Hey nerds! I interviewed Paul McCusker over e-mail, and here it is! I’ll put his answers in bold so you know who’s talking.
I’ll open with the questions about Adventures in Odyssey, since that’s for which most of our readers know you.
1: I hear that all good episodes start with coffee and bacon. Is this true for you in particular?
Do you mean the writer has coffee and bacon before writing an episode, or it’s best to have coffee and bacon before listening to an episode, or something else? My day usually begins with a cup of tea and a pastry.
2: What is the difference between being “producer”, “executive producer”, and “director” on Adventures in Odyssey, since you’ve done all three?
Great question. A lot of people don’t know the difference, including producers, executive producers and directors 🙂 For the Odyssey team, the Executive Producer has traditionally been the person who handles the big-picture corporate details of the show. He or she would go to meetings with Focus On The Family leadership and talk about important things like whether employees should wear ties or if the cubicles should be gray or a darker gray. The Producer is involved more directly in running the show. He or she helps work out the creative direction of the next batch of episodes, makes sure the writers are getting scripts done on time, and the sound design guys aren’t using the studio hallways for bowling practice. The Director is the one who gets a script recorded, tries to keep the actors focused on their characters and lines (impossible!) and works through lunch while everyone else is in the kitchenette eating pizza or sandwiches.
3: You’ve had some brilliant ideas and deep truths that have been made into Odyssey episodes over the years. The Ties that Bind, dealing with the subject of homosexuality, The Mortal Coil, dealing with the subject of death and Heaven. What is something that you wanted to explore further, but couldn’t, or wanted to make into an episode but couldn’t?
It’s interesting that you’d say the Ties That Bind dealt with homosexuality when it’s never actually mentioned. What those episodes tried to do was look at God’s teaching about family, in contrast to what our culture teaches about it. But that’s not the question you asked. I can’t think, off hand, of any topics I wish we would deal with in Odyssey that we haven’t. If I were writing for the show now, I’d want to explore things like “fake news” and compromising truth for an agenda – things that a Cryin’ Bryan Dern and Bart Rathbone would have been right in the middle of.
4: Were you the “head honcho” of the writing team at Adventures in Odyssey?
Considering who is on the writing team, I don’t think anyone can claim to be a “head honcho.” Every member of the team brings their own personalities and talents to the scripts and the show, which shapes whatever direction it goes. The closest I was ever a “head honcho” was on the Novacom series. But that’s only because I had the original idea for it. How it eventually played out was a team effort.
5: What was your input into the Odyssey Adventure Club (now the Adventures in Odyssey Club)?
I was part of the early discussions about it, but I thought Dave Arnold had the kind of passion for its mission that he should be the one to drive it forward. And he did.
6: So, you recently left Adventures in Odyssey to work on some exciting stuff! We’ll get to what you’re working on later, but how far did you plan ahead before leaving Adventures in Odyssey?
Well, there was the 12-part “Ties That Bind” series that became 14, then 20 parts. I outlined what I thought should happen after that – mostly with Wooton and Penny – but I don’t know if the team followed it at all. Once I left, it seemed like a good idea to let go as much as possible. And even if I hadn’t, I’m sure the team would have insisted 🙂
7: You’re coming back for the 30th Anniversary Live Show on that cruise for Focus. What’s your involvement with that?
At this particular moment, I don’t really know. Dave Arnold, Phil Lollar and the team are making all kinds of plans for a fun experience. I assume they’ll let me know what they need me to do by the time I get on the boat. Or I’ll just sit by the pool and be eye candy.
Just as a side question, are they letting you on board for free? (You may decline to answer, as with any of these questions)
I’m not sure how “free” it can be when I expect to be working the entire time 🙂
8: Are you aware that 51% of the people who took the AIOWiki poll about “Who is Your Favorite Writer” voted for you? Phil Lollar came in 2nd at 22% of the vote.
I didn’t know that. It’s quite an honor. Though it’s a bit unfair to Phil, since he was away from the show for a decade. My experience, when I talk to fans, is that they’ll tell me their favorite shows and they’re usually written by Phil – or Marshal – or Kathy – or Nathan. Just about anyone but me.
9: Have your other productions inspired Odyssey episodes, or vice-versa?
That’s the amazing thing about the privilege of writing: inspiration comes from anywhere and everywhere. I’ve worked on Odyssey episodes that influenced other projects – and other projects have influenced what I was doing for Odyssey. When we draw water from the creative well, it can be poured on anything that’s growing in the garden.
10: All right, let’s get to the other stuff you’ve worked on, and what you’re doing now. Let’s start with the Father Gilbert mysteries, since I absolutely loved the audio dramas and have read your first Father Gilbert book. Is it easy for you to write things so creepy?
I’ve always been fascinated by the intersection of the supernatural with the natural world. The Father Gilbert stories may be the best way I’ve had to explore that. They’re not easy to write, but they’re fun to have written (if you understand the difference).
11: Those were recorded in England, and I understand that you live in England now, correct?
I have lived in England, but I have been in Colorado Springs for the past 17 years. I go over as often as possible, either for work or for family visits.
12: The Screwtape Letters was another production that you absolutely nailed, and it had Andy Serkis on it! What was it like to make this production?
It was an intense experience, since that particular genre of Lewis’ writing doesn’t lend itself well to dramatization. But Andy Serkis was amazing to work with – making sure to perform every word rather than simply read the lines. I would love to work with him again, in a different context. He may never want to work with me, though. In fact, he signed a photo for me that said simply: “Dear Paul, don’t ever ask me to do anything like this again.” It was incredibly draining for him.
13: In fact, a big part of your portfolio is dramas about C.S. Lewis, or about his works. What’s your favorite one that you’ve made?
Lewis’ works are so versatile that it’s hard to pick one. I mean, Narnia is so different from Screwtape, which was completely different from the Mere Christianity drama. I wish we could do “The Great Divorce” – and the Science Fiction trilogy – and “Til We Have Faces.”
14: What are you working on now? I know that you’re doing the Augustine Institute audio dramas, and the Father Gilbert mysteries. Would you like to tell us about those, or about anything else you’re working on?
Right now I’m working on a script about St. Cecilia – the patron saint of music. Her story intersects with different parts of history and characters like the composer Handel, so the approach I’m taking with the script is substantially different from anything we’ve done before.
15: Between the books and audio dramas, I understand that they each have their own merits, but what’s your favorite to make?
My favorite is whatever I’m working on at the time I’m working on it.
16: I know that interviews sometimes don’t have the question you really want to answer (or maybe I’m the only one who thinks that way). Do you want to answer something that I haven’t covered?
You haven’t asked what kind of computer or writing program I use. The answer: I write on a MacBook Pro, using either Final Draft (for scripts) and Word (for prose).
Well, Mr. McCusker, thanks for taking the time to interview with me. I really appreciate it! Good luck and God bless on all of your projects!