April 9, 2020

TALES DISPATCH: Douglas Buck & Glenn McQuaid talk “Hidden Records”

Douglas Buck reminisces with the Pale Men about the one-time-only performance of HIDDEN RECORDS, now available on TALES FROM BEYOND THE PALE The Podcast


Q: Hello Douglas, can you talk a bit about where you got the idea for Hidden Records?

Doug Buck: Hello there, being a long-time acquaintance of both master Pale Talesmen Larry Fessenden and, through Larry, Glenn McQuaid, and the fact that I have a love for those old radio horror shows (I have a nostalgic remembrance of sitting along in the dark, as a teenager, in my suburban family basement, listening with great anticipation, as the sound of the the door creaking slowly and ominously open would be followed by the deep intonations of EG Marshall, providing his usual introduction into that week’s creepy “CBS Radio’s Mystery Theater”), it had always floated about that perhaps I might do one with them.

Then one night, at one of Larry’s annual entirely disreputable New York Xmas Parties I happened to be in town for, I suddenly found myself in the middle of hatching a plan with him that included all of us — Larry, myself and Glenn — doing a live Tales show during the upcoming summer Montreal Fantasia Film festival. Cool, right? Until it dawned on me that I had zero idea in mind for an actual tale to tell.

It wasn’t until at least three months later, with me musing over ideas, growing slightly more unsettled with the passing time and the lack of inspiration (while also feeling increasingly awed, and envious, that Larry and Glenn seem to pop out Tales ideas as easy as pulling change out of a pocket), that I found myself sitting in a Montreal jazz club on the invite of my friend Esther finding myself listening to this impressively experimental band… when my tales idea hit, almost entirely — the idea of a son longing for the return of his mysterious, long disappeared father, a celebrated musician, to find that dad has left secrets in the music he’s left behind, set in a fun old traditional milieu of haunted guitars and pacts with the Devil (including playing records backwards listening for evil messages, something I remember eagerly doing in college — including Beatles and Prince records — during the heyday of that whole thing).

One side not, originally, as per the jazz band that night, I had intended to go with much more experimental, ‘intellectual’ and discordant music, but as the script fleshed out, the music evolved into more traditional (and earthier) blues, which I realized was going to be easier to work out with the musicians, as well as being more guaranteed accessible to an audience.

Q: Your Tale was particularly ambitious because you wanted live music to be a featured element. How did the musical aspect of the tale come together?

Doug Buck: I spent a few months, working with the three musicians (guitar, piano, trumpet), none of whom had worked together before (but thankfully merged quite smoothly, even with their entirely disparate personalities) working a few times a week, finding the right music, the themes and… most importantly… the proper cues in the tale. And that was the easy part, as we all had a lot of fun working together. It was a really nice environment in which, I’d like to believe, I gave them mere guidelines with which they could have fun creating within. I’m not a musician so it was their floor.

The more difficult coordination was what needed to be done with Glenn back in New York, in which he had to take certain sections the musicians recorded, find effects to lay over them (ie, sounding like they come off a record player, or are coming from another room, etc) to play on the night, rather than live, and work it so they would seamlessly combine on the performance night. All of it took a lot of planning, and careful communication, with the musicians and with Glenn, who likely had no idea the amount of effort I was gonna be asking of him.

Q: You have a great cast and it’s exciting for fans to hear Tony Todd in your tale. How did that inspired idea come about?

Doug Buck: Man, what a memory to have that beautiful growling voice, that powerful presence, inhabiting the blind old school piano-playing blues man Judge Fayweather in my piece. Truth be told, it wasn’t my idea. It was my girlfriend at the time Esinam, who gave me all sorts of good ideas and suggestions along the way. As soon as she suggested Todd, I realized I had to get him… he would add that little extra oomph I wanted… took more than bit of cajoling of confused and hemming-and-hawing agents over three months and all that… but, to my undying satisfaction, he ultimately agreed (at just about the last minute), showed up on-time at the airport, and was as down to earth and ready-to-go an actor as you can imagine.

As far as my lead Kevin Cline (now I believe known as Nevi Cline), props must go again to Esinam. She had seen the gritty and wildly funny indie “Meathead goes Hog Wild”, with Cline going completely bonkers in it and suggested him for the naive, angry Cliff Jr and, what do you know, she was right again.

Most of the rest of the cast were locals. It was funny (now it’s funny, that is… then, it was terrifying)… all the musicians were set, as was the lead Cline, the pre-recorded music was ready to go, Tony Todd was coming… and yet we had no other actors cast a mere days before the show, as local unions in Montreal are strong and it looked a little problematic to get it cast on such short notice. I was in a bit of a panic (as Larry and Glenn can attest). However, I will be forever thankful to the incredible talent of Jenn Wexler, who was with Glass Eye at the time, now directing and making her own films, who came into town, and, in the most even-keeled and professional manner, got the thing cast (with performers I was across the board pleased with) in a knick of time, all while busily attending the Fantasia market at the same time.

Q: Glenn McQuaid produced and labored on your sound design. Tell us about the process of building the sound.

Doug Buck: Oh, yeah, did Glenn labor! Not only was he working with me on this, which required quite some dedicated focus and time, he was also deep into his own projects (as was Larry at the time). To be honest, since they were both so busy at their own things, and being vets at this point of Pale Tales, both studio and live, they were quite okay with letting things go to right to the end, confident they’d be able to rally the troops and muster up the creative energy required to make it all happen (hell, I believe Larry was still deep into re-writing his the night before). I, on the other hand, with the most complex of Tales, production-wise, and being a newbie, was a little more… panicked, shall we say? I’ll never forget yelling at Glenn once over the phone, which I have to say he quietly took like a real producing mensch. All in all, though, Glenn seriously came through in a huge way, both in the lead-up effort and during the show, and I’ll always be indebted to him for that (and will always feel kinda bad about the momentary screaming thing).

Q: Tell us about the experience putting on your piece live.

Doug Buck: Once it was happening, it was a blast. The place was sold out (with everyone having trundled through one of the longest and biggest day-long deluges of rain I’d seen since living in Montreal) and it was a really exciting vibe in the air. It was a perfect venue, Yuk Yuk’s, a now-closed comedy club just down the street from the main hub of the Fantasia Film Festival (speaking of that, gotta mention the unstoppable Kaila Hier, who, thanks to her perseverance and relentless searching, found us the just the right place).

During the performance, I had to guide a few moments back on track between the actors and the musicians (no surprise considering the level of coordination of my piece), but that was part of the fun, and didn’t detract at all from the experience (in fact, it granted the audience a glimpse at some behind-the-scenes directing going on,one of the fun things of these live shows).

Q. You are a visual filmmaker. What was fun and challenging about creating an audio play?

Doug Buck: I found it quite easy to move into the audio storytelling realm (once I found the story that is!). As I said, I’ve been a fan of radio plays practically as long as I’ve been conscious (one of my happy goals for this crazy time of quarantine, for instance, is to re-listen to all those raucous early 80’s “Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy” BBC audio plays).

I’m also an engineer, so I think quite practically. Give me the limitations and I’m good to go.

Q. Listening again some time after the piece has been performed and mastered, you have any thoughts?

Doug Buck: T’was a pleasure to hear again! It’s a reminder of an enjoyable and satisfying evening, a culmination of a combined creative effort. And I’m always grateful to everyone who took part, as well as Glass Eye for including me in the first place!

Q: Glenn, you were producing and doing Sound design for Doug’s piece, which was the first live tale we had performed where the music was integrated into the story. What challenges do you remember from the night? You and Lee had a lot to handle. And Graham was there too and Jenn. It was a big production!Glenn McQuaid: It was quite the undertaking, three Tales performed as a one off live event, not getting to rehearse until the day-of, not knowing what the rehearsal space was going to be like, it was bananas. Looking back on it all now, it feels like such a blur, and as stressful as it all was I think it really paid off. I love that we walk away from these events with the recordings, documents of the night, moments in time, and I want to shout out to Lee Nussbaum because he always does such a precise job of making sure we walk away with what we needed not matter how crazy things get up on the stage. I loved having Graham up there, I have very fond memories of performing the sound design and fx while he worked up some really terrific drones along side me, he’s a calm guy and, after all prepping and producing, I remember just relaxing with him as we performed and sharing a few jokes too, that’s probably my fondest memory of the night. Q: This was a pretty big trip for us: Three Tale Live, I discovered my passport had expired three days before our trip (got an expedited one), casting was very stressful and there was a downpour on the night. Meanwhile you had sound duties on Doug’s Tale, and your own. It’s one of the reasons I made my own Tale Baricade (coming soon to Tales The Podcast) into a punk shit show with lots of things smashing, but even then you had to make the monster sounds!Glenn McQuaid: That passport situation was crazy! I remember thinking I didn’t want to go up to Montreal and do the show without you! But you sorted that situation out incredibly fast, I couldn’t believe it when we were all on the road. Doug’s piece needed to be fairly precise and to a certain extent Speaking in Tongues was quite formal so it really was fun to end the show with Barricade which was pure punk, remember the clean up?! There was watermelon everywhere!

April 9, 2020

TALES FROM BEYOND THE PALE The Podcast Episode #27 “Hidden Records”

Episode #27 HIDDEN RECORDS

A troubled teen is haunted by the memory of his musician father
and the vinyl record that speaks from beyond the grave.

writer / director  Douglas Buck
Featuring: Kevin Cline, Tony Todd, Susan Corbett
Alexandre Lazarre, Esinam Beckley

Performed live July 27, 2015 • poster by Trevor Denham

April 2, 2020

TALES Dispatch: Joe Maggio on “RAM KING”

The Pale Men pose some questions to writer/director Joe Maggio about his powerful fable RAM KING, now available at TALES FROM BEYOND THE PALE The Podcast.


PALE MEN: How did the idea for Ram King come about? 

JOE MAGGIO: I had just re-read Dostoevsky’s “The Brothers Karamazov” and was thinking about the little novella within that novel – “The Grand Inquisitor.” It’s a story told by Ivan to his brother Alyosha, a young monk. In Ivan’s story Jesus returns at the height of the Spanish Inquisition, but instead of the glory and pomp we’d expect around Christ’s second coming the Grand Inquisitor has Jesus arrested and orders him to be burned at the stake the next day. The Inquisitor explains to Jesus that he is no longer needed because what Jesus wanted to give to mankind was freedom, but humans don’t want to be free, they just want someone to take care of them. I liked this idea, and I started to think about a character, a young boy who is driven from his village because he doesn’t fit in with the herd, who has ideas that the frightened villagers deem peculiar, but who is able to exist as this free spirit on the edge of society, using science and his active imagination and intellect. And for this he is punished and killed.


PM: Wasn’t your original idea to have it all in an indiscernible language?

JM: Yes, I did want to create a language – I’d forgotten about that! I think I’d imagined trying to make “Ram King” into a movie, and if the characters were speaking a made up language I could have had subtitles. When I was a kid I had a made up language called “Songu.” It was just a series of sounds that sort of cut to the essence of whatever it was you were trying to communicate. So affection would be communicated with these really soft, melting tones; anger with short, sharp grunts, and so on. I thought it would be fun to tell a story in Songu and see if all the information would come through. But when we decided to use the “Ram King” story as a radio play, well, it just seemed impractical to try and play with made up languages. There are no subtitles in radio plays.  

PM: There is a wonderful righteous anger to the piece.

JM: The Tales came into being as I was entering middle age, end of my 40s, early 50s, and I was startled by how suddenly the ways of the world seemed so clear to me. Getting old sucks in many ways, all the pains and aches and sudden physical limitations, but like an aging major league slugger who is hobbled by injuries but has just seen so many pitches that his hitting instinct is refined and automatic, a middle-aged man or woman finally starts to see the world for what it really is; all the folly, humor, tragedy, nobility – it’s all suddenly laid out before our eyes and so we can analyze and respond in ways that we couldn’t when we’re younger. One of the hard truths we live with these days is that being right, being smart, being informed or being really, really good at something doesn’t necessarily mean anybody will listen to you. I wanted to present a character who is innocent and clever, but is nevertheless punished by a cynical bully, and in doing this I guess a little anger at the injustice of it all just came through. 

PM: You have a great ability to use horror tropes for your Glass Eye collaborations. What type of narrative would you consider this?

JM: I was not someone who grew up crazy for movies in general. I came to storytelling through literature and, when writing short fiction proved too difficult, decided to give filmmaking a try. So in my 20s, when I started getting excited about movies, it was through the lens of literature. For me, horror films were never just about the scares, although I love when a movie scares the shit out of me. But I’m mostly interested in the metaphorical nature of horror, the deeper messages and what the stories say about humanity. That seems to be at the core of the Glass Eye ethos – using horror tropes to interpret the world, to explore the existential horror of just being alive. So I guess I’d call “Ram King” an existential horror narrative. 

PM: You have a great cast. Have you worked with them all before?

JM: With the exception of the great Joel Garland I’d worked with everyone before. Vincent D’Onofrio and Larry Fessenden were the central characters in my first tale, “Man On the Ledge”. Owen Campbell starred in my Glass Eye film “Bitter Feast.”  That’s one of the things I love about Glass Eye; there’s a real family of creative collaborators, kindred spirits who always seem to find each other on multiple projects. 

PM: This was your first live Tale with us. Was it a different experience? Do you like the studio ones or the live events better?

JM: Recording live was very difficult for me. My approach to directing is very much about preparation, working out all the questions – with the story, the actors, the camera person, sound, etc – before you actually shoot so that once we’re on set I can kind of step back and let people do what they’re all good at doing. Recording live at Dixon Place meant that I was on stage with these really talented performers and actually performing myself, which was challenging. I felt embarrassed and shy and kind of in the way. But it was thrilling nonetheless and I think the tale survives despite my incompetence!

PM: This tale of the plague and powerful anti-science forces seems relevant to day’s world. Any thoughts on that?

JM: I hadn’t been thinking about “Ram King” but it really is so close to our lives now. Trump IS the Grand Inquisitor. Cynical, power hungry, with a canny ability to read the needs and desires of his base and a willingness to exploit human frailty for his own gain. I just wish the mythical beast at the heart of “Ram King” would come and carry him away to some dark cave in the mountains so that we could find our way out of this pandemic with love, grace and intelligence, as opposed to the delusional, anti-science, cult of personality approach we’re suffering through. But most of all, can we just find our way back to some respect for excellence? For people who are intelligent and who have studied something for years and rightfully become experts? We truly are back in the Dark Ages, where mysticism rules the day and science is deemed witchcraft. Scary times indeed! Joseph Maggio: www.incidentalfilms.com