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SYFY WIRE Critical Role

Critical Role’s Brian W. Foster reflects on Talks Machina's triumphant quarantine return

By Lisa Granshaw
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During this pandemic, we’ve had to miss out on a lot of things, from going to the movies to traveling to conventions to enjoying our favorite shows. For Critical Role fans, also known as Critters, it’s meant a hiatus from the weekly streaming Dungeons & Dragons game played by a group of nerdy voice actors until it could figure out a safe way to return. While Critical Role has been back for a few weeks now, another beloved program has been missing from the brand’s schedule: Talks Machina, the weekly talk show hosted by Brian W. Foster where cast members gather to discuss the latest events of the game. Luckily, fans don’t have to wait much longer to have that Talks void in their lives filled!

Talks Machina is returning on Tuesday, Sept. 15 with a new format and schedule. The show will now broadcast every other week and instead of taking place in the familiar studio space, it will be recorded remotely. SYFY WIRE has your first look at the return of Talks Machina in this exclusive clip:

SYFY WIRE also spoke to Foster about what discussions were like about how to bring the show back and what fans can expect from the new format.

What were the conversations like leading up to the decision to bring Talks back and why was now the right time for its return?

Right away the main focus was we have to get Critical Role back on the air, with the cast being very reluctant to do the Zoom thing with this game because it’s just not the same with this show, these people, and their chemistry. As much as people think they wanted that version of the show, trust me you didn’t. Marisha [Ray] was very clear that we’re going to get Critical Role back up and running and then we’re going to figure out some quarantine content that we can make, then we’re going to figure out Talks. Getting Critical Role back in the format that it’s in now under the guidelines that we have here in L.A. is really a feat of engineering wonder so all that credit goes to our team Steve [Failows], Max [James], Kyle [Shire], the whole production team. Then it became what do we do about Talks?

Talks is only two guests, Dani, and myself usually, and Henry. Dani already sits 25 feet away from me, so there were conversations at first about, "Is there a way we can do that?" But then that’s also a bigger liability thing because we have to have crew in the studio, cast, [and] it’s another day of the week where potentially we have to go in and go through all the steps and everything. We just wanted to limit all of that stuff to just Critical Role which is obviously our most important show and then Talks is something we could do over Zoom in that whole from-home edition.

It’s not the way I’d love to do the show, but we’ve filmed one already. It was a blast. We’re already on Zoom all day every day together anyway so it’s very comfortable. We just talk. There are no masks, the production’s easy. We’ve been working for several months now on new graphics, new layout, new logo, new look for the show. What’s it going to look like with this from-home edition and then figuring out the timing as well. We pretape these Critical Role episodes so we didn’t want to shoot a Talks where they can’t talk about one of the most recent episodes they shot. We didn’t want to put the cast through any of that stuff where they’re going “I can’t talk about that yet because that hasn’t happened.” We shoot the episodes of Critical Role, then we shoot the Talks about it, take a week off, and reset.  

What can fans expect from the new format?

It’s a very chill format. It’s going to be different because we can’t take fan questions since we’re shooting an episode a few weeks before the fans probably even get to see those Critical Role episodes. But it works out perfectly because Dani, who recently got upgraded to lore keeper, is the perfect person to help put together the narrative and the conversation for how the Talks episode is going to go. Ever since we brought her on board I’ve had her curate the questions and then we go through it and kind of decide the arc of how the Talks episode is going to go. It’s actually a lot more thought out than people might think because of its whimsical nature.

In this version, Dani and I and Kyle and whoever wants to know something in our whole company can just say, “Hey, ask about this,” and then we will. It feels a little more organic. It’s a bummer because I love how half of the show is me mispronouncing people’s usernames. It’s going to be interesting. But I do like the organic nature of it. It feels even more just like friends talking through the show and talking about it. We still have fan art and cosplay, they’re just going to be a few episodes behind, and we’ll pick winners... So we’ll still have the contest giveaways and we’re still going to cover pretty much everything people want to know.

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What were some of the unique challenges you faced with this format, whether in talking to everyone remotely or with the equipment you needed to set up? 

It’s so funny. I’ve been on Twitch for three years or something and I have no idea how anything works. Well, I didn’t but I had to because we started doing Off the Ranch from home, the spinoff of our Yee-Haw Game Ranch. I ran that whole thing myself because we can’t have the technical director or sound guy over at the house. Our director and head of production — pretty much almost everybody had to help me figure it out. Our PA was dropping stuff off at my house, a green screen, lights, cables. I had to figure out how it all worked. I spent a lot of time on FaceTime showing my computer screen to people going what am I doing wrong? It’s really funny and the first time we did an Off the Ranch I told Ashley [Johnson], “Well maybe today’s the first day we’re actually Twitch streamers because we actually know how to do it.”

We figured all that out and then when it came to shoot Talks, I already had a setup and I already kind of knew how to do everything. It just became tweaking it a little bit more to make it feel more like All Work No Play: Unplugged, which is another quarantine thing we did. The crew already figured out how to do that and how to make that work. So adopting that format for Talks, they’d figured it out so a lot of it was scheduling like, “OK, let’s start it here because then we can bring the show back by this date.” A lot of it was scheduling, but on the technical side thankfully they taught me most of what I needed to know at the beginning of quarantine.  

Were you able to grab any familiar items from the set to get in the Talks spirit? 

Right now the cast is calling my office the murder room because I had it painted a very dark red because my last office was green and I just felt like, let’s switch it up. When I have my lights on for the camera it does look a little bit like a murder room so I have a few things that I grabbed. I won’t say what they are because I want to surprise people but there are a few things.

Most of them are related to my dogs because the Critters love our animals as much if not more than they love us and being an animal freak like myself that makes me so happy. People send in a lot of art, sculptures, trinkets, plushies, and things they make of our dogs and animals. I will say people will see some familiar and new surprises when Talks comes back on the air. They’ll see a lot of cool stuff on the screen. Lots of Easter eggs the crew has put into the show.

What are you most looking forward to fans seeing and what are you most excited about for Talks' return?

I’ve got to tell you, it’s not that I didn’t know this or appreciate this before the COVID situation happened, but this show really means a lot to people and I’ve gotten emails, messages, and mentions of people I think going through the same thing of not really realizing when something you participate in every week is gone [how] that throws people off. I get thrown off by that stuff. I’m usually pretty on top of my schedule so when something’s thrown off I’m like that sucks.

People really miss the show and I really miss doing the show. I miss being in that room and I think that people just get a lot of comfort out of the show. It’s kind of a warm, stupid, kick back, put it on when you’re doing the laundry kind of a show or podcast. So I’m really looking forward to just strangely being back in people’s lives and trying to provide a little bit of light, encouragement, and fun in their week. We’re able to do this every other week now, but I really just miss the community and I want to bring the show back to them and I want to bring the cast back together. We like hanging out with each other. We don’t really fight or get into stuff, we’re a very close family and I’ll take any chance I can, if it’s on Zoom it doesn’t matter, to just talk to them about the show. I’m excited to bring it back to the community and to just have it back in my life and our lives.

Talks Machina returns Sept. 15 at 10 p.m. Eastern.