Giant Gnome Productions is the team behind the Parsec Award winning podcast STAR TREK: OUTPOST. If you are a fan of TREK, you’ll be impressed by the scripts, quality voice acting, and talent of the team that produces these audio dramas monthly. It’s not all Star Trek; they are looking to resurrect their horror and suspense audio project the THE 13th HOUR. (Writers take note!)
Today we have a quick interview with the Giant Gnomes crew-,Nick Armstrong, Dan McIntosh, and Tony Raymond- as they discuss OUTPOST, podcasting, and upcoming projects.
RK: Can you tell us about the beginnings of Giant Gnome Productions?
DAN: I don’t have much to say on this subject. The founding of Giant Gnome pre-dates me. Although I could make something up, if you’d like. “Once upon a time, there lived a gnome in the enchanted forest. He was a happy gnome. A normal gnome, as gnomes go. But then one day the wicked step-fairy queen mother cast a powerful curse on him, and he grew, and grew, and grew, until he was just too big for the forest, even an enchanted one.
NICK: Actually, I think the original founder, Waleed Ovase, saw a lawn gnome somewhere and decided he wanted to call it Giant Gnome. What I do know is that Giant Gnome Productions was founded in 2008 by Waleed Ovase and joined shortly thereafter by Nick Armstrong, Daniel McIntosh, and Tony Raymond. The first few shows were many and varied:
- Public Service Announcements by Perry Whittle – non sequiturs on daily life.
- The 13th Hour – a horror anthology. Star Trek: Dimensions by Nick Armstrong – about a Starfleet mission to the Mirror Universe, and recently being revived with a new storyline and new cast.
- Star Trek: Outpost written by Daniel McIntosh and Tony Raymond – a show about the inhabitants of Deep Space 3 and some faces and races from Star Trek we haven’t heard much from yet.
- Doctor Who: Legends of a Time Lord by Ryan Cassavaugh.
And in 2013, Star Trek: Outpost was awarded the Parsec Award for Best Audio Drama (Long Form)! It’s one of the first fan productions to ever do that.
RK: STAR TREK: OUTPOST borrows from a familiar universe. What inspired you to expand that universe into an audio drama?
DAN: We had some familiarity with the Star Trek universe. And an appreciation for the humanity upon which Star Trek is based. Being novices at audio drama, we figured “What could be so hard about putting together a Star Trek based audio drama?”
TONY: Originally, the idea was to create an audio drama that focused on someone other than the captain. Our initial concept was titled Star Trek: XO – where we focused on the executive officer, but as the idea developed, we changed the name to Star Trek: Outpost. However, the concept started out focusing on Greg Torkelson, a newly assigned XO to a wayward station, Deep Space Three. He was supposed to be the “every man” who was thrust into a world where he had no control and had to find his own way. Over time, however, that concept changed slightly, and it truly became an ensemble production. As each of the characters “spoke,” they grew – and we found that each of them had a story to tell. Even the Captain. That was a surprise in itself – we had intended Monty Buchanan to originally be a “background character” – one referenced but rarely seen. But over time, just like all the other characters, he grew and took on a life all his own – replete with a backstory and everything.
As for the time period in which it is set, we wanted something near the beginning of Next Gen, yet still within reach of the TOS era…close enough so that things were familiar yet far enough ahead that we could play with some of the cool toys in the Next Gen era (e.g., the holodeck.). Regardless of what time period it is in, there are always stories to be told – and our goal in starting this was not to focus on the “trek-nobabble” or “Trek-nology” but on the people…because people are the common element in all stories…their hopes, dreams, aspirations, troubles, strife… it is what makes us who we are.
RK: Can you give us a brief description of the process behind producing an audio drama
DAN: Panic. Lots of panic. Our stories center around the characters: Torkelson, Exler, Buchanan and all the others. Things happen to them, and around them. They react, and we record their reactions. But the characters aren’t the ones who panic. There is the creative process, of course. An idea leads to a script. The script is sent to the actors, who return the lines. The lines are edited and sounds are added. The finished product is released. It all sounds so simple, doesn’t it? But that is what leads to most of the panic.
TONY: In a nutshell, that’s about right. The process initially took a lot longer than it does now…it was quite a learning curve, but now that we have the hang of it, it does move pretty quickly.
The way it works for Outpost is this: Dan and Tony write the script in tag-team fashion, passing the script back and forth via email anywhere between 6-24 times, each of them adding, editing, etc. Once it’s all been hammered out, the script is PDF’d and emailed to the cast. The cast is literally all over the world – from Amsterdam to Australia and everywhere in between. Initially, we had put out a casting call and received a ton of auditions…from there, we selected our cast. Now, if we have a part that needs to be cast, we send out a casting call or pull from unsolicited auditions that have been sent into us.
Anyway, once the actors have their lines, they record them using whatever audio setup they have. We’ve had people use professional equipment all the way to iPhones/iPads and handheld digital recorders. “Recording studios” for each of the actors varies from professional studios all the way to small closets. (We’ve even had people improvise when they’ve been on the road by covering a table with a comforter and recording under it!).
Now, while the actors work on their lines, the cover art for the episode is being developed, promo work is being done, music is being composed and the next script enters into production.
Once the lines are recorded by the actors, they are emailed back to the “director” who takes the best take of each line and cleans them up for mixing. The lines are then mixed together with sound effects and music, creating the final mix you hear. By the time the episode airs, the next script is on its way to the actors and the whole process starts over again. From start to finish, the whole process takes just less than a month. And all that happens while we carry on “normal” lives with families, jobs, etc. People often ask when we sleep. Sleep? What’s that?
RK: At SMART GIRLS, we are fans of the SF, paranormal, and all forms of speculative fiction. What draws the Giant Gnome Crew to genre entertainment?
I have always been a Star Trek fan. Oddly enough, I was creating audio drama “commercials” with my friends before I knew what audio drama was. I worked as a production director at 90.5FM KCSU in Fort Collins (a college radio station) – so I knew the ropes when it came to audio production, so when I went from radio production into audio dramas, the process was the same, so I just kept on going.
DAN: As for me, I have studied literature and ended up in the field of law field. That said, we have to face a hard fact: Reality is tedious. You can’t really make many changes to it, whether in the name of drama, or just getting a more satisfying ending. It’s the opportunity to play with a reality of my own creation that appeals to me. Certain genres may lend themselves better to certain stories, but in the end the genre doesn’t matter.
TONY: I agree with Dan; developing a world of your own creation is satisfying. My background is in communications and theatre, so telling stories in audio theatre is a natural fit. I’ve been a Trek fan since the 7th grade. It struck a chord for me then (in the days before…way before…Next Gen), one that’s resonated with me ever since.
When it comes to what draws us to this genre, it’s easy to pull from Trek. For me personally, Star Trek (the prime universe Trek – not JJ’s), unlike other sci-fi programs and stories, does not portend a dark, bleak future for human kind, but rather offers hope that we can rise above “all our old ways and old hatreds,” to quote Gene Roddenberry. The journey to getting there offers plenty of opportunities to tell stories about people – not just create shoot-‘em-up action romps. And that’s what we try to focus on in our production – the people and the stories each of them has to tell.
RK: Tell us about your upcoming project: THE 13th HOUR?
TONY: The 13th Hour was originally designed as an anthology program many years ago. We started strong, but at the time, we were unable to sustain the show. However, we never fully abandoned the idea of The 13th Hour, and always kept it simmering on the back burner. We really feel that there is an opportunity to showcase the writing talent that exists out there and this anthology-type program is a perfect venue to do that.
RK: And finally our fun question…What is your superhero (or supervillain) alter ego name and power?
TONY: Wow. I’ve never been asked that before. I’m sure if you ask my kids, it would have something to do with my ‘stache. At least that’s what their drawings of me when they were little would indicate. As for the superpower…hmm… The mustache grants me the ability to accomplish more than most mere mortals. The ultimate multitasking ability. Oh, and it would be for good, not for evil…though the villians have cooler toys…
DAN: I think mine would be I.M.Wright. With the power to tell everyone exactly what it is they are doing wrong. A misunderstood superhero, obviously.
NICK: I suspect I’d me more of an anti-hero along the lines of Doctor Horrible. “Witty Remark Man” – able to make cutting remarks that incite laughter and insult in the same sentence.