The day I thought we might have to abandon Australia’s first kid’s fiction podcast series was when the call came through that one of the stars had to go into isolation after coming into contact with someone with COVID-19.
It was February, and we were so close to pressing record for the final time on Mackaroy Uncovered, a podcast that tells the story of two teen conspiracy theory investigators.
This was a few weeks before the panic buying kicked in and at a time when everyone in Australia (except for Dr Norman Swan) thought COVID-19 was a problem for other countries.
But the phone call telling me one of our leads was in isolation and wouldn’t be able to record “pick-ups” as planned made me realise COVID-19 was our problem too.
We’d wrapped the key recording for Mackaroy Uncovered at the ABC’s headquarters in Ultimo and had to record re-takes and additional lines in March with the teen actors who star in the podcast.
We needed these “picked up” lines to finish the edit. Without them, we couldn’t publish the podcast.
Like so many TV and audio productions across the world, the work ground to a halt overnight.
It left many months of work in limbo, with a huge question mark over whether the project would get finished in 2020.
We’d been working on Mackaroy Uncovered since 2019, when ABC Audio Studios and ABC Children brought together a group of writers to create the first eight-part fictionalised podcast series for kids made in Australia.
Much like producing a TV show, making a fiction podcast is a huge undertaking.
The writers were involved in creating the story, script writing, casting, recording and then editing over many months.
For all the work to come undone by COVID-19 was not an option.
We had a couple of major issues facing us.
Firstly, how were we going to record the pickups when we weren’t allowed any contact with the actors?
Secondly, how were we going to record audio that was of the high quality required for the podcast?
If it didn’t sound the same, a listener would be able to hear the difference. Epic fail.
So, with the ABC’s top audio engineers and COVID-19 response team, we nutted out an unorthodox and never-tried-before workaround.
Our solution worked like this: the podcast’s engineer would drive to the actor’s house, where he would place the audio equipment at the front door, (after spraying it with disinfectant, of course.)
The engineer had taken the exact same headset microphone to the actor’s house that he’d used to record them in the drama studio to try to match the audio as much as possible.
The engineer would connect to the wireless headset microphone and sit in his car monitoring the quality of the sound and recording.
In the meantime, the producers, who were in their own homes, would connect via video conference to the actor, and direct them remotely.
The plan also relied on the actors and their parents agreeing to do this, as well as their houses having the right sound.
The thing about having young actors as our leads is that they’re tech savvy and they’re willing to give anything a go.
They were onboard from the start.
But even when pressing record on that first ‘pick up’, we weren’t sure it would work.
So much could go wrong: bad connection, equipment that wouldn’t work, an echoey house.
Our audio engineer in Sydney, John Jacobs, admitted after that first record, in which he sat in a car for seven hours, that he was holding his breath and crossing his fingers the whole time!
But the workaround was a success.
We got the audio we needed to finish Mackaroy Uncovered, which has now been released for kids to enjoy.
And what about the audio quality?
Can you tell which lines were recorded in the world class drama studio and which were recorded in the bedrooms and loungerooms of the actors across Sydney and Melbourne?
You’ll have to listen to Mackaroy Uncovered to find out.