Writing “The Secret Keeper”: Part 2

Here’s a bit more on the writing process from Rough Magic Theatre’s Tim Austin:

The trouble with starting again is that you get very attached to scenes and dialogue that you’ve already put together. Something said by your main character gets a giggle or sounds profound,… is there a way to keep it?

Simply put: No. You can’t be precious or sentimental when writing fiction. You’ve got to be brutal and ruthless or you’ll end up going in circles.

I wrote three chapters of a disaster story many years ago and I could not, for the life of me, figure out why chapter four wasn’t working and why I couldn’t get beyond it. Eventually I realised that I’d made some psychological errors back in Chapter 2 that meant the main character’s headspace was wrong by the time it came to concluding that act. Two chapters had to go. And they did.

Because the beauty of starting again is that sometimes the new stuff that you write is better than you wrote before. You’re working with new ideas and new challenges and that takes you in different and interesting directions.

Sometimes you can recycle a line or two, sometimes not. The trick is to not get attached.

I’ve now worked out a new plot to run through the series. It’s more intimate, more detailed and more interesting than the original. Starting from scratch allowed me to look at the format again and concentrate more on individual motivations. Maybe it’ll make the crafting and shooting process a bit more complex but it’ll also make the finished series better.

And that’s the aim.

The Secret Keeper will be as rich and fully-formed as any HBO or BBC drama. It’s a full-fat sci-fi thriller,….. just animated with shadows. A Film Noir mystery in light and dark.

The pilot version of episode One is in Pre-production, with puppets now being drawn and cut. Audio for this rough-cut (to be used to gather funding for the series) will be recorded in the next two weeks. Filming is likely to start in November.

You can see the original post on Tim’s blog by clicking HERE

If you missed “Writing the Secret Keeper – Part 1” CLICK HERE

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Experiments in the Puppet Closet!

Having cleared enough space to get a shadow screen, a camera (actually a smart phone with a special tripod) and an O.H.P.(over-head projector for those not in the know) into our Rough Magic Theatre store cupboard we were ready to start experimenting.

We wanted to find out where to put these three things in relation to each other to get the pictures that we want.

We also were particularly keen to try out a shadow face on the flat-bed of the projector to see what size we would need to make all of the characters faces for what we are calling our “hero-face” puppets. These will be for creating close-up facial expression shots of our main characters and will hopefully have moving eyes, eyebrows and mouth to create a wide variety of expressions. This will hopefully save time on puppet making as we will not need to create a new puppet for each facial expression. We will have “hero-face” puppets for all of the main characters both “face on” and in profile.

Here is a picture of my earliest experiment creating a generic moving facial expression puppet (e.g. this was just a face and not intended to represent a particular character)

I made a start on making one based on my drawings for the bodyguard daughter of the main character and it is this partially complete puppet that we did several experiments with (checking the size and a few other things). You can see videos of this in the subscriber only content for this week (or perhaps I should say last week as we are a little late this time).

Unfortunately we have been having lots of trouble with our washing machine which has broken for the 3rd time since lock down so I have been having to take time out to go to the launderette. I have also been turning up trousers for my son who has started at the nursery attached to our local primary school this week where they wear the same uniform as the older primary school pupils and the smallest size is still a bit large on Anthony (bless him).

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Video of experiments with OHP and LED pen torch.

Video of experiments with LED pen torch

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More Explosions!

We are doing very well with re-organising the RMT store cupboard to the point where we were able to set up our shadow puppet screen and OHP (over-head projector) and camera and try them out in various positions to see what worked best.

This is the portable shadow screen I made for our show “Officer Buckle & Gloria” and this is the first time it has been used since then. I will be removing the “safety tip” notes from around the edge 🙂


“I don’t know how we couldn’t do this before – there’s loads of space”


“Oh Yes, there’s loads of space – providing we never want to use our freezer again!”


“Oh, yeh! :(“

Tim has now (I am pleased to say) retrieved our freezer and moved it to a newly cleared out corner of our kitchen instead. This corner contained various random things which had not been moved or used since we first moved into our house in 2011!

I hate sorting through things as I never like to throw anything away. Tim is more ruthless and got through it all very fast. Though, to be honest, I knew that we didn’t need most of those things and it was just a case of taking the time to do it.

This week’s subscriber only content shows videos developing further ideas for techniques to create shadow puppetry explosion effects.

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Explosion Effect video #1

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Explosion Effect Video #2

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More Behind the Scenes with “The Secret Keeper”

Hello lovely peeps! Here’s the latest installment of behind the scenes footage with story-boarding and experiments in shadow puppetry techniques from Collette Knowles and Tim Austin of Rough Magic Theatre:

We intend to film the series in our house and we happen to have an underground store room with no windows which we use for storing our props, puppets and costumes. During my maternity leave the puppets etc. have been languishing unloved in the dark for a considerable time, (and I have had two lots of maternity leave fairly close together) and the room has also become a repository for various bulky items of baby equipment as the children have outgrown them.

It occurred to me that if we could clear/reorganise the space then the lack of windows would mean that we could achieve absolute blackout without fiddling about with blackout blinds. We had been considering using my work area (what was intended to be the living room of the house) as the performance area but this has accumulated even more (if you can believe it) clutter than the store room so would be less easy to get ready to start experimental filming etc. Also if I get my work area clear as well I can use that as a puppet making production area and leave the performance/filming area already set-up in the store room and not have to keep setting it up over and over. This will be important if we want to have consistency in our filming work.

I am the sort of person who does not like throwing things away so I discovered a lot of bags full of “useful bits of wire”, “useful odds and ends of foam rubber” (these were cut off a larger block when sculpting a puppet) as well as string, staples, fabric remnants and other more obviously useful items plus things that shouldn’t really be in there at all.

I have got it to the stage where we should be able to see if it is possible to set-up our rig in there, and try things out in various positions to see what works best or indeed at all!

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Today’s subscriber content is 3 x Behind the scenes videos – This video is about how to film a crowd scene using “3-D” shadow puppetry techniques

This video is a practical experiment with “3-D” shadow techniques
This video is a story-boarding discussion about how to create a building explosion effect using shadow techniques.

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Sustainable Outdoor Arts

Me in hero pose picking up my new car

I recently attended an online sustainability symposium hosted by Wild Rumpus which was looking at all the things that we are, could and should be doing to make our work as outdoor artists more sustainable.

At the beginning of the year we made a big step as a household and as a theatre company towards greater sustainability by swapping our vauxhall zafira for a second hand Nissan leaf.

The zafira was a swap from a Vauxhall Combo van without rear passenger seats so that we would have somewhere to put child car seats following the birth of our first child in 2017. It was a good choice for a compromise between personal and business use as the seats fold down to provide a very large amount of space for carting puppets/sets /workshop materials etc.

Then came the announcement about all new cars being electric from 2035, (more recently they are considering bringing this forward to 2030). In addition to this my car had turned 5 years old and I had just had to get it seen to for its first major repair job (while in my ownership). I felt like the longer I kept it the less it would be worth and the more repairs it would be likely to need.

Tim (my co-performer in RMT and husband) had already started using an electric vehicle (a Renault Zoe) as a second car for our household. So, I felt relatively comfortable with the idea of switching to an electric vehicle of my own as I had already had experience of driving his.

One of the main differences is that it has no gears so those people who have driven automatic cars would find the swap to an electric vehicle quite an easy one.

I decided to get a second hand vehicle as I would be able to buy this using a hire purchase arrangement and at the end of 5 years I will own it outright and have something to show for my investment. At the time, Tim had a PCP on his Zoe and has now switched to a new lease (and a newer Zoe) without the option to buy. I wanted a car at the end of my payments.

So I got a Nissan Leaf which, while nothing like as big as the Zafira, has a fairly roomy boot and the ability to fold the rear seats flat for extra storage space. It is bigger than the Zoe but has a smaller battery (30 kwh) which gives a range of 120 miles with a fully charged battery in ideal conditions (it does not perform as well in the cold).

Before lock down we had the delightful plan of visiting the Covent Garden May Fayre and Puppet Festival for the first time in my new car. This happens every year and commemorates the first documented sighting of Mr. Punch by Samuel Pepys in his famous diary (so it is the official birthday of Mr. Punch).

We were going to take the children too and make it a sort of bus man’s holiday and stay overnight the night before. We had not been previously as the travel costs for us from North Yorkshire to London for an unpaid gig are very expensive but with an electric car we felt the trip would be within our means. We also felt it was worth trying as an experiment to see how practical it would be to use the car to transport the shadow puppet suitcase show to London in this car.

It was going to take a long time to get there compared with a vehicle with a bigger range (hence the need for an overnight stay) but it was going to be an epic electric car adventure.

Then lock down happened, the live event was cancelled and the May Fayre moved online instead.

So the only business journey I actually have done in the new car was to ‘For The Love of It‘ a street arts networking event in Manchester which happened immediately before lock down. The car performed well. The inbuilt sat nav got me to the venue (Cobden Street Works the new base of Walk the Plank) which I had never visited before without a hitch. I navigated to a nearby Instavolt charger at a garage and put on enough charge to enable me to complete the return journey and that was that.

One major change I have had to take on is the use of a smartphone which I inherited from my husband when he upgraded his. A lot of electric chargers require the use of a mobile app for that particular network (and there are lots of different charging networks). Instavolt, however, is one of the networks that allow you to charge using a contactless debit / credit card and the charger had lots of simple easy to read buttons that light up in order to tell you what to do.

I have since discovered that I was fortunate in my choice of first charger experience as Instavolt are very reliable and easy to use compared to some other networks. Some charging points can be broken when you turn up or the charging point works but the app doesn’t.

Another problem for some electric charging points is that they can be ‘Iced’ (the parking space is taken up by an internal combustion engine vehicle) which stops electric vehicles from using them.

The solution to a lot of these problems is Zap Map. This is an app which let’s you plan your journey. You input the range of your vehicle, where you want to go and it suggests charging points you might want to use to get there.

You can see if anyone is using the charging points, whether any are broken and users can report issues they have had with the chargers and upload pictures of the charging station so you can see what it looks like and find them more easily. So if you are planning a long journey and can see a particular charging point is having technical problems over and over again then you can simply choose a different charging point for your route. I think it eliminates what they call ‘range anxiety’ pretty much altogether. If you have plenty of money that is not such an issue any more anyway as most new electric cars have enough range to complete most journeys without the need to charge away from home (in the UK anyway as nowhere is very far away from anywhere else compared to America for example).

We are going to have a different epic electric car journey soon as we are going to Cornwall for 2 weeks. We are planning to use the Zoe as it has the greater range (particularly as we are now in Winter) and we need to get to YHA Eden project (where we are staying) by 10pm at the latest. This gives the different challenge of fitting everything for the holiday into the smaller bootspace This will include clothes for a 3 and a half year old and a 19 month old plus everything else they need and stuff for me and Tim. 

So I shall also be taking a holiday from blog writing for 2 weeks so there will be more on the progress of our Secret Keeper Shadow Puppet Murder Mystery Series then. Till then Very Best Wishes and stay safe to you all my lovely readers.