Q _ A for Nick Briggs

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					                                  Q & A for Nick Briggs

I have always held the belief that radio feeds the brain rather than just the eye, science
fiction especially. Is sci-fi a favourite subject for you?

Science fiction is very much a favourite subject for me. I'm mad about Dr Who, love
most of Star Trek, can tolerate a lot of Babylon 5 and adore the new series of Battlestar
Galactica. So, yeah, I'm a sci-fi nut.

How did you become the director for Nebulous?

I suppose it must have come about because of my friendship and working relationship
with Mark Gatiss. So I'm eternally grateful to him. He initially contacted me when he
was looking for studios to do the pilot episode. He then asked me if I'd do the sound
design. Shortly after that, he asked me to come to the studio and 'give us the benefit of
your technical expertise'. I only realised when I got there that he'd meant I was to direct
it. It was quite a shock; but Mark is an interplanetary man of mystery, so I should have
expected it really! Then, when they had the series commissioned by Radio 4, they
asked me to do sound design and direct all six episodes... which I was incredibly thrilled
about. And this time, I got to do the incidental music as well, which I particularly enjoy.

It is a very easy thing to get wrong but your sound design is always spot on. Do you
know what sounds you want and then search them out or have them created?

When I'm editing together the dialogue of a scene, I kind of start to hear the sound
effects in my head. Sometimes, I'm remembering what I heard in my head when we
were in the studio, recording the actors, and sometimes I'm remembering what I 'heard'
when I first read the script... it's a combination of all those things. Then I set about
creating them all. I create all the sound effects for the series. Mostly, I make them with
very old synthesizers and the digital processing of sounds I record around my office -
mainly involving bashing various metal objects, it seems. However, I occasionally adapt
sounds I've created for other productions; stretching them, altering their pitch or just
snatching bits of them, looping them or combining them with other effects. I also go out
with my intrepid microphone and portable ProTools set-up and record things like creaky
doors, birdsong and footsteps. The birds in Nebulous were recorded on Christmas Day
in the New Forest! I've got quite a library of Nebulous effects now.

You are also responsible for the music in the series, how do you approach and compose
the cues?

My aim is to make the music slightly over-earnest. Nebulous takes himself very
seriously and has absolutely no sense of humour about himself, bless him. So, it's
almost as if it's the kind of music that Nebulous would compose for the series himself. I
find the key factor in giving it the style and sound I want is to make it sound as basic as
possible. I sometimes cheat and use a genuinely beautiful, dramatic orchestral sample;
but even then, I usually make it a bit too wobbly by cranking up the modulation wheel
further than good taste would normally allow. I find I use a lot of sounds from the old DX
Yamaha range, if that means anything to you - then I crank up the modulation! There
are largely about four key, very synthesized sounds I use for the series. I add drums
and the odd special sounds for individual episodes - such as the 'beautiful' music every
time the Luverly spray something - but mostly, I keep it simple. Dr Klench always gets a
good dose of organ music, to aid him in his beautifully underplayed melodrama! I'm sort
of trying to make the music sound like a cross between Quatermass and 1973 Dr Who
music. Something I deliberately do is repeat key cues in different contexts, so the series
has that slightly old-fashioned feel, like an old fashioned TV show that keeps repeating
the same music because it could only afford to use stuff from stock.

Who are your musical influences?

Well, clearly, Dudley Simpson and Malcolm Clarke of Dr Who fame. The drums and
symbol crashes are definitely inspired by Dudley, but the odd, atonal stuff is inspired by
Malcolm's famous Sea Devils score. There's a bit of the old John Carpenter and Gary
Newman in there too somewhere!

You worked with Mark before on The Big Finish Judge Dredd; Death Trap audio, how
did this compare to the more madcap Nebulous?
Mark's always lovely to work with. He's very unassuming and undemanding and willing to
try anything out. The main difference with Nebulous was that he made me very nearly
piss myself laughing most days. I particularly liked those bits when he got very close
mike and said stuff like 'how the hell did it come to this?'. I think my favourite bit, though,
is the 'shut up!' he says to Graham's Scots doctor character. I had a hand in the creation
of that joke, so I have to admit to some personal pride. But it's because it just comes out
of nowhere - this blast of frustration - that makes it so funny for me. But even though we
do laugh quite a bit during the recordings, there's a lot of truth to the old adage that
comedy is a serious business. Mark, Graham and I talk a lot about the words, the
motivations and the timing of the lines. It's crucial to getting the comedy right. I'm glad
we have time to let off steam by laughing, but we also have to be serious about it too
because comedy, no matter how unconnected to everyday reality, is still based in the
truth of the characters. You set up your fantastic situation and your ludicrous character,
but then you're true to its barmy comic logic.


Had you worked with any other members of the cast before?

I hadn't worked with any of them before, except for Mark. After the pilot episode, I cast
Graham in my Dr Who Unbound episode, with Arabella Weir. He was brilliant as Mr
Baggit, the supermarket manager who felt that larking about in front of Princess Anne
amounted to high treason. I script-edited the Dr Who Unbound that featured David
Warner.

Being the director did you have your own vision of Nebulous’s Withered world and has it
survived in the shows we hear?
As director, I see my job as bringing to life what Graham and Mark have created. In
some contexts, it's a director's job to re-invent or re-interpret what a script is doing, or at
least to bring something else to it. But this comedy is so specific to Graham's sense of
humour that it would be totally counter-productive for me to have a separate vision. I
read the scripts and enter Graham's vision of the Nebulous Withered world. I can
influence it in the way it sounds, but I always go to Graham for confirmation and
approval. He and Mark created it and I love Graham's scripts. I'm just very happy to be
a part of it. I'm there to help to make it as funny and as entertaining as possible.
Hopefully, that maybe contributes something to it. But that's just me joining in.

Were there a lot of things changed after the initial pilot was recorded and reviewed by
you and the crew?

There were a few things. In know Graham has explained the casting issues. I had
nothing to do with that. But the message I was getting loud and clear from Graham,
Mark and Baby Cow was 'love the sound design, but could we have a bit less of it?'. I'm
very used to writing, directing, producing and sound designing my own stuff for the Big
Finish Dr Who CDs - and there's important differences between those productions and
Nebulous. Firstly, the Dr Whos are more about atmosphere and drama, and so require
a more detailed landscape... almost all-consuming to draw the listener in. Secondly, the
Dr Whos are released on CD and designed to be listened to in isolation and very
possibly repeatedly. Nebulous is on the radio, so it's likely the listener will have
distractions and will not listen to it more than once; therefore, the soundscape must be
totally accessible from any point in the episode. Things have to be more basic; more
like audio punctuation that allows the words to work their comedy magic. So, that was a
general policy of change. Strip out some of the more complex stuff. Make it clearer. I
learnt a lot doing that.


Were there any parts of Series One that you worked hard to perfect and are, hence, very
proud off?

That's a hard one to answer, because I'm always proud of what I do; but always feel
there's room for improvement... endlessly. I like the Withered Zone background,
because it sounds like really spooky wind and it's just various recordings of me blowing
into a microphone. I'm also really pleased with the choral version of Bod - the cast did it
so well! But I think my favourite noise - and I nearly left it out by accident, until Graham
reminded me - is the sound of Harry draining his face. It's just me sucking and blowing
lemon- flavoured mineral water through a plastic straw. I bought a whole packet of
straws just to do that! I think the fact that the water's lemon-flavoured does help,
though.

Was there ever a particularly difficult scene which you thought would never get
recorded?
The scene we never thought we'd get through was at the end of The Lovely Invasion.
The moment Paul, as Harry, said, 'Nobody's in to them any more' in that rather petulant
voice, everybody lost the power of speech. It just hit a funny bone moment. Then, we
could only get one line at a time further into the scene. We'd become hysterical and
everything seemed funny. We managed to hold it together until Mark said, 'The
Worserons' and then we had the same trouble all over again. It took us ages to get it all
recorded. And ages of time in post-production, wading through all the out-takes, when,
strangely, it didn't seem all that funny at 4 in the morning with a looming deadline. I'm
joking, I pissed myself all over again. Very messy business, this Nebulous sound
design. I think I laughed the most at 'I felt sure we'd been penetrated by a bugger'. It's
just such a beautifully obvious, naff joke that it travels from purile, right round the other
side of comedy gold to reach the level of sublime.

Vice versa were there any parts we never got to hear?

You know, we nipped out all sorts of bits for timing reasons. All the episodes bar one
came in at an average of two minutes over. I don't blame Graham for that, because he
was writing for a 30 minute format. It was only after we'd recorded them that BBC
presentation told me that the half-hour slot is anything between 23 minutes and 28
minutes and 15 seconds. They preferred programmes to be no longer than 28 minutes;
so I got them as close to that as possible. But most of the cutting tightened things up.
There were some little gems that we lost... but I can't remember any of them at the
moment! D'oh!

It sounds like a fun show to work on are there many out-takes?

I think there are a few out-takes. A lot of senseless giggling that wouldn't be very
interesting for others to listen to. I think they come under the umbrella of 'you had to be
there'. I did laugh a lot at some points during the sound designing.

Graham says you keep control very well are you a ‘strict dad’ sort of figure or friendly
‘team leader’ type?

I always see my job as director to create an enthusiasm for a project and carry the cast
along with me. If you have to resort to using authority or some stupid notion of status to
get people to do what you think works, then you've lost the plot. You have to listen to
what the actors are offering, then, so long as you don't think they've got it completely
wrong, help them to do what they're doing... better! So, I don't think I'm ever strict, or
nauseating enough to say I'm a 'team leader'. I generally join in with the laughter, and
sometimes deliberately mess around myself to keep everyone from feeling pressured.
Creativity flows in a happy atmosphere. And luckily, we had plenty of time in the studio
per episode. I suppose I have been known to occassionally remind people of the time, if
I think we're taking a bit too long. But the point is that the series was so well cast that
everyone was good at what they were doing and wanted to be there. You only have to
be strict if people are genuinely badly behaved. And that never even came close to
happening on Nebulous.
How ,or who, decides which parts you occasionally play?

Graham decides!

Are you your own worst critic or can you nail the part first time?

A strange mixture of both.

Were you an actor or director first?

I trained as an actor and my first jobs were as an actor. But the drama school course I
did also involved directing, and I'd done some directing when I was doing my O' and
A'levels, so I think I always had the directing thing in me. I'd like to carry on doing both,
along with writing, sound designing and composing. I don't ask for much, do I?

How do you become a radio director?

Like most jobs in showbiz, you get them because you're in the right place at the right
time, know the right people and have the right skills. I've spent most of my life being in
the wrong place at the wrong time, not knowing the right people. So it was a thrill and
something of a relief that this time everything fell into place. In my case, I've directed
countless productions for Big Finish, and done a fair amount of theatre directing too.

I have always wanted to hear William Gibson’s Cyberpunk Trilogy as an audio
production. Are there any personal projects you would like to do?

I never got round to reading those! I started one, then lost the book. But I imagine that
would be brilliant. Yeah, I'd love to do Day of the Triffids - I know it's been done before,
but I love it to bits. I'd also like to do War of the Worlds. I'm currently working on a
series for Big Finish called 'Cyberman'.

Or any shows on radio or TV, past or present, that you would have liked to direct? The
Goons or The League of Gentlemen for example?

Dr Who, of course!

As this web-site is involved with every piece of minutia, is there any trivia you can share
about Series One?

I'm all out of trivia at the moment. But if I think of any, I'll let you know.

Any plans for things you would like to do in the upcoming Series Two?

Have more time to do it in. It was a real rush getting it finished in time. I'm not moaning,
because I knew it would be a rush. But other than that, I can't wait to be surprised by
Graham's brilliant scripts. He's given me a few hints of what's coming up. As before,
he's cooked up some great sci-fi ideas with completely bonkers twists. Pure Nebulous!

Any voice actors you would love to have involved?

We've got to have David Warner and Julia Deakin back, surely. And it would be nice to
have David Tennant too. He's a good mate of mine and Mark's, and a massive Dr Who
fan. This would be right up his street. I'd also love to work with Charles Dance. He's
always been a favourite actor of mine. Oh, and Gene Hackman, he's great... ok, now
I'm getting silly.

Oh yeah! Last and most important question – who was your favourite Lovely?

The one with the things in his hair. I admire anyone with hair.

Thanks very much for your time and involvement and highly intelligent answers.
I’ll send you your Honorary N-City Citizen badge…as soon as I get some made!

Regards
Mark.

				
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