Redshift Reflections – Season 1 Episode 1: Good Service

Redshift Reflections gives our producer Evan a chance to talk about the making of each episode of Redshift. A behind the scenes look at the stories, the voices, and the questionable science behind our audio series.

Good Service was one of the first stories we received in our open author call, and I knew almost right away it was going to be our debut episode. One of the big (and probably obvious) inspirations behind Redshift was the Twilight Zone series, and Good Service hit a lot of the checkmarks of the best episodes: a world that isn’t too far removed from our own, a thought-provoking scenario, and a plot the highlights how human nature interacts with the fantastic, for good and ill.

Casting Redshift episodes often comes down to pairings as much as individual voices. If two characters are going to talk to each other at length, giving those characters too similar voices ends up being confusing for the listener. I knew I wanted to have Amanda Milbradt as DD, since she naturally has this soft spoken and ethereal quality to her voice that both elicits sympathy and “otherness” for lack of a better term, both of which we needed to have in DD. Given that, pairing her with Chad David (who also does the opening and closing credits) became obvious. It also helped that Chad was one of the strongest actors in the cast. Casting Angela Dumalag as Eve was also partially based on pairing her with Chad, but it also came about because I liked the idea of this tiny, bubbly woman engineer at this megacorporation who’s been slowly ground down by corporate bullcrap. Angela in real life is very much a “before” version of Eve, and that quality added a little something to the character that some people maybe pick up on, some might not. Audio dramas are all about filling in the blanks in your head, even if that blank has nothing to do with the story at hand.

Casting Ellen Lucast ended up creating a whole string of different changes to the story as we produced it. In the original short story, the company wasn’t Indian, but Chinese. Hǎo fú wù Robotics (which is Chinese for Good Service) produced the Dingbang (or DB) series of personal service robots and was run by a Dr. Yang. When I do the adaptation of the story, I try to change as little as possible. Unfortunately no one on the cast could do an Chinese accent that didn’t sound like a Charlie Chan ripoff, but I wanted to keep the company foreign owned. I’m not sure why this was a sticking point, maybe I had a feeling like a primarily Asian-owned company with mostly Americans working for it sounded more futuristic, one-world, cyberpunky. Hard to say at this point. Regardless, with this in mind I asked the cast, “who can do an accent?”. Ellen volunteered an Indian accent, and it sounded good enough so Hǎo fú wù Robotics became Achi Sewa (or Good Service in Hindi), Yang became Rostogi and the robot (which we had already named DD because Dingbang reads better than it sounds, plus I wanted to give a more feminine feel to the robots) became Dhatu Dost or Metal Friend in Hindi.

The sound design on a show like Redshift is always great fun and a ton of work to get right. One advantage we have today over the classic dramas of the 1940s and 50s is we can much more easily add background and sound cues to enhance the atmosphere and sell the story a little better. The biggest challenge was the zedwolf attack scene. Since the scene is essentially narrated by Claget and DD, the soundtrack had to be unobtrusive enough not to interfere with the dialogue but also build a sense of dread as the scene plays out, almost functioning like a traditional music score. Some pitched down and manipulated wolf howls gave a nice feeling, and the addition of the crying child just acts like a gut punch. We had several comments that it was a hard scene to listen to (in part because of the tremendous work by Bob Strootman and Nicole Chapin as the terrified parents) which always leaves me conflicted because I’m proud of the work we did and I’m glad it had an effect, but I also hate making people feel bad. It’s the Minnesotan in me, I guess. One weak spot in the sound design in that scene is the I don’t think we properly conveyed the “time skip” which is crucial to the story but just sounds like an error in the recording. I think if we did it over I’d write the scene differently to cover that up.
Listening to Good Service again, a year and a half removed from the original recording, it’s striking to me how far we’ve come as a cast and as a show. Knowing that so much of the cast had little to no experience in voice acting and watching them grow and expand into capable actors has been one of the greatest delights of working on Redshift. As a producer and a director, I was even less experienced than my cast, and thinking back it’s amazing how much my workflow has changed since this episode. That said, I’m still immensely proud of the work we all did on this episode, and I think it set the tone for the show in a big way, both to the listeners and behind the scenes. I hope you enjoyed it!