The Making of a Full-Cast Audio Book: Interview With Wayfarer Producer Kenny Sargent
As of just a few weeks ago, my gaslamp fantasy novel Wayfarer was transformed into a full-cast audio book, complete with original music and sound effects. For me, it was unique experience, having been approached by new audio theater company Sargent Family Productions. They blew me away with the quality of their work, and I’ve had a blast listening to my story come to life. Writing a novel is such an isolated and personal project. Unlike a movie, a book is almost entirely the result of a single person’s vision and creativity. And I like it that way. But it turns out collaborative creativity is pretty darn cool too.
After I announced the audio book’s release last December, quite a few of you emailed to ask me about the process of creating a full-cast audio book and how it differed from a “normal” single-narrator book. For me, the process was pretty much hands-off once I turned it over to the team at Sargent Family Productions. I asked producer Kenny Sargent if he’d be willing to give all of us (including me) a sneak peek behind the scenes of how they brought Wayfarer to life and what went into such an elaborate production.
1. Can you tell us a little about yourself and how you became interested in producing audio dramatizations?
We’ve always been an out-of-the-box family, especially in terms of creativity. When we finished our first novel, the mystery/thriller Generations, we planned to turn it into an audio book. Sometime along the way, however, we decided to make the audio version fully dramatized—including music, sound effects, and a full cast. Living in a home that loved audio theater was one of the catalysts for this decision. In addition, we were well-connected to a live theater community, so it was a natural fit.
2. How does producing a full-cast audio book differ from doing a single-narrator audio book?
Casting was far more diverse and complicated. Since we have a unique voice for each character, we opened up auditions to a wide range of people. For Wayfarer, we had auditions from London, New Hampshire, Missouri, Ohio, Florida, Virginia, New York, Colorado, and even one from the Philippines!
Even though we had already done Generations, Wayfarer was our first attempt at a mostly remote production experience where actors did not come to our studio. Positively, this was great because it allowed access to a worldwide talent pool. However, it was challenging to deal with time zones, different audio setups, directing via Zoom, leveling dialogue and ambiance, as well as many other issues.
To top it off, we had to use creative sound design to get the actors to sound as if their voice was coming from the specified, in-the-story-universe location. For example, when Will and Fitzroy are inside the shop in Chapter 40, we had to apply certain reverb, whereas the special effects in Chapter 47 involved pitch, echo, and reversed reverb.
Needless to say, a dramatized production takes way more effort, time, and money than a single narrator. That said, we believe the result is worth it.
3. What drew you to working on Wayfarer?
Our purpose, at Sargent Family Productions, is to use the arts for God’s glory. Having finished Generations, we were looking for our next large project, and Wayfarer was a notable option due to writing, story, and wholesome content. Surprisingly, we then found out it didn’t yet have an audio book. We had previously enjoyed the story (as normal readers) so we started to dialogue with you about the possibility of producing an audio book. That seems like a decade ago now since well over 1,500 hours of work went into the production!
Note: As we went through the production and post-production process, we were struck by the richness and depth of the book itself. It was like new layers opened to us as we went over it again and again. Furthermore, the story ties together as a beautiful, coordinated whole with its sum greater than its parts. You’re normally known for your non-fiction content that helps writers become authors. Interestingly enough, though, your novels back up what you teach, and Wayfarer is proof of that. It’s excellent writing, and for Sargent Family Productions, it aligns with our vision of wholesome, high-quality storytelling.
4. How did the casting process work for Wayfarer?
Casting was tricky, for sure. We opened up a casting call via some marketing channels and a Google Form. From there, actors submitted audio recordings of their initial auditions. Those considered for roles were cast immediately or offered callbacks. We then iterated on the callbacks until each major part was cast. (For anybody that has an interest in auditioning for a future production, such as Generations 2: The D.C. Gambit, please email us using the contact form at the bottom of our site to be put on Sargent Family Production’s mailing list where updates and casting calls are mainly communicated.)
5. Did actors come into your studio to record, or did they record themselves and send you the files?
Most of the recording was remote, which offered its own challenges. Different mics have different characteristics and frequencies—thus getting them to sound the same was a real challenge. For example, one of the actors had a mic/cable combo that kept compressing his audio and making some spots very difficult to hear. Another had a very noticeable hiss that took a lot of revisions to remove. Technical difficulty over Zoom was a difficult issue as well. It’s much easier to hook everything up in your own studio than to try to set up a remote studio.
6. What was the most challenging aspect of the production?
The British accents were, by far, the most difficult challenge. Because we’re not native British speakers, we were acutely aware of the risk of getting pronunciations wrong. Thankfully, God provided two key people who stepped up to help with ongoing dialect coaching and quality assurance. We put a tremendous amount of time and effort into getting that part right. This involved many re-records and scheduling headaches. We hope the results are worth it.
7. What would you say you and others involved in the production enjoyed the most?
It was so much fun to work together as a team. For example, it was great to get to work with old theater friends such as Runner, Hannah, Paul Allen, Paul Cooke, and Leonard. Getting to know new actors, such as Jacques, Nato, Eleanor, Andy, and Sophie was also a huge blessing. There was laughter, inside jokes, and a sense of camaraderie. If anyone’s ever done theater, they know what we mean.
8. Was there a particular scene in the book that you particularly enjoyed working on?
Chapters 24 (“The Masque”), 40 (“Choices”), and 41 (“The Shot”) were the favorites. (The music in chapter 41 is some of our favorite music in the whole production.)
9. Can you share any behind-the-scenes tidbits from the production?
- Nato’s (the narrator) biggest struggle was pronouncing the word, “grasped.” It took so many tries to get that one right.
- In chapter 16, when Mr. Monarch is humming his “snatch of tune,” he’s humming Rose’s theme, which appears in Chapters 21, 48, and 49.
- Rose was the most difficult character to cast. Trying to get somebody who could both perform a difficult emotional role and credibly sound like a nine-year-old, cockney street kid, proved quite challenging. Hannah Haller, at 21 years of age, thought she did a terrible audition for Rose. Humorously enough, she got the part. Also, having not grown up as a native cockney speaker, she put a tremendous amount of effort into getting her voice to sound correct while still carrying the emotion of Rose.
- Tommy (the director and actor for Will) got married during the project and his lovely wife, Amy, is the voice that appears in the music in Chapters 40, 41, 44, and 49.
- When Andrew Sturt (Lifty) signed up to audition, he was asked what his strengths and gifts were when working with a director. He replied, “I’m told I’m nice to work with, but I was surprised how far I had to twist his arm up his back to get that confession.”
- In chapter 24, we included a variation of the British patriotic song, “Rule, Britannia!” The theme that ended up getting composed was called, “Fool, Britannia!”
- Jacques Reulet II (Tom Colville, Mr. Monarch) is actually Hispanic. He’s one of the most gifted linguists we’ve ever heard and thus became one of the dialect consultants for the project. He jokes about growing up in El Paso with “an aggressively French-sounding name.”
- In Chapter 30, all the instruments in the main theme with the exception of the percussion are played backward, or rather, reversed. Even the strings and french horns.
10. Are you available to work with other authors who are interested in full-cast audio books? Is there anything they need to consider before starting the process?
The short answer is yes. There are two main things to consider:
1. It’s a costly process.
2. We choose the content carefully to ensure it aligns with our values.
It’s not for everybody—especially for those just starting out on a small budget. However, for those who are willing to make the investment into an evergreen product that will last for years, we believe we can help. The process of dramatization takes much effort, but we hope the levels of quality and immersion are worth it.
11. And, finally, who’s your favorite character in the book? 😉
Hard to say. Rose is probably our individual favorite, but the sum total of all the main characters (i.e. the cast) far outweighs any individual character. They play so well off each other.
My huge thanks to Kenny and all the team at Sargent Family Productions. It was a joy to work with them and hear what they produced.
If you’re interested in grabbing the audio book for yourself, you can find it here.
Here you can listen to a brand-new trailer