Time to come clean. I've never directed a play before. Early on Sunday evening, after twenty-one working hours in Attic Attack Studio, we wrapped Giant Cannibals. None of it happened by accident - cast and crew alike toiled and sweated to bring our script off the page and into life. And on our budget, we always knew that we'd only get one chance to do it.
We had a lot to worry about beforehand, but not all of it mattered on the day. Parallel to that came the inevitable peppering of delightful surprises. Even for a medium as accessible as audio, directing a production is a huge task - but you don't need years of experience to get it right. As far as I'm even remotely qualified to give advice, here's what I learned:
The right actors are worth their weight in gold.
No-one out there is waiting anxiously for your first project. Use this lack of pressure to your advantage. Spend as long on the casting cycle as you need to spend. You need reliable people who fit those roles and engage with the project early. Think about how easy they'll be to work with, and how receptive they are to clear direction.
Find a good Dylan.
This is going to sound like a back-rub, but it's much more important than that. The role of director brings with it a huge amount of work on the day, and as far as possible, your efforts should be focused on the creative output, because without a good end-product, you might as well have stayed at home. Fact is, you don't have time to worry about call sheets, expenses, catering, transport, who's running late, whether you're behind schedule, or even which scene you're recording next. Your job is to focus on the actors and get the best out of them. Work with someone who knows how to bring a project together. Giant Cannibals got made because whatever independent variables arose, our producer handled them heroically. You need one.
Heed the experts.
Your studio should come with a sound technician. That person will know how to get the best out of the space, which equipment to use in which situations, and what you need to bear in mind when you're recording. Ask them questions. Pay attention to the answers. Separate must-haves from nice-to-haves. If necessary, change your plan.
Using your resources
Tape, scissors and careful breathing.
Done well, microphone technique can make your post-production cycle a pleasure. Done badly, it can ruin your hard work. For a shoestring production, chances are that not all of your cast will be experienced voice actors, and even if they are, you need them to be able to concentrate on their performance. Sound-check them thoroughly, and use multicoloured electrician's tape to mark out where their toes need to stay. To avoid cross-chatter, you may need people to share microphones. Microphone partners should be of roughly equal height, and they shouldn't have to address many lines to each other. Tape out two markers for a shared microphone: one for the person speaking, and another for their partner, as far out of the way as can be reached in one step. Get them to take their shoes off, and do that early: sound studios are small, hot and poorly-ventilated. Police page-turns and breathing ruthlessly - there is nothing worse than a perfect read-through contaminated by the sound of rustling scripts.
Record the difficult scenes last.
Monologues are easy. Dialogues are about half as easy. A conversation between three characters is twice as difficult again, and choreographing a six-way argument is like playing high-speed n-dimensional Tetris in the dark with no thumbs. For each day's recording, put the most complicated scene right at the end - by then, your actors will be warmed up and you'll already have overcome any unexpected obstacles.
Preparation is everything.
You're paying for every minute of studio time, and it's not cheap. If you do something on the day and you could have done it a week in advance, you're wasting your actors' time and your own money. Map out what you want from each scene, and get your script annotated.
Make time on the day.
Don't miss breakfast; unlike your actors, you might not have time for lunch. Plan for an hour between arriving and recording the first word. Try to start within fifteen minutes; chances are you'll need the remaining forty-five later on. Ask the studio if it's OK to run on for an extra hour or two if needed, and budget for the extra expense. If you get a scene done quickly and you're happy with it, bank the time you've saved, and re-use it when it's needed.
The fun part
Do it like a pro.
Record at least three good takes of each scene. Unless your production relies heavily on improvisation, the first two takes should be mostly or exactly according to script, which allows you to manipulate the third without pressure. Be disciplined, organised and serious about your work. The people you're working with will match your attitude.
Always have an answer.
They'll ask you questions. Motivation, diction, delivery. Which emotions are mixing and bubbling through a scene, and where they're introduced. Where to breathe. How loud, how slowly, how warm or cold or weary. It doesn't matter whether your answers are right - your actors are asking you precisely because they're not obvious. Go with your instincts, and give a confident answer that you believe. You need to control the room. If it doesn't work, you can always try again.
Believe in your script.
It can sound strange and awkward to hear people reading out the things you've written. Writing, especially writing creatively, makes a person uniquely vulnerable from the moment that someone else sees their work. The contents of your imagination are pinned to the page like a lepidopterist's specimen. They are subject to the critical scrutiny of everyone in the room. Any weakness in your words will be seen. There is nowhere to hide. I was afraid for every minute of that recording, because I knew how much I cared about it, and there's no reasoning with that kind of fear. The leap of faith is unavoidable, and without it - without that sheer force of belief - nothing quite works.