“The Minister of Chance” is a sci-fi/fantasy radio drama written and directed by Dan Freeman, starring Julian Wadham, Jenny Agutter, Jed Brophy, Lauren Crace, Paul Darrow, Philip Glenister, Tamsin Greig, Sylvester McCoy and Paul McGann. It was a BBC Audio Drama Awards nominee and winner of the 2013 Parsec Awards. You can now download it for free from this link.
The character of the Minister originally appeared in the Doctor Who series played by Stephen Fry. It subsequently featured – though replaced by Julian Wadham – in the world’s first webcast called “Death Comes to Time”, written and directed by Dan Freeman. The 2013 radio drama (which is formed by 5 episodes) follows the Minister (Julian Wadham) and Kitty (Lauren Crace), a barmaid in the occupied city of Tantillion where Science has been outlawed, as they travel through worlds to rescue the captive Professor Cantha (Jenny Agutter). Meanwhile, peace is at stake as a new villain arises.
Being almost new to radio dramas and knowing hardly anything about the Doctor Who universe (or sci-fi for that matter) I discovered this production by pure chance. It was a lucky chance though since I was positively surprised by the high production values involved and by the quality of the writing. The 3D sound scape is so vast and the attention to details is so well-thought that it makes it quite easy to wander off in this futuristic world for a few hours. The talented cast is supported by an excellent script which maintains the right pace throughout the whole series and captures your interest as the story develops towards darker tones. The production, which was entirely funded through crowdfunding, has just wrapped on a film version of the prologue.
Following the discovery of this wonderful project we caught up with the creator of the series, Dan Freeman. Below you can read our interview.
First of all, where did the idea of “The Minister of Chance” come from?
Hmm, you know my only real memory of creating the character is seeing an album lying around called “Age of Chance”. I think that’s where I got the name. I wrote him originally for Stephen Fry in the Doctor Who series “Death Comes to Time”. It’s so difficult to work out where ideas originally came from. Sometimes it’s just phrases, or pictures.
You said you class the series as a “sonic movie”; can you explain what it means and what it involves in terms of production values?
I write it as a film, we do Foley like a film and it has a full orchestral score. We basically make no concessions to the fact that it’s audio! We use the mic as a camera in terms of positioning and movement.
Fantasy and sci-fi are genres which seem to always attract a lot of attention and have huge fandoms. Is there any film and/or book in particular which inspired you as a filmmaker?
I love Lord of The Rings and I watched the “making-of” often. I get Jed Brophy to tell me hours of stories about it when we meet up. My filmic influences are definitely Kurosawa and Sergio Leone. I love Kurosawa’s framing and rhythmic devices, and the fact that you can see a piece of art that’s exciting. The same goes for Leone. I love The Good, The Bad and The Ugly. It’s such an intelligent, deft piece, and that’s often overlooked because it’s also so thrilling.
In an interview Julian Wadham mentioned a very interesting word which is “audio picture”; I personally find it very difficult to think in musical terms but I wonder how was your creative process influenced by the fact that you were creating an ‘audio picture’ as opposed to a ‘motion picture’?
That’s a very good question. I’m not being disingenuous when I say it’s exactly like doing a motion picture, except that you can do much more. People always predicate audio on what you can’t do: you can’t see who that guy coming towards you is, or you can’t see what he looks like. It’s the only medium where people do that. In film, you don’t feel hampered because you don’t know the Nazi interrogator’s name. It’s irrelevant. In fact, you don’t really need to know that he’s a Nazi or that he’s interrogating, or what for. Usually it’s just the fact that he’s causing the hero pain will be enough. The fact that he’s sinister is usually conveyed by the music, he doesn’t actually need so say anything. You can describe things in audio in exactly the same way – music, effects, never through expository dialogue. In Die Hard, John McTiernan had the attackers speaking in various foreign languages because what they were saying was irrelevant, it was the fact that they were bad and aggressive that was pertinent. SO, long story short – how do you write a Nazi interrogation scene in audio? You put the hero panting in the foreground, and put some footsteps and sinister music in the background. Just as with a film, you put in only what you need.
Radio drama, and especially fantasy/sci-fi, relies a lot on imagination – not differently from green screen in films. How was your approach when directing the actors?
I would say that I concentrate on capturing their performance. Chris Mock is a great sound recordist. We set up a stereo image – ie a space where the microphones will pick up everything the actors do, and then just get out of the way. I’m not so great a director that I can get good performances out of poor actors, so we just picked the best actors. With someone of the calibre of Julian Wadham, your best bet is just to get out of the way and let him shine. We had several moments when we’d be in a bare room with microphones – no effects, no music, and the tension was amazing. When Lauren auditioned, I looked at Clare and rolled my eyes in wonder. She’s so good at comedy. There was another one where Julian Wadham and Jenny Agutter were together in the second episode, and it was really spinetingling. Then there’s Peter Guinness, who reminds me of a samurai master. He’s very quiet and self-effacing, and quietly and self-effacingly does everything perfectly and gracefully. I guess it’s like collecting art – you can appreciate a Rembrandt and know that you want it in your exhibition, but you wouldn’t tell him how to paint. I do think a lot of acting is internal. On the film set the First AD asked me why I was laughing at the monitor during a serious take. I was just stunned by how Tim McInnerny made the whole room feel different. He’s such a powerful actor. He was joking with Paul McGann, I said “Action” and he made it suddenly feel like the world was about to end. I don’ t know how… you should ask him!
“The Minister of Chance” attracted a stellar cast and I have read that some of them asked you if they could be in it after listening to the first episodes; did you feel even more under pressure in order to keep up to the expectations?
That’s another great question. I’m not very aware of how I feel, because it’s a bit like having children – it doesn’t matter how you feel, you have pressing and urgent stuff that you simply have to do, even if you’re near death. Me and Clare call it a paper boat, it’s just something that we keep afloat at all costs. Something new always happens and we sail on! It’s very flattering to have these people say such nice things about your work, but then the whole things so full of happiness. My employers are the moguls – people who by definition like my work and are very generous. They make friends with each other and voila, we have a kind of community. It’s brilliant. OK I’m waffling… you know, it’s like, is it daunting? Yes, when you stop to think about it, but then we very rarely get that luxury! Jed coming on board was terrific – that’s made a lasting friendship, he’s a lovely positive person who really grafts and puts his all into everything.
Can you tell us a bit more about the short film based on the prologue that is now in post-production?
It’s the same story as the audio Prologue, it sets up McGann’s character and the world of The Minister. Dave Palser is our FX guy, art director, costume designer and miracle-worker, and he’s doing all the FX work on it now. His breadth of skills and the depth of his talent is stunning. He’s doing what it would take teams of people and millions of dollars to do – all on his own. It’s getting there!
What can we expect next? Will there be a film version of “The Minister of Chance”?
There will be a visual big-budget version. The project has just been taken up by a big agent (Ken McCreddie) and we have several meetings with production companies this month. Very exciting!