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Minister of Chance - Interview with Writer/Director Dan Freeman and Exec Producer Clare Eden

Interview with Dan Freeman (Writer/Director/Producer) and Clare Eden (Executive Producer)
by Jackie Emery

The Minister of Chance is described by its makers as a sonic movie: a film produced without a camera, but with filmic sound, orchestral score and script.

This five episode movie-without-pictures is an absorbing tale that combines mystery, fantasy, magic and science with wonderful characters and strange creatures. The cast is a host of well-known actors, including Julian Wadham, Lauren Crace, Jenny Agutter, Tamsin Greig, Paul McGann, Sylvester McCoy, Sophie Aldred – and of course, Paul Darrow.

Perhaps one of the most impressive things about Minister of Chance was that this quality production was crowd-funded and available as a free download. With no budget for publicity or advertising, its fame spread by word of mouth and social media. Audiences grew into a vibrant fan base, attracting generous sponsorship, and high profile actors asking if they could take part.

In 2013, despite being frantically busy with the launch of the series finale, Dan and Clare gave their time to provide an exclusive interview to Horizon. We started at the beginning...

HORIZON: What are your backgrounds and how did you end up working together?

Dan: I'd worked a lot in radio as a writer, performer and producer. I met Clare through my voice agent.

Clare: My background is a broad mix, but mostly in agenting; originally with actors and then directors and designers. Now I work in lots of areas that spring from that by some route. We met because Dan’s voice-over agent used to represent my clients when I looked after actors, and she introduced us.

HORIZON: In terms of genre, how would you describe Minister of Chance? Is it science fiction, fantasy, adventure, satire, political drama… ?

Dan: Well, I quite like the idea of it being all of the above! In some ways I am always trying to control what I write, and categorise it, rather than just spewing it out. However, there's a sense in which you just have to create stuff as it comes and hope that people like it.

Clare: I describe it as sci-fi fantasy: Dr Who meets Star Wars meets Merlin!

HORIZON: Which came first, the script or the idea of creating a ‘sonic movie’?

Dan: The script for the Prologue was originally a film script, but it was only really when the possibility of making it came up that I wrote it into a sonic movie. That said – I made very few concessions to the medium; I wrote it as a visual film.

Clare: We started with the aim of making high quality audio drama for direct download – then in doing so, Dan used a lot of film techniques and his real passion for his soundscapes created work that just sounds like a film in your head!

HORIZON: How did you initially go about raising funds for the project?

Dan: Overdraft! Then we tried crowdfunding. What a revelation that was! An absolutely brilliant way of making anything.

Clare: Initially, it was all out of Dan’s overdraft, but when the wonderful reviews came in and fans were desperate to know what would happen next, we decided to try our hand at crowd-funding. This meant that we could pay the cast (albeit a risible fee) and cover production expenses. But Dan and I still work for nowt but the pleasure!

HORIZON: How did you go about assembling your cast, who include very well-known, busy actors. And what was it like working with them?

Dan: We just asked them! It was hard for Clare to get them all in the same place at the same time (and sometimes not at the same time). I can't say that it's not intimidating to have to direct big names like that, but you can't let that show. Also, they were really keen on the project so they were very kind and accommodating.

Clare: When you look at the cast list, it beggars belief that so poorly funded a project, in such a brand new left-field venture, would attract them. The reality is that I just sent an offer and Dan’s script, and they wanted to do it! It helps that my background is agenting and that undoubtedly coloured my approach - from then the issue was whether they would come back for another episode... Again, I think the agenting background helped – a low budget is no reason not to make the cast and crew feel properly valued, or to enjoy working on it with you! I wrote a blog profiling all the cast and crew and was very gratified and touched to hear again and again that they really loved working on it. The catering seems to figure regularly, too!

HORIZON: Could you describe a typical recording day?

Dan: We would tend to have a cake and coffee and talk through the scenes and how it would work. We'd have a run through on mic and then we'd do takes until we got it. We had some spectacular lunches at Clare's (as well as everything else she's a brilliant cook). We also had some boozy post-recording sessions in the pub. To be honest, we tried to make it as much of a party as possible.

Clare: We recorded at both the RADA studio and in my home, and in essence for me they ran the same way. It was my role to make sure that ahead of the day, everyone had their call time and contract, and that I’d scheduled the scene order in such a way that no-one had to hang around waiting for hours. The days before were a sea of scenes and sides whirling out of my computer and flying into cast-named folders... lots of coloured wallets and post-it notes - it was a stationer’s dream!

I printed out a full script for myself as the main 'bible', then the core production team - Dan, Chris (sound), Abi (production assistant) and I had all the scenes we were recording that day in shooting order, which is never chronological. The actors got the scenes involving them placed in files with wallets in the order of shooting. For example, an actor may have been recording scenes from two separate episodes, so it helped us all stay calm if the scripts for his scenes were in shooting order and we were not frantically flipping around pages. It took me time outside before the recording, but we found it made it all run more smoothly in the studio. Afterwards, we kept all the scenes and sides and I made them into packages that fans could buy as a perk.

The day itself started with me either wheeling my magic suitcase to RADA bulging with snacks, water and all the scripts, or running round my home with a hoover... and we never recorded without bananas being available to the cast, so somewhere along the line I’d been banana buying! Why bananas? Well, they seem popular because the actors like eating them and they keep you going until lunch, whilst still being good for you! They are good energy foods.

I always tried to be in studio when they were recording, but that’s very much the area that Dan rules. It didn’t work for the cast if we were both chipping in with notes, and over the series I think we got a pretty good understanding in studio – I knew when to shut up and when Dan needed me to proffer something to help!

HORIZON: How long did it take to record the voices for each episode?

Dan: I have no idea really, because in some instances we were recording bits of two different episodes, and where actors couldn't be together in the same room we had to split scenes, and in some cases record them months apart.

Clare: Completely variable! When I scheduled the scene order, I had to make sure proper breaks were available and that’s all guesswork. Sometimes a scene I thought may take a while just fell into place beautifully very quickly and sometimes we found the opposite.

HORIZON: Can you can tell us about Paul Darrow’s involvement? How did he come to take on the role of Lord Rathen, and what was it like working with him? Are there any anecdotes or behind-the-scenes stories you can share with us?

Dan: That voice! I loved hearing him growl and spit malice as Lord Rathen. As with everyone else we asked, he said yes! He was a one-man variety act. In between even the most serious takes he was doing John Wayne impressions and telling endless jokes. He had great delivery – I almost persuaded him to do a standup comedy show.

Clare: When you look at Rathen’s lines the jump to Paul Darrow’s voice was very easy – he brought a delicious mellifluence to it; like a cat toying with a mouse. In the studio he was a gent and had a stack of career anecdotes at his fingertips, along with a terrific John Wayne impression. It would have been very easy to shut up shop and just listen to Paul’s wonderful stories instead! He did make me laugh. In the first block of episodes, he threatened several of the cast with a gun, which of course we didn’t have available - so he used one of the infamous bananas instead… I shall never forget the sight of him aggressively threatening Jenny Agutter and Lauren Crace with a banana!

HORIZON: What was involved in the post-production process – building up the sound design and music?

Clare: This is Dan’s world - once we'd recorded the lines, he was at home working on the sound design and editing.

Dan: I took the raw audio home after recording, and selected the takes I liked. I then started putting in the sound FX. In some cases they were stock FX, but I recorded a lot of them myself, using a small field recorder. For example, for a bit where the Minister is running through a tunnel, I'd go into the basement of my house where there's a stone floor, sprinkle twigs on it, then record myself running on it. I slowly built up the environments like that, and added the music. Then I got more expert ears than mine – Chris Mock and Dan Logan - to alter the sound so it sounded (for example) interior or exterior, and then finally mixed it.

HORIZON: How successful has Minister of Chance been, relying as it did on crowd funding and word-of-mouth publicity?

Dan: I can't believe how successful it's been, our fans are just incredible. I mean, people not only funded it with their own money, but went to amazing lengths to help out. It's almost as if we've got a community rather than a fan base. It's humbling to think of how far we've come!

Clare: It is frustrating that there are so many people out there that we haven’t managed to get this to yet, and that we just know would like it if they heard it... and lack of a publicity budget scuppers us often. But we started with a script, two computers and a lot of coffee in our homes, and out of that we gathered an extraordinarily talented and supportive cast and crew. Our reviews sound like we wrote them ourselves, we won Best Online Drama at the BBC Awards and just recently for the USA Parsec Awards. As well as our leading actors constantly coming back for more, two cast members in Episode 5 (Jed Brophy and Philip Glenister) approached us because they wanted to be in it. It’s been a phenomenal journey, with a lot of twists and turns, but when I look back at what we have achieved out of nothing - yeh, we dun good, I think!

The Minister of Chance is available as free podcasts of 10-minute episodes weekly from Monday 12th October 2020.

Photographs ©Ian Nolan/ Radio Static 2010-12 www.ministerofchance.com


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