Bob Tinsley: Adventures in Audio Dra – We Mean Theater – 5


What does it cost to produce a 40-minute episode of audio theater?

That’s right, Virginia. Audio theater episodes don’t just grow on trees the way money does. Wait. That didn’t come out right, somehow.

Anyhoo, episodes of audio drama are the end product of the hard work of a lot of people. And, being people, they like to be paid for what they do. I know, I know. Actors will often act for the sheer fun of it, money or no, but at the very least you need to buy them lunch. If you’ve got a couple of sound techs, three or four actors, a musician or two and miscellaneous other folk, even pizza can get pricey. Truth be told, someone who is being paid will almost always perform better than if she were doing it solely “for the love.”

Fred Greenhalgh, writer/producer/director of his post-apocalyptic (zombie-free) audio theater series, The Cleansed ( (IMHO, one of the best produced audio series available), put together a budget of what it costs to produce an episode of his series. Or, at least, what it would cost if he had the money to pay everyone, his “ideal” budget. Fred told me in an email, “I was never paid and our actor scale was cut to contend with the fact that the real-world budget was much lower than we had hoped. But we DID in fact pay every actor, crew member, and other creative person in our production and paid for appropriate legal contracts, etc. so we have clear rights on our production. This is something we feel is very important.”

Please note, paying for the people and the equipment is not the only outlay of money. If you are a responsible producer, you also have to protect the rights of everyone involved in the production as well as your own. This requires (Eeek!) lawyers. The rest goes without saying.

Paying people for their efforts is, at the least, a sign of respect. Value for value. Someone who is being paid, even a little, is more likely to show up on time, be better prepared and be more interested in the quality of the end product. All this results in better audio theater.

Fred’s budget breaks down like this:

Item                                                                         $/episode                             $/season (10 eps)

Director                                                                          500                                           5,000
Producer                                                                        700                                           7,000
Writer                                                                              200                                           2,000
Production Assistant                                                150                                            1,500
Actors                                                                             600                                            6,000
Music                                                                               150                                            1,500
Mix/Master Engineer                                               150                                            1,500
Sound Recordist                                                         150                                            1,500
Meals                                                                               100                                            1,000
Office Supplies                                                               50                                                500
Production Art                                                             50                                                 500
Equipment Rental                                                     100                                             1,000
Location Rental                                                         100                                              1,000

Total                                                                          3,000                                           30,000

And then there are the season’s ancillary costs:

Administration                                                                                                               2,000
Marketing                                                                                                                          1,000
Creation/Distribution of CDs                                                                                    1,000
Merchandising — Postcards, t-shirts, etc.                                                           1,000

Total Cost for a 10-Episode Season                                                                  $35,000

Compared to a TV series, the cost is miniscule. But if you are toiling in obscurity, outside the mainstream, trying your best to produce professional quality entertainment, that’s a daunting amount of money to come up with every year. And the income stream is, shall we say, variable.

That’s what we need to change, and sitting around preaching to the choir is not going to do it.