5 questions for: Chris Thompson, Head of Audio Production, Penguin Random House Audio

Grud on a Greenie! Penguin Random House Audio have recently released another batch of audio dramas adapting classic tales from 2000AD, including one of my all-time favourites, Dredd vs. Death. As part of the official blog tour, I had a chance to talk to Chris Thompson, adapter and producer of all five dramas about bringing the epic clash of the Judges to audio.

Chris, you’re the producer of the 2000AD audio line from Penguin Random House. Tell me, what is your 2000AD origin story? Can you remember your first encounter with the Galaxy’s Greatest Comic and what it meant to you?

I actually came to 2000AD recently, last year, when I worked as director and sound designer on Dredd: America, Dredd: The Pit and The Ballad of Halo Jones! As an audio director you’re expected to produce pieces across all genres and to be able to adapt to everything that comes your way. There are no half measures when it comes to turning comics into audio dramas, so I instantly set about inhabiting the 2000AD world – and there really is no other way with this material than to dive straight in and go with the flow. As an exercise in discovery, there’s nothing like it. Each universe has its own rules and idiosyncrasies (the epic mashup that is Nemesis the Warlock, which we made this year springs to mind!), and it’s your job as the director to understand these intimately and recreate their audio offshoots – an immediate and visceral way of telling these stories. So where did it all start for me? Halo Jones – and there really couldn’t have been a better introduction to 2000AD and its aesthetic.

What was the biggest challenge in bringing the world of Mega City One to audio and how did you overcome it?

… the sheer number of characters for a start! Across the five dramas we made this year (Dredd vs DeathDredd: OriginsShamballaRogue Trooper and Nemesis the Warlock) we had to portray upward of 750 characters. That’s a lot of recording hours (approximately 8 weeks in total!) and a lot of context to give to actors (‘ok, here Dredd is going on a rampage’, ‘here Judge Death is squeezing a victim’s heart before he teleports to another dimension’, ‘here Judge Anderson is walking through the mind of Vernan D’Arque’…). Any actor will tell you these sessions are draining too – I think each member in our acting chorus died approx. 20 times in a session – not to mention all the fights/screams/chases etc. Then, once we have all this material it’s a case of world-building in postproduction. How do you build Judge Dredd’s Lawmaster? (answer, approx. 5 layers of sound design) How do we render Death’s voice in his spiritual VS bodily form? (answer, ethereal FX, multiple delays, moving around the stereo spectrum!) What should Satan sound like when he implodes? (answer, loud!)

The main challenge to overcome is the sheer amount of detail that goes into the panels… You identify what in the image makes a sound, what should be most prominent… what doesn’t make sound but we need to be aware of… how do the panels make us feel as an audience, and how do we recreate that feeling in audio or music? At the end of it all you just have to trust the source material – it’s all there in a delicate balance. Your job is to recreate that balance in audio for it to work – if any elements are missing, the scene doesn’t flow as it should.

Peter Serafinowicz follows in the footsteps of Mark Gatiss playing Dredd’s nemesis Judge Dredd in audio. What did you look for when casting the ultimate Dark Judge?

Given that Death is the most iconic villain in the new collection we wanted an actor with the chops to match, so we were looking for a brilliant and commanding character actor. We were also particularly looking for someone who could convincingly render Death’s iconic speech patterns. We spent a fair chunk of time in the studio finding the appropriate voice for Death. Peter Serafinowicz’s commitment to his craft is such that I had concerns for his next speaking engagement (!) – but his performance is heavy and chilling. I also had him doing a lot of heavy breathing, fighting and squeezing in the studio! His Death sits starkly in opposition to our athletic, gruff Dredd (taken on with great aplomb by Adam Basil) and simultaneously wisecracking and intense Judge Anderson (played startlingly by Amber Rose Revah).

What advice would you give young creatives who want to take their first step into audio drama?

I suppose the best start has to be to listen to lots of storytelling, it all its forms. From single-voice audiobooks, to podcasts, to audio dramas themselves. The only way to get a sense of the challenges you need to overcome in audio is to experience as much content as possible. While you’re doing that…

In audio dramas, on second listen, pay attention to the FX and backgrounds. Notice what leaps out and what you didn’t hear first time around. Imagine what it would be like if it wasn’t there.

Across audio media, on second listen, pay attention to music – how aware were you of it when listening first time? When does it pull focus?

Notice above all that in all great audio voice production, voice is king. Effects and music have a way of luring us in postproduction towards over-mixing (ie: we tend to let them be too loud or pull focus where it’s not wanted). In my view, in world building and in the creation of drama, these elements must support the narrative above all. That is when they are most impactful.

Do all this, and join production at any level to start with, to see how it’s done. One step at a time, you’ll carve the space you want to occupy.

What is the best piece of professional or creative advice you’ve ever been given? 

My mentor told me that when you’re directing in studio, you have to have ALL the answers. In other words, prepare. Actors, sound designers, composers, and editors will come to you with questions about how to carry out certain production choices. Make as many decisions as you feasibly can before you go into the studio (equip yourself to make these decisions by researching, always guided by the listener experience), then roll with the punches and go with the creative flow when you’re there.

Click here for more about Dredd vs Death, which is out right now, citizen!

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