The worlds of audio and Star Wars have always been cornerstones of Nick Martorelli's life. As a child, he listened to audiobooks on cassette, a love that continued into his teenage years as he discovered the old-time radio plays of Jack Benny and The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes. But it was still Star Wars that held his attention, even if his bedtime got in the way of finishing The Empire Strikes Back.
"Just as Luke Skywalker was leaving Dagobah and Yoda was explaining there is another, the commercial break that followed meant I had to stop watching the movie and go to bed," Martorelli tells SYFY WIRE. "I read the rest of the story from the books at my school library, and I've been a fan ever since."
Star Wars would eventually connect the dots between Martorelli's personal and professional lives. Everything truly clicked together in 1981 when NPR rebroadcast the Star Wars radio drama. Martorelli was in love. A few decades later, he would be moderating panels for the official Star Wars audio drama about the life of Count Dooku at Star Wars Celebration and San Diego Comic-Con. Moreover, he'd be casting and producing Star Wars audiobooks for Penguin Random House Audio as an audiobook producer, making him directly responsible for how a whole new generation viewed (or, rather, heard) the stories from a galaxy far, far away.
"Here were two of my favorite things — audio drama and Star Wars — existing side by side, and it was fantastic!" Martorelli says of his work. "It used such a different artistic language than the film, but it still brought the story to life. And the cast was all terrific. Perry King is as much Han Solo to me as Harrison Ford is."
"At PRH, an audiobook producer is responsible for taking the text of a book and turning it into a finished program. This includes reading the book, and then discussing casting options with the author," Martorelli explains. As a producer, he wears a lot of hats, especially at a studio as prolific as Penguin Random House. "I always talk about my job as being a great mix of creativity, diplomacy, and project management."
Any given project has multiple steps from conception to completion, and all those responsibilities more or less reside with Martorelli and his team. Be it an issue of needing more than one narrator to finding just the right voices to bring the words to life in an audio format, the decision is his, even down to the director.
"We have a great pre-production team that helps with all the scheduling for our books, and I'll try to swing by any sessions I can," he says. "Once the book is recorded, it will be edited and assigned to quality control, after which I'll evaluate all of their notes, making sure we can deliver the finished audio masters by the due dates." It's an exciting job, but also one that requires a firm understanding not only of the creative process but the source material.
This was where Martorelli's life-long love of Star Wars really came into play. Dooku: Jedi Lost is a fully cast audio drama about the origins and life of Count Dooku; a monumental project, and one that was hotly anticipated by fans.
"I had wanted to do something like Dooku: Jedi Lost for as long as I'd been with PRHA," Martorelli says. "The opportunity eventually presented itself, and we started working with [author] Cavan Scott to develop the story and the script."
Unlike a traditional audiobook, Martorelli was able to work with Scott and the Del Rey team to truly shape the script into something perfect for an auditory experience. Thankfully for Martorelli's purposes, Scott had numerous audio credits to his name, including Doctor Who, so his script for Dooku's journey was a beautiful blueprint to work from.
"Once we had a script, I started bringing together the cast. From the beginning, we had talked about bringing in our core cast of Star Wars narrators, and I was glad to have the opportunity to widen that pool as well, welcoming new folks to the family," he says. Martorelli goes on to explain that while the recording days were long, the cast was happy to be working on this story, as they were all fans themselves.
Casting and recording is just the beginning, however. After the lines are in, then comes music and sound design, weaving in the cast's recorded effort sounds — grunting, heavy breathing, and the like — to make lightsaber battles realistic and to build on the actors' emotional performances.
"I would watch Euan [Morton], Carol [Monda], and Sean [Kenin] perform those scenes without any sound effects, huffing and grunting as they imagined their characters running, jumping, swinging lightsabers. And then as the sound and music get painstakingly put into place around them, the scenes came together beautifully, creating that full cinematic experience that the actors had been imagining when they were in that small recording booth," Martorelli explains.
The Star Wars productions have been amongst Martorelli's favorite, but he oversees more than Jedis and Siths. His role as an audiobook and drama producer encompasses a wide scope of genres.
"Recently, I worked with Andy Weir to adapt his graphic novel Cheshire Crossing into a full-cast audio drama, which was a blast," Martorelli says. "I had done a similar project with Lincoln Peirce and MAX AND THE MIDKNIGHTS last year, turning an illustrated novel into a full-cast production. I also got to direct John Lithgow and Kate Mulgrew reading the poetry of Fred Rogers."
The role of a producer is a busy one, and at any given time, Martorelli is working on a half dozen or so projects in various stages of production. In the morning, he might be reading a script, by lunch emailing an author about narrator choices, and then popping into recordings and checking quality control in the afternoon. It's a rewarding career, but a high-paced one, and definitely not for those who don't absolutely love both books and audio.
Like most jobs in the creative field, becoming an audiobook producer is all about networking. Martorelli had been looking for a career shift after a few years in traditional publishing at Penguin Random House, and when a role in the audiobook department appeared, a producer friend he'd made recommended him for the role. Because of this and due to his other experiences, Martorelli is adamant that the relationships you cultivate in the field you want to go into are vital to your faster progression.
"Just be prepared for the path to take longer than you might want it to; it's a long game sometimes, and patience is key," he explains.
But what is the best way to get into the audiobook and audio drama world? While everyone on Martorelli's team has a different background, there are some more traditional routes to enter into this particular world.
"Practically the best way to get into traditional publishing is through an internship where you can network with people in the company who might be doing what you hope to do," he says, though publishing isn't the end-all-be-all. With so much media being produced by indie companies and individuals — such as podcasts, short films, and YouTube series — he says original projects are a great calling card for initial contacts. Also, "we are all voracious readers. So if you want to work specifically in audiobooks, or in publishing, that's a place to start."
Currently, Martorelli is reading and casting the upcoming novel Star Wars: Resistance Reborn by Rebecca Roanhorse, as well as Spark of the Resistance by Justina Ireland. In addition to those he's finishing up A Cosmology of Monsters by Shaun Hamill, and starting Charles Yu's new book, Interior Chinatown. And there's plenty more coming soon.
"There are always projects on the horizon of a galaxy far, far away," he assures.