Premiering just in time for Halloween, indie outfit Glass Eye Pix is releasing a series of old-skool radio dramas they are calling Tales From Beyond the Pale. This series of 10 radio plays are written, directed, and starring some pretty awesome talent. The first episode, “Man on the Ledge,” is about, well, a man on a ledge, voiced by Vincent D'Onofrio (Full Metal Jacket). Is it suicide... or something more sinister? We chat with writer Joe Maggio (Bitter Feast) about reviving the radio drama.
What inspired the story?
Larry Fessenden and Glenn McQuaid asked if I would be interested in doing a radio play, so I started hunting around for ideas. It wasn’t something that I always had percolating in my mind. I had a lot of idea that I always wanted to put into a movie, but just wouldn’t fit. Too literary, or just didn’t feel right. Suddenly, the thought of this format - the radio play - it all made sense. I knew I wanted to have a character delivering these long monologues. It just came to me. I wanted something simple, just one or two characters. A guy teetering on a ledge is a great metaphor, that fundamental decision between life and death. I threw a few ideas at Larry and Glen, and this one was the one that stuck.
“The Man on the Ledge” has the feel of an old-school radio drama. I’m terrified of heights. I can’t even go near a window up high. If I have to go up to someone’s office on a high floor, my palms get sweaty. I can’t go in those open-glass elevators. So to me, being up that high on a ledge is already terrifying. No one thing inspired the story, this one just fit.
What were some of the other stories that you came up with?
I had one where a man wakes up, and he is surrounded by his family and friends, and they are all talking about him, but like he doesn’t exist. He has to piece it together, and he eventually figures out that he is in a coma. His voice is the voice in his head. He is in a completely vegetative state, but he is fully aware of what is going on around him. What his family is discussing is whether or not to pull the plug. There is the nurse who has been caring for him, his wife comes in and talks to him, the kids might have something to gain from his death... we have all these different points of view. I thought it was this great set up where this guy’s life is hanging on a decision that these people are going to make. He is completely aware of what is happening but totally powerless. Maybe we’ll do that one next season.
Are you already plotting for next season?
I want to do it. I absolute loved doing it. I loved it more than any film I’ve ever made. For me, above all, I love writing. I like directing, I like being on set, but the writing is really what I enjoy the most, what I get the most satisfaction from. I would love to write for theatre, where it is all about the language. Characters can use language in a way that would be too affected for film. Film works best when it is very natural and immediate - a conversation you would actually have. You can deal with themes and ideas in theatre that you can’t deal with in films. The radio play was so fun because I didn’t have to worry about how natural it sounded because part of the radio play format is that it can be a little bit affected. With a guy like Vincent D’Onofrio, he ate it up. He’s done radio plays before... he’s such an actor, and he really ran with it. I would love to do more. I found it really fulfilling.
What was the process like?
It was quick! It wasn’t this grueling schedule. We went in and recorded it in a day. Over a week, we did some sound design and foley, and put it all together. I think it is scary and engaging and I am very, very pleased with it. I have listened to it a few times. I actually fell asleep with it on, and my wife comes home and asks what is going on - she thought I had people over! “People are screaming, what is going on?” Everything about it: the jokes, the sound effects, the intro, it’s all old-school but it feels very modern to me. Maybe it’s so old-school that it is fresh.
Well, the radio play has kind of been “reborn” as podcasts.
I don’t know how it is in LA, but in New York, 99% of the people on the subway have earphones in. People are constantly listening to things. I don’t think it’s a stretch. At the risk of getting too esoteric, it is fresh in that you don’t have any effects. Peoples minds have been coddled for so long. There are images everywhere. To actually sit there, close your eyes, and just listen to something... it’s very radical to a lot of people. I used to go to the record store and buy vinyl records to put on the turntable - back before it was “retro,” when it was just how you got your music. I would put my headphones on, lay down, and just listen to music. People don’t do that anymore. I think this is something that could really catch on.
Soon everyone will forget about this silly 3D fad - they’re going back to radio!
It’s such a Glass Eye Pix thing to do. Larry Fessenden never picks the easy way. Every time he should take a left, he makes a right. I asked him, “Larry, are you trying to drive your business into the ground? Radio plays - really?” But I think it is going to be a big thing for them. Especially because Glass Eye Pix gets so into it. Posters, t-shirts, the website.... the company really excels at that. There are some great people signed up for it too: JT Petty, Simon Rumley...
And you of course!
I think it’s so funny that I am being referred to as a horror auteur. I made one horror movie - and it was nominally a horror movie!
What do you consider horror?
Anything that touches on something real that you have felt. Like for me, my fear of heights.
Do you have any plans for more horror projects?
I do. I am working on a script that is is kind of Hitchcockian. It’s called The Slight. A couple goes away for a weekend to a town that is insular - they hate the tourists. The couple ends up at a strange, wild party, and the woman disappears like 10 minutes after they arrive. So the husband is trying to find out what happened to the wife. Did she run off? Is it foul play? There are all these sinister, dangerous, frightening characters around. It plays on a great fear of mine, that something is going to happen to my family.
Larry helped open my eyes. Before him, I looked at horror as kind of a “lower” genre. But it’s not true. In fact, making Bitter Feast, I felt it was my first real film. I really had to be a director. It is so hard to create that suspense - that is where the craft is. Horror directors are hardcore - they really have to know what they are doing. But, I think for my sanity, I need to do a comedy next!
Download all the episodes of Tales from Beyond the Pale at TalesFromBeyondThePale.com