16th March 2019
The Saturday Interview: Fool and Scholar Productions
Thanks very much for your time. Could you describe a little about your podcast?
Kaitlin: The White Vault is a serial horror audio drama. Join our listeners to explore the far reaches of the world’s horrors. Follow the collected records of a repair team sent to Outpost Fristed in the vast white wastes of Svalbard and unravel what lies waiting in the ice below. The White Vault is a show for a mature audience, due to horror themes and mature language. Our tale is a slow-burn horror that focuses on isolation and timed reveals, as well as showcasing a great international cast of characters.
We launched Season 1 in October of 2017 to a great reception, and we are currently in the middle of Season 2. The primary creators are myself - Kaitlin Statz - and my partner, Travis Vengroff. Together we make up Fool & Scholar Productions; telling stories for your headphones.
The White Vault uses a ‘found footage’ style to tell its story. For me, that increased the tension because of how close to the chest it is played: is this report being constructed because everyone vanished? Because there’s a survivor whose story is being corroborated? Because the Outpost is being expanded with more potential victims?
What made you choose this style, rather than doing it in real time?
Kaitlin: The found footage style allows listeners to have a strong visceral connection to characters. On the one hand, I am able to write very personal journals and private dialogue which helps to showcase individual character flaws, interests, and direction. On the other hand, it allows listeners to step back from the characters, and to see the story as an incomplete puzzle. It allows listeners to form their own version of the story, where their theater of the mind fills in the gaps.
Some of the audio riffs in The White Vault put me in mind of The Thing. What do you count the inspirations behind the podcast?
Kaitlin: While we are fans of Carpenter’s The Thing, we did not look to it for inspiration; though down the line we noticed it was the main story fans draws parallels to. I was honestly more inspired by Lovecraft’s At the Mountains of Madness, and by a particularly memorable trip to Iceland. Driving in the white-dark of snow-covered volcanic fields, I was struck by how beautiful and cruel the natural elements can be. And how not all of horror is supernatural. The story of The White Vault is a personal tapestry of experiences and consumed media constructing into a chilling horror. Personally, I enjoy the horror writings of M. R. James and H. P. Lovecraft, focusing on the mental strain associated with a physical manifestation of horror. I am not ashamed to admit that certain video games, not even in the horror genre, inspired the use of the found footage format, and that the darker side of childrens’ fairytales has always pushed my writing forward.
I really enjoyed reading At the Mountains of the Madness too. I think it might be in my top five. Is it your favourite Lovecraft story?
Kaitlin: While I do thoroughly enjoy At the Mountains of Madness, I personally enjoy The Shadow over Innsmouth and The Dunwich Horror more. They may not have a grandiose setting of Mountains, but there is something deeply unsettling for me about the New England small-town horror that Lovecraft weaves; as though you could just drive into your worst nightmare on a foggy Wednesday morning. On a fun note, I also enjoy his lighter, shorter mythos, my particular favourite being The Cats of Ulthar.
Your own work with The White Vault has a widespread international cast. What made you decide on this approach?
Kaitlin: Love and realism. We wanted to showcase the world as it really is, and tell a story with voices we rarely hear. The international voices lend their talents and help to build a world that feels engrossing and real. We knew we wanted to step outside of the common ‘core’ of audio dramas that we had encountered thus far, which was mostly English or American voices, and a limiting range of backgrounds. The story needed to be international; it would have been a great stretch of the imagination to assume a team selected by an Icelandic company, sent to Norwegian Svalbard, would consist of nothing but Americans and Brits. And it would have been lazy. We worked to find great voices, some of whom we had worked with before, and we are so happy with the way the show has turned out.
Was the trip to Iceland the inspiration to set The White Vault in Svalbard rather than - let’s say - the far north of Canada?
Kaitlin: The trip to Iceland inspired a lot of the show, but Svalbard was chosen after some considerable research. I wanted somewhere with natural forces and natural dangers, where the landscape was unforgiving. The polar bears ordained the Arctic, but I also need a dash of hope and civilization. Svalbard, being so isolated a place, has towns, research stations, and plenty of polar bears. With a few more days research I was able to identify the exact places I could see the story unravelling, and Svalbard was set in ink.
I’ve really enjoyed listening to The White Vault; I’ve particularly enjoyed how excruciating the gradual build of tension is. What, to you, constitutes good horror writing?
Kaitlin: First, thank you for your kind words. We are a small team behind Fool & Scholar Productions, and every fan and positive word pushes us forward. But, now, the horror. For me, writing horror is very personal. I know what I enjoy in horror, and I see how it affects the people I write for. Horror is not gore, nor is it a monster. Horror comes from a mix of emotions; a fondness for someone and the fear of what is to befall them, a journey into the overwhelming and unknown: a helplessness. If these emotional strings are plucked, people will begin to feel the building dread.
Do you think that The White Vault could work in other formats, such as a television series?
Kaitlin: Our story would need to undergo a distinct change to move out of audio. Audio plays in the theater of the mind, which is sometimes far more frightening than anything dreamt up on screen. This is not to say we don’t enjoy the idea of visualizations. We have received fan-art of our characters, and it is a joy to see how others envision them. We do believe it could work in other formats, but for now we will focus on creating the best audio drama we possibly can.
One thing that I’ve really appreciated about The White Vault’s writing is that any gore and violence in it are very suggestive rather than explicit: I’ve found overuse in other horror stories I’ve read and listened to makes the experience a bit comical. Is that a conscious decision on your part?
Kaitlin: Yes, it is a very conscious decision. We work diligently to give gore a frightening significance in The White Vault, and should never be viewed as comical.
Travis: I’d like to add that having Kaitlin present during the sound design for anything gore related is particularly helpful as she has firsthand experience with gruesome sounds (bone density, incisions into flesh, etc) from her studies on decomposition and anatomy.
That’s a fascinating point: do you simulate any of your own sound effects? I remember speaking with one podcaster who created their monster’s howl by editing the noise of them shouting into a lunchbox.
Travis: While I do use a few stock sound effects for convenience, the majority of the sounds you hear on The White Vault (and most of our shows for that matter) are made by me, specifically for that episode. While I’m a stickler for quality audio (the sound of a chanting is a chanting session we put together, the sound of a flare gun is me reloading a flare gun), there was a report recently that many sounds actually sound better when faked, such as hugging a balloon for the sound of a hug. This is absolutely true, and often times you have to make do with what you have (sorry, I don’t have a stone box filled with human teeth), and edit what you’ve recorded until it sounds right. After 14 years in audio editing, I feel safe saying that sound design is its own art aside from (but aided by) editing that can be practised and improved upon by your creativity.
On this topic, I remember someone telling me that my thunder sounds on a show we just released sounded sort of fake… But it was actually me out in the middle of Hurricane Harvey with my recorder capturing one of the most intense thunderstorms I’ve ever witnessed. I have a fair number of silly stories regarding White Vault sounds, but for the time being they contain spoilers for this season.
I think one of the most disconcerting parts of The White Vault is that the decisions the characters have made have been totally rational and yet they’re still in a desperate situation as the jaws of a trap close around them. Would you have gone down exploring into a mysterious ice tunnel, had you been in their place?
Travis: I can guarantee that Kaitlin would not have, and that I would have. She’s generally averse to caves, and I have a foolish sense of adventure at times. Also, I seem to get lost a fair bit.
Turning to the technical challenges of making the podcast, how time-consuming is it to make? I know that your international cast recorded separately, which must be challenging.
Travis: Each actor takes, on average, about an hour of work per episode between reading the script, recording multiple takes per line, and retakes, which they record on their own time, self-directed. Editing the dialogue together takes about 8 hours per episode, and an additional 10 hours or more goes into primary sound design, with an extra 2-4 hours of live foley recording at the end. Mixing takes an additional 2-3 hours, including multiple rounds of revisions and listens. This does not even take into account the time it takes to write or edit the script, send emails to the cast (which takes time), the half hour it takes to upload the episode and make sure the descriptions/credits/tags are correct, and to hours spent sending out social media blasts for episode releases and general promotion. So, for an approximately 20-minute episode, it can take anywhere from 30-37 hours to really make it shine.
To support the podcast and the significant input of time and resources that it is, Fool and Scholar Productions run a Patreon with rewards for various tiers. Could you elaborate on that?
Travis: Sure thing! Because we don’t put adverts in our shows, we rely almost exclusively on fan support through Patreon to help keep the (sound-booth) lights on. We are extremely fortunate to have supporters who enjoy our content, and in exchange for pledging a set dollar amount per episode released, we offer exclusive content and perks. For a dollar, it’s early access to our episodes, ringtones, and regular production updates from us. For five dollars it’s access to exclusive bonus stories like Artifact, Ashore, and The White Vault, bloopers, comics we’ve made for our shows, and a few RPG campaign books. At ten dollars we say the person’s name at the end of the season of our show in our special thanks and also give them full soundtracks to our shows. At fifteen we’ll make a personalized message for them, and at $100 they are listed as the executive producer of the episode they supported (even on IMDB). We also mail them a personalized copy of the script from that episode and some original artwork. We use Patreon because it’s the best-known platform of its kind, and it has a generally good reputation.
I have to ask, even though I probably won’t get an answer: what's going to happen in Season 3? Things have gone...badly...for everyone involved.
Travis: The White Vault will be returning for Season 3 in October, 2019.
It was worth a try. Thanks again for your time.