The Adaptation Game

One of the most exciting things about producing our upcoming audio drama anthology Synesthesia Theatre is having the chance to adapt work I’ve already done to a new format. Much of what I write touches on the fantastic, and translating it into a cinematic format would require a substantial effects budget. It’s far easier and more affordable to present through audio.


This is definitely the case with Iron Horses Can’t Be Broken. Explosions, galvanic engines, hot air balloon fights, ancient clockwork siege engines…

That’s one of the most vital skills when writing and producing audio. Learning how to use sound to plant suggestions in the mind of your listeners.

Audio vs Literature vs Film

It’s vital to understand the strengths and weaknesses of each media if you’re going to flit between them as a creator. I come from a background as an author, and what prose does very well is immerse you in the headspace of your viewpoint characters. Your words can put the reader in the mind of your protagonist; you know what it’s like to be what they’re being.

It’s very intimate.

Film, on the other hand, lacks that intimacy. Film is about the visual. Ideally, with film, you can tell the story without any dialog. Film is about directing the eye, about showing, not telling. While the writing and sound design of course matter, film is all about the cinematography. Playing with light and color and perspective to create art.

Audio is the opposite. Dialog is the most vital part of an audio production, and you need to write it with a particular brand of cleverness where you can tell the audience everything they need to know, while still sounding natural and organic. When possible, you can use sound effects to cut out some of that expository dialog; blow a train whistle, and no character has to exclaim that the train has arrived.

It requires a light touch and a keen sense of the impressions you’re creating. Moreso than literature and film, audio requires the writer and producer to be able to step aside and forget about all the story parts the audience won’t know in order to judge how effective they’re being.

I’m pleased to say that I’ve been able to make the transition smoothly.

The Adaptation Process

With Iron Horses I first wrote the novel’s rough draft, set it aside, then approached it with an eye for audio. My challenge was to present all of the character’s internal life in an external way without making it sound ridiculous. An easy solution would have been to include noirish voice-overs, but that device didn’t fit a steampunk western.

Instead, I came up with additional ways to infer the same information when possible, sometimes by expanding the spoken dialog, other times through carefully selected sound effects.

But it’s fast. I wasn’t prepared for how fast the writing goes when it’s all laid out for you. Some segments require little more than a format change.

What’s Next

It’ll take me a few days to wrap up the writing, and then we’ll be ready to cast our voice actors. We’ll be using our film experience to break down the script into easy-to-produce chunks, recording it out of order based on the logistics of getting each scene’s actors around the microphone. Most scenes only require two or three actors, some will need more.

Production should be quick. Post production may take a bit longer, but we’re coming up with our own efficient processes as we go.

Either way, it’s been an exciting process so far, and is about to get even more amazing.

About Michael Coorlim

Michael Coorlim is an author and producer for the Chicago film production company Burning Brigid.

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