4th May 2019
The Saturday Interview: 'Oz-9' podcast
Thanks very much for your time. For anyone who’s not listened to Oz-9 yet, could you describe the podcast?
We’re hiccupping through space on board the Oz 9. One of a fleet of 400, these “Edsels of the Skies” are escorting a lot of very rich, very stupid, mostly very asleep, occasionally very dead people in search of a new planet, suitable for terraforming. Basically, the ships were on the verge of a massive recall, so the owners, a corporation called Gated Galaxies, quickly outfitted them for interstellar travel (if by “interstellar travel” you mean “quite likely to fall into a sun”). They sold podspace to extremely wealthy people, thus solving their own money flow issues while also ridding the earth of some of its more useless citizens. The crews of the Oz ships are all “second chancers” – that is, petty criminals who got out of prison by volunteering to crew. Their utter lack of skills and experience, plus the ships that some genius described as “held together by spit and sellotape,” pretty much guarantees Gated Galaxies will collect the insurance it took out on each of its “rested guests.”
Who are the team behind Oz-9?
Captain Madeline Marks, also known as “Madpants Marks” and “Murderin’ Madeline,” is joined by hacker, IT guy, and ripply, muscley, hair-blowing-in-the-breeze-even-inside-the-ship Leet; Colin, rich guy who’s so convinced he’s the target of a sloppy murder attempt, he’s in disguise as a really crap accent in a tux; Joe, the Janitor, who has the weirdest ability to blend in with … air; and Olivia, the AI with the voice of Dickensian street urchin and the morals of a Borgia. There’s also a two-headed robot who occasionally shows up and tries to kill Leet, and of course, the silken-voiced narrator who’s just pissed off he’s not an Attenborough.
My favourites so far have been the AIs in control of the OZ ships. Alongside the Victorian waif, there’s another one modelled on Dick Van Dyke from ‘Mary Poppins’. Will we meet other AIs in future episodes?
Oh, hell yeah. Dr. von Haber-Zetzer created the template on which all the Oz AIs were drawn, and he gave them the tweaks and fiddly bits that gives each their individual personality. But he’s both very eccentric and very cheap, so you know the AIs are just 400 disasters waiting to happen. I can’t wait to meet more of them.
Is OZ-9 following a defined story arc with a planned ending or will it keep going for as long as you have stories to tell?
Ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha! Oh, sorry <wipes eyes>, whoooooo that was good. Planning is for authors; I’m a writer. I don’t even really know what that means except it sounds deep and slightly snotty. Basically, I’m crap at planning. Honestly, it sucks all the fun out of writing for me if I know where it’s going. I start writing towards a particular ending, and then it all sounds very forced. According to Mr. Southers, CEO of Gated Galaxies, we have 25 years’ of provisions, and so far we’ve only been in space about a day and a half. There’s so much to do up here, so many possibilities with 50,000 frozen folks to play with and all of space. I hope we’ll be around for a while.
You know, I keep forgetting that everything's happened in such a short time frame. What was the creative decision behind that?
It made me laugh. TBH, I never feel like I consciously decide things, they just sort of appear like mushrooms. The one, very-long-day thing happened because I realized I’d never had them go to bed, and there was a lot of potential funny stuff in their first time trying to sleep aboard the Oz, so I had to make all the other stuff happen before that first sleep. I envy writers who can map things out – it must be a lovely way to write. But unfortunately, I seem to need swirling chaos.
How did you assemble the cast? Were characters written with an actor in mind or were there auditions?
It all came about very serendipitously. I’d been wanting to do a podcast (I produce a series for work, which whetted my appetite), my brother Eric is fantastic with voices, I realized I happen to know another person who’s a fabulous voice actor (Tim), Eric brought Bonnie in, who is an experienced voice actor and obviously amazing, and the two Richards are my partner (Richard N) and Tim’s husband (Richard C) who quite brilliantly rose to the occasion. It started as a way for me to expend some frustrated creative energy and drag others along who had the same desire. We sat around and hammered out character outlines, and we were off and running. As we bring in more characters, we might consider auditions, but fortunately for me, I know a veritable crap-ton of talented folks who are good sports, so we have a robust pool to draw on.
What inspired you to make a podcast?
Believe it or not, the idea emerged when I was training for a marathon. When you’re a slow runner, you have LOTS of time to tell yourself stories. And I love the podcast medium – it’s so accessible, and yet it really demands a lot of you. Its strength – that of being purely auditory – is also its greatest challenge, in terms of storytelling. You have dialogue, sound effects, music, and the spaces between, and that’s it. Characters can’t shrug or raise an eyebrow to convey a message. You have to write it and the actors have to voice it so you hear the shrug and feel the breeze from the eyebrow.
Were there any unexpected challenges to making a narrative podcast? Something discovered after you began?
Sound effects are a bear. We create some ourselves, and I have subscriptions to a couple of online sources, but wow, that’s a tough one. I saw Dan Powell from Archive 81 at PodCon 2, and he opened my eyes to what a real sound designer can do. While I will never reach that level of brilliance, he really encouraged me to up my game. Another challenge is that Bonnie is in Austin, Texas and most of us are in Seattle, so we do the Time Zone Tango every two weeks. Fortunately, she’s a night owl.
As far as writing goes, the majority of my previous writing has been middle-grade fantasy fiction, which allows for a lot more fanciful visual description. When I’m not sure where the story is going next, I just describe some weird little critter that happened by, and chances are, that’ll get the story moving again. With an entirely auditory medium, I don’t have that luxury. But one great thing is, I have very distinct voices in my head for the characters. So much so that when I talk to Tim, I’m always momentarily startled that he’s American.
What sort of time commitment does each episode take?
Almost certainly way more than more experienced podcasters need! I’d say I spend probably 20 - 25 hours a week writing and producing. But the recording sessions are just… joy, they really are. The whole thing is so much fun, even when I’m listening to 42 elevator dings to get just the right one. There’s always that moment of despair when I realize I’ve spent two hours on Adobe and have 3 minutes of podcast, but if those 3 minutes make me or someone else laugh? I’m good. And I’m so grateful to have a team that are down for anything, whether it’s voicing a new character I forgot to warn them about or helping me design the press kit or John Faley who periodically shoots me a fantastic new piece of music I didn’t know I desperately needed until I heard it.
How hard is it to write comedy?
I’m not sure I’ve succeeded yet. But I’m lucky; I’m working with people that not only think outside the box, they think in circles and tangents and circuses and fish. There’s a lot of shouting at recordings as we holler ideas at one another, so there’s always something silly to draw on. Eric, the actor who plays Joe and Dr. von Haber-Zetzer, described Oz 9 as “Seattle’s next big British comedy,” and he’s right – for me, comedy was Monty Python and Douglas Adams and Ab Fab and Black Adder and French and Saunders, so I think a lot of my humor (sorry, humour) comes with a British accent and sensibility. Not that that makes writing comedy harder or easier, but it does give me clear voices in my head to aim towards.
Are you a fan of Hitchhiker's? What were your thoughts on the film?
I am a huge fan of Hitchhikers. I have the books in several versions, the radio series, recordings of Douglas Adams reading his own books (heartbreaking, utterly), the video game, tons of fan fic, blah blah blah. Put it this way: my brother and I play a game of asking each other silly questions, and one was, “if you could bring anyone back from the dead but then you had to live with them for the next 10 years, who would it be?” I’m still torn between Jim Henson and Douglas Adams, if that gives you an idea of my childhood.
As for the film…. I hate to say I was a bit disappointed. There were lots of wonderful things about it, and Alan Rickman as Marvin was inspired, but those weren’t the voices in my head. I loved loved loved the old TV show, and while it wasn’t perhaps as slick, it felt truer to the original. Granted, I came in first via the books which also weren’t the original version of HHGTTG, so there’s that. Douglas Adams had a truly original mind; I don’t know that anyone will ever be able to capture that to the satisfaction of fans like me. HHGTTG is my favorite book of all time and was a truly formative piece of my childhood, so good luck to anyone trying to replicate my experience of reading that book for the very first time.
Yeah, I felt much the same. I read the book and listened to the radio series. The film felt very competent, but different to those childhood versions so it was a bit empty.
Are the Oz team fans of podcasts? Are there any favourites they'd like to share?
We are definitely podcast listeners! And after PodCon 2, our dockets are full and groaning. I absolutely loved Alice Isn’t Dead, which got me thinking in a more narrative direction for my podcast; Girl in Space is completely amazing, I love Cooking with Grief, because it makes me laugh every time; Marsfall is the sort of production value I aspire to; Best in Galaxy is enviably hilarious, Janus Descending just haunts me. Bonnie likes Stuff You Should Know and Wait Wait Don’t Tell Me. I hear Richard N cackling at Dumb and Busted and The Untrained Eye, and he’s really liking The Cryptonaturalist. John, our music guy, says: Harry Potter and the Sacred Text, That Pedal Show, Recording Studio Rockstars, The White Vault, Blackwood, Serial, FilmSpotting.
Tim says, “So I'm new to the whole podcast thing but am rapidly becoming a fan. I've selected a number of podcasts and have already built up quite a backlog. I'm listening to their latest episodes and if I like ‘em, I keep the subscription; maybe going back to previous episodes if I find the time.” Currently, Tim is following: Girl in Space, Cooking w/ Grief, My Favorite Murder, and Best In Galaxy.
If readers would like to interact with you online or support the podcast, what’s the best way of doing that?
Anyone wishing to talk with us is more than welcome to track us down on Twitter: at the moment, we have @oz9narrator, @oz9olivia, @colinoz9, @oz9joe, and @oz9podcast. More directly, email email@example.com. Or come comment on the posts at our website, oz-9.com. Twitter is probably best. For support, we’d love for folks to buy Oz 9 merch at our store https://www.teepublic.com/user/oz9 or support us on Patreon, for which they will be richly and ridiculously rewarded: patreon.com/Oz9podcast!
Bonnie Brantley: Jessie, Donna, Lady Lucretia, Senator Two
Richard Cowen: Leet, cheesy infomercial guy, interviewer
Steven Crider: Rock Brickwell
Richard Nadolny: Narrator, alarm
Eric Perry: Joe, Dr. Friederich von Haber-Zetzer, Mr. Southers, Head One (homicidal robot)
Shannon Perry: Olivia, Madeline
Tim Sherburn: Colin, Buck Nubbins, Head Two, Senator One
Written and produced by Shannon Perry
Music composed and performed by John Faley with additional arrangement by Elliot Faley
Artwork by Lucas Elliott (http://www.lucaselliottart.com/)