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Scripted Audio Is Having Its Moment… Again

It’s said those who don’t learn from the past are doomed to repeat it. Well, we’re learning from the past and looking forward to repeating it.

There’s a new game in town.

Rather an old game. Really a ‘new old’ game. More precisely, a new old game rebranded as ‘scripted audio’ or ‘scripted podcasts’. What we used to call ‘radio’.

Technology has changed everything. For screenwriters, it has given us hundreds of original programs, over 50 networks, and now audio and video streaming. Because of expanding internet capabilities media has become an instantaneous global mobile business. There are no borders. No boundaries. The need for content is massive. Suppliers are scouring everything. Creating enormous opportunities for creators that never existed before.

My awareness of ‘scripted audio’ as a viable platform goes back a few years when Amazon executives came to L.A. from New York to present to WGA members the opportunities self-publishing offered.

The Audible executive (Amazon’s audiobook platform) opened our ears to the power of audiobooks. At the same time, we were told audiobooks wasn’t going to be their only business. They were getting heavily into this nascent concept of ‘scripted audio’. Every conceivable type and genre is possible. Fiction. Non-fiction. Comedy. Drama. Variety.

If you look at the history of media the radio shows of the ’30s and ’40s became the television shows of the ’50s and ’60s. You can listen to many of these vintage radio shows for free in the Old Time Radio Archive for ( From I Love Lucy to Dragnet to The Great Beyond. What’s being done now is what I call reverse engineering.

If this is new to you do yourself a favor and Google ‘scripted audio’ or ‘scripted podcasts’ and stand back as the scrolling begins. Then listen to some of the great work being done. A whole new medium. Important players are getting into it and why shouldn’t they?

When you stop to analyze it, audio has many advantages. To start with, it is mobile and global. You can listen to it anywhere. While driving; or shopping; or at the gym. There is something freeing about not having to look at a screen.

I recently created and taught a scripted audio workshop online through the UCLA Extension Writer’s Program and hope to do it again. Continuing to spread the word I followed that up with a seminar at the WGA under the auspices of the Writers Education Committee. The WGA seminar was recorded by the WGA and is available online.

Audio is blind.

Writers, actors, and actresses fringed by ageism or racism are finding plenty of opportunities to lend their voices and talents to scripted audio.

To illustrate, at the end of the WGA Seminar a writer in his 60s came up to me and said, “I can do one of those,” determined his age wouldn’t stop him. After which a young writer in his 20s just starting out also came up to me and said: “I can do one of those”.

The highest-profile program at the moment is Homecoming, a series on Amazon Prime starring Julia Roberts. Directed by Sam Ismail. Written and created by Eli Roth and Micah Bloomberg.

As writers ‘scripted audio’ gives you another chance to get exposure and activity that is worth thinking about even for old scripts you have that can be adapted to scripted audio. It can be a critical sample in your portfolio.

The process of writing an audio script requires some major adjustments to your process. You have no visuals to help. The listener’s imagination might be the best visual you can create. It’s so much more personal and intimate.

The creative use of music and sound effects can enhance the experience. But unlike the old days of radio when they had to be inserted live on cue while the program was being recorded, these days you can insert them in post-production.

What might be subtly communicated seeing the action or facial expression might have to be more boldly emphasized when you have only audio to set the stage. A car that swerves on screen might not be understood without the image on screen. The sound effects have to be bigger and broader. The squeal of brakes. The hitting of a trash can, whatever. But it’s fun to think in audio-only terms.

Scripted audio allows you more freedom as a writer. You can use as many locations you want to in this world or out. It doesn’t cost a dime more. You don’t have to worry about budgets. The only genre that doesn’t work in audio is animation!

Scripted audio started gaining momentum with the release of the documentary series podcast Serial from This American Life folk. Its popularity called attention to and started the trend to scripted audio proving its viability. Many who never thought of it before suddenly made audio a platform of choice.

It’s a fantastic opportunity for writers to get involved in. Any type. Any style. Any genre. No waiting. As a writer turned entrepreneur turned producer you can now explore taking your old scripts in addition to new ones and adapting them to audio projects. Unlike web series, an audio project is traditional length.

I can’t believe after all the years as a screenwriter, first creating commercials, then being a working writer in movies and television, it was drummed into us, ‘show don’t tell’. Show don’t tell.

Now what? I can’t show. But the listener’s imagination might be the best visual there is. The truth of the matter is adapting to the new requirements of audio is fun. Last year Amazon put under contract 15 playwrights to create material for scripted audio.

It’s mobile. You can listen to an audio production while driving. At the gym. Shopping. On vacation. It’s often a pleasure not to be staring at a screen. Because it’s streamed on the internet it is mobile and global which can make for a great opportunity to get a larger audience than you ever thought you could. And still have it be a small share of the pie.

It’s been pointed out more than once, the writer is the first link in the chain. Nothing much happens until the script is written. So, this is your chance. Be the first link in the chain. Create something that interests you. Something you want to hear. There will be others who want to hear it too.

In terms of production the ability to get it right the first time or seventh time is even easier. In the old days of radio, the shows were done or recorded live so the music and sound effects, the horse’s hooves, the car chase, had to be put in the exact right place. The exact spot. On cue.

No longer. All those elements are inserted, refined and sampled in post-production.

In my quest to empower writers to be more entrepreneurial, more proactive, and not wait for that call that never comes from their agent – in the past I have encouraged ‘creating a web series’. Now I’ve added to the repertoire scripted audio. So, go out and create your own projects. If nothing else write them.

Take one of your old screenplays, pilots, or plays and adapt it for audio. You never know who might be listening. Somebody just might call and wonder if this audio production they heard could be made into a tv series or movie. That old busted script you have that couldn’t sell and nobody wanted to read will soon find a rebirth the way you wanted to do it in the first place.

I no longer talk of screenwriting but now have broadened my terminology to ‘scriptwriting’ to include scripted audio.

Welcome to the good old days — again! Scripted audio is the new black!
Creative Screenwriting Magazine is an online resource for screenwriters, with articles on the craft of screenwriters, and interviews with working screenwriters and industry folk who live the film and TV industry every day. Sign up to our Newsletter, or following us on Facebook or Twitter. "The Best Magazine for Screenwriters." The Washington Post and The Los Angeles Times.

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