Barbra Dillon, Fanboy Comics Managing Editor: As a creator and writer of audio dramas, what is it about the medium that you feel appeals most to you and to listeners?
Joel Metzger: What appeals to me? It's cheap! I can “shoot” 20 pages a day in 20 exotic locations all over the world. Or on different planets for that matter. The medium allows me to schedule actors to fit their busy lives without hiring a crew. In fact, I don't even have to schedule the actors playing a scene on the same day. For example, in Episode 8, “Slow Dance with a Fast Girl,” you'll hear a three-way argument between Traci Lords, Paul Nobrega, and John Billingsley. When you hear it put together, you'll have no idea these actors have never actually met. I just love how flexible the medium is.
As far as why people still enjoy this ancient audio medium in a culture that is marinated in visual imagery – I can only guess that they like providing their own pictures. It's not easy to do – it's nearly as hard as reading a book for chrissakes, but you get to use your own imagination – and that experience is deeper and more dream-like than just watching a screen.
BD: Your audio drama, Hothouse Bruiser, is a future-noir story that combines the most exciting elements of the noir, pulp, and crime genres. For our readers who may be unfamiliar, how would you describe the premise of the series?
JM: Put Blade Runner and Sin City in a blender, and pour over George Orwell's Nineteen Eighty-Four. The story takes place in a medical quarantine that seals in all of downtown Los Angeles behind massive glass walls – trapping an entire population from the rest of the world. What makes this city-within-a-city different from dystopias like Escape from New York is that the Hothouse is a slick, hyper-capitalist, neo-noir Darwinian ant farm. The people trapped in the “Hothouse” have a better standard of living than the rest of the world – but they can never leave. As one character says, “We can't get out, but we can crawl our way up.” The story follows “Bruiser,” who is an enforcer for the massive tech company that runs the quarantine. He's very much in the style of the Raymond Chandler detectives – tough, street-wise, and navigating many different worlds. He is separated from his daughter outside the walls who acts as his moral compass. So, the longer Bruiser is trapped in the Hothouse, the more he becomes like the venal, scheming villains he's caged with.
BD: As a seasoned television writer, you are no stranger to the sci-fi genre, with credits including The Outer Limits, Xena, The Dead Zone, and Sliders. What is it that draws you to sci-fi, and are there any sci-fi elements that have been integrated into Hothouse Bruiser?
JM: What is sci-fi anymore? It's like saying “alternative music.” It's been totally absorbed by the mainstream; until now there's more “genre” content than “regular” content. I grew up enjoying sci-fi, but I never restricted my writing to it. I fell into the niche when I sold my first script for The Outer Limits.
As far as sci-fi elements that appear in Hothouse Bruiser – I tried mightily, as all writers do, to come up with new stuff. Everything's been done, of course – but I am proud of a few things. One thing is “Binary Disease,” which has no apparent symptoms – some people carry part A, some people carry part B. All is well until they happen to touch – and both parties bleed out instantly, dying on the spot. Everyone inside the Hothouse has part A, the rest of L.A. has part B – thus the walls. So, the Hothouse is a kind of fishbowl / leper colony where everyone is essentially healthy.
Another invented element is “hexavalent toxin” – a poison that can be tailored to a target's DNA – you can put it in the public water system, but only one person will die.
And, I figured the world of the Hothouse needed a monster, so I came up with “Sandman,” who's a bit like the Grim Reaper. He drains the power grid and plunges the city into darkness – when the lights come back on . . . someone has always vanished.
BD: Producing audio dramas can be a long and involved process, often requiring a very talented creative team. How would you describe the creative process for your shows, and how long does it generally take to go from concept to air date?
JM: I knew I wouldn't be able to produce this in the same way they produce TV – that is, hire a team of writers and start producing the shows in sequence. I wrote everything myself up front, then produced everything in order of actor availability, then edited the whole thing after everything was in the can. Keep in mind I was doing many other projects – so Hothouse Bruiser had a long gestation – about 3 years from start to finish.
BD: Do you have a set number of episodes in mind that will span the story of Hothouse Bruiser, or are you continuing to write new episodes for future storylines?
JM: I have a million ideas for a second season. I think I could get most of the cast of Hothouse Bruiser to return – but I'll really need to monetize the first season in order to make a second season.
BD: The cast of Hothouse Bruiser consists of some amazingly talented creators and performers from popular sci-fi TV shows and films, including Traci Lords (Blade, First Wave), Claudia Christian (Babylon 5), Armin Shimerman (Star Trek DS9), John Billingsley (Star Trek Enterprise), Denise Crosby (Star Trek TNG), Cliff Simon (Stargate SG1), Vanessa Angel (Weird Science), John Terry (Lost), and Jim Storm (the original Dark Shadows). Can you tell us about the process of working with this creative team and the contributions of these individuals?
JM: This was a very unusual situation. Most of these actors never worked with each other during production. The scenes were assembled after the fact. “Bruiser,” played by the amazing Paul Nobrega, had to listen to all the other performers and sculpt his work against everyone else's recorded scenes. This was a highly technical feat of acting, and it really speaks to his skill as an actor. It was an incredibly freeing and creative process for myself and the actors to focus on performances and not worry about lighting, blocking, and all the mechanics of film production. Some actors came in with a lot of VO experience, and some had never done voice work. But, they were all seasoned, and they all came in with a strong take on their characters, so I simply let them do their thing. It was a pleasure to let them run amok.
BD: Being that we focus on all things “geek,” would you care to geek out with us about your favorite audio dramas, TV shows, films, or books?
JM: As far as audio dramas, I, of course, pray at the alter of Orson Welles, whose radio work is even more brilliant than his films. Also, Joe Frank was a huge influence on me – what he created truly took the medium to another level. It borders on hypnosis. It has never been replicated.
Otherwise, I geek out mainly on classic cinema – the biggies, mainly, the aforementioned Welles, Howard Hawks, Hitchcock, Kurosawa, Fellini. Many times, I am more interested in the making of stuff than the stuff itself – I like the director's commentary more than the actual film.
BD: What is the most important piece of advice that you can offer to fans who may be interested in creating their own audio dramas?
JM: Study the masters and pour 90 percent of your energy into the script. If the script is tight, the actors will know what to do. Trust your audience to provide the visuals. If you find that you keep spelling out a lot of detail for the audience, then it's going to sound terrible. The rule of “show, don't tell” still applies in the audio medium. So, don't have an Announcer tell the audience, “She had deep blue eyes.” Have your Lead say, “I fell right into those baby blues.”
BD: What is the best way for fans to find more information about Hothouse Bruiser?
JM: Go to Hothousebruiser.com and download the free app for your iPhone or Droid. Then, you'll have the whole thing in your pocket, and you can listen whenever you like. I've gotten letters telling me about “binge listening” where people will burn through the whole thing in one marathon session. That really excites me – knowing somebody likes the story so much they “just can't turn it off.”