23rd February 2019
The Saturday Interview: Battlebird Productions
Thanks very much for your time. For anyone who’s not yet listened to your podcast We Fix Space Junk, could you say a little about it?
We Fix Space Junk has been described in a lot of ways by a lot of people… I like to think of it as a descendant of the Hitchhiker's Guide family tree that hit a lot of different sci fi branches on the way down.
Kilner is a repairman. She has been all of her life, and because of it she has debts; like most people, she is in debt to Automnicon (who are a massive interstellar student loans company). She's hoping to pay them off when along comes Samantha, a socialite running from the law who isn't quite as naive as she seems...
What was the inspiration for We Fix Space Junk? Was it a slow amalgamation of ideas or did it come to you all in one go on the daily commute?
I definitely didn’t do a Rowling, haha! Space Junk built up gradually over a space of about ten to fifteen years, which is a very weird thing to write (and the early stuff is… oh so bad.) It wasn’t a radio show, wasn’t a comedy but it was set in space.
I’ve always been a massive fan of sci-fi and as someone with chronic insomnia (which has gone, finally) I buried myself in the Librivox back-catalogue of public domain sci-fi. There are a lot of common themes there that I’ve brought across to Space Junk -- the repairman, the lack of heroism. And then, of course, there’s The Hitchhiker’s Guide to The Galaxy. I’d always been a fan but in my first year of university I found an incredibly battered box set of the radio show on CD and have listened to all five seasons, start to finish, countless times since then.
I started writing something resembling Space Junk in about 2016, had a rough-ish draft in mid-2017 and then it became what it is today!
We Fix Space Junk is produced by Battle Bird Productions. Could you tell us about the team that helps to put the podcast together?
Battle Bird Productions is primarily just the two of us. I write the show and voice Kilner and Hedley records it, does the sound design and writes the music. We do the whole process start to finish in our home studio.
That’s cool - what’s your home studio like?
We’re lucky enough to have a two-room setup with a control room and a recording room, which we set up in our living room. We’ve got a very flexible system but our usual setup involves the mic-stands we’ve built into our sofa; they mean we can record in quite a relaxed fashion which adds to the conversational tone!
How long does it take you to put an episode together from the first word to finished episode?
In the region of seventy hours! Sometimes more, sometimes less. Some episodes are far more complicated than others, meaning that there’s a lot more sound design and speech editing involved.
Wow! How do you manage to stay motivated?
We motivate each other! Because we live together and work side-by-side, we’re usually able to encourage the other. And we love the show and our fans, which really helps! We’ve had a bit of a shaky release schedule in Season Two but that’s life -- the lovely thing is that instead of getting messages like ‘ugh, why isn’t the next episode out yet?’ we’ve had messages saying ‘please look after yourselves and take some time off!’ we've learnt a lot over the past few months and for season 3 we intend to not release it until it's totally finished.
How do you record your podcast? Does everyone assemble in a recording studio or do you each record it separately?
For the first season, almost none of the cast met anyone other than us! Everyone came into the studio to record but at all at different times. All of their lines were performed against us and dropped into the mix. This worked best for people's schedules, and I think it came out really well.
For Season two we've tried to have as many people in the room at once as we can. Harder to coordinate, and with more sound bleed, but a lot more fun! And often easier for the actors. Some guest roles for actors who don't live near us (Julia Schifini’s or Sarah Rhea Werner's for example) were recorded in the home studios of the actors and sent in.
Do you audition voice actors or do you know talented people already?
Well, we know a lot of talented people!
We weren’t at all involved in the audio drama community before we released our first episode, and we’d already 90% recorded the first season so didn’t really have space to put them in. The mini-season, Marilyn’s Diary, was recorded with Fran Mintowt-Czyz, with whom we’d worked on with The People’s Rock, and James Carney, a friend of ours who runs his own podcast, Unseen Hour.
Season two has a lot of guests voices in them, many of them from other podcasts! I tend to write to a voice (think of Walter in episode 4, for example).
Space Junk won four Awards at the Audio Verse Awards: two for Beth's writing and two for Francesca's voice acting. How does that make you feel?
Amazing! Really amazing. It wasn’t something we expected -- we were up against some very big hitters -- but it was amazing to win! Especially for Francesca, as she is a little less involved in the show as a cast member, as she is now based in America. Obviously, Beth winning for writing was also pretty wonderful, as writing is her dream career!
Space Junk is episodic with a few overarching plot strands. Do you have a definite end point in mind or can it run for as long as you like?
I didn't start out with a definite end point -- and at times I'm surprised where the series goes! Marilyn developed herself, I just wrote down where she went, and Computer and Haroldson just sort of… happened along the way.
There are certain things I know are going to happen at some point but I think I'll be writing Space Junk for the indefinite future.
Could you see it working in a different format - say a graphic novel or TV series?
I could! I’m working on the final set of art for a graphic novel now (Upholstery) and would love to see Space Junk translated across. In TV terms, I’d say it’s probably more suited to animation than to live-action TV.
Your podcast is light-hearted and funny in a way that I’ve really missed since Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. Do you think that recent sci-fi on film and television has become bleaker in recent years?
There certainly has been an emphasis on the negative, partly I think because the world itself has gotten bleaker. But I think sci-fi can also be a reflection of hope as well as despair. While the world of Space Junk isn't universally bright and cheerful (this is a world run by Automnicon, after all), it's hopeful and the people in it aren't completely crushed by the situations they live in.
I find it quite hopeful in tone: though all the characters are oppressed by Automnicon, it feels like they’ll win out in the end. It’s really refreshing. The last series of Battlestar Galactica was so bleak that it made me miserable! Do you think that the tone of sci-fi on TV and film will start swinging back the other way soon?
I hope so! I find the world a depressing place far too often to spend too much time listening to things that make me sad (Hedley loves Battlestar, but totally agrees!).
There are a lot of very funny and positive sci-fi podcasts out there. I think we’re more positive about the future than TV and film!
What other podcasts do you listen to?
Where to start? Every day there seems to be a new and wonderful podcast to listen to and we never seem to have enough time to keep up! Between us, we have a list in the hundreds. Some prime picks are Middle Below, Tides, Archive 81, The Orphans, Victoriocity, Greater Boston, Wooden Overcoats, Girl In Space, Accession, Solutions to Problems, Amelia Project, StarTripper!!, Deus Ex Machina, Unseen Hour, Fall of the House of Sunshine, Death by Dying...the list goes on and on!
Podcasting seems to be going through a bit of a listener boom at the moment. Why do you think that is?
I think it’s a medium like no other; it’s something you can download and take with you, that you can listen to without anyone else being aware, and it’s so broad and diverse (partly because although there are financial and technological barriers to podcast creation, there are fewer than with, say, television. This makes it far easier to put content out there for more marginalised creators. It also means that there are shows created for marginalised audiences -- that you should be able to find someone of a similar mind, creating a show that relates to topics you like and enjoy.
Is there anything you know now that you wish you’d known at the start of creating Space Junk?
We should possibly have given ourselves a little more time! Beth was so committed to starting with a regular broadcast schedule that we threw ourselves into series 1, series 1.5 (Marilyn’s Diary) and series 2 without much of a break in between! In the second year of the podcast we’re going to take a little more time off and make sure we have time to breathe!
I understand that you’ve set up different ways that listeners can support the show. Could you explain a bit about that?
Because we’re so small, every dollar (or pound, or euro) makes a big difference to us, which is why we have so many different ways to support the show!
Etsy: https://www.etsy.com/uk/shop/BattleBirdStore (where you can also find art and badges by our writer/artist, Beth Crane!)
Not all of these are for everyone, so we wanted to give everyone a way to support in a way they feel comfortable!
What’s the best way for people for people to interact with you online?
Definitely on twitter! @WeFixSpaceJunk or @BattleBirdProductions. We love hearing from people! We also have Facebook, Instagram and Tumblr. Plus there's good old-fashioned email: email@example.com
Thanks very much for your time.