How did you get involved with B7 Media?
Richard Kurti: It was when Sky were going to do a Blake’s 7 TV series. We’d done some sci-fi stuff for Sky before – they were developing home grown dramas, and there was an open call. It came down to two – us against [a reboot of] The Prisoner, and they said they had to go for the brand. Then The Prisoner ended up going to ITV, but we started working with Sky. They got us on to the Terry Pratchett adaptation, Going Postal; we knew [B7 Media supremo] Andrew [Mark Sewell] anyway, so the whole thing came together. The Blake’s 7 scripts were in good shape when they were at Sky, but then there was a change of management, who said no sci-fi and no Pratchett, so off we went.
How much of Bradbury’s work had you read before you started on The Martian Chronicles?
Richard: Over the years a fair amount.
Bev Doyle: When I was a kid, a lot. This was the first time I’d read Bradbury coming to this, in thirty-forty years.
Richard: About five years ago, I read quite a few of the short stories. We were amazed that Andrew got the rights from the estate, but I guess it’s a good window for them.
How did you devise the conceit for the series?
Bev: It’s a practicality of radio; you can’t have too many characters, because the audience has got to be able to recognise them. We picked a character we could thread all the way through, which was Wilder, so we chose the stories that pertained to Wilder’s arc.
Richard: We tackled it like a movie, with a protagonist, who has an arc from start to finish holding it together, rather than just do bits and pieces.
Richard: There’s quite a lot of contradictions in the short stories – different representations of the Martians, different back stories, different histories – so that was one thing: they had to be consistent. That was very important. These stories were all ones that Wilder touched, or which touched our theme of trashing up somewhere you go to colonise, no matter what your intentions are. We had a central character and a central theme holding the piece together.
Some of the stories just ruled themselves out: the ones all about race, for example. There were other great ones which we just couldn’t fit – maybe next year?
The change from an American to British outlook worked for me; did you ever come up with a story logic for Britain “ruling the waves”?
Richard: I’d just read a fantastic book about the guys who walked on the Moon – and I was struck by the fact that they all thought this was just the first step, and they were all wrong. It was the last great golden step of American space exploration. Things have shifted east – India, China…
Bev: A lot of it’s about who’s putting their hand in their pockets, and America isn’t.
Richard: I think we were also interested in the environmental aspect; you trash a place even if you don’t mean to do so. The environmental message is so current now; it wasn’t really when Bradbury was writing, but that’s a world issue.
And for a BBC Radio play, we thought, “What would it gain from being American?”
Did the script go through a number of alterations?
Richard: Four drafts. Normally, with TV, draft four is when the goalposts move. On TV, you’d get a note back on draft four saying, ‘We like the world… Can we just…’ and then it’s a page-one rewrite. Someone up the chain decides it’s going to be the reverse of what it is. That didn’t happen. With this, draft four is what Andrew recorded. It was a very civilised experience.
Bev: A lot, yes, with The Illustrated Man.
Richard: [Radio 4 Commissioning Editor] Jeremy Howe was our real touch point because he was across the whole season. He had quite a detailed treatment of the outline so he knew the concept of the story. We sat in a room with the producer of The Illustrated Man, Gemma Jenkins, and she saw early drafts of the script. They were trying to get a nice dovetail at the end with young Wilder fishing.
Bev: Right at the very start of proceedings, there was a nebulous plan to use the very same scene.
Richard: We wrote it last autumn, recorded it last January and it’s been in post-production ever since. Alastair [Lock] was a long time on it!
I had a text from Andrew one Friday night about a particular sound they were trying to find, for an electric bolt-tightener. I got on YouTube and told them to try some links. The following Wednesday, they were still talking about the bolt-tightener. I got more texts saying it wasn’t quite right. I wondered what kind of detail they were going into – a week spent on a bolt-tightener!
How much detail do you go into about the effects in the script, or do you trust the judgement of your sound editor?
Richard: We give some lines about the ambience, and the emotional mood. The only effects we spot in are where they are crucial to reading the narrative – a gunshot or where you need a visual reference. Otherwise, no, we completely trust Alistair and Andrew – that’s what they do!
We heard the first version, without the music on, and even like that, it sounded really fab. We loved it. Then with the music as well, the depth of sound they’ve gone into is fantastic.
Bev: Most of the script was there.
Richard: What was great for us as screenwriters was that we were in the recording studio on both days, listening to the entire thing being done. Normally, as screen writers, you turn up on set, and they’re like, ‘Who are you? F*** off. You just came for the free lunch.’ But Andrew wanted us there, and we were really able to tweak the lines which might sound awkward in an actor’s voice as we went. For us, that was such a nice experience to be included.
When someone like Derek Jacobi says, ‘Wouldn’t it be better like this or like that?’ you think, ‘That’s Derek Jacobi saying that; of course it is.’ The wealth of experience he brings to it!
There are some shows where any changes have to be approved by the Powers That Be!
Bev: On long running series, you can see the wisdom of that because the cast are disproportionately empowered. One starts it, then another… and before you know where you are…!
If you had a chance to adapt another Bradbury story, what would it be?
Richard: Martian Chronicles part 2 for me. There are so many stories still in there. The whole business of meeting the Martians, there are some great stories.
Bev: I’d also like to have a stab at ‘The Playground’ as well. That would be a great one to do – and it’s very unlike Bradbury, because it’s very cynical. Most of his stuff is aspirational, and sentimental; that’s really quite brutal. Even ‘The Jar’ has its hopeful bits – it’s more a story about what holds humans together.