Indiewire is partnering with the independent horror studio Glass Eye Pix to provide exclusive first looks at the new episodes of its radio theater show “Tales Beyond the Pale.” Each Friday through mid-December, new episodes from the third season of the eerie audio plays will be available on the site for exclusive two-day windows alongside interviews with the talent.
The brain child of Glass Eye Pix founder Larry Fessenden and filmmaker Glenn McQuaid, “Tales From Beyond the Pale” draws on the 1930’s tradition of radio dramas that showcased numerous filmmakers from the contemporary horror scene. This season, that includes Stuart Gordon, whose episode will kick off the series on Friday, in addition to screenwriter Eric Red (“Near Dark”) and installments scripted by both McQuaid (“I Sell the Dead”) and Fessenden (“Habit,” “Last Winter”). Fessenden also provides the voice of the host in each episode. Here, the duo discuss the dynamics of their unique project and what’s in store for the third season. Check out one of several posters designed by Graham Humphreys above.
It’s the 21st century. Why radio theater?
LARRY FESSENDEN: I always loved listening to audio plays and radio in general growing up. In the seventies, before there was VHS or DVD, I used to record old movies off the TV and on to audio cassette, and listen to them over and over. I came to love the rhythm of the sound effects and the whole experience of listening to a story. I made a lot of stuff with my hands and so I loved being free to not watch a screen. I still love it to this day. Glenn and I were listening to a radio show in the car, and he said, “Glass Eye Pix should do radio plays.” I loved the idea of working in a different medium. We’ve made comics, books, movies, video games, models, advent calendars, why wouldn’t we try audio plays?
GLENN MCQUAID: We originally started “Tales from Beyond the Pale” as a means of producing content that was otherwise collecting dust. Larry and I, and a bunch of our colleagues, were sitting on great stories that needed to get out to an audience in one way, shape or form. We’ve both produced comics in the past, and audio dramas seemed like a similarly interesting option, the other side of the coin. As we’ve continued with the project, the format has become a vital way for us to tell our stories.
In what sense has the project evolved?
LF: The first season was created in a studio environment where we had a good deal of control. The second season and subsequent performances in L.A., Colorado and Montreal, we’ve done live. That is different, of course, because there’s really only one take of each performance. We spruce up the live recording before releasing them, but there is still a spontaneity to those shows. This season, our third, we are back in the studio.
GM: Over the past five years, we’ve produced 40 audio dramas, many in the studio, and just as many in a live environment. The more we do this, the more the audio-drama format is opening up to us in new ways. So I think there’s an experimental element, or at least an confidence in experimenting, that’s running though our work now — and it wasn’t there in the first season. Certainly with my own Tales, from “Trawler” to “The Ripple at Cedar Lake,” I think there has been interesting development.
What are some of the specific ways that this form of storytelling can scare people?
LF: When so much is left to the listener’s imagination, it is bound to be more scary. But our stories are not just to frighten; they are engaged with the things that are really scary like loneliness and madness.
GM: The format’s limitations are its strengths. We can’t show you the monster, but why would we want to? Your imagination is a darker and scarier place than anything that can get generated on a computer. Asking the audience to use their imaginations makes it a much more personal and interactive experience. We had a live show in Montreal recently where an audience member sketched out what he thought a certain character would look like; even though it was live and he could see Larry play the character, he drew a very different person. I think audio dramas can be extremely effective because we ask something of the listener.
In what ways do your backgrounds as filmmakers apply to the medium of the radio play?
LF: Sound and sound design has always been very important to my approach to film, because it is a more subversive and allusive aspect of the medium.
GM: The relationship with actor and director is probably closer to theater, in that, when we record the dialogue, there is very little in the way of the creative collaboration — no cameras, lighting or even locations. Then, once we record, the post process is very similar to the post flow in filmmaking — editing, sound design, mixing, etc. At the end of the day, it’s all about storytelling and honing in on a tone by developing a rhythm and structure that suits the storytelling.
How did you go about selecting the filmmakers and talent for the current season?
Well, with Stuart Gordon — who joins us this season — we had gone to him for season one and it didn’t come together at the time. But we kept circling back and this time it worked out. I took a meeting with Eric Red as well when I was in L.A. and invited him to be a part of the series. Often these are associations that start with a discussion of making a movie together through Glass Eye Pix. When realities of financing a movie get in the way, we often say, well, heck, we can do a radio play! Our other collaborators are all pals with whom we’ve worked before. It’s just about timing and a pitch that works with the other pitches in a given series.
What are the steps involved in producing one episode? What’s the turnaround time?
LF: It’s always different, depending on the writer and the director. A collaborator like Graham Reznick delivers a fully finished piece, perfected in every way. Other writers direct the recording session and then leave quite a bit of the work to us. Glenn did a lot of heavy lifting on this season, taking on edit and sound design duties on several of the tales, as well as composing some fantastic music for a number of them. Then we take the sessions to our partners at Dig It Audio, where Glass Eye has mixed maybe a dozen films, and we finalize the mixes there. It all takes about a year to build a season, because we are doing other stuff.
GM: We have worked with a lot of the season three collaborators before, either through “Tales” or in other capacities — for instance, Brahm Revel, who wrote and directed “Junk Science,” did the comic book for “Wendigo” as well as “The Last Winter” and “I Sell the Dead.” April Snellings, who writes for Rue Morgue, has done two live shows with us before, and James Felix McKenny is a long-time Glass Eye Pix collaborator. Working with Eric Red and Stuart Gordon was something we’ve wanted to do since Season 1, so it was great to get those guys involved — they’re people we’ve always looked up to and were certain they could bring something interesting to the show.
As filmmakers, how does this kind of experience compare to your day jobs?
LF: The biggest difference for me is that the tales really have no logical outlet, no particular infrastructure in which to present them as you would have with a film festival. There’s no IMDb for audio dramas. So there’s a lot of work with no particular reward. That’s why this forum for putting them out through Indiewire is so exciting, I often said to Glenn, “These tales are like little half hour films in their ambition and artistry, just no picture!”
GM: We usually start by asking the collaborators to submit a couple of ideas. Then, Larry and I will sort through all the submissions and choose the ones based on what we think will add most to the collection. Once the scripts are written, the stages are: rehearse, record, edit, sound design, foley and finally, the mix.
The turnaround time varies a lot. With “The Ripple at Cedar Lake,” I actually recorded it over a year ago but it wasn’t until recently that I jumped back in and mixed it all together. With something like “The Hound,” it was much faster. We recorded with Stuart in L.A., then I took the material back to NYC and edited and designed under Stuart’s direction. That probably took about a month. Keep in mind that we’re always up to other things, so we tend to sit on things from time to time. In an uninterrupted world, I think we could have each of the tales finished, soup to nuts, in a week.
How will the wraparound play out this season?
LF: It’s the first time the wraparound has a narrative tinge to it. Same host poking around the “Tales” HQ, but then something unexpected develops and he has to deal with it. It was a bold experiment, put together at the 11th hour, but I think we were happy to be loose after the hard work putting the 10 tales together. Glenn and I had fun collaborating with our mixer like we were a couple of rock and rollers putting a track together in the studio.
GM: We’re trying something new with The Host this season — he’s moved into an old light house for some peace and quiet but he’s not alone. We’re referring to the wraparound as our 11th Tale as it gets pretty insane.
What are the best conditions for listening to these episodes?
LF: Honestly, on very good speakers or with headphones. They are perfect to listen to in a half hour commute in your drive to work, but I worry some of the rich detail will be lost. Not bad listening on earphones at the gym, too. Time flies when you’re scared shitless. I’d like to think “Tales” will be responsible for some ripped abs.
GM: I love the idea that people are listening to “Tales” during all types of activities. Knitting in their favorite chair, rock climbing, sky diving, driving at night. Actually, my mother was driving around Ireland listening to Simon Rumley’s “British and Proud,” and had to turn it off. After we wrapped, I listened to the entire Season 3 out on my deck, at night, while my dog chewed on my ankle. I recommend this type of immersive situation especially for “Food Chain” and “Natural Selection.”