Open Mic Winners Spotlight: A View from a Hill, Bafflegab Productions

  The June 24th New York Festivals Radio Awards ceremony honored exceptional radio content in all lengths and formats across all platforms. Award-winning, producers, directors, presenters and content creators from around the globe took to the stage to accept their glittering trophies and celebrate their success while toasting their peers with a glass of champagne. Truly a night to remember!

For the next few weeks NYF’s Open Mic will feature interviews with the brilliant women and men behind some of the world’s most compelling programs and provide insights and observations from these leaders within the industry.

In this interview, Open Mic spends a few moments with Simon Barnard, Producer for Bafflegab Productions  focusing on his 2019 New York Festivals Radio Awards Gold-winning (Best Digital Drama Program) “A View from a Hill” and Silver Award winning “Casting the Runes” (Best Drama Special).

A View from a Hill is a contemporary retelling of the classic 1925 ghost story by M.R. James. This version, adapted by Mark Morris (winner of the New York Festivals Gold Award 2018 for Best Drama Special), takes the core elements, both plot and thematic, and brings them into the 21st century, adding in a further layer with an exploration of the effect that the death of a child can have on parents. The original M.R. James tale centers around a pair of binoculars, and what might be seen through them; this version links to the podcast and the regular recordings that the character of Paul Fanshawe makes.

The digital drama, A View from a Hill, was produced for Audible Studios, as part of the anthology ‘The Conception of Terror: Tales Inspired by M.R. James,’ and was released by Audible in February 2019.

Open Mic finds out more about Bafflegab’s Simon Barnard  award winning work in the interview below. Simon shares his biggest influence on his creativity, insights on his creative process and the inspiration for his award winning program and more.

New York Festivals: What was the inspiration for your award-winning program “A View from a Hill” and what did you ultimately hope to accomplish?

M. R. James

Simon Barnard: I’d pitched the idea of doing a series of modern-day M.R. James adaptations to various people over the years, without any luck. Ultimately I hoped we could dust off some of the cobwebs from stories that are a century old, and bring them to a modern audience – clothes and technology may have changed, but what scares us has stayed the same. But then I was talking to author Stephen Gallagher about another project, and he said he’d like to write a modern-day version of the James story Casting the Runes. He did (and won Silver with it for Best Drama Special this year), we recorded it, then I took it to Audible and said ‘listen to this.’ They liked it, and said they wanted to release it in a collection with three more M.R. James adaptations – one of which was A View from a Hill.

New York Festivals: Tell us about your creative process and how you overcame any obstacles?

Andy Nyman and Alice Lowe “A View from a Hill”

imon Barnard: A View from a Hill is based upon a 1925 short story, but we wanted to update it to the present day, and expand it to fill an hour. The original conceit is very visual – binoculars through which one can see the past – but it needed to work on audio, so writer Mark Morris swapped it for the idea of a podcast recording, capturing something unexpected on tape. The performances needed to be as naturalistic as possible for the scares to work, the audience need to believe in the characters, so the cast were encouraged to be fairly loose with the scripts. You can really hear it in Andy Nyman and Alice Lowe’s performances – it’s a story about grief, and a damaged relationship, as much as it is about ghosts.

New York Festivals: Who has been the biggest influence on you creatively?

Simon Barnard: Some of the drama podcasts that have arrived in the past few years, like Homecoming, have been a real education in what audio drama can sound like. But growing up I wasn’t really exposed to radio drama, and what I did hear sounded quite alien and stagey, so film and tv were a bigger influence. I found my way into audio drama via radio documentaries, and learned from that about pacing and structure, and how much natural atmosphere and location recording can add to a piece – and also what a natural performance sounds like, I guess. So for A View from a Hill, there were lots of whispered scenes, scared breathing, trying to encourage the actors to walk through the scenes and imagine every stage direction in real time, rather than just read the dialogue.

New York Festivals: What are the top 3 pointers you’d give someone just starting out in world of audio?

Simon Barnard: Just one pointer really – if you really want to make something, just go and do it. I was working at a music radio station, but harboured a secret ambition to make audio drama. So I wrote a script, hired some actors and a studio, and just went and recorded it. Not a clue what I was doing. But the actors survived my terrible direction, I pressed up a few CDs, and the BBC subsequently took an interest and broadcast it. These days there’s even less stopping you – you can put it out as a podcast, and don’t even need a studio.

New York Festivals: What project is next on the horizon for you and your team?

Simon Barnard: We’re not done with M.R. James yet – we recorded another story last month. We’re also working on a few big drama projects for Audible – not all of them horror-related! – and a radio soap opera for kids.

For a complete list of all the 2019 New York Festivals Radio Award winners, please visit: HERE


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