Audio Drama: Big Finish Is A Big Deal

by Bob Tinsley

If you’re a Doctor Who fan and you don’t know about Big Finish Productions you are missing out on one of the best things ever. They started with well-loved TV shows and extended their lives with audio fiction.

Big Finish is a British company that has been turning out exceptional quality Doctor Who (and others, more later) audio stories for twenty years. What makes them different is that they use the original actors whenever they can. Their current stable of original doctors includes Tom Baker, Sylvester McCoy, Peter Davison, and Colin Baker. Not only that, they have many of the original companions from the earlier Doctors as well as those above.

In addition they have other shows such as Dark Shadows, Unit, Jaco & Lightfoot (who appeared in The Talons of Weng Chiang, an episode of the Tom Baker/Louise Jameson run), The Prisoner, and Torchwood, among many others.

Their shows are very reasonably priced compared with Audible. Not only that, they have an enormous amount of free content, including full episodes, and two behind-the-scenes podcasts. There is also an exceptional monthly fanzine, called Vortex, professionally laid out and available, for free, as a PDF or Word doc. It contains news, interviews with cast and crew, including the Doctors, behind-the-scenes info, and fan letters. It is up to issue 121 as of March.

The following is an interview I conducted with Nicholas Briggs, co-executive producer of all things Big Finish.

RT: How did Big Finish get started, about 20 years ago if I remember correctly? Was it a shoestring operation originally?

Nick: It was very much a cottage industry, and our CEO Jason Haigh-Ellery expected to release about six CDs a year for no longer than three years. The original producer worked solely from his bedroom, but when demand and popularity increased, he hired an office space, and CD production doubled to 12 double-disc releases a year. Since then, it’s snowballed somewhat.

RT: What market gap did you see that made you want to start Big Finish?

Nick: Doctor Who wasn’t on the television then. It was in the middle of a 16 year hiatus — which had only been broken by an American TV movie [Doctor Who, 1996] that hadn’t led to a new series being produced. There was a strong core of Doctor Who fans, and many of them had grown-up making audio recordings of classic Doctor Who episodes in the days before even domestic video recorders existed. So to some degree or another, a lot of our potential market were as used to listening to Doctor Who as they were watching it. And in many ways, old Doctor Who sounds better than it looks. The work of the BBC’s Radiophonic Workshop and the many talented composers who wrote music for Doctor Who ensured that some of the ‘cracks’ created by wobbly sets or less than entirely convincing special effects or monsters were very effectively ‘papered over’ by some brilliant sounds and music. Add to that the fact that all of us there at the beginning were huge Doctor Who fans who had produced audio drama for fun, and you can see how we felt strongly that there was a market for Doctor Who audio drama.

RT: How tough was it to get the rights to Doctor Who and the other series?

Nick: It took Jason two goes. The first time round, in 1996, the American TV movie had just been made, and the BBC expected Doctor Who to take off massively. They’d already taken the original fiction Doctor Who books back in house, revoking the licence they had with Virgin Books, in anticipation of this big return of the series. So they weren’t really interested in forging a new relationship with a small company like Big Finish. They also probably thought that if Doctor Who audios were going to be made, they’d be made by the BBC. Sadly, at that time, the resurgence didn’t come along. So, two years later Jason went along again. Doctor Who had very much gone off the boil at the BBC, and so it was relatively easy to get permission.

RT: There are a lot of Doctor Who fanfiction sites over here now, but one thing they haven’t done is expand on the peripheral or supporting characters the way you have. Why did you decide to do that?

Nick: Firstly because we love all elements of the programme. But also because, with not all the Doctors available to us for one reason or another, a way of exploring all eras of the programme is to focus on supporting characters, and tell the stories from their point of view. That’s how The Companion Chronicles came about, for example. The first three Doctors had died quite some years before we started, so their eras were particularly being neglected by us. I thought we should find a way of covering the whole of Doctor Who history, so I suggested stories told by the Doctor’s companions, not least because many of the actors who played them still survived. I’m glad to say that it worked out rather well, and along the way we discovered that some of the actors were very good at imitating the voices of their Doctors.

RT: What gave you the idea to start Vortex and distribute it for free? How much help in maintaining and increasing your fan base do you think that has been?

Nick: This was very much an idea which was pioneered by Jason Haigh-Ellery. We resisted it for a long time, because of the workload involved. But ultimately, we found a brilliantly qualified editor in the person of Paul Spragg, who very quickly took over running it. Since Paul’s tragic, sudden death, our good friend and colleague Kenny Smith (who is a journalist in his day job!) has been doing a brilliant job with it. Our aim is always to give our audience as much free, extra content as we can. And we want to tell the stories of how much love, detail and attention goes into our work. That’s exactly what Vortex delivers, and, of course, it features questions from our listeners too. So it’s very much about getting people involved with us and helping them to get to know Big Finish as an important part of their lives.

RT: In addition to the TV show tie ins you also produce original content, eight new series I think. How has that worked out for you?

Nick: We’re really excited about these Big Finish Originals. It’s a tougher sell, of course, because original fiction does not come with the ready made audience that something like Doctor Who brings. But we are lucky enough to have inspired a lot of loyalty amongst our listeners, so that now we have an audience who will come with us into new territory.

RT: Your FAQ states that you occasionally hold script competitions. Approximately how often do those occur and are submissions from our side of the pond eligible?

Nick: Every year, we run the Paul Spragg Memorial Short Trips opportunity. So it’s not a competition. It’s a way for us to invite people to show us their work. Although there is a ‘winner’ whose work is selected to be produced, we do very often go back to some of the other submissions and commission work from them. We are keen to continually look for exciting new talent, and they can be from anywhere in the world.

Thanks to Nick Briggs for taking time out from an insane schedule to talk to me. If you haven’t already gone to Big Finish ( do so immediately. I would recommend starting on their “Ranges” page. It contains everything they have, collected in different categories, including the free stuff and a “Start Here” category. It’s well worth your time whether you are a Doctor Who fan or just a fan of well-produced audio.

Bob Tinsley is an artist, writer, boataholic and a new pro in the field of Audio Drama. In other words, he’s an expert in finding new marketplaces, as he’s showing us here.

Bob Tinsley: Amazon’s New Indie Film Distribution Platform – “Yay! or Nay!”?

(EDITOR’S NOTE: Yesterday, we ran an article by Noam Kroll about Prime Video Direct, the latest addition to Amazon’s boxfull of marketing madness platforms. Here are frequent TVWriter™ contributor Bob Tinsley’s thoughts on the subject. What are yours?)

by Bob Tinsley

Go with me here: say, “Amazon Studios.” Leaves a sour taste in your mouth, doesn’t it? But maybe, just maybe, Amazon might be about to redeem themselves.

I’m sure you remember the kerfuffle back when Amazon Studios started looking for original content. They, in effect, said, “Come one, come all! Pitch us your original ideas for film and episodic content. We’ll choose the best, handle production and distribution, and we’ll all make scads of money.”

Unfortunately it wasn’t long before they said, in effect, “Oh, by the way, when we said the best, we meant, has a Hollywood Name attached.”

That soured the attitudes toward Amazon of a lot of people in the indie sector. Personally I believe, in hindsight mind you, that the apparent reversal was inevitable. At the time Amazon had no experience in either film production or distribution, but, hey, they were the largest book distributor in the world. What could go wrong, right?

It didn’t take them long to discover that there are a lot of huge up-front costs to film. You’ve got rights acquisition, production (wages for directors, writers, cast members, carpenters, grips, sound techs, plumbers, production designers, set designers, editors, drivers, security personnel, craft services, and probably a lot more that I’m forgetting about or don’t know exist). Then you have the sunk costs (buying or renting a studio, cameras, lights, microphones, dollies, cranes, props, air conditioners, heaters, office furniture, bathrooms, and the myriad other things required by a physical location).

I can imagine the scene in the Amazon boardroom. “Umm, you know, this is an awful lot of money to risk on an unknown property by an untried creator. Maybe we need to rethink this ‘come one, come all’ thing. Ya think?”

By now I hope you’ve read Noam Kroll’s article about his adventures in the world of self-distribution of his indie films. He’s excited about Amazon’s new program, Prime Video Direct. And I think he should be.

What’s the difference between Prime Video Direct (PVD) and Amazon Studios? I’m glad you asked. The huge difference between Amazon Studios and Prime Video Direct is that PVD’s costs are small and fixed as opposed to Amazon Studios’ large and variable costs. Also Amazon Studios was built on the model of, wait for it, Hollywood studios. When you think about it, something built on the model of an existing organization will result in near identical operations and outcomes.

On the other hand, it appears to me that PVD is built on the wildly successful models of Amazon’s Kindle/Audible businesses. I can’t speak to PVD, but I can speak to Kindle and Audible. They are simple, easy to use, and, mostly, hassle and cost free.

The creator uploads his final product (note that phrase, “final product,” e.g., polished film) to PVD which puts it in their “catalog” of similar products. People find it. If they like it, they give PVD (Amazon) money, and PVD then gives the creator his cut.

The creator can choose “to earn royalties based on hours streamed by Prime members, a revenue share for rentals, purchases, monthly channels, or ad impressions–or any combination of those options.”

PVD makes your content available in the US “and other locations” on virtually any device you can think of (including video game consoles) anywhere you can get a wired, cell or wifi signal.

As an account holder you have access to an enormous amount of data telling you how your property is doing and what it’s projected to do. You can customize the data in ways that will have your accountant (you do have one, don’t you), swooning in relief.

Oh, did I forget to mention that all this wonderfullness costs you NOTHING but a little time?

All that being said, you won’t make money unless you promote. You are the only marketing department you have. PVD won’t do it. You have to pay for ads. Occasionally, if you start getting a lot of views the algorithms might promote you to a “viewers who watched X also watched” category.

The part of the Kroll article that most tripped my bullshit meter was the claim that without “promoting it with paid ads” he had “an incredibly high volume of streams” in a very short time.

I don’t know. Maybe he did, but that’s not been my experience. If I want my stuff to get seen I have to buy ads, twist arms, or dissolve into tears amongst a lot of people. Caveat emptor.

I think this certainly is worth looking into. Amazon tripped up once and made a lot of people angry and suspicious.  Maybe this time they got it right?

(ANOTHER NOTE FROM THE EDITOR: The URL where Amazon gets this whole thing going is HERE It’s definitely worth a long look.)

Bob Tinsley is an artist, writer, boataholic and a new pro in the field of Audio Drama. In other words, he’s an expert in finding new marketplaces, as he’s showing us here.

A New Audio Drama From Bob Tinsley

The Real Wild Bill

by TVWriter™ Press Service

TVWriter friend and audio drama pundit, Bob Tinsley, has a new audio drama out called Wild Bill Hangs Up His Badge, Episode 35 of the Drift & Ramble Podcast.

Bob wrote, cast, directed, and produced the episode which explores the events leading up to Wild Bill Hickok’s decision to give up the life of a lawman.

For those who may not know much about him, James Butler Hickok, more popularly known as Wild Bill, farmed, drove freight wagons, fought for the North in the Civil War, scouted for George Armstrong Custer, gambled, prospected for gold, though Charlie Utter would have argued that point, and served as a lawman in various places in Kansas during his short life.

During the last year of his life he was world-weary and suffering from an advanced case of glaucoma. He was going blind. In the days before Bill’s murder, Colorado Charlie Utter, concerned about his drinking and gambling, tried to steer him into other lines of endeavor that would keep his interest and not lead him further into dissipation.

Maybe one of those suggestions was that he become the unofficial peacekeeper in wild and woolly Deadwood. This audio drama is how that conversation between Wild Bill and Charlie might have gone.

“This was the third audio drama I had taken from concept to finished product,” said Bob. “The sound effects in this one were much more complex than anything I had done before. I took the Gunsmoke radio show as my model, a dense soundscape.

“Every time I started a new scene I’d get anxious,” he continued,  “first about finding the effects I needed, then about getting them all overlaid properly without futzing out the dialogue. The scene had to be set with the sound, no visuals. I had wagons, horses, footsteps of several kinds, a wooden ladder, saloon pianos, crowds, a huge fight, wild lines, pouring drinks, swallowing, gunshots, layers on layers. It was a real challenge.”

Listen to Wild Bill Hangs Up his Badge  on the Drift & Ramble Podcast episode page and enjoy an immersive trip back to the Old West.

’50s TV Wild Bill on the left. Sorry, but that’s not a TV Charlie Utter on the right.

Bob Tinsley: Finding Audio Drama: One From Column A . . . .

from Bob Tinsley

EDITOR’S NOTE: Trying to get behind the Audio Drama thing we keep talking about on TVWriter™ but knowing what to listen to or where to find it? Here’s a little “Listening Assistant,” found on Imgur by our Audio Drama expert, Bob Tinsley:

Thanks to K.Statz of @STATZINK

Thanks to Imgur!

Bob Tinsley: HOW TO BREAK IN TO AUDIO DRAMA (Or, At Least, How I Did It)

by Bob Tinsley

If you’ve been paying attention on this site, you know how big Audio Drama is getting. I’ve had five scripts produced and have produced two myself with another ten in the stack promised to producers. Right now audio drama is pretty much the Wild West of the entertainment industry. Even more so than web series, for reasons that will become apparent.

The easiest way to break in (at least, it was pretty easy for me) is to be a Writer-Producer. Writing scripts and sending them out to producers is one way to do it, but most producers are already buried under production schedules of what they currently have.

It could take them six months or more to get around to your script. If you can give them a finished product so all they have to do is the intros and outros, you will be a HUGE step above non-hyphenated writers. And it’s not that difficult. After all, I did it.

Side benefit: YOU have creative control. If someone else produces your script, no matter how well, you WILL wish you had done it yourself.

First, you need to write a script. Start small, five to ten pages. An audio (radio) script is different in many ways from a screenplay. First, remember that your listeners can’t see anything. Having the actor make faces is a non-starter unless it affects his voice. The best place for a rank noob to learn about writing for audio is

Everything a beginner needs to know is there including a Word template for radio (also called BBC) format. Both Celtx and Final Draft also have radio templates. Even so, many producers, especially the ones that do epic-scale series, use screenplay format. Most aren’t too picky as long as the script falls into one of those two formats.

Read as many scripts as you can. Just Google “radio scripts.” You’ll find a wealth of scripts in just about any genre you can think of. And don’t turn your nose up at Old Time Radio scripts. Those people knew how to write for audio. Some better than others, of course, but shows like “Suspense,” “Lights Out,” “Gunsmoke,” and “Have Gun Will Travel” (Roddenberry wrote for that one, among others) are good examples of what to do. “Gunsmoke” had an especially rich soundscape, immersive, even. Listen to one of the episodes while you read the script. You won’t be sorry.

If you want to write and produce your own Audio Drama and have a computer, you’ve already spent all the money you need to. You don’t need to buy a mic. Unless, of course, you plan on acting, in which case, you should already have a decent mic. You don’t need lights or cameras. You don’t even need sound equipment. The actors are going to record their own lines and send them to you. You don’t need anything except your computer. Equipment wise, that is.

You will need DAW (Digital Audio Workstation) software. That’s easy. And cheap. Go to and download the latest version of their software. It’s free! Installation is a piece of cake. Be sure to get the plug-in package (subroutines that give you a lot of editing power) and the LAME add-on which allows you to export MP3 files. Again, installation is painless.

Audacity is dirt simple to learn to use. It also has more than enough power and flexibility to do what you will need it to do. You will hear a lot of kvetching from some people in the community about how awful Audacity is. It ain’t so. Julie Hoverson of 19 Nocturne Boulevard ( has been using it for many years and has the multiple audio awards to show that using Audacity doesn’t hurt the quality of the work you put out. She has a YouTube channel with a playlist of Audacity tutorials ( Be warned, though. The information is gold, but she does tend to ramble a bit.

Get some friends to record your script. Or look online in some of the FaceBook groups for voice actors and put out a casting call. Unless otherwise stated it is understood that these are no-money gigs. 

While you’re doing all of the above, fire up iTunes or whatever podcatcher you like and start listening to audio drama. This is called “market research.” Look for anthology shows in the genre you like. You will have a much better chance of placing your episode in an anthology than trying to break into a continuing series, most of which these days have an entire season in the can before they release the first episode.

You’re not going to make any money to start, but movie and TV producers are paying attention to the podcasting market searching for the Next Big Thing. So, get started! It will cost you nothing but time, and all you have to lose is your unproduced status.

Bob Tinsley is an artist, writer, boataholic and, in case you haven’t run across him here on TVWriter™, a big fan of Audio Drama currently in the process of being a pro in that arena as well. In other words, Bob knows what he’s talking about, so listen up!