day one. This long-form, educational storytelling at its best. We always come away learning so much about the world, and wanting so much more from the next 4+ hour episode.
If people want to interact with you guys online, what’s the best way to do that?
You can find out a lot more about our show through our website where we have real artist bios, fictional character bios, colony history, and transcripts. We also engage a lot with fans on Twitter and Instagram, and post to Facebook and Tumblr, where you can find us @marsfallpod . You can find us online at the following: Erik on Twitter and IG (@ErikSaras), Sam on Twitter (@sboase1) and IG (@samueljacob87), Dan on Twitter and IG (@danlovley). There’s also a Marsfall fan discord channel called Marsfall Nerds, and you can always leave us a rating and review on your favorite podcatcher or send us an email: email@example.com