It is with child-like excitement and almost idiotic glee that I, Geek Syndicate’s own Stacey Taylor, can announce that I’ve been cast in the soon-to-be-recorded second series of Ray Gunn and Starburst! To find out just what I’ve let myself in for, I sat down with series creator Holly Rose (voice of S.U.I.T), producer Ian Sharman (voice of Castelan Lar) and star (or sidekick?) of the show, Dominic Westerland (voice of Ray Gunn) to find out more about Series One, the ins and outs of producing an audio comedy drama and biscuits…
GS: For those that haven’t heard Series One, who are Ray Gunn and Starburst?
IS: Ray’s just this guy, you know? You sass that hoopy frood, Ray Gunn? Now there’s a guy who really knows where his towel is. No, actually Ray Gunn is a fairly useless idiot, recently divorced because he was going through a midlife crisis and found tinkering with his spaceship to be more important than acknowledging the existence of his wife. As for Starburst, as we discovered in series one, she’s a clone of the most evil man in the galaxy. She ran away because she didn’t want to be the most evil woman in the galaxy. Also she was lured away by the prospect of finding decent biscuits. After all, there are only so many cream horns you can eat before you start craving a chocolate digestive.
HR: Ray Gunn and Starburst are heroes. Sort of heroes. Starburst is a hero, she literally has it written into her DNA to save people and do the right thing, though sometimes that pushes her too far. Ray on the other hand is there to ask questions and generally be the slightly weird uncle. They love each other in a strange family kind of way but that doesn’t stop them arguing about Starburst not getting into trouble.
DW: Ray Gunn and Starburst are a pair of adventurers, gunning around the universe and having whacking space adventures. Ray Gunn is currently in a midlife crisis of sorts and decided to bag himself a rickety spaceship, the totally logical solution. Mostly though, he isn’t overly good at this adventuring lark and is instead dragged kicking and screaming around the cosmos by Starburst, his would be sidekick. If he wasn’t the sidekick.
GS: Where did the idea for RGAS come from?
DW: It was all Holly’s idea! I’m just the dashing voice at the end of the microphone.
IS: Holly and I were in a pub in London on St Patrick’s Day several years ago and we had an idea for a story about a useless science fiction hero called Ray Gunn. We noted it down quickly and then spent the rest of the day coming up with a much better idea. We fully plotted that out and completely forgot about Ray Gunn. It involved Winston Churchill living in the Tower of London in a 1950s London where WW2 had never ended. One day we’ll get back to that..
HR: The Ray Gunn idea sat in my head for the next four years until I pulled it out again for my final University project. I came top of my class and was offered the chance to record a pilot of the rest episode and from that, the rest of series one was born.
GS: How daunting a task was creating S1?
HR: Oddly, it wasn’t until we actually launched the Kickstarter that it became a daunting task. I was very naïve about the whole thing! The Kickstarter was the only bit that really stressed me (and Ian) out. Even the recording and everything wasn’t that scary, it was just really exciting!
IS: I think we were convinced that series one wasn’t going to happen throughout the whole funding campaign. Then, suddenly, we were fully funded and scripts had to be finished and hotels had to be booked and a week later we were in a studio in Cardiff recording the bloody thing. We didn’t have time to be daunted, we just had to do! I remember at one point on the Saturday night of the weekend we recorded the first series the whole cast had fallen asleep on our hotel room floor while Holly and I were sat on the bed still writing scenes for episode six. It wasn’t until after the recording when I was back at home with my Dropbox filling up with raw audio files that I became daunted by the sheer scale of what we still had to do.
DW: Incredibly daunting! I knew we had a fantastic script, great actors and all of the behind the scenes stuff sorted but (and I’d imagine the others would back me up on this) the Kickstarter was totally intimidating. There is the figure just staring at you from the webpage, getting the word out there and the worrying if it actually get off the ground. All the stress was before the actual recording!
GS: Getting the right people on a project like this is key to it’s success; what were you looking for from potential voice actors, particularly for RG & S?
IS: The first thing we look for is talent, obviously, but beyond that we have to think about how well people are going to cope with spending a whole weekend cooped up in a recording studio together. So, new casts members have to feel like “one of us” to some extent. That said, most of the cast of series one were strangers before we recorded, so we’re good at quickly assimilating people. Like The Borg.
HR: To be honest, I had no set idea of what would be “perfect” for either of them when I first started writing, they just kind of appeared on the page. Actually Dom and I had been friends for a while and he recorded a spoken word piece for me for a different project and the moment I heard it I knew, this is the voice of Ray! Even though Ray was only half a script at that point, it just hit home so hard. As for Starburst, I had pictured my little sister (the original inspiration for Starburst, though Star and my sister have changed so much since then), so I guess her voice was sort of her. However, Georgia’s audition was so perfect, it was an instant moment of complete love and “OMG THAT’S HER!”
GS: How did you cast/come across the roles?
HR: I guess I answered this for Dom and how I found him, but the others I held completely open auditions, and actually I did for Ray as well, despite being sure I wanted Dom, I didn’t want to limit myself, just on the off chance. Plus I wanted to be fair. We advertised the auditions on Facebook and Tumblr, and found all our beautiful cast.
IS: To a certain extent The Castelan was written with me in mind, but Holly still made me audition for the part. I’m not bitter about that at all…
DW: I knew Holly through cosplay at conventions around the South Wales and Bristol area. They put the idea of the show past me at a fancy cafe in Bath and I was pretty much sold on it from the start.
GS: How quickly did you get a feel for the characters and their motivations?
DW: For me, Ray Gunn comes from a rich back catalogue of rubbish science fiction and fantasy heroes. The touchstones for me were Bilbo Baggins and Arthur Dent. Both of them are leads in their own stories, but they aren’t your typical hero. They’re out of their depth, the events going on around them are far bigger than what they are used to. There is a lot of that in Ray too.
IS: I guess it was fairly easy for me as I was involved with the project from the start and edited the scripts. Also, Holly and I ended up sitting down and plotting out episode five of Series One, which is pretty much a Catelan Lar solo show, together. So I had a fair amount of input into how he was written. Of course the Castelan isn’t really in Series Two and it’s taken a bit longer to get a handle on my character for series two, but running lines during the auditions helped with that.
HR: Well they have been living in my head for six years, they’ve been growing like little character trees waiting to blossom into beautiful nerds.
GS: The production values on Series One are tops; how much importance was placed on getting the background music and foley right? (And is foley work as much fun as I imagine it is?!)
IS: Firstly, thank you for the kind words about the production values. Many hours were spent hunched over my computer trying to get it to sound right and I’m pleased that it all paid off in the end. I think the only way I can communicate how important it was for us to get the music and sound effects right is to say that it was the cause of the closest Holly and I have come to genuinely falling out in eight years of friendship…and it was only because we both cared so much about getting it right. But, really, our disagreements were never about what what music or sound effects we should use, but how much music and the volume of the sound effects. We quickly got to a point where we were on the same page though, and it was smooth sailing from there. As for how fun foley is, I’m going to have to disappoint you. It merely consists of searching through websites full of royalty free sounds looking for the exact sound you want. Which can be hard, because you know you’ll know it when you hear it, but finding the right words to type into a search engine can be a little tricky. I did manage to sneak in a Wilhelm Scream though, which was very satisfying. The most fun was creating soundscapes, though. Setting a scene and creating a sense of place purely through combining sounds.
HR: So important! Ian and I had full blown arguments over the music. We didn’t talk for a few days. I had a really clear idea of what I wanted and so did he and well, yeah, explosion! The foley was all him, having to follow my ridiculous, and actually impossible SFX instructions in the scripts haha.
DW: A side note maybe, but hearing the show with the sound effects was one of the highlights of Series One. It sounded so polished!
GS: S1 was very refreshing in it’s subversion of typical sci-fi tropes, was this a conscious decision or just a happy by-product of the story?
IS: It was conscious decision that, I believe, went as far back to those first story ideas in the pub.
HR: Completely conscious. That was my entire plan from day one. I love sci-fi but it’s so hard to find something that doesn’t place women as sidekicks and doesn’t Trinity them, or just turn them into love interests. I got really annoyed. From there I decided if I was going to throw one trope out of the window, I might as well get rid of all of them. It’s also allowed me to go further with Series Two, talking about gender and sexuality, openly and frankly because we aren’t hiding behind the tropes and stereotypes. Hopefully if we can make Series Two and then Series Three we will really be able to get into the deep stuff about all of that and completely screw the tropes.
DW: It was the intention from the start or as from when I joined the project at least! I adore the whole genre of science fiction but I think it takes itself a little too seriously a lot of the time. Either that, or it attempts to be light hearted and doesn’t really succeed. I think it is safe to say that it was our intent with Ray Gunn And Starburst from the start to make something a little lighter.
GS: What can listeners expect from Series Two?
HR: Cuties being cute? Ha! Well series two is all about time travel and how time travel makes no sense, and sounds like David Bowie. We also have new characters, the somewhat unsettling Librarian and the out of this time Kes, a time hitchhiker. I’m really looking forward to letting Kes loose on the world, they are this scientist who can’t quite get things right, but also they are non=binary. I really wanted to put a non-binary character in, and not just in a fun quirky “what’s in their pants” way, but to actually talk about it, to use the word and discuss what that means, and we do, more than once. OK, we aren’t going to lecture people on the it but talking about it felt important and necessary.
IS: More of the same, in that the show will continue to confound your expectations. The obvious thing to do would have been to bring back The Castelan, so we’re not doing that…as fun as he is to play. We have a new character joining the crew, Kes, which gives us an opportunity to discuss gender identity as they’re non-binary. I’ve always found one of the strengths of science fiction is that it gives you a platform to discuss issues which people might be less receptive to when discussed in other genres. We already have a genderless AI who only exists in the form of an item of clothing, a character who identifies as non-binary seems a lot less unusual within that context. Ultimately, though, with Series Two we’ve set out to tell the most ridiculously convoluted and paradox ridden time travel story in the history of science fiction, with moon shuttle hijacking space pigs.
DW: Ray being utterly useless. I hope he gets character development but still remains, at heart, a little bit rubbish at being a hero.
GS: How difficult was the audition process for Series Two, given that you’ve become quite a team through Series One?
IS: As I touched on before, one of the things we had to consider this time around was how well new cast members would fit in with the existing cast. That said, ultimately, I think Holly and I knew who was going to get each of the new parts from the moment we first heard them read for the parts. Casting is 90% gut feeling and then 10% trying to rationally justify that gut feeling to each other.
HR: Actually it was really easy. Having Ian, Dom and Georgia on board meant that we could talk about what we all felt and wanted from each part and, even though the final decision was mine, having their opinions and knowing they were by my side was important.
DW: It was interesting. We had two new characters to find voices for. They needed to both match the established cast and sound different from what we already had. The latter is certainly true for Stacey who plays our villain – not what we thought of for The Librarian, but completely the character once we heard her voice. The moment when Eleni (who will be playing time traveller Kes) spoke it was that same moment of ‘hang on, here is the last piece of that character’. It all came together with that voice.
GS: Where can people find S1 and the IndieGoGo page for donations?
IS/HR: You can download all of series one for free from our website here: https://raygunnandstarburst.wordpress.com/downloads/ We also have a two CD set of series one available which includes outtakes from the recording sessions. We swear. A lot. The CDs were available as one of the rewards in our Kickstarter campaign and we now sell them at cons…and will, eventually, set up an online shop so you can order them from the website. The Indiegogo page where you can back Ray Gunn And Starburst Series Two can be found here: https://www.indiegogo.com/projects/ray-gunn-and-starburst-series-2/#/
I, for one, can’t recommend you going to listen to Series One enough; I took a shine to immediately and frankly am gushing a little bit at being involved in any way in Series Two. Ray Gunn and Starburst is smart, funny, different and above all, well worth your time!
Interviewer: Stacey Taylor (@StacebobT)