“I want to make a movie about zombies,” my 10-year-old Spencer announces while I’m making dinner.
My two sons have been making short documentaries about their daily lives with our digital camera. I’ve encouraged them because they’re learning about the filmmaking and storytelling. Spencer’s idea for a full-on science fiction movie, however, is new. “Daddy can be the zombie. He can dress in rags, and we can make his eyes glow and kind of float out in front of him.”
“Hmmm,” I mumble, neither encouraging nor discouraging. As I dip the chicken breasts in breadcrumbs, I wonder how we would make Daddy into a zombie, not to mention how we would create floating, glowing eyeballs. I see costume making and several retakes of special effects. Moreover, I see Daddy and Mommy editing the epic long into the night, after the children have lost interest and fallen asleep. There is part of me that would indulge them in this. But it is the middle of the week, and there simply isn’t the time.
I don’t want Spencer to lose the muse, however. “What about making it into a radio play?” I suggest. I figure this way we wouldn’t have to create any special effects or elaborate sets; we would simply have to write the story and read it into a microphone. As a matter of fact, “we” don’t have to do much at all. The children could do most of it themselves.
After I go online and dig up some quick examples, Spencer and his six-year-old brother, Murphy, are excited about digging in. They’re particularly thrilled about making sound effects, especially after their father shows them how twisting a plastic bottle can sound like crushing bones. (I think he retrieves this little trick from his boyhood days.)
The kids quickly withdraw to their bedroom to write their script and I get enough time to finish the chicken. Half an hour later, they return with a script scrawled on notebook paper. When they read through it, the story is quite clear. I simply have to point out if a few people are speaking, they need to identify who each person is before they speak. Then their dad and I help them brainstorm the sound effects.
There are no crushing bones in the piece, so the plastic bottle won’t be needed. But we do have to create the sound of a body falling to the floor and one character screaming. Spencer also insists on strumming his ukulele (which he has never learned to play properly) to provide background music.
We set the kids up in front of our computer to read into the microphone. Since Spencer is doing most of the narration and strumming, Murphy falls on the couch to create the sound of the falling body and runs into the bathroom to give a bloodcurdling scream from a distance. (I think Murphy particularly enjoys the scream because he would normally be taken to task for the earsplitting noise under other circumstances.) After several takes and some quick alterations to the script, we’re all happy with their radio play.
Because we have recorded it into the computer, we send it to the grandparents who declare it a masterpiece. Drunk with praise, the boys plan even more complex spooky radio plays in the future.
What monsters have we wrought?
Make It Happen
Before you hit the “record” button, here’s a list of things to do first:
- Familiarize your children with radio plays. You can go online and easily find several examples. I recommend checking out the sites before showing them to your kids because I found several that were too adult.
- Point out that in radio plays it’s all about the sound. Since we can’t see anything, everything must be conveyed by dialogue or sound effects.
- Don’t forget to start with “Who, What, and Where” just like you would with any other story.
- Tell your children to write the script without thinking too much about the sound effects. It doesn’t have to be very long. It simply has to have a beginning, middle, and end. If it’s spooky, you probably want to end with something scary.
- Once you’re happy with the script, decide which sound effects you want to add. Look around your house for things that make sound, like a change jar rattling or a clock ticking.
- Set up your recording device and run rehearsals with sound effects. We actually recorded the rehearsals in case the kids got it right early on.
- Don’t be too much of a stickler. If you’re bent on perfection, the kids might poop out and lose interest.
- When you’re happy with your recording, consider copying it to a DVD or sending as an MP3. Family and friends will love it.