For the next several weeks, Indiewire is exclusively premiering
new episodes from the third season of “Tales From Beyond the Pale,” the
audio play series produced by Glass Eye Pix. Episodes will be available
for two-day windows.
The season continues with filmmaker Larry Fessenden’s “Natural Selection,” starring Dominic Monaghan. Listen to the episode above,
and read interviews with Fessenden and Monaghan conducted by Indiewire’s Eric Kohn about the inspiration for the episode below.
The episode is inspired by the show “Wild Things with Dominic Monaghan.” When did you discover the show and how did you get Dominic onboard to play the lead role?
I worked with Dom on Glenn McQuaid’s movie “I Sell the Dead” and we’ve always stayed in touch, so naturally when his show came on, I tuned in. The show has a really fun travel-type vibe, lively editing and exotic locations that become increasingly remote as each episode progresses toward the discovery of some rare creature that Dom is ultimately going to commune with on camera. But what is most meaningful to me is the ethos at work; Dom is fearless but not foolish in the way of daredevil personalities stalking alligators. He is incredibly respectful of the creatures in a trans-species sort of way that is so rare in popular entertainment.
Anyway, whenever I watch a show like that, any reality TV stuff or documentaries, I always think of the cameraman who is entirely invisible to the viewer but presumably doing everything the host is, only with a camera on his shoulders. Like they used to say, Ginger Rogers was doing all Fred Astair’s moves, only backwards and in heels. So I wanted to bring that idea into a story. In all the tales we’ve done, there are very few if any that would be considered “found footage,” so I was inspired to try something with that aspect to it.
Next, I thought of how to tell the story personally and of course my trip to the Galapagos came to mind. I don’t travel often but the remote places I’ve been are my favorite and most memorable: Iceland, Alaska, the Redwoods — the places that are about the land and the animals more than the people. You can’t really visit or think about the Galapagos Islands without thinking about evolution and the power of observation and insight that a naturalist like Darwin brought to the world. Of course, all this wonderment leads me to think about the idiotic controversies that we have in our public and political diatribes, and my mind clouds over with frustration at human arrogance and the way religious doctrine is wielded like a blunt club. So I tip over into the dark side and write a horror story.
What were the challenges of representing this setting only through audio?
I wanted to represent the remoteness of the islands by depicting the travel it takes to get there, and to take the listener from bustling Ecuador to this remote island in the sea populated only by birds. At the very end, it’s just one man and the birds. I used the motif of the chattering birds — boobies, to be precise — which are a species specific to these islands. I also have flamingos in there, which have a very unusual call. The idea was to have the vocalizations of the birds rise and fall with their excitement level and use that as a storytelling device: when they grow silent, the monster is near.
Ever since your first feature “No Telling,” you’ve dealt with ecological themes in your work. How does “Natural Selection” fit into that focus?
I think of “Natural Selection” as the story of a man who transforms into another species without fear and horror, showing his true openness to the world. In a way, the story is told from the point of view of the cameraman, who witnesses the horror and then has to confront the same fate himself. In the end, it is a story about how we confront death and change and deal with the unknown. Ross Geary, Dom’s character, undergoes his fate without judgement. It is also, as I have said, about the cameraman. He’s left alone, repeating the same experience, but without the same perspective that eased Geary’s end, so his fate is more chilling. In setting up that ending, I contemplate that what is scariest in life is not violence and death but loneliness, the simple existential truth of existence. It’s a common theme in my work.
What has changed with respect to these issues since you started tackling them in your films?
The world has become more partisan and desperate since I began thinking about ecological things in the mid-eighties. I have seen public discourse go from civilized to irrational and vitriolic. In a sense, all my worst fears are coming true as humankind has become detached from the natural world and lost in a narcissistic death spiral exacerbated by the echo chamber of the internet. All the wars and unrest we are experiencing are resource wars and climate wars, brought on by a global eco-system under deep duress. This was all foreseen decades ago in books I was reading. So while I have always operated under a sense of urgency, there is also now a feeling of resignation and sadness as well.
In a broader sense, how do you avoid simply shilling for your message without losing something in the storytelling department?
In all my work I am trying to get at a philosophical perspective about an individual’s place in the world. In the final analysis, I am trying to question the mythologies under which we exist, the basic assumptions our society operates under that in my view is not sustainable. This viewpoint, which is very personal, can be alined with the environmental movement and the talking points of various eco-causes. But then again, movies about the devil and exorcisms are in fact assuming a religious context where a devil exists. It is essential to understand where our stories are rooted. My stories may seem preoccupied with “nature,” but that’s because it’s what we as sentient beings are dealing with, not gods and devils. Those things reside in ourselves.
When will we see your next movie?
After this interview I’m sure I’ll never get financed again!
Below, Dominic Monaghan shares some thoughts on how his decision to perform in “Natural Selection.”
What made you want to do this?
Well, I love Larry, Glenn McQuaid, working with Billy Boyd, and “Tales From Beyond the Pale.” All plus points.
How did the production experience differ from what you usually do?
Always the same. Who’s the character? How do I identify with him? How can I add more? How can I help? How can I have fun?
What do you make of the ecological themes in the show?
Larry very much hit upon something that has made us close friends over the years. We share the same worries and hopes for the future of this planet. We want the same things. We see the same warnings. It’s a cautionary tale — with a little fun!
How does your own program address these issues?
I attempt to inspire curiosity and eradicate fear from some classic situations that typically inspire fear: Travel. Planes. Heights. New things. Cultures. Ideas. Creeds. Unknown foods. And animals, of course.
Why would someone familiar with your show want to check out this episode?
I think they both exist as two separate things just fine, but if you have seen Larry and I in “I Sell the Dead,” or seen Billy and I in “The Lord of the Rings,” maybe you’ll want to check things out more. But it’s a great story full of exciting moments of suspense and intrigue. I had a lot of fun doing it and I hope that shows.