Night Terrace and the Future of Recorded Comedy

Posted on 04 December 2014

State of the Arts, State of the Future

The arts generally are in transition right now. The Internet provides a platform whereby anyone can deliver any media to anyone else anywhere in the world. However, you have to find ways for people to find you and ways to encourage people to pay you.

Ted Nelson, the father of hypertext, conceived of a means whereby micro-charges could be attached to paragraphs of text, segments of music, sections of photos, or a clip of film online. Everyone could charge, everyone would get paid who chose to attach prices to their work. People wailed that you couldn’t do that. The Internet must be this vast repository of free stuff. Of course big corporations were never going to let that happen. This is why we have all the copyright battles we are now facing when attempting to create new works. This is why our exchanges are so lopsided: artists receiving little to no money for their work, while big companies are able to charge and re-charge people for the use of every skerrick of material they can claim as their own. So an egalitarian form of monetary exchange was knocked out of the arena at a crucial juncture.

Night Terrace is an admirable experiment in the online delivery and commercialisation of high quality Australian content. We need these sorts of experiments. The ABC and SBS are being gutted by the current federal government. Magazines and newspapers are slowly dying. Free to air commercial television is becoming solely of interest to an aging population. Radio is facing similar challenges from online content. Advertisers and marketing departments after twenty years continue to be unimaginative, unenlightened, and miserly when it comes to getting visibility by showing support for content of real interest or value. They are in the process of killing the geese who lay golden eggs.

The Night Terrace Journey

Night Terrace is an audio Web series developed by the people of Splendid Chaps Productions. Superficially it is an hommage of the Dr Who genre, but within a few moments into the story clearly it shows an even greater relationship to The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.

When I was first at university I lived in shared accomodation with a shared TV lounge. To enjoy the sorts of shows I liked I ended up listening to a lot of radio theatre during something of a golden era of the medium. I listened to The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy when it was first on air, as well as the BBC production of The Lord of the Rings, Ruby the Galactic Gumshoe, and the early shows of A Prairie Home Companion. Night Terrace shows just as much care and vivid storytelling as any of these productions.

To make Night Terrace happen Splendid Chaps, consisting of Petra Elliott, David Ashton, Ben McKenzie, John Richards, and Lee Zachariah, turned to crowdfunding. Given the pedigree of each of these people, their existing following, likeable subject matter, a stellar cast, and persistent marketing, they were able to use this financing method to back their production. Crowdfunding is not the answer to all funding needs, but it is certainly more democratic than current systems of granting or investment.

Their current challenge is to find a wider audience than their backers. This will require continued marketing. When I have had books published the publishers always expected me to go out on speaking tours to promote them for the next year. Publishers can spend anywhere from 4-20% of their budget on marketing. It’s worth hiring a skilled and up-to-date publicist with good connections into mainstream media to give you more visibility and more word of mouth. Sadly, a number of these are still lost in the past and may not give you bang per buck.

What really needs to happen is for numerous Australian online media creators to come together under larger collective banners and thereby pool marketing efforts and production resources. If these collectives are well curated, you will then have an overall product that will gain ongoing attention from an international audience. This is what Funny or Die and College Humor are all about. Not that they are always successful, but the possibility is stronger. I keep hoping this is what Channel 31 will turn into.

Night Terrace is worthy of a lot of attention. I would like to see it picked up by ABC radio.

About Night Terrace

Satire is much easier than hommage. With satire you are deconstructing a work, finding its weaknesses and absurdities. Often this is done by taking characters or situations a few further steps toward plausible but illogical conclusions. The Noddy/Mr Big Ears controversy, whereby these two children’s characters were made suspect of crypto-homoeroticism because they shared a bed, was ripe for satire. The assumptions made by some people were ridiculous. Tearing something down is always simpler than building something up.

Night Terrace had the unenviable task of attempting to create a work of love without falling into fan fiction. To do so requires mounting a few hurdles. The toughest is the desire to write as if you are your fictional hero. We all love to project ourselves onto favourite characters. However, in doing so we often strip a character of its humanity, in order to present a super image of ourselves without all the fallibilities and vulnerabilities. Flaws are significant for making a character believable and likeable. Flaws also drive the plot and create suspense. When we start playing with a super-self, the audience can easily see the hand of the puppeteer manipulating character and events.

The set up for Night Terrace is that Anastasia Black, beautifully performed by Jackie Woodburn of Neighbours fame, is a former adventurer who is hoping to retire. Unfortunately for her, her new home happens to travel through time and space. The writers work hard and succeed in making the archetype of “The Doctor” fresh with this character. I could have done without the fan nod of “This planet is protected”, but overall she is an original and engaging presence. I enjoyed being able to metaphorically hear eyes rolling in Woodburn’s grumpy delivery.

Not everyone gets that with audio productions you have to create a crisp soundscape that sets the scenes and helps to drive the plot. You can’t do a close-up of a window partially open, but you can include the sound of the wind and the rattle clunk of the window being roughly shut. The sound effects for Night Terrace were impressive. They did not call attention to themselves, but they added to the vivid expression of events.

Audio plays work best when actor-comedians do the performing. Comedy requires a sort of expressiveness that isn’t always present in drama. For audio vocal expressiveness is especially key. One or two actors in Night Terrace were indistinguishable from one another, but I’m not certain how you could avoid that with the sheer scope of this project. On the other hand Francis Greenslade in the second episode of the series was a real audio gem! His voice was colourful and nuanced. I so wanted him to be a regular character. I sincerely hope he is hired to voice more animation, he is perfect!

Night Terrace is a superb piece of work and deserves to go far. My biggest critique would be that they need to be careful about sacrificing plot for jokes upon occasion. But at least you get a laugh! And Night Terrace is consistently funny throughout. I would strongly suggest people buy this as a Christmas gift for friends and family. I can assure you that a good time will be had by all.

You can find Night Terrace here:

https://nightterrace.com/

Peace and kindness,

Katherine


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