BEHIND THE SCENES with Wiretap 's Jonathan Goldstein, Mira Burt-Wintonick, Cristal Duhaime, and author Ryan Knighton.

WireTap mostly features phone conversations between Jonathan and friends/family/colleagues. So what draws you to the occasional essay or story, and what makes a print piece "ripe" for radio? Specifically what drew you to Ryan's work?

Jonathan Goldstein: We don't find stories like Ryan's very often, so we have to fill the void with telephonic jackassery. In general, it's hard to find written stories that beg to be heard on the radio. You can find stories that are very good and work well on the page, but offer all kinds of problems for broadcast, ie. too much dialogue-- which is often hard to perform well and differentiate all the speakers from each other; too much dense language, hard to follow, etc. But Ryan's piece felt like you were being told a story, like the way you're told a story when you're a kid. The language is conversational and you feel like something is at stake so you'll want to stay tuned. It's got images that are easy to grasp and memorable, and it's also funny. What makes Ryan's story particularly well-suited to the radio is that the listener is made empathetic to the trials of the narrator on a visceral level (I can hardly use that expression without feeling like I'm in a Woody Allen movie, but I'll let it stand) because as a radio listener, you're a little like that blind dad walking the streets all by yourself. You're being lead by the hand through the darkness, and you're sharing his experience in an intimate, visceral way; that is, you hear the sounds but don't see them, etc, and because he does it well you feel like you're in good hands.

And Ryan, how did this collaboration come together? Did WireTap contact you, or you them?

Ryan Knighton: Me them. I'm a Wiretap junkie and my book wasn't out yet and my publicist was starting to brainstorm ways of getting the book out. In my mind I thought some of the book could lend itself to radio, seeing as listening is the main point of view, and I knew Wiretap occasionally would adapt a relatively chunky excerpt from books that lent themselves in tone and quality to the show. So I contacted Jonathan, sent him an excerpt, and we began to edit it down. Think I sent him about 3000 words and we cut it down to less than half and had to find an ending to book end it. The excerpt, in other words, is quite different from the book. I can't read aloud, either, so he had to cast somebody and get the tone right.

I actually thought the man reading the essay was the blind papa. How and where did you find the voice actor who read the essay, and how did you coach him? What are some of the bigger challenges in matching an actor with a script for radio?

Mira Burt-Wintonick: I met and befriended Dan Beirne a few weeks before we recorded Ryan's story. I knew he was an actor so when Ryan's story came along and most of our regular readers seemed a little too old for the part, I thought of him. He's typically a screen actor, not a voice actor, so we did a little audition over the phone, just to get a sense of how he'd read the story, and most of his instincts seemed right on key. When he came in to record, I tried to direct him to read it slowly and thoughtfully, like he was telling the story to someone, rather than performing it, because otherwise the piece can sound too "acty" and, ultimately, fake. I tend to micro-manage when I'm coaching someone, getting them to re-read sentences over and over with specific intonations. This means a 15 minute story can actually take over an hour to record, which I'm sure could drive someone crazy, but I find it's best to get a few reads that you can play around with when you're editing the story together, rather than wish you had a take of them saying something a slightly different way. So I guess one of the biggest challenges is finding someone who will be receptive to that kind of coaching, who knows how to listen to direction and who is versatile in their read, since often you're still trying to figure out exactly how you want it to sound during the recording process and it's nice when someone surprises you with a tone you hadn't thought of, but that would actually be perfect for a section of the story.

Ryan, what was it like to hear the audio version of the story for the first time, with someone else reading your words?

RK: Well, we're adapting my first book into a film with Jodie Foster right now, so I've scripted my character before and heard actors go to town on me and my character. It never gets easy. The good thing is that the character you write, even if it is you, is some third person, some other guy, a combination of how you perceive yourself and how you remember yourself, not how others see you or how you truly appear to others, so having an actor helps lift that quality from the experience. At least for me.

Is the "you" in First Steps similar to the "you" that you hear in your mind's ear?

RK: Actually, no. My voice, my manner, is much more flip, dry, quick, neurotic. His delivery was more thoughtful, careful, which worked because the tone is about the fear of every step you take. A cautious, deliberate tone helped that.

The sound design (beyond scoring) is so effective in conjuring scenes, and bringing listeners along on Papa's walk around the block. It's subtle, but powerful. How did you approach this aspect of production?

Cristal Duhaime: There are two sound sections in this piece. The first is composed mostly of traffic/city sounds that fade in and out throughout Ryan's walk around the block. These naturalistic sounds are intended to locate him in a specific space: a busy Vancouver neighbourhood. Because radio is an acousmatic medium (meaning we do not see the sound source), these traffic sounds act as our sonic map; we use it to help us navigate through the surroundings of the story, much as Ryan does in real life. And although the city soundscape is one most listeners are already familiar with, in Ryan's story it takes on new meaning: we are able to imagine how the sound of a passing car acts as information that is integral to the survival of blind people like Ryan.

The 2nd sound section is more metaphoric. When Ryan hears the girth of an approaching SUV, it is not the vehicle we hear but rather his inner alarm system going off at the thought of his daughter's safety being put at risk. To do this I used a mix of drone, wind and music. I needed these sounds to be more abstract in comparison with the naturalistic ones of the city to better highlight the tension of the scene; along with Ryan we are thrown into unknown territory, unsure of what will happen next. The ominous sounds allow us to imagine Ryan's state of fear not only as a blind person but also as a father. As the sounds crescendo, time stops as we dread the worse for little Tess. Suddenly they fade away and with Ryan we discover that Tess is safe. With this reveal the naturalistic traffic sounds rush back in, providing relief as we are placed back onto the firm ground of the city

Ryan, did hearing your piece inspire you to think more about writing for radio?

I've written for radio, the CBC, quite a few times and I'm about to do more. It's actually a hard medium for me because, again, I can't perform it, so I'm sort of an incomplete contributor, despite the fact that everybody assumes that blind guys must be a natural radio fit.