My Walnuts, an Oscar Nominated Animator and an Idiotic Production Company or — Radio Daze?

I’ll really have to write up a piece at some point about the time I worked with Oscar (tm) nominated animator Sylvain Chomet years ago. Or, more accurately, the time Sylvain Chomet asked to work with me!

Yeah, it’s true! Chomet heard one of my radio shows one day and contacted a production company who were fans of my work and said “I want to work with the genius behind that Walnuts sketch!” (He was often calling me a “genius”, mostly when introducing me at parties after a drink — “This is Colin Edwards and ze man is a genius! His walnuts are fantastic!”, so that’s not me blowing my own trumpet but simply me dispassionately and accurately reporting a French animator’s words). So we were brought together and he ended up animating my Walnuts, so to speak.

The odd thing is I’m not a big fan of what he did to my sketch by animating it and myself and the ex-head of BBC Radio Scotland, J.Z., would frequently agree that the original radio version was vastly superior. This was down to two reasons -

1/ For the sketch to be animated it had to be re-recorded and it lost something in the process; a certainly vitality and sonic élan. It was also about getting certain technical aspects “correct” for the animated version so the voices became a slave (you can hear the chains they are shackled to), whereas the original version really flew.

2/ I wrote The Walnuts sketch specifically as an audio sketch that could only work on radio and, like all my work, never on TV. By animating it and literally showing the audience a specific interpretation of the words then it deprived the listener of the main thrill I had intended them to experience — to animate it themselves inside their own heads.

Still, the end result is pretty decent and I did have the thrill of having something I wrote being animated (and at someone else’s expense at that!) by a world class animator.

The reason I mention all the above is not due to narcissism but that it resulted in Chomet and I collaborating on a radio pilot for a proposed BBC 2 animated series. It was the only time in my life I’ve been involved in a radio show I was not in charge of in terms of producing and directing or being in total control of… and it was a total fiasco, and one I still laugh about today.

This is primarily down to the production company, whom I won’t mention by name but it rhymes with “Turn TV”, operating the way nearly all TV production companies operate — i.e. through hubris and greed at the expense of any artistic integrity. They were a TV company so had no experience in radio. The result was that the radio pilot, a 26 minute long radio show, went more than fifteen times over budget (a rough estimate was that it eventually cost over £16,000!) and because they never bothered with a timed table read of the script and hadn’t accounted for the music and sound effects (and my work is ALWAYS sound effects heavy) it clocked in at a whopping 58 minutes, so had to be hacked to bits to the point where it didn’t make any sense, let along actually be funny.

Now I’m not saying it was the ‘Heaven’s Gate’ (1980) of Scottish radio comedy, but if anything could be called such a thing then it might’ve been this.

Still, the production company thought they were onto a sure fire winner. How could ANYONE turn down Oscar (tm) nominated animator Sylvain Chomet? Turns out BBC 2 could, and DID, because when the production company showed the animated sketch and the radio pilot to the commissioning editor of BBC 2 she turned straight to them afterwards and said “Why the hell did you go to all this trouble and expense? If you’d simply pitched me this idea over drinks at a party I’d have immediately said “No. That’s EXACTLY the sort of cost-heavy, niche programming we don’t want on BBC 2 right now. You’ve just wasted an awful lot of money.”

When the producer from Turn TV told me all this afterwards in a state of severe depression he was almost inconsolable. “Still,” he said with his head in his shaking hands, “we’ll still get paid some money from BBC Radio Scotland for the radio pilot. You’re a radio producer, what will they pay? Around £35,000?”

I spat out my coffee.

“£35,000?! For a 26 minute long radio show? Are you out of your fucking mind?!”

“Well, what then? £25,000?”

“More like a couple of grand. And after the money you’ve spent animating my sketch by a vastly expensive, hand animated, bespoke artisan like Sylvain Chomet PLUS paying for Ashley Jensen and Richard Wilson to star in it AND the fact you’ve pissed god knows how much money up the wall because you thought this was a sure fire thing because of your deluded hubris then I’d say you’re going to come out of this around £14,000 in the red. Did none of you think to check any of this for a minute?”

I decided to stop there because he was starting to look suicidal and his eye was twitching like Commissioner Dreyfus’ in ‘The Pink Panther Strikes Again’ (1976).

So yeah, maybe I should write about that story sometime. But, then again, maybe I just have?

Comedy writer, radio producer and director of large scale audio features.