Meet the Hazardous Players: writers, artists, and the creators of Knighttime, an online fantasy adventure series that might best be described as podcast meets illustrated guidebook, or medieval tales with every medium under the sun.
In short, their work shows that old-fashioned storytelling is alive and well. So without further ado, we’re delighted to present our interview with the Hazardous Players, edited lightly for length (all images courtesy of Knighttime):
Knighttime tells stories through a unique blend of audio, drawings and text. Is there anything else like it, and if not, how did you get the idea to blend these mediums?
We would like to start off by thanking Jen and Lisa for this interview, we really appreciate it.
Knighttime is an experiment and though we would eventually love to publish Knighttime through more traditional means, the website allows us to play with ideas and media. As we all discovered our mutual interest in fantasy and our abilities to make ridiculous voices we, the Hazardous Players, thought perhaps different mediums would allow us to play with many narrative ideas, using different creative techniques to express some aspect of the story and craft the humor. Maybe an idea works better as an episodic audio story as opposed a written story, or perhaps some combination of the two, oh look that’s interesting—but wait maybe throw in some video or art, oh yea why not, here are some photos I took, try those (sort of our thought process in action there.) The internet seems a perfect playground to try new ideas. We readily admit that not everything we do is successful, but that is part of the enjoyment of experimenting, occasionally you get Frankenstein’s Monster and sometimes you end up with Flubber.
Now, we are not terribly tech savvy, but we are learning as we as we go. The site itself right now is very rudimentary, but hopefully we can partner with someone who can build our vision of an interactive space which incorporates all the varied mediums. Some folks out there have built gorgeous sites like Tale of Tales, the Endless Forest which is an artist’s built fantasy world where your avatar is a deer and you wander this beautiful world interacting with other avatars. Though The Endless Forest isn’t quite what we are doing, seeing sites like this makes us realize the potential of a unique visual, auditory and literary experience.
How do you put together a podcast? How long does the process take? By the way, cool sound effects. How do you make them?
It can be difficult finding time to get together, we all have full time jobs which is why currently it can be a bit of time between episodes. In our perfect fantasy we spend all day in a large recording and drawing studio constantly producing new material. In reality we get together when we can in one of our kitchens and shoo everyone else (wives, kids, dogs and cats) out of the house. I’d like to say we are all hams with no inhibitions about performing, but the truth is we all suffer from some form of shyness. Sometime we record our parts separately and William pastes them together adding the appropriate sound effects though it is always better if we can get together.
The writing is a group effort; we pass around the scripts, making suggestions and adjustments. Then at the time of recording we may improvise new material as long as it doesn’t mess with the narrative arc or seem out of character for one of the …well…characters. But, if we can improve a joke we will. There are few we let slip by that when we listen now we groan at the lameness of it.
The lion share of the production work is done by William; the project is his baby, so he is the one that loses the most sleep. He had audio production training in college, giving him some skills with sound engineering. He is also responsible for the sound effects some of which are downloads, some are recorded on a portable recorder, and others are created using different audio software. There has been many a time when he has been throwing pots around his kitchen looking for that perfect sound of armor crashing to the ground.
You mentioned that the project began partly to get one of your sons interested in reading. Yet most of the storytelling takes place through the audio medium. How has Knighttime affected your son’s interest in reading? Is he now a budding radio producer?
Well, hmmm, yes he does read more, it can still be a bit of an effort, actually his passion is not radio production but film making, which at fourteen he is pretty good at it. I have to say his ability to construct a pretty decent narrative in a short film is fairly mature. Perhaps that quality has come from reading, though it may be the fact that his father (William) is a film fanatic and has been trying to introduce him to quality film (ok, lots of garbage too) since he was very young.
Also he is a ham, and loves to act, but other than the fleeing villager in the Knighttime video short, we haven’t figured out how to incorporate him into the production, though I imagine it is only a matter of time. He and William did do a short performance in character, based on Knighttime at a storytelling festival.
Knighttime uses a lot of “traditional” medieval fantasy elements: knights, dragons, quests, talking animals, magical plants, etc. Do you draw on any particular mythologies?
We didn’t want to just make a purely traditional fantasy story; there is a lot of that out there. Initially we started that way, drawing inspiration from Tolkien and his cohorts, all big influences on us, but we wanted to have fun with the genre. So yes, we have the conventions of fantasy, but we try to put a satirical or surreal spin on them. Like science fiction, in fantasy you can do pretty much anything. We plan on trying to be more inventive with the parameters of our world.
The Henchwoods Guide is a companion piece to Knighttime in which Professor Flanigan Henchwood, author of the guide, has been attempting to catalogue all the magical flora and fauna of Knighttime. With this particular branch of Knighttime we have been able to imagine new creatures. We look at biology reference books, Greek mythology, and different animal identification guides and then tweak it. There is enough weirdness in our own natural world that it doesn’t take much to place in the fantasy realm. Of course we also just make stuff up, but we try to give it some feasibility.
There aren’t many female characters or kids in Knighttime. Why is that?
We have been asked this before and the answer is kind of embarrassing, we just are not that good at female voices yet. Yes, we can do the high squeaky Monty Python type British lady voices, which we do use on occasion, but that doesn’t always do justice to the character. As we have never had formal voice and performance training we do have some limitations. If Knighttime gets some traction and more interest we can bring in guest performers to play parts allowing us to add a little variety to the vocal work including more lady folk. In some of the written portions of Knighttime, including the book we are currently working on we have added more strong women’s roles.
As for kids, we do have Timothy and Colin. They seem to be popular, though they have only appeared in one episode so far. They are sure to make an encore performance at some point. We have even thought of doing a smaller series of their misguided adventures around their hometown of Pimpleton.
There’s one Knighttime short film on the website. Are you interested in producing more video?
Oh, we would love to make many more video projects. Logistically it’s difficult and there is ye olde time constraint problem. We would like to produce a regular web series following different characters, as hopefully as the site grows that will become a reality. The current short film was just to get our feet wet, get familiar with the equipment and editing software. Mostly we just took shots of fantasy-like landscape and edited it together.
We are fortunate that we live in an area with plenty of locations that can pass for Udenland (our fictional country) and the three of us have collected many costumes with a certain medieval feel. So most of the elements are there, we just have to find willing actors and come up with some decent scripts and of course find the time. The films won’t look like The Lord of the Rings, but hopefully they will be fun.
Why do you think Knighttime appeals to kids and what are your ultimate hopes for Knighttime’s future?
We hope it is an engaging tale told in a somewhat unique way and that the performances keep it entertaining. We have discovered that the youngest kids like the silly voices and slapstick. They may not always get the joke, but they do understand someone running into a wall. Older kids and adults (which surprisingly compromise a large part of our audience) seem more interested in the story and the characters.
There are many directions we would like to take Knighttime both with media and story. In conjunction with the various online activities we are working on a chapter book which follows a Henchwood Guide expedition. It is presented from the point of view of a journalist sent along to record the events, giving the story a nonfiction/fiction perspective. Plus we have piles of artwork that could be collated into art books and we could produce animated shorts and a graphic novel and live shows and…we must stop here, or we will explode. The ideas are many but as for are our “ultimate hopes” we just hope to be able to produce Knighttime as long as possible and have fun doing it. Sure we would like the project to be able support itself so we could achieve all the aforementioned “ideas” but, in the meantime we keep doing what we are able and hopefully we will find an audience out there that enjoys Knighttime as much as we enjoy making it.
Ze Hazardous Players