Note: Multitude is a podcast collective and production studio. This piece is part of a ten part series by them to help you create a fiction (or any) podcast. Did you see Part Three? Make sure you check that out and come back next Tuesday for Part Five.
With your cast finalized, it’s time to get your ducks in a row. And by ducks, we mean paperwork.
Let’s start by talking about how important it is to hire union actors. In an evolving industry like podcasting, taking cues from artist advocacy groups is a very good thing; from actions and budgets to the way you treat freelancers, every decision your audio company makes is a vote towards making the fair treatment of artists and creators a foundational principle of the podcast industry.
When it came to the production of Multitude’s latest podcast, Next Stop, that meant adhering to the standards for new media productions set by SAG-AFTRA (The Screen Actors Guild – American Federation of Television and Radio Artists).
A quick PSA: hiring union actors and complying with union standards is not grossly expensive, impossibly complex, or a stumbling block for scrappy productions. For instance, hiring one SAG actor doesn’t mean all of your actors must also be SAG; you can hire non-union actors that are working toward becoming members. It just requires you to register your production with SAG, and to make sure that you’re paying fair rates based on their minimums. Based on the total budget for Next Stop, that was $205 per recording session for actors and $105 for background actors. There isn’t currently a definition of what a background actor means in podcasting, so we defined it as anyone with just a few lines in total.
On a scale from sending an email (1) to applying for citizenship (10), the difficulty level of registering your production with SAG is about a 2.5. A few forms, a few emails, and one contribution to their pension and health fund, and you’re ready to go!
Contracts, Or Get a Lawyer, They’re Very Nice Actually
It’s also important to sign a contract with anyone you hire. This is not just in case of a disagreement, either. A contract ought to reassure all parties involved by spelling out exactly what each person is responsible for, when to deliver it, and what to do in the event of questions or delays. SAG and other unions provide contracts for producers to use with their members, so we used the SAG contract for our union actors. For our other actors, we used an agreement that our incredible lawyer, Hannah Samendinger, drew up.
In fact, Hannah gave us permission to share our Actor Agreement as a template for you to use. Please read it thoroughly — she explains what each section is for, why certain parts are required, and what decisions you can make to tailor your contract to your production’s needs.
Just like the pre-production research and planning we discussed in Part 1, preparing in advance for your production week (or day or month) will make your job easier, your budget stretch further, and your final product better.
First, start by making some schedules. Collect blackout dates for each person in your production, and then figure out the best time to get everyone in the studio to record. For our podcast, Next Stop, we planned to record two episodes per day, giving us four hours for each 30-page script, which is a pretty average pace for fiction podcasting. This schedule would give us enough time to account for changes in mic setup, scene takes (at least three takes for each one), pickups of individual lines, and breaks for the cast and crew.
Make sure to create your production schedules with realistic timelines, but also with efficiency in mind. You want to budget plenty of time to get through your scripts without rushing. You can always wrap early! When you mark out the days and scenes on your production calendar, include details about who needs to be where on what days; this will help anchor your team and keep your production on track.
The Scene Breakdown
Here’s your secret weapon for efficient scheduling: a Scene Breakdown. Someone on your production team will read each script closely and take notes on the characters, props, and technical elements required to make each scene work. Using a format like this will help you capture all of the data you need to plan your production week and make it flow smoothly:
From there, take a look at what characters are needed when.
Keep in mind that actors should not be waiting around all day to record one scene. If someone is only needed for a scene or two in one episode, make sure to schedule them in the first slot of the day or the first one after lunch. Or, if an actor is needed for several episodes, but only for a few lines each time, consider condensing their scenes into a single shooting block. That way, they can get their work done without having to do any unnecessary waiting.
Once you’ve figured out who is needed on what day, and compared that with your actors’ availability, it’s time to put together your Production Calendar. This will be your guide to your entire production, from script development to release and marketing.
Next up is the Shot List. This is what your production team will use each day to make sure everything you need to record gets recorded.
Setting Up Your Production Crew for Success
Since you have all of your scheduling done, this is a great time to get in touch with your Sound Engineer, the person who is responsible for running the actual audio session. Start by talking them through your production schedule; for instance, how long will it taket them to switch between mic setups? Does your schedule give them enough time for change-overs between scenes, if needed?
Finally, be sure to show them your Script Breakdown, and work together to create a list of the sound design & foley (sound effects) that need to be captured during each scene. This step is crucial to making your production week go smoothly. Instead of leaving it to your Sound Designer to fill in an effect during post-production, work with them in advance to figure out what needs to be captured during production, and what can be purchased or licensed from online libraries later on. You can probably make a lot of sounds in real life, but that means you’ll have to provide your Sound Engineer with the right props in advance.
Before production week started for Next Stop, we also asked each actor for the pronouns we should use for them, any food allergies or preferences for the catering, and if they had hard stop times on any given day.
Now that all our paperwork is done, it’s finally time to record!
You’ve made an airtight schedule for your production. Now’s the time to talk about those talented, expressive people who will bring your podcast to life — the actors. More on that next week, but in the meantime, be sure to read part three, “Assembling the Team.”