Creator of Thrilling Adventure Hour, Ben Blacker
With the Thrilling Adventure Hour performing at DePaul University tomorrow, April 26th, at 8pm (click link for tickets), what better time to do an interview with one of the creatures of the show, Ben Blacker? Ben started the show with his friend Ben Acker nine years ago, and has been performing live shows in LA ever since. The podcast started in 2011, and became part of the Nerdist network around the same time. Fresh off their recent cross-over show with the folks at Welcome to Nightvale, they’ve come to do a show for the C2E2 crowd.
I was lucky enough to get to interview Mr. Blacker today, and asked him a few questions about the show and some of his other writing.
When asked how creating the Thrilling Adventure Hour (TAH) came about, Ben said, ” Ben (Acker) and I wrote a feature film called Sparks Nevada: Marshall on Mars which is an Indiana Jones-type adventure. We had a bunch of actors that Acker knew come over to perform it. The performance was so much fun, and it turned out better than expected.” They thought that there had to be a better way to perform it, and let other people see the performers regularly. Everyone is busy, but they were determined to find a way to do something monthly. The radio conceit came about due to practicality; everyone involved is busy, and the script wouldn’t get into the actor’s hands until a few days before the show. Between that, and wanting to tell stories of varied genre, the radio idea evolved into the main premise. One of the best parts of the show, Blacker says, “if you are a fan of something, there is something in the show for you.” That is where both he and Acker come from–both huge fans of comics, superheros, westerns, sci-fi, and other genres, it allows them to touch into all different things.
The cross-over with Welcome to Nightvale (WtN) started when he and Acker met the creators at one of the TAH shows about a year and a half ago. Like many people, Blacker found WtN via their podcasts early on, and reached out to the creators on social media platforms. Over the course of a year, they finally decided to do a big show together. Doing a cross-over show would allow them both a chance to do something fun for both the fandom and the corresponding writers. The crossover-show utilizes a three act structure with the TAH writers composing Acts 1 and 3, and WtN writers composing Act 2. There is a “device” being used to get towards the crossover, but to keep this review spoiler free (they plan on doing more than one showing!), readers will need to check out the cross-over shows for themselves.
Unable to pass up a chance to ask about his and Acker’s work on Supernatural, he stated that they were on staff for Season 7, and wrote one episode (7.07 The Mentalists ). Jim Beaver, Misha Collins, and Richard Speight Jr (who will be at the show tomorrow night!) have made appearances on TAH as well.
Blacker said that the show is highly scripted, but there is some slight improvisation–some actors add to their lines if appropriate and the opportunity is right. The actors endeavor to make the show feel as natural as possible, which is where their improv skills come in very handy. A considerable amount of the show is in a vocal medium (especially for people who can’t see a live show), and Blacker states that they do take that into account when he and Acker write. Blacker stated that the early on they knew that the show, and the characters they created, lended themselves to all different sorts of mediums. Having a live show, along with the podcast, web show (a behind the scenes show on Nerdist), and concert allows people with all different tastes to find a way to enjoy the show. For people who can’t listen to pure audio, there are ways to add a visual element–via the show itself (with the actors on stage), or by reading the comic that Blacker and Acker created, which came out in 2013.
The TAH graphic novel (140 pages, 10 different artists) is up for an Eisner Award. Blacker and Acker are huge comics fans, and writing a comic was always in the back of their minds. Instead of using a more conventional route, TAH decided to gain their funding through Kickstarter, allowing Blacker and Acker to have more creative freedom. While it added additional pressure to provide donating fans a product they would appreciate, Blacker feels that the graphic novel is something to be proud of i. In general, Blacker is enthusiastic and extremely complimentary when speaking about the people who have been involved with the project, giving the impression that it is, deep down, a product of teamwork.
As someone who had a desire to get into the tv and movie industry when he was younger, Blacker wanted to provide a way for people to learn more about the industry and learn the nuances of craft, itself. As a result he created the Nerdist Writers Panel, which is a weekly podcast about the business of writing. Released every Tuesday, the show includes tv and movie writers who speak informly about the writing process. Every Saturday the podcast releases a comics edition featuring comic writers and others creators and professionals in that industry. “[The Nerdist Writers Panel] exists because it…didn’t, and I wanted it to. Theater is something that is accessible in nearly every community, but screenwriting is a more mysterious craft.” The enigma of the craft is something that Blacker wants to remove, and through his podcast he helps others understand what goes into the screenwriting process.
When asked if there is anything planned for the future, Blacker commented on the big show that will occur on May 10th at Town Hall ( Info and tickets here ) in New York City. The cast will include all the regular players, along with Ira Glass, Zachary Levi, and Dick Cavett.
While mum on any SDCC plans, let’s hope Ben Blacker and The Thrilling Adventure Hour will make an appearance!