Redshift Reflections – Season 1 Episode 2: Behold The Rusted Hills

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.
Behold The Rusted Hills (or its alternative title Lovecraft Goes To Hibbing) is an odd episode in many ways. It was the most “adapted” script we had done to that point, though through no fault of the author. The original story, written by local food blogger James Norton, had a fair amount of exposition done out of character, and one of the rules I had established when we started Redshift was “no godly narrator”. I’ll talk more about this in the next installment where we cover Episode 3 titled “The Narration”, but suffice it to say that I wanted as much of the action to happen “in the world” as possible and when you start relying on a narrator to fill in the gaps, it’s very easy to slide more into audio book and less audio theater. The downside of this is you have to put words in the mouths of characters (or in the case of Man On Bus at the beginning of the story, make up a whole new character) that can sound stilted or a little too on the nose. I don’t think I was a good enough writer when I was working on this to overcome some of my self-imposed limits, but thankfully when you are dealing with this kind of “weird fiction” you can get away with slightly subpar dialogue (just ask David Lynch).
There’s a saying in writing circles that goes “show, don’t tell” which many people are familiar with and takes on an entirely different dimension when you are dealing with audio drama, where the line between “telling” and “showing” is very blurry. When I was putting this episode together, I think I relied too much on sound design to fill in the gaps in setting, and it didn’t always work. A great example is the scene toward the beginning when Steve (played by Eric Thompson) is traveling to Iron Lake in the coach van with Joan (originally John in the story and played once again by Ellen Lucast who keeps getting cast in roles that change to fit her) and a very surly Russian coach driver played brilliantly by Chad David. I don’t remember what inspired having the driver mumble to himself during the scene and while it was a great piece of improv on Chad’s part, I think in final scoring it ends up being distracting during what is really an important bit of worldbuilding being laid out by Joan.
Minor shill – Patreon supporters can listen to the original audio files of Chad’s rantings on our Patreon page right now. End shill.
One piece of audio design that absolutely worked was the final confrontation between Steve and the aged population of Iron Lake. This scene was truly the moment that we were no longer a bunch of random folks putting on a show and became “The Redshift Cast”. We recorded this episode at Shock And Audio (as opposed to our regular home, Minnehaha Recording Company) which was better set up for crowds scenes, being more regularly used for band recording at the time. We had to move studios due to scheduling issues that were probably my fault but it ended up becoming a happy accident because getting almost the entire cast into a room to play a gaggle of elderly cultists was easily one of the highlights of producing our first season. Under the direction of Bob Strootman, who took the title of “Pain Conductor” after this, a dozen or so mostly under-30s became a first rampaging, then a thwarted, mob of oldsters to create a scene that was the right mix of menacing and ridiculous to match the tone of the overall story really well. Plus it gave us “You will drink!” and “Some kind of dervish”, lines that are still repeated when the actors should be focusing on other things.
One thing I had forgotten since doing this is how much local flavor we worked into the script. Since the story takes place in a very specific location rather than just “the future” or “on a spaceship”, I wanted to bring in as many details as I could that local listeners (at the time the vast vast majority of our listeners) would catch without distracting too much. Beyond the Soviettes and Triple Rock Club mention in the first scene, the final scene also has samples of rapper POS and spindly local radio titan Mark Wheat thrown in. Adding in little bits that are only amusing to a very small audience (sometimes that audience is just me) became more prevalent in the second season, but this is probably where it began.
If I were inclined to do such things, Behold The Rusted Hills is easily the episode I’d most like to give another shot. But for all of its flaws, it is an incredibly important episode for me and the rest of the Redshift cast. This was our “Mallrats”, not perfect, maybe not even as good as our first effort, but important for our growth and influential in all of our later work.