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Workshops for Writing, Producing and Acting Radio Drama, Documentaries, Poetry and Readings

Exercise 9 ~ Spot Effects

with thanks to my friend and excellent Studio Manager, Andrew Lawrence for ideas and illustrations.

Creating spot effects can be a lot of fun.  I find that students and children really enjoy making them.

Cartoon by by Mike Flanagan from 1st edition Writing for Radio by Shaun MacLoughlin

They are 'live' sound effects that happen at a particular spot in the studio, such as stirring tea or pouring out a drink, unlike pre-recorded sound effects, such as thunder, cars, birdsong, etc, which are dubbed onto the play separately.

One of the most most famous spot effects is using coconut shells for horses hooves.  Others are a hot water bottle for being sick - I will leave this to your imagination - or a sawn off bicycle pump and cork, plus beacham's powders or alka seltzer for opening a champagne bottle and pouring it out.  I woud need to demonstrate these to you to make them clear.

They are made by the Floor Manager or by the actors themselves (if they have a hand free from holding their script or by the Floor Manager holding their script for them).  The Floor Manager must work with the actors and bear in mind the character and mood of the scene, to ensure that the effect sounds like part of the action, not a separate afterthought.

How to close a door.

Beware!  There are many ways to close a door!  How would you close a door if:

  1. You were an escaping prisoner?
  2. You had just had an argument with your friend and had stormed out?
  3. You have just left the Head's office after a telling off?

Of course the same applies to opening doors:

  1. Hands full of shopping?
  2. Dashing in late for tea?

Oh Yes! ~ Position on the microphone

How not to stir a cup of tea when you have a stereo microphone.

Microphone Techniques

The microphone is not just used to pick up sounds.  If you want the listener to think that they are hearing the actors thoughts, (the equivalent of a "stage whisper" in the theatre) speaking very quietly and close to the microphone (but not whispering!) will give this effect.

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We recommend:

We also recommend the following radio scripts: Polaris by Fay Weldon in Best Radio Plays of 1978, I Never Killed My German and Of the Levitation at St Michael's by Carey Harrison in A Suffolk Trilogy, The Village Fete by Peter Tinniswood in Best Radio Plays of 1987, Cigarettes and Chocolate by Anthony Minghella in Best Radio Plays of 1988, Death and the Tango by John Fletcher and Song of the Forest by Tina Pepler in Best Radio Plays of 1990 and In the Native State by Tom Stoppard in Best Radio Plays of 1991.  Sadly some of these scripts are out of print.  However you should be able to order them from your local library

We also recommend the recording of Lee Hall's wonderful first radio play, I Luv U Jimmy Spud.  Lee went on to write the screenplay of Billy Elliot.