Interview with Ellie Collins

This interview will contain spoilers for “S.S. Utopia” and “Blackchapel” (seasons 1 and 2) so read at your own risk.

Lower half of a woman holding a medieval plague doctors mask with "The Blood Crow Stories" in the bottom right corner.

I listened to season one of The Blood Crow Stories last year, and it took me until just a few months ago to be prepared to listen to season two because it ruined me. I was a sobbing mess after season one. Thankfully that wasn’t the case for season three, I did cry, but I was prepared for it. Since season three, “The Neon Lodge” started on Halloween, I wanted to interview Ellie Collins, the creator of The Blood Crow Stories and learn more about the person that is able to rip my heart out and then stomp on it. I was ecstatic when she was happy to do an interview, and I was even happier when she agreed to be interviewed twice because I had an audio issue the first time. This was such a fun interview, and there’s a little extra spoopy part as a belated Halloween treat.

Ellie Collins of the blood crow stories. She is wearing a teal shirt and has red lipstick.

What inspired The Blood Crow Stories?

I always loved old radio plays like War of the Worlds, and I actually have big 45 records of old radio plays, so I’ve always wanted to make one. My friend Scott, who is the audio producer of The Blood Crow Stories, was working for an audio studio and I had finally gotten him to start listening to Welcome to Nightvale and other audio fiction podcasts. He told me that he really wanted to do something like that. I said “Well, there’s kind of this horror story that I’ve been sort of kicking around because I’m very scared of cruise ships.” It just sort of evolved from that.

What about audio is appealing as a medium for storytelling?

I think it’s because you get a more intimate connection with your listeners. If we want to make a spooky monster whisper in your ear, we can do that. We can bring listeners into the action that you aren’t able to do in a visual medium. We are able to connect on a personal level instead of connecting with an audience.

Many of the settings seem like they could be real places, so what sort of research do you do for the seasons?

Well, I do a lot of research, I didn’t know that you could max out Google Drive accounts, but I’ve done it multiple times. I have a ton of spreadsheets about locations and facts about the time period. Like in season one we researched the date that the first prototype of a portable audio recording device was available for purchase. Since “S.S. Utopia” starts with audio recordings, we started with that date and then built the story around it instead of picking the time period and then trying to fit everything else into it. With “Blackchapel”, I ignored most of the actual historical content and went with the fake Hollywood idea of the West. Hollywood Western was the playground and the historical information was mostly how people would die during that time. Season three is set in the future so I just kind of invent the tech and ask other people how to make it work because I am very technology stupid.

The characters in S.S. Utopia and Blackchapel are so relatable and I become attached to them quickly. What is your process for creating these characters?

Before The Blood Crow Stories, I wrote the first part of an urban fantasy book during NanoWriMo. I wanted that book, foolishly, to feel so realistic that there are 50 named characters, and they all got time and attention. I have a thick binder full of character sheets for all of them because they had to be different. That was basically practice for this. However, it’s not just one person creating this, it takes a lot of people to create The Blood Crow Stories. I try to write characters that are relateble across the board, so even if you haven’t had a certain experience, you can relate to the emotions. I don’t know every experience so I check with people who do so that their experience is represented correctly. I also trust my actors, they know their characters better than I do. A lot of the dialogue is improv.

Hold up! A lot of it is improv?!

Oh God, yeah. There’s a lot of improve that goes into the characters. By the end of “S.S. Utopia”, I just gave the Eric Ravenscraft, the voice of Malseph, a general rubric of what I needed him to say and let him go nuts. I can write characters, but I only know those characters to a point because I have to pay attention to all of them. The actors are with their characters and that’s the only person that they’re concerned with, so they figure out how to relate to that person and learn their motivations. In season two, the relationship with Silver and Everett, was all improv. The actors interpreted that the characters had a past relationship and approached the story like that, and it was brilliant. Ryan Little Eagle, the voice of Wambli. I don’t know anything about the Native experience, so I wanted to make sure that it was accurate. I told the voice of Wambli, Ryan Little Eagle, that I didn’t know a lot about Lakota, and he said, “Don’t worry, I’ll fill it in.” I think he has a Facebook page because he sings too, and is just incredibly talented. (I checked and he does; you can check it out here) I told him what I wanted Wambli to do, and he just did whatever he felt was right and Wambli became this charming and lovable character.

 

There are so many queer characters in The Blood Crow Stories and since it is a horror podcast, how do you avoid the “bury your gays” trope

Because we bury them all? Kidding!

Personally, I think it’s about intention. If you have one gay character, and you kill that character and leave the straight character alive for reasons that do not matter, then I think it becomes the Bury Your Gays trope. We got accused of this many times in season one because the queer characters die.

We are a horror show written by LGBTQ+ people, and I refuse to glass jar my gays because it’s not fair if we don’t get to participate the same way that cishet characters do. I want to see LGBTQ+ princes and princesses, but I also want to see LGBTQ+ horror. There’s no reason that in the new Halloween movie she couldn’t have been a lesbian or bisexual. She had enough time to figure something out. As I said before, we are a horror show and if you know that the gay characters are always going to live, then I can’t introduce gay characters because you are never going to worry about them and part of horror is being scared. If they’re always going to make it out fine, then we have no purpose.But also, who died in season one was chosen by a d20 die, because I didn’t want to elect who died . They were my friends, and I am too innocent to do this! I was actually really happy that Mary got a later number, because she was going to be the death that hurt the most.

I got a lot of flack for Mary having such gruesome death; people said I let the gay characters get to the end, only to have them being murdered in the most gruesome way. I took the critique, but to me, it’s horror, and the best thing you can get in horror is to have the coolest death. People don’t talk about the surviving characters of horror as much; they talk about the one that got the torture scene or death. In horror we have to define what’s the best thing to do with our characters differently. A character surviving until the end only to get the most gruesome death in normal drama is very bad, but in horror, that’s why we love them. Mary’s journey of discovering her sexuality and her resulting panic was mirrored after my own I wanted to give her the cool death.

Polyamorous relationships are often viewed as weird, dramatic, insidious, hypersexualized, or as a joke. However, in The Blood Crow Stories, it is portrayed as just another relationship. Why did you choose to include a polyamorous relationship?

So, I am polyamorous. I have my wife and we got married to Zach, the voice actor who plays Barrry, recently. I included a polyamorous relationship because I wanted to see it portrayed positively. I really, really hate how polyamory is portrayed in media. It’s rare that it is even portrayed at all, and even rarer that we get a portrayal of a healthy relationship. It’s usually just lazy writing where they just want the character that can fuck anybody, or with all the drama.

Originally, I couldn’t decide if I wanted Max to have a boyfriend or a girlfriend because he needed someone in his world to be able to comment on the stories. I eventually said, “Why am I stressing over this? Give him both because that’s my experience. I don’t see it represented, so what’s stopping me from writing it?” I was happy I was writing a positive portrayal. When they have fights, it’s still a healthy, loving relationship. I want to show there can still be drama, and not have it be “polyamorous drama”,because that’s how polyamorous relationships are usually portrayed. There is always the “polyamorous drama” of “they don’t love me enough” or “they love someone else and I don’t like that person” The drama in Max’s relationship is related to him obsessing over the tapes and hiding things from the other two. After that, I decided that I am doing it in every season. It’s pretty much always going to be a polyamorous trio because that’s what I know, and we rarely get positive representation.

The Blood Crow Stories is an anthology, but the framing device used to tell the stories seems to have a plot of its own. Is that going to continue to grow?

I wanted to have a framing device to explain why we were going to change stories every season, so the Blood Crows got invented. The Blood Crows are actually a reference to a French film from 1995 that I love called The City of Lost Children. It’s a movie about kids getting their dreams harvested and it just spooked the mess out of me. I decided to make it like this, but instead of dreams being harvested from children, it’s nightmares being harvested from millennials like me who can’t sleep and would happily jump in a sleep study that could help me sleep. I would become the first victim of The Facility.

We made it a sleep study instead of a mental hospital because we all have our own mental health issues and don’t want to see it portrayed that way, and we also didn’t want to make the doctors and mental health professionals the villains. We wanted the spookiness to be focused on the monsters and not the participant or doctors. That story grows in season two and will continue to grow in the future. There will also be a visual novel coming out where players are a patient trying to escape The Facility. It’s going very slow, but it is coming.

(I looked that film up and it’s a French Film that has Ron Perlman in it which threw me for a loop)

What is the hardest part about making The Blood Crow Stories?

Writing. I am a very free-spirited writer. There are two writing modes. I get a spark of inspiration and I have to write; sometimes that happens at 3:00 am. I write on my phone in a script writing app that auto formats which is really helpful when I have that need to write something early in the morning, But then there are times when I simply can’t write. Like I really need to finish episode three right now!

I want our show to evolve and I want it to be different. I want every season to not only be different, but to have different levels of intensity too. I don’t want listeners to become desensitized or bored.

What is your favorite part about creating The Blood Crow Stories?

It’s really cheesy, but my favorite part is when I hear the voice actors record as their characters. I probably spend about a year putting these characters together, and the first time that I get to hear them is thrilling. I can write a character, but without someone being able to give the character the voice they need, then it’s nothing.

Any hints for season three?

If you want to get into my head for season three, go look up Kowloon Walled City and sneakernet. Season three is set in a city like Kowloon, so it’s extremely claustrophobic and the internet is so slow and expensive that it is cheaper and faster to walk a thumb drive over to your friend with whatever you wanted to share.

I looked at the wiki of Kowloon Walled City while we were talking and Ellie knew exactly the moment when I saw the picture of the city. It is horrifying. We are going to have a little aside to talk about Kowloon Walled City. Since this was originally supposed to be published on Halloween, consider it a spooky treat.


A large solid block of ramshackle buildings varying in height, with many taller buildings and some mountains in the background.

Areal photo of Kowloon Walled City, 1989. Ian Lambot

Kowloon Walled City was a settlement within Kowloon City in Hong Kong that was so compact and densely populated that I have trouble comprehending that it was a real place. And it was still around in 1990. During the Song Dynasty, the area that would later become Kowloon Walled City served as an outpost for trading salt  and became a military fort in the 1800s to combat British influence after Hong Kong Island fell under British rule. In 1847, builders completed a wall around the fort to defend it from the British. Kowloon City was later handed over to Britain for 99 years, but a loophole in the contract excluded the Walled City which meant China was allowed to have their military occupy the Walled City, but they couldn’t interfere with British rule in Hong Kong.

During World War II, when Japan was occupying Hong Kong, the walls surrounding Kowloon Walled City were torn down and used as material for expanding the Kai Tak Airport. China announced that it wanted the rights to Kowloon Walled City after Japan’s surrender in 1945. However, all attempts to reclaim the city from British rule failed and in response, the British government adopted a “hands-off” policy with the Walled City. This meant that it became an attractive location for displaced and marginalized people. The legal grey area from the hands-off policy also attracted criminal syndicates that essentially ruled the Walled City for decades, beginning in the 1950s. I do want to point out that even though the city attracted many criminals, it wasn’t a city of criminals. Kowloon Walled City was home to a large number of people, and many of them were not involved in criminal activities.

a cramped alleyway that is illuminated by a single florescent bulb. There are a mass of pipes overhead.

West Side Street (with Overhead Pipes), 1990. Greg Girard.

From 1960-1980,the city began to build upwards and become densely populated with over 30,000 people in 300 buildings that occupied 7 acres. It became so crowded and tightly packed that the alleys in the lower section were in complete darkness 24/7. The city did receive mail services and a water supply, but it didn’t have garbage collection and the electricity was brought in illegally, which led to garbage simply being tossed out of homes and electric lines, pipes, walkways, and clotheslines weaved throughout the city. In fact, people never had to touch the ground in the city since there were a series of walkways and stairways connecting the upper levels. Eventually, a height restriction was put into place because of the closeness to the Kai Tak Airport.

Man relaxing on a rooftop of the Walled City. His is surrounded by cramped buildings and wires and pipes are slicing through the image.

Relaxing on Walled City rooftop, 1989. Greg Girard.

It was estimated that at its peak population there were 50,000 people living in Kowloon Walled City. Whole families often lived and worked in one tiny room. Each person had around seven square feet of living space. On January 14, 1987 it was announced that the city would be demolished and turned into a park. The residents were compensated, but some of them were not satisfied and continued to live in the city until they were forcibly evicted in July 1992. The demolition of Kowloon Walled City began in March 1993 and was completed in April 1994.

There is now a park named Kowloon Walled City Park, which has monuments dedicated to the Walled City.  If you want to know more about the Kowloon Walled City, check out the list of sources at the end of this article.

Now that we are all properly horrified, back to the interview.

 

 


Do you have any new projects that you can share?

We are transitioning the Patreon from just The Blood Crow Stories to our entire production company called Facility Spooky Productions. We are currently working on a ghost hunting show starring all the women from The Blood Crow Stories called Ghouls Night Out. It will be on YouTube and we are starting out exploring places in Georgia.

What advice do you have for aspiring creators?

Trust your own gut for what you want to create. You may need to find new avenues to create the things you want, or make changes you didn’t foresee, but always trust your gut on what feels right and true to what you want to create. That way you’ll always make something that you can truly be proud to put out into the universe!

Final question! How would you die?

*awkward silence as she tries to process that surprise question and I realize how horribly worded that question was*

I mean in The Blood Crow universe… not in real life. How would you die in The Blood Crow Stories universe?

Ha! I’m a millennial, I’ve dreamed about it so many times. I have two answers.

If I had to choose anything, it would be the way Darla died because I really surprised myself with that one. Darla is the one that is always ready to fight and will beat up anyone who hurts Barry. It was a very emotional moment for me because it was really early into my relationship with Zach, who plays Barry. When Darla and Barry are yelling at each other, we had never raised our voices to each other in real life, so that scene felt like we were fighting for the first time, even though it was fake, it felt very real. And then I am watching my boyfriend cry and scream in agony while he dies. So it became very personal. As much as we want Darla to go kick Malseph’s ass and avenge Barry. But the reality is that she just lost her will to live, she always took care of Barry and watched out for him. So when Malseph killed him, she just gave up.

Now, if I had to pick a cool death… This season, one of the demons that we have has a very sexy voice, and I want her to destroy me. However,she’s going to kill me, and it will probably be by throwing me off the 100th story of a building.


Season three of The Blood Crow Stories started October 31st. It was really good, and this season is going to be intense. You can follow The Blood Crow Stories on Twitter @TBCSPodcast and visit their website thebloodcrowstories.com. Support them on Patreon, and if you haven’t already listen and subscribe to them on your favorite podcatcher.

Click the little drop down menu in the top right corner and become an email subscriber of ADR. You’ll be notified when a new article comes out. If you have any suggestions for future posts, or want to chat you can find me on social media or email me at audiodramarama@gmail.com. If you liked this interview, want me to interview someone, or know how you’d die in TBCS universe, then comment below.


Sources about Kowloon Walled City.

Basler, B. (1992, June 16). Hong Kong journal; The Walled City, home to huddled masses, falls. The New York Times, p. 4. Retrieved from nytimes.com

Leisure and Cultural Services Department. (2018). A City of Thousand Faces. Retrieved from LCSD.gov

Lambot, I. (n.d.). City of Darkness. Retrieved from cityofdarkness.co.uk

Lambot, I., & Girard, G. (2014, January 9). City of Darkness: Revisited. Watermark. Retrieved from greggirard.com

Sinn, E. (1987). Kowloon Walled City: Its origin and early history. Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society Hong Kong Branch, 27. 30-45.

The Wall Street Journal. (2014, April 1). Kowloon Walled City. Retrieved from wsj.com

van der Kolk, Nick. (Producer). (2012, November 19). 99% Invisible; Episode 66: Kowloon Walled City [Audio podcast]. Retrieved from 99percentinvisible.org