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  Pioneer Press — "In the 'Zone'" by Robert Loerzel    
 
Old-fashioned radio drama recorded in Schaumburg

Carl Amari’s too young to remember the days when families sat around their radios listening to comedies, scary stories and cowboy adventures.

But the 39-year-old South Barrington resident has been a fan of old-time radio shows since he was a boy. Now, he’s living out his boyhood dream by directing new radio dramas, based on the scripts of the old “Twilight Zone” television series.

Well-known actors including Jane Seymour, Lou Diamond Phillips, Tim Kazurinsky, Jason Alexander, Adam West, Ed Begley, Jr., Daniel J. Travanti and John Ratzenberger are visiting Amari’s studio in a Schaumburg industrial park to record new versions of the classic sci-fi stories of Rod Serling.

“This is the first time I’m creating (a radio drama) from scratch,” said Amari, who built his reputation by broadcasting and selling recordings of old radio shows.

“The Twilight Zone,” produced by Amari’s company Falcon Picture Group, under license from CBS, began airing on radio stations around the country last fall.

More than 100 stations are now carrying the hour-long show, but for the time being, Chicago listeners are out of luck.

Amari said he’s negotiating with three Chicago radio stations, and he hopes one of them will begin broadcasting “The Twilight Zone” soon.

Amari acknowledges that it’s a bit odd that he became such a fan of the antiquated genre of radio drama when he was growing up in Schiller Park in the 1970s.

“I was always a weird kid,” he said. “I never did what other kids did.”

He was hooked the first time he heard an old radio drama starring Cary Grant. “It was completely in your mind,” he said. “You can close your eyes and be entranced. You flex this imagination muscle.”

Amari began collecting tapes of old radio shows. In 1981, when he was a student at Triton College in River Grove, Amari played his tapes on the college’s radio station.

That led to a job producing a similar show for the in-flight audio service on Eastern Airlines.

Amari began acquiring the rights to the old shows, befriending celebrities such as George Burns and Milton Berle.

Burns “really took a liking to me,” Amari said. “He loved talking to me about the old days.”

He started his own company, Radio Spirits, and began a syndicated show of old radio programs, which eventually reached some 300 stations.

Looking for new challenges, Amari sold his company in 1998 and produced a movie, “Madison,” a father-and-son story about hydroplane boat racers that played at the Sundance Film Festival in 2001. The movie is scheduled to open in theaters in August.

Amari continued to run Radio Spirits for a time, but he left the company altogether last fall to launch Falcon Picture Group.

So far, Falcon has recorded about 60 episodes of “The Twilight Zone.”

Amari plans to do radio versions of almost all of the 159 episodes from the original series, which aired on CBS from 1959 to 1965.

The 23-minute television scripts are expanded to fill 43 minutes of radio.

“We follow it as closely as we can,” Amari said.

The radio show, which features Stacy Keach reading Rod Serling’s narration, will later adapt stories from the 1980s revival of “The Twilight Zone.” Eventually, the radio show will create all-new stories.

Falcon also sells DVDs of old movies and television shows, ranging from such hits as “The Dick Van Dyke Show” and “The Beverly Hillbillies” to more obscure titles like the sitcom “Love That Bob” and Borris Karloff’s “Mr. Wong, Detective” movie series.

But “Twilight Zone” is what Amari is most excited about these days.

“It’s the best time I’ve ever had,” he said. “It’s a blast.”

Compact discs of “The Twilight Zone” radio drama can be ordered via www.twilightzoneradio.com or at 1-866-989-9863. For details on Falcon Picture Group’s DVDs of classic movies and TV shows, visit www.falconpicturegroup.com
 
Acting into a microphone

There are no movie cameras at Falcon Picture Group’s studios in Schaumburg, so the actors don’t bother putting on costumes.
On a recent Saturday morning, the character actor Mike Starr played a prisoner stuck on an asteroid. Rather than donning a space helmet, he wore a backward Chicago Blackhawks cap.

Starr had no reason to worry about how he looked, because the audience for his performance wasn’t going to see him. This show was strictly audio.

Carl Amari had gathered a cast and crew to record “The Lonely,” an episode of “The Twilight Zone” radio show.

Starr and other actors stood around two giant microphones, scripts in hand, as Amari sat offering directions.

The walls are covered with white plastic panels designed to absorb sound and create the perfect acoustic environment.

Producer Roger Wolski watched from the next room, looking through a wide window as he controlled the computer that was digitally recording the performances. The computer monitor showed the recording levels rising and falling as the actors spoke.

When Starr angrily yelled one of his lines — “What do you know about it?” — the levels shot up into the red.

“Whoa, whoa!” Wolski said. “On that line get off the mike a little.”

Starr backed away from the microphone and repeated his line, making it sound more like a shout in the distance.

Later on, Wolski would cut and paste snippets of dialogue, adding music and sound effects — most of which come from CDs rather then old-fashioned sound-effect devices.

The actors don’t need to worry as much about redoing the entire scene as they would during a film shoot. If they don’t like the way a line sounds, they just repeat it, then go on with the scene.

Although it’s a high-tech recording process, the actors constantly face a rather low-tech task: flipping the loose-leaf pages of their scripts without making too much noise.

Whenever they get to the bottom of the page, the actors pause and Amari calls out, “Page, everyone!” He also occasionally adds comments for the actors: “This is excellent.” or “You rock!”

Starr is a tall, hulking actor, known for playing mob tough guys and dopey comic characters. He has been in almost 90 movies, including “Dumb and Dumber” and “Goodfellas,” as well as the TV series “Ed.”

At a couple of points, Starr stumbled over words that didn’t sound natural in his New York accent.

“How do you say that — simulacrum?” he asked, peering at the script through reading glasses. “Fortunately. in the script, it says he’s a New Yorker.”

Midway through the taping session, Starr was joined by actress Taylor Miller, a former star of the soap opera “All My Children.”

Her “Twilight Zone” role was a female robot, who is sent to keep Starr’s prisoner company as he serves time on his lonely space rock.

Although there was no camera rolling to capture Miller’s facial expressions or gestures, she was animated as she read her lines, showing emotion — or robot-like simulations of emotion.

Miller said later that she pictures the scene as she is acting it out.

“In my own mind, I have the places and the situations,” she said.

Starr said he had to adjust his acting style for the medium of radio.

“You use your senses differently,” he said. “You have to give more.” “Radio is so intimate,” Amari said. “The littlest change in your voice will get picked up by the listener.”
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