Horrible Imaginings And 'Uncharted Regions'
Cinema Junkie / September 22, 2017
Horrible Imaginings Film Festival wrapped up earlier this month, and it was another great year embracing the darkness. Here's a reflection on the event and a look at the radio drama created specifically to debut at the festival.
Beth Accomando: Welcome back to another addition of listener supported KBPS Cinema Junkie Podcast, I'm Beth Accomando. Horrible imagining film festival wrapped up earlier this month and it was another great year embracing the darkness women, both in front of the camera and behind. Had a very strong showing and what’s even more impressive is that women were showcased in a greater diversity of roles and stories. And you could also find the making fun of horror film tropes that related to women as in “Girl #2”.
[Audio Clip] [00:00:48]
Beth Accomando: The festival also highlighted the fact that the Brits seems best suited to mixing comedy with horror in a gallery of shorts that were hilarious and often darkly twisted like "Dark Net".
[Audio Clip] [00:02:31]
Beth Accomando: And in the spirit of you can’t keep a good zombie down, the festival showcased a handful of films about the undead that all took the zombie’s point of view in some form.
Zombies usually reflect our fear of the other and of loss of identity, and for the most part films about the undead rising take the perspective of the humans trying to survive. But ever since Bub in “Day of the Dead” in 1980s, the self-aware zombie has been on the rise. And at a time when our political climate is clouded by hate and prejudice, films that take the point of view of the outsider resonate with special force.
For this podcast I’ll be speaking with Horrible Imaginings Founder and Director, Miguel Rodriguez. We’ll talk about these trends and also about the festivals decision to open with a radio drama by Neal and Jana Hallford. After my interview with Miguel, I’ll speak with the Halfords and then let you listen to the first episode of their planned 13-part radio drama, "Uncharted Regions."
There’s something wonderfully audacious about opening a film festival with a radio drama that only uses sound and no images to tell its story. People sat in the darkened theater at the Museum of Photographic Arts with only the twinkle lights above flickering in the darkness. It was a magical experience that started the festival with a challenge to put your imagination to work.
Let’s begin by reflecting on the festival with Miguel Rodriguez.
Miguel, for Horrible Imaginings Film Festival you have included film as well as panels on literary horror. And this year, you’ve added another media component which was a recorded radio play. So, what is it that you’re trying to do with your festival in terms of covering different kinds of horror in different kinds of formats?
Miguel Rodriguez: Well, I am interested in expressing dark emotions or fear or anxiety in a variety of different ways and we have done that with the different types of films we show. But, I do think that horror in general as a concept has been part of the human storytelling narrative since we were scribbling on cave walls. And so, I'm just interested in exploring all the ways that storytelling has been done in history and cinema is so young that were able to explore other types of media that may be or a little bit older or little difference or express things in a different way and that’s part of just understanding the genre better which is our mission statement.
Beth Accomando: So, the radio plays you included this year is part of something that is hopefully going to be an ongoing series that Neal Hallford and Jana Hallford are putting together called The Uncharted Regions and this particular episode is Some Day, Over You. What in particular made you decide to include a radio drama this year?
Miguel Rodriguez: Well, it actually fit really nicely because we had two submissions that we’re considering. One of them was inspired by radio dramas and the other one is based on a short story that became a very famous radio drama called Three Skeleton Key. And so, when Neal approached me and told me about the idea of creating his radio drama and the idea that it could be a world premiere at our festival, it was just too delicious to pass up. Neal has worked with me before I know about his passion and the quality of the work he does. So, I said yes.
Beth Accomando: And what is it about radio drama or horror told in an audio fashion only that you think is different from film or from reading horror on literary on a page, what is it – what can it do that’s different?
Miguel Rodriguez: I think that horror can work really well when it appeals to your imagination. And film sometimes there’s an argument between what you show and what you decide not to show and radio is all about showing nothing but it’s all sound. And I’ve talked about how sound is 85 percent of the effectiveness of a horror film. So, take that to the radio and you get something highly concentrated. I think that the ghost – and if you think back to people around the campfire telling ghost stories there is something really primal about telling someone a story just mouth to ear that really works. And then, adding sound effects and such just the atmosphere is heightened to a degree that can be very intoxicating and I think that’s why in the 50s, audio dramas that were mysterious or horrific or supernatural or sci-fi related were so popular partially because they could use sound to get under your skin.
Beth Accomando: And did you hesitate at all to have a radio play out at a film festival where everybody is expecting to come in and see something that has a visual component and here there is not.
Miguel Rodriguez: Yes, I hesitated. I told Neal and then I said, well, there are two things that made me hesitate, it hadn’t been recorded yet. That was a pretty big hesitation and the other one was, okay, so people are going to come and sit in our theater and it’s just going to be audio. So, I asked Neal, it’s like can we have a slideshow playing maybe and I think he did put together some visual component but actually, having a visual component when you’re trying to showcase the effectiveness of an audio drama kind of negates the whole purpose. So, having the sound play as long you prepared it’s like any other film or any other kind of challenging piece that we have put on as long as you engage the audience really get them primed for what they’re about to experience. They will ride with you through pretty much anything. And we dim the lights to almost black, we told people to close their eyes and use their imaginations and this is where the power of drama can really come out. And so far, I think it worked really well. I think everybody really enjoyed it.
Beth Accomando: And what in particular about this radio drama did you like? What do you think it achieved that you feel does the horror genre proud?
Miguel Rodriguez: Uncharted Regions is a lot of fun because it really harkens back to the days of old where you would have a narrator. It is almost twilight zone -esque in its way but suspense and Mercury Theatre and all of these old radio shows from back in their heyday always had a host who drew you into the story and carried, and held you by the hand as you are about to open the creaky door to something creepy. And Uncharted Regions has that as well and what they do really well is they’ve got a great group of actors who commit completely to the project. The production quality is pretty stellar and Neal, he is very passionate and puts his, he puts everything into his project. So, there is no doing things halfway and it’s completely sincere. And so, the experience of going back in time to the 50s and laying on the floor on your stomach and turning on the radio and listening to an audio drama. This is exactly what that felt like.
Beth Accomando: If people like this because we’re going to be playing the full episode here at the end of the podcast. If people like this kind of radio drama where else can they find this? Are there other podcasts that highlight radio dramas, are there old ones that you can find online?
Miguel Rodriguez: Well, basically almost all of them you can find if you search hard enough. So, if you want to experience the classic radio, Old Time Radio or OTR as they are typically called, Old Time Radio dramas, then you can just Google but a lot of podcast have collected them. I know suspense’s collected them. There is a X-1 which does all the old sci-fi dramas. So, yeah if you use the – your good old friend, Google, you can find all kinds of things. Oh, and speaking of Three Skeleton Key, they are titled I mentioned earlier, the Vincent Price audio drama, with that one you can listen to on YouTube and YouTube is a good place for lot of these actually.
Beth Accomando: And do you think there is a particular style of horror or sub-genre of horror that radio dramas or audio books are – can attack and do better than you can do in film or that play better than just reading it on the page?
Miguel Rodriguez: Yeah, I mean, I think that potentially you can do some things where you use the audio factor to a real benefit like if it takes place on a radio station or you’re making this audio broadcast that’s how Orson Welles was able to terrify a nation with War of the Worlds is like if you listen to that audio drama it’s sounds like you’re just listening to a music program that keeps getting interrupted by this news broadcast and I think that’s something like that is a unique and clever way to use that medium to really be effective.
[Audio Clip] [00:12:53]
And also, you know, some of the more classic gothic stuff can be really fun on audio drama and something like The Tell-Tale Heart where you have the beating heart in the background. If the sound and the audio is somewhat intrinsic to the story like in The Tell-Tale Heart or black cat where the final reveal happens because the cat is screaming behind the wall where the killer has walled up his wife that audio just works perfectly for that.
Beth Accomando: This year and years past, you have had focused on literary horror and you’ve done this again, so what was this year’s panel for literary horror like?
Miguel Rodriguez: Well, the panel was horror literature in the 21st century. So, it’s a really interesting topic because there seems to be some notion that literature will one day either completely change or disappear. People aren’t reading anymore. And that really isn’t the case bookstore certainly are struggling but the topic is about focusing on what literature is doing now and how is it changing and what writers, new writers can do in order to take advantage of some changing markets like self-publishing in e-books and so forth. So, it was a really interesting panel not just for people who are interested in books or people are who are interested in reading horror but anyone who is interested in becoming a writer themselves and getting some tips on that particularly since the panel consisted of not just authors but we had one bookseller R.J. Crothers from Mysterious Galaxy Bookstore who is very savvy when it comes to the writing market and he was able to give some insights in that particular field and then, of course, the lead was Dennis Etchison who has been around forever he’s worked with Ray Bradbury and Stephen King and he just has so many stories about writing and the craft and he could talk your ear off.
Beth Accomando: You’ve had radio dramas, you’ve had literary horror panels, you’ve had dance that approaches the horror themes. Is there something that you haven’t tackled yet that you think you want to include?
Miguel Rodriguez: Well, there is probably a lot. I keep thinking I want to somehow do some kind of gallery again. We used to have a gallery back in the first days of the festival particularly when we’d have lots of 3D sculpture. We have a local artist named Nigel Brooks who is very talented and I really wish I could give his work some kind of display again. There is VR which we’ve played with a little bit in the past but I would like to find some way to showcase the potential of that medium to be immersive particularly for horror. Gosh, I don’t know if anyone has any suggestions I’d sure be open to hearing them.
Beth Accomando: In programming this year’s festival, did you notice any particular trends or anything new that you’re seeing?
Miguel Rodriguez: Well, one thing I did notice a lot when we were programming is a lot of people, a lot of attempts to slow things down and so, have a more thoughtful horror film where you take a little more time with the characters and that can be very interesting and it could also be very dull depending on the quality of the work. So, but I do like to see that a slower or a more thoughtful film is being attempted but certainly I'm seeing a lot of filmmakers now taking advantage of new technologies like drone technologies and small camera technologies in order to get shots that would have been impossible just 10 years ago and if those are employed with thought and with purpose then they could make a film very interesting and they could really increase the production value. If they’re done without purpose then, they can have an opposite effect. And I'm also seeing films that are speaking about, I don’t want to say self-referential because that’s not necessarily a new thing but they’re taking some of the eras that we know about this genre and they’re exploring and speaking about horror in particular as well as about whatever the story is. So, it might be like Girl #2, for example, looks like it’s going to be a typical sorority house slasher and then it turns out to be about, more about how the sorority girls themselves are meaner to each other than the slasher is to them. And that was a real crowd pleaser of a short film and things like that which can more cleverness, that’s every year we find – we’re finding the cream of the crop. We’re going through hundreds and hundreds of films and distilling it down to a concentrated selection that our biggest complement from and feedback from everybody who went is the strength of the program and I think that’s the best complement we can get.
Beth Accomando: You brought up Girl #2 which it focuses on mostly female characters and one thing that I noticed since I was a judge this year. So, I saw the majority is not all of the films that play is that there didn’t have to be a category of like women in horror or women directed horror yet there were a lot of films that had women directors, women writers, women driving the story and they weren’t all the same. There was a real diversity in terms of the kinds of topics that they tackled and the kind of issues they tackled. There were a lot that dealt with perverse pregnancies, there were a number of them that dealt with kind of a bitchiness between women that when women are fighting, a lot of different and I thought it was kind of interesting that there were these female centric stories in all of the blocks.
Miguel Rodriguez: Yeah, that wasn’t necessarily a programming choice. It just happened to be. And so, those were some of the stronger films like something like body images is very female centric and deals with an issue like body dysmorphia or, or bulimia that is typically thought of as a very female centric disorder but it does show a very kind of psychological horror and body horror kind of way that I found interesting. But on top of that, there are films like Born of Sin which the lead, the protagonist is an 11-year-old girl who is played really well by a young actor name Bella Anderson.
[Audio Clip] [00:20:43]
Miguel Rodriguez: And half the movie is the girl sitting bored in her car because her father left her to go drink beer at the bar and left her alone in the car for hours on end, and how that girl deals with this neglectful father and then she and, and then bad things end up happening. But what’s interesting is this girl is playing like three different characters at once because she is dealing with her father and how she knows he is a big baby and he is a crappy father but she doesn’t want to tell him that and then she deals with putting up with being alone in a car and then she gets to deal with getting kidnapped later on, I don’t know if that’s a spoiler. But you end up going through all these different kind of character situations with this one young girl that I think are very fascinating and kind of change the tone of the movie in a very intentional way that made that one stand out for me. And also, I'm particularly drawn to films that have children actors in horror because for me, horror is more potent when we are children and so seeing a child in peril or a child face their fears. There’s another one called Nightlight that I love and whether the fear is real or not I just – that is really potent to me and very powerful.
Beth Accomando: And one other observation I made about the films that were program this year as a zombie fan. There were quite a few zombie films but I think every single one of them served up a self-aware zombie. So, all these films gave us the zombie and tried to give us insights into what it’s like to be a zombie or to have that perspective. And I thought that was interesting, not that it’s a brand new thing to have the self-aware zombie, we can go up way back to Bud and Day of the Dead. But to have the only zombie films at the festival be that I'm just wondering if you see that as a trend.
Miguel Rodriguez: Well, I think what I see is a trend when it comes to zombie films is a desire for people to do something different with a zombie at least different than what you see on Walking Dead or 28 Days Later where the zombies themselves are less characters and more kind of situations. And so, I think that’s just it, they’re trying to do something different and a lot of it is taking the zombie and making it a character. And again, it’s not new but how it’s executed is what makes these particular films really interesting like in We Together. You have both, you have a bunch of zombies that are your traditional Romero zombies that are lifeless. But then you have one zombie and then his best friend start to kind of remember their living selves because of music that they hear and oh man, I’m getting shivers right now because I really love that short film. It brings me such joy. I don’t know what to say. I hope people can find that. There is another one. That one is a lot of fun but then there is another one called the Father’s Day which is a little more on the touching end where you have a Father’s Day trip between a zombie father and his zombie daughter where they go and he tries to find flesh for her to eat and then they start swinging on the swings in the playground. It’s a surprisingly potent little short. And what’s interesting about both of those two not only do they have that self-aware zombie thing but neither of them have any dialog. They’re told completely through a visual narrative which I thought was very interesting. And then you have one like Paul’s Bad Day which is only a minute and a half long but you get inside the zombie’s head and this one I found the most kind of unique because a lot of times a self-aware zombie is about a zombie coping with being a zombie. But in this one, it becomes revealed that the zombie in his own head doesn’t see himself as a zombie at all and he is wondering why people keep attacking him and I thought that was he’s kind of trapped in his zombie body and I thought that was an interesting little trick to pull for a minute and a half short film.
Beth Accomando: Well, that was actually approached if someone had sent me a screener of the film called Wasting Away I believe is the title. And it was through someone at work Kurt Conin, it was his cousin who admit it and that was a feature length film but that was the kind of gimmick in that was that you get introduced to these characters and you think they’re all normal people until you at certain point get an outside perspective of what they are and they’re all just shambling zombies drooling and growing and they don’t get it at all that, that’s who they are.
Miguel Rodriguez: Oh, Gosh. They don’t know they’re dead.
Beth Accomando: But I think all of those, even we together, which was a lot of fun. I think that too had a really kind of poignant quality because there is a point at which, I don’t know if I'm giving something away but it may be hard for people to find these films and anything I can say that might inspire them to seek it out. But, there is a point where it seems like the memories of being human almost cures them and we don’t know if that’s really what’s happening or if that’s just a psychological thing. But, that was just a really bitter sweet moment because you think, is that what it’s like to be trapped inside?
Miguel Rodriguez: I do think that is a little bit bitter sweet even though it is such a fun short, but you are right, there is a touching moment where it is their human – they basically when their humanity backs or you guys. But, the other thing I love about We Together is it’s not just the memories of music that brings them back but it is the memories of working in a Pizza Parlor and there’s something kind like Our Town about that if you remember the play Our Town where, it’s the little things that are important. I get that vibe from We Together where it’s not some grand humanity gesture that brings a person out of his zombiness. It’s seeing his best friend’s pizzeria logo on the back of his old pizza costume. I love that idea and I think it’s amazing. And when he first starts to remember his humanity, what he is remember is the logo of the pizzeria. I love that. I think that’s brilliant, brilliant.
Beth Accomando: Well, we’ve talked about this before because we’re both fans of George Romero. That the zombie film from its origin, even if you go back to the Haitian Voodoo zombies have always had this core component of social commentary. And I'm just curious if you think that in our current political climate zombies also kind of represent the other and this fear of the other and I'm wondering if by placing people inside the zombie if there is trying to be the social commentary about the other not being quite so scary or quite so different from us.
Miguel Rodriguez: I'm silent because yeah, that just blew my mind a little bit. A lot of these movies were made before the election, however, I feel like this idea of fear of the other has become part of our conversation for a little while now, particularly as we led into the primaries and came out of the last year of Obama and certainly now but wow, I mean, to view those films through that lens really makes me want to go back and watch them again because that’s true. I mean all of them take the zombie which is something that traditionally we’ve been – it’s been the safe kill, right? If you look at something like zombie land, you have Woody Harrelson going around and they’re able to chop off heads and cut off arms and it’s all fun and games because it’s just zombies. They’ve always been kind of a safe villain that we can annihilate and cut up into pieces and nobody is going to cry about it. But these films like We Together or a Father’s Day let and even Paul’s Bad Day actually kind of feel bad for that guy. The title is just bad day. You feel sorry for them. You empathize with the zombie. What we have here, a zombie empathy films and I think a Father’s Day does that really well too because the turning point at that is you have the father zombie and his daughter zombie confront a human father and daughter team and it leaves you with an ambiguous ending but you do, you do have the human, I guess, portion face-to-face with the other and what you do at that point. That’s very interesting. I love it, I love that idea though.
Beth Accomando: It’s like a mirror reflection in that.
Miguel Rodriguez: It is. It is a mirror reflection. I really like that film. I hope other people like as much as I do.
Beth Accomando: Well, yeah. I thought all the zombie there is also Excarnate is also kind of design. It’s not and I don’t think they specify that they’re zombies but there are definitely this kind of undead characters but there is that notion of finding the person that’s inside that undead being.
[Audio Clip] [00:30:34]
Miguel Rodriguez: Excarnate, I found really interesting. And again, this is going to, we should do a spoiler warning on this but what make Excarnate really interesting is you do have, I guess, what are essentially zombies but the way they’re used is they’re taking and grieving families are trying to find rest for the souls of their loved ones by putting their ghost back into their zombie bodies so they could then kill them. That idea is so unique to me and the fact that what I find very interesting about it is the theme is a grieving family finding closure like that’s it. And it’s using this kind of supernatural and over the top things to get that across but yeah, in the end, it’s a movie about family and family connections and again, empathy and sadness. It’s a pretty sad movie too when it comes down to it.
Beth Accomando: Is there anything else you want to mention about the festival. It’s now over and most of the screenings were quite full. It was a successful year, this year. A lot of great films, shorts and features. Is there anything that stood out for you?
Miguel Rodriguez: Well, I guess, standing out for me, I think I'm hoping that as we move forward, we’re able to see the kind of things that we’re able to do. I'm very proud this year of programming according to the message in the films rather than the genre of the film so in the past I would make a comedy blog or an animation blog. But this time, I would have and you could have comedy and animation and scary things all in one blog if the thematic theme was all the same. So, like I think one of my favorites this year was the blog called The Loved Ones which included We Together and a Father’s Day as well as Blood Sisters and some of my favorite films but they’re all about the horror stems from the relationships we build with each other and the close family ties that we have or relations among lovers or brothers or siblings. And being able to program in that way was really just so satisfying. Having D. Wallace arrive was really fun and I can’t wait to have her Q&A online we got that on video because she is just such a great speaker and was a lot of fun. And honestly, just hearing people talk about how strong the films were, for me, as a programmer, working with an amazing team. All the work that we all put into this together for people to constantly come up and talk about what a great festival it was, what’s strong selections there were for the award winners. I mean every person who got their award online today said, we’re so honored to see ourselves listed with all those amazing films. It’s just really satisfying. That’s all. That’s the best part.
Beth Accomando: All right. Well, thank you very much and congratulations on another successful year of Horrible Imaginings.
Miguel Rodriguez: Congratulations go to you as well.
Beth Accomando: That was Miguel Rodriguez, Horrible Imaginings Film Festival Founder and Director. Before the festival began, I spoke with Neal and Jana Hallford about what creating a radio drama in the new millennium is like and following their interview I'll play the first episode of Uncharted Regions. This will be an exclusive debut of Someday, Over You. The only other ears to have heard this are those that were at the opening night of Horrible Imaginings.
Neal, at this year’s Horrible Imaginings Film Festival, Miguel is going to have you present a radio drama at a film festival which sounds brilliant. So, I want to first begin by asking you when did you first get the dream of this idea, when did you decide radio drama was something you were interested in?
Neal Hallford: It kind of goes back to my first job out of high school, three days after I graduated from high school. I went to work for the radio station. It was a small station, I think their Arbitron ratings were lower than most people shoe sizes but I think the guy was running it as a tax shelter because we had their kids running this radio station. And so, in our spare time my friend and I decided it would be fun to kind of start messing around in the production studio because most the time it was vacant and nobody was using it. So, we decided we would start producing strange stuff in studio and then we get this crazy idea that one year’s, let's do something for Halloween. And, of course, when you start talking about radio and Halloween there's one goes to is thinking about obviously Orson Welles or the world's broadcast. And so, we did our first radio drama based on sort of local legend called the Bulldog Man. And we enjoyed that experience so much that we decided to start messing around more and more and over time it slowly evolved into a series called Uncharted Regions. And so, these were not, it wasn’t regularly produced something. It was whenever we had spare time we do an episode. He said we can -- let's do one this month and we did that intermittently between 1984 and 1989 which was our last episode. So, this is something that goes back fairly far with me and so that’s sort of where my particular flow of the genre kind of comes from.
The 80s were kind of a cool time period. There was a spate of all these amazing radio dramas that were coming out in that time period. One in particular which has always been kind of my guiding star from the original series and continues to be for the new one was a series of radio dramas called Bradbury 13.
[Audio Clip] [00:36:37]
Neal Hallford: And extremely well done. It won a Peabody Award and that sort of been that’s really what got me fired up about the idea of doing these radio dramas in the first place.
Beth Accomando: And you're also a filmmaker as well. So you've been interested, you and your wife are both filmmakers. So, you’ve been interested in both the visual and the audio kind of elements. So, what kept you going in kind of both directions?
Neal Hallford: Well, of course, for film is something that I was one of those kid filmmakers. There was a magazine called Cinemagic that I picked up that – it was told bullets which there are a lot of magazines available which were about how to make special effects for Hollywood. The Cinemagic was something that was special because it was actually aimed at people who were hobbyist filmmakers. And I picked that magazine up and I really became fascinated with that at that age. So, I've been a filmmaker from way back and then whenever Jana and I started talking about doing films back in 2007, I think is whenever we first got our first really good camera and we started with the production of a series of, it was kind of an online documentary series that was support of a…
Jana Hallford: A charity event.
Neal Hallford: A charity event. But I think that for both of us it's, it doesn't really matter what the media is ultimately is that here's an exciting project that gets me charged up because in addition to being filmmakers and working on this drama, audio drama project we’re both writers and my day job is usually working in the computer gaming industry and writing stories for that sort of thing. And so, for me is I just want to tell stories and it doesn’t, ultimately it doesn't really matter to me what the end project is in terms of it just here's a project that’s really got me excited right now and so let's kind of see where this particular trail leads.
Jana Hallford: And I think with you Neal, your love of the audio side of things is always going to be there when we were doing The Case of Evil, our first horror short. When I was listening to you edit that, I would often be in another part of the house but I could hear what was going on in the office. And I commented to him after a while that much of the story would have worked as a radio drama, as an audio drama. I mean there were certain atmospheric things that I'm glad we did it as a film. There were certain things that you can't really describe voodoo altar or anything very easily in a purely audio format but the main exchange between the two characters sounded to me like something out of an audio drama. And so, I think that’s something that's always going to be there with you, you were a musician and you’ve written for different things but something that I enjoy seeing too is especially at the point of life were in is how sometimes earlier projects, some of which didn't go anywhere or didn’t get completed. Sometimes the loose ends start to tie up and so seeing the story that Neal's been telling me about since we first got together actually get completed and then now we're starting one next one which was another unfinished thing. It's nice to see that and it’s nice to see how some of these ends connect in that whole tapestry of a lifetime. For example, the radio scripts that Neal wrote for that little radio station that didn't have a huge audience. Those got used as his portfolio pieces to get his first job in Los Angeles in the computer game industry. So, even if you hadn't done these things later it wasn't like those were for nothing but it's nice to see these things continue. I tease him that he's his own intern. He’s working with his 30-year younger self to get these first few stories underway.
Beth Accomando: Jana, did you have a connection to radio dramas, is that something that you immediately had kind of a love for or is that something you came to after working with Neal?
Jana Hallford: Well, like most people, I’ve always loved the whole idea of being read to or being told a story by any number of means, but I too can remember that era of wonderful radio dramas that were often played on public radio actually, most notably for me The Hitchhiker’s Guide.
[Audio Clip] [00:41:52]
Jana Hallford: I personally think that was the best version of that story. I absolutely loved the radio version of it, the radio dramas. So, I enjoyed that kind of thing. I hadn’t done the audio work, the radio work that Neal had done but like him, I like to tell stories and so whatever format they’re in its we enjoy them. I was kind of surprised how boxed in some people are a while back, Neal actually had a colleague in game saying well, maybe it's not good for your career to be spreading yourself all over doing these other things, doing film, doing audio drama and Neal said, I’m a storyteller, that's what's the problem?
Neal Hallford: I had, whenever I was growing up, my father was someone who did everything. And he was a slightly different. He was more in the manual arts kind of stuff but dad would, he knew how to build things with his -- he could, he was good with carpentry. He could fix cars. He could do all this other stuff and dad, I don’t think there was ever a point which dad ever stopped and thought can I do this. He just decided I want to do this and he’d do it. And so, he decided to one point, hey, I want to paint. And so, he went out and bought a bunch of oil paints and started painting paintings and he was never going to win any awards for being an artist or what have you. But, that was a quality that I got from my father was that it just you, are you interested in something go out and try it and the worst thing to happen is that maybe it's as not as good as you hoped it would be. I think that we have kind of lost something because that there was a time in which people were, said it was a good thing to be a renaissance person. And now, it's all about being a specialist, you do, if you are really, really good at one thing. And I would say at the end of the day, that’s still true with me is as much as I am probably a writer first class and always. And then everything else just kind of falls out in terms of whatever is appropriate for whatever I'm working on.
Beth Accomando: You mentioned The Case of Evil which was a horror short film that you made that was done in black and white and kind of harken back to kind of the universal horror film of the 30s and 40s. So, with that film and with the radio drama, there is this sense of both of them kind of harkening back to a different time period where we had different kinds of expectations about what the storytelling was like. Is there something about that is it nostalgia or is it about the format or what is it about that, that seems to attract you?
Neal Hallford: For me personally, I think it's that I don’t even necessarily sit down and think about, I want to make something that’s retro but that's not really in my head really. Obviously, and you're right, it’s that there -- we certainly have a tendency to kind of go back and approach this from a stylistic thing. But I look at in the same way of saying it's a particular style of storytelling that really appeals to me. It’s hard for me to describe why, I think the main thing is that there was a love of language in those older, in both the radio and the film of the earlier era is I think there was a lot more emphasis on the dialogue. I don't, you just don't see that kind of approach in films today. And we've gone to a much more minimalistic kind of approach things and say, oh well, now we're going to make films that are realistic. I think that’s there are different ways of talking about what's realistic I mean, I look at the front page, the second version is still I think my favorite version, the one that's obviously with Cary Grant and…
Jana Hallford: Rosalind.
Neal Hallford: And Rosalind Russell, yes.
Beth Accomando: That’s His Girl Friday.
Neal Hallford: Yeah, that’s his, oh by the way, that was His Girl Friday, okay so. But all the same stories are four versions of that to the best of my knowledge but the second and third ones are my favorites. So, I think the second one is my, still my favorite one but the dialogue.
[Audio Clip] [00:46:00]
Neal Hallford: That 500 miles an hour dialogue and everything and, of course, Moonlighting which later came back and really replicated the feel of that along with sort of The Thin Man they kind of mixed a lot of those elements together. But I love the use of language. I love the human voice and I said that’s one of the things that with both The Case of Evil and with this project, it’s a little maybe a little more florid than a little than some people today are more are used to in the same way is that we grew up reading Tolkien and reading Dickens and people like that and today, people have less tolerance for that because there's just too much description. There's just too slow with to blah, blah, blah. But I love that stuff. I really love the way they develop and everything. So at least for me, that’s sort of my attraction and so.
Jana Hallford: Something that we’ve had to tell people that people that were looking to for future scripts and to play other roles and in this audio series is this is not a retro series. The first script does have flashbacks to earlier times, but some things are set in the future or literally in other worlds. So, it's going to be a very eclectic series and one of our writers wants to do a western it should be quite interesting to see the variety there. But I enjoy a lot of the older work like Neal now, Neal something that I discovered about him pretty quickly if ever he wasn't feeling well or just he was having a bad day. I would probably find him watching some grainy old black and white movie on television and it would just make him feel better and if it had clicks and pops and bad splices that was almost better. And so, he does have a love for the older things and I do too. I love history. I love storytelling and whenever we're working on something I often listen to music from that era. It sort of helped me time travel little back into the feel of it. And we try to be as close as possible as we can be to being true to a particular era without totally alienating a modern audience. So, it's a fun experience trying to do that but…
Neal Hallford: One of the things we had to kind of work on with the cast I think in this one a little bit is they, I think they were wanting to kind of approach this a little bit more like it was the shadow or something like that. And I said I love those radio dramas but I said again this, if we were replicating anything we're replicating radio drama in the 80s which was much it was more like a movie on or a movie that was just audio. Whereas, I think earlier it was it was a different feel to the way they approached them back in the 20s and 30s and so on and so forth. So, but again I think it's just the main thing is that we're looking for a kind of experience that is, again there’s that a certain kind of rhythm and there's a certain kind of feel to the approach the dialogue that is a little different than one that would be handled today.
Jana Hallford: And something that's a personal interest of mine that I've written about in is realizing through somethings how what seems like a large space of time isn't always that many generations. And so, some things an era that seems long ago like gangster land Chicago or whatever it's not that terribly far connected from the present day when you look at the generations and all. And there's a little hint of that with this first story with Some Day, Over You.
Beth Accomando: So we're going to get to hear the entire episode at the end of this interview. But just to give people a little flavor right now while we talk about it, let's hear a little bit from the opening.
[Audio Clip] [00:50:18]
Beth Accomando: Okay, so for somebody who may not be familiar with radio drama they are probably familiar with things like Outer Limits and Twilight Zone and this has that kind of flavor. So, what were you thinking about in terms of calling this Uncharted Regions, what is kind of, what can people expect from this as it moves on?
Neal Hallford: I think what we are definitely looking at is, is that with Unchartered Regions is we are looking for tales of the unusual, things that are on sort of the border lands and so we’ll have far feature stories. We have a western that’s being written and so, the only requirement is just that there’s – at some point where we are going to take a step to the left and we take a departure from normal reality. And so, it’s definitely a story about – I don’t necessarily say it’s always supernatural because it might be a science fictional element as opposed to supernatural element. But there – it is going to be about the strange or the weird the ultra and if you enjoy the Twilight Zone, if you enjoyed Outer Limits and that kind of stuff, this the series that’s made for you.
Beth Accomando: The title also kind of summons up ideas of HP Love Craft as well, the sense of the unknown and kind of things that might be scary out in the unknown. Is that also an influence?
Neal Hallford: Yes. And also, another phrase obviously, here there be dragons. But it was just the idea is that part of the map that we haven’t been to before. And so here are the unusual experiences that are not what the ordinary person is going to experience.
Jana Hallford: And with that, a whole range of emotions, some things will be darker, more menacing things. Others will be somewhat funny or more uplifting. So, there’s quite a bit of variation and some things probably a weird mix of all the above and that’s nice. Looking forward to that.
Neal Hallford: We are in – again, even though it isn’t necessarily or specifically what we are doing with the series, there is definitely again, we kind of we have to look at Ray Bradbury as kind of a – because his work really covered a whole broad spectrum from very dark horse stuff to kind of funny to you look at Martian Chronicles versus a Dark Carnival or what have you. And so, it’s just quite a spectrum of stuff there and so that’s the one thing that we want to make sure is that it’s not all one note. Some day everyone has – Some Day, Over You has a very kind of classic Twilight Zone-ish kind of feel to it. The – an episode that we are actually co-writing with Star Trek writer Jimmy Diggs is going to be more of a sentimental side of things and it’s more of a sweet kind of story.
Jana Hallford: With an unexpected – with a refreshing unexpected twist to it I think too.
Neal Hallford: And it’s going to be fun and so we are working just trying to make sure that we are not just one note so that every episode is a little bit different and has something different to offer, and so as you listen to the whole series, you kind of feel like we’ve covered a whole different gamut of different episodes. We have another episode that’s being written by Jeffery Thorne who just became a show runner for the Marvel Black Panther series. His writings are kind of bittersweet kind of story. So, anyway, I’m looking forward to kind of having people listen to these different episodes and we have all these different colorations. And the other advantage to it of bringing in some other writers and so it isn’t just all me or just all Jana or what have you is we have some different voices that are coming in. And I think that’s another part of thing about that unchartered region is the fact that you’re going to have different viewpoints, different ways of approaching stuff.
I was very sad that about a month ago a very dear friend of ours who was going to come in and write for us who was another writer for Star Trek, he passed away unexpectedly but he had pancreatic cancer. And it looked like he was beating it and then things took a very bad turn for the worse in over a period of about a week and he’s gone. And so, he was going to write one of our episodes. Our next episode, Haven, is actually going to be dedicated for him.
Beth Accomando: And what’s his name?
Neal Hallford: Paul Robinson.
Beth Accomando: Paul Robinson. Now, you do film, you work for – do stories for video games and you do these radio dramas. So, as an artist, as a writer, what are kind of the different challenges of storytelling in each of those formats?
Neal Hallford: With each one of them, there is sort of – first of all, the expectations of what the audience is going to be. With gaming, it’s in an industry that’s changed profoundly from whenever I first got into it. At the time, back in the 1990, whenever I got started, no one thought much about there being much text in the game because that’s sort of the expectation and of course we are coming out of games like Zork and adventure and this stuff and so we started getting into the graphical adventure games. And so, no one really objected there being much text and of course I have – at the time I had written – we had done and adaptation of Raymond D. Feist’s Magician novels and so I had actually created a new story set in that universe. And one of the things about it whenever we got done is there were more words in our game than there had been any of Ray’s books. And so, and actually I think I held the record for a while, probably the wordiest computer game that was ever created. I’ve been surpassed overtime but as time has
gone by, the expectations become less and less about there being dialogue and there being all this other stuff that’s out there and so it’s more about – much more emphasis put on exploration or fighting or what have you but that with the computer game, a lot of your work is focused on sort of peeling back layers of the onion. It’s kind of a mystery. You discover the story not through characters talking to each other, it’s by you discover things and you start kind of putting pieces together and so it’s a process where the player is heavily involved in deciding what that story is going to be, which makes it difficult because you and I know there is only one ending to Star Wars right?
Any ending that didn’t involve the best star being blown up is the wrong ending. But in these days where players want to have decision about whatever they want to end and know the ending of the story is that Luke picks up his father’s light saber and joins Darth Vader to go out and conquer the galaxy. That would-be kind of interesting but not the movie that we knew that we needed to see. So, I think every different genre has its own challenges I think with film obviously is that it’s visual and you need to be able to tell everything, the whole story is that it’s not all about people telling you things or explaining things. It’s about what the players or want the players. See that’s my – my default is I always go to the player, not the viewer not the whatever but whatever the viewers, they are kind of watching the story unfold and also with a novel, if you misread something you can always go back and reread the last chapter. With a movie, you’re watching in a theater, you can’t stop them. You can if – once you got the DVD but there is much more in a film. You have to be much more careful about how much you expect the audience to know and understand. And so, you give them little bit dribs and drabs nut you don’t want to hit them with everything all at once.
And so anyway, every format has its own kind of challenges and limitations and advantages and so. I don’t know that I really have any particular one that I favor over the others. I think that it’s just whatever mood I happen to be in and so I’m in a film mode right now even audio so. Right now, my head is definitely in the audio space right now so.
Jana Hallford: And I think that something a lot of people don’t think about that when it comes to writing stories for computer games - if you’re writing a novel, you don’t have to worry about five different possibilities of outcome while in a game potentially, every time somebody decides to turn in a particular direction, it’s going to affect what happens which is why both of us tend to write tomes anyway but then when you’re writing a game you really outdo yourself.
Neal Hallford: You have no idea what an accomplishment it was for us to do The Case of Evil and do it in 10 minutes.
Jana Hallford: Case of Evil was done on a challenge that –
Neal Hallford: I was – in 2012, I was at Horrible Imaginings and I had helped our friend Jimmy Diggs on a shoot for a project he was working on and they were showing the trailer for it at Horrible Imaginings and they’d ask for me to come out and introduce the film. So, I stepped up in the front and I’m starting to talk about Jimmy’s film and then Miguel yells from the back of the audience, you still owe me a film. And so, I said okay, I don’t have one for you this year but next year. And then of course, unfortunately in the next year, we didn’t really have the resources to do it but it was like a month and a half before the final submission deadline for Horrible was going to come up and we said –
Beth Accomando: In 2014?
Neal Hallford: In 2014, and I said I have an idea and so I sent something to Miguel and said I’d really like to submit something. He says great and then I said well, I have the script. And I send it to him and he says, okay well, that’s great. And he says when do you think you’ll have the film? I said we’ll have it by the deadline. We shot it over three days but the editing was at least two weeks. And then the music, we actually had a temporary soundtrack that we submitted to Miguel and he approved it with a temp soundtrack but the final soundtrack took about three more weeks between whenever we turned it in, then we had the final version done because the music was being done all around the world.
[audio clip] [01:01:27]
Beth Accomando: Although based on a case of evil, the sound work in that was very meticulous. We talked about the fact that we were talking about how this is a black and white film kind of that hearkens back to the universal horror and stuff and the soundtrack sounded like one of those old films with the pops and scratches and dust or whatever. So, that seems to – have you perfectly primed for working in radio where you have a lot of layers of sound?
Neal Hallford: Well, I think it’s one of the things that when we were talking about during the case, you said a lot of people decide whenever they are going – some people would say I want to do a vintage film and so they say okay great, we are going to shoot in black and white or more like we are treating color on weave. We do the black and white and post which is a no, no. Well, I mean we shot in video but it says no, you have to think about – it needs to be lit the right way. It’s not just that you turn off all the color. It’s about your use of shadow and everything else. There is a lot more to it than – if you want to really recreate that.
But – and this is actually a curse of a lot of film makers out there is the fact that a lot of film makers tend to be entirely visual and don’t think about the audio portion of what’s going on. And what I know and what you know is that audio is much more important when it deals with emotion is that you can have a movie that looks amazing but if the sound is bad, everyone will hate it. It’s the fact and it’s very, very important. So, the audio plugs directly into your limbic system. And so, the right song or whatever will profoundly change your mood and so we knew that in order to evoke the feel of those films is we needed to get to the sound of those films. And so, you have to go in and change the issue. You cut off the top and the bottom of the sound to give that kind of slightly a tinny and hollow kind of sound to it. You need the pops. You need the hissing and all that stuff that’s in there because that is part of that experience.
And again, she was kind of talking before about whenever I am watching old movies is that I love all of my beautiful restorations of the old universal horror films and everything but there is a part of me that wish that I also had a version of the stuff that I watched as a kid growing up. I would be hiding under the coffee table watching the Plenty Scary Movie which was our local sort of horror host kind of program that ran in Tulsa, Oklahoma. And there was sometimes whenever in particular in Dracula where there are incredibly long silences, just where you’re walking around in the castle or what have you. Some of the scenes in the crypt or when they first come to the door, just three minutes of silence almost but there is that hiss and it just pops and it’s just creepy. And I think so that was really important for us and so but yeah, I think that that having the experience with The Case of You definitely was an opportunity. We kind of stepped back in time. And also, whenever we were approaching the case in particular, we were talking to Merrick and talking to some of the other actors about the way they were approaching the dialogue.
And one thing that was important to kind of impress upon them and say that the actors that were coming in and acting in Hollywood in the twenties and thirties and forties, most of them were starting off the radio or on stage. And they weren’t being taught to perform for the camera. It’s a totally different acting style. And so, but a good chunk of people were coming in from radio. And so that was the one of the things that I was very conscious of is that approaching it basically as a filmed radio drama and so kind of kind of coming back to doing what we are doing right now is just perfectly natural because it’s okay, now we just get to the visual. And so, and I think that it is a challenge because whenever you are looking at doing something that’s for the audio drama is I need to tell the story entirely just with the sound. And there are certain things where in a film it would be conveyed by an expression, just somebody looking over to another character and say okay, I have no – it all has to be in the voice. And so – and that’s another thing about kind of trying to cast the project is finding people that can have that kind of sound, that voice being able to convey everything just with their voice. And it’s harder I think to find actors that are trained just for that.
Beth Accomando: So, did you have any particular challenges in editing Some Day, Over You. Were you having trouble finding sound effects or elements or anything like that?
Neal Hallford: Sound effects are – thankfully that’s the beautiful thing I love about doing this now as opposed to doing it whenever we were working on the original series is if you are looking for sound effects, there are no shortages of places to find them on the internet. I mean we thank them – we will thank Pond 5 at the end of the episode because probably about half of the sound effects all came from Pond 5. I also did a fair amount of folly for the episode and so I’m fortunate enough to have some fairly good sound gear at the house and so Jana was having sometimes where she would need to go to sleep and so she would get up and go to work the next morning. I am crashing around the house, throwing things around and screaming and crying, doing all kinds of things so.
Jana Hallford: And me suggesting alternatives to hitting the washing machine which I do need, yes. You can hit the heater. It needs to be replaced or repaired but you can’t hit the washing machine. We’ve had interesting conversations as a couple about these things.
Neal Hallford: But the one thing that we really do appreciate was being able to get our original source here with –
Jana Hallford: For the recording.
Neal Hallford: Yes and Dawn did an amazing job in making sure and that was a really – a big relief for me because not having to be watching levels and allowed to be paid attention of what was going on with performances and to direct. And so that was a big advantage because whenever we did the original series, I was directing and recording and everything all at once and so it’s much more difficult to kind of do all that at once but so. I really appreciated having Dawn there to kind of help us out with getting a nice clean capture for it.
Beth Accomando: Now, when you’re writing something for radio, do you have to make an extra point of like reading it out loud to yourself or is there a time when you want to just make sure you’re listening with your eyes closed to make sure that you are getting all the information from the audio?
Neal Hallford: That’s me regardless of whether I am working on radio or not.
Jana Hallford: Me too. It’s something we talked about when we first got together. We both read our copy aloud and I can tell with written pieces whether or not an author does that because that’s something very important to both of us. It has to sound good in the speaking voice. Varying length of senses and there’s certain things we both do that are very important to us.
Neal Hallford: This is me, kind of cycling back into that whole thing about the sound of the voice and everything else is but I really tend to like authors that have kind of a poetic kind of flow to the way they write things. And so, whether I am writing prose or I am writing whatever, I always read my copy aloud.
Beth Accomando: So, you say 13 episodes, so what is the future for Unchartered Regions?
Neal Hallford: Well, so the first obvious thing is obviously get them all done. I still have episodes that are being written and so I have two more or I have one more that I’m writing kind of on my own and then Jana and I and Jimmy Diggs are collaborating on another one. And we have – and so Jana has one that she is writing the first script and then we have some others that are coming in. But once we get done with the whole lot of them, we are hoping to find possibly a station that might be willing to air them. I would love to actually have them broadcast over the air if possible simply because number one, that’s the way I discovered Radio Drama myself. And I also think that there is a higher chance of accidental discovery with radio than there is with the internet. I don’t have anything to back that up other than it’s just a gut instinct to the fact that if you are on the internet, the chance of you accidentally stumbling across Radio Drama is not terribly high. You have to be searching for that sort of thing. But I think that if you are on a public radio station some place or what have you, it’s just kind of natural because it’s the kinds of people that I suspect are they going to be in this sort of thing are the people that listen to these stations and so.
After that, either we – I’ve had a couple of internet radio stations who said they just would really love to play us maybe iTunes distribution and all that kind of stuff but first I got to get them all made.
Beth Accomando: Yes.
Neal Hallford: But we have our plans for world domination so.
Beth Accomando: We are going to hear the first episode of Unchartered Regions which is going to be Some Day, Over You. And is there anything you want people – anything you want to leave them with before they listen to this?
Neal Hallford: I just say that – I don’t know. What do I want to leave them with?
Jana Hallford: Oh I hope that they enjoy the story and I really enjoy hearing the actors, hearing the words interpreted out and Davana did a great job. Everybody did a great job and there’s some – there’s – just let them tell the story.
Neal Hallford: For people who aren’t used to listening to Radio Dramas, I really do suggest they do it in an environment where they have an opportunity to really listen to it because there is a lot of stuff that’s going on and I think that there are some – there are certain elements of things. Because this is all being carried by word, if you are not paying attention to it, you may lose important stuff. And so, I think that just one thing is that we tend to in this day of multitasking, we don’t always attend to what’s going on and so – I don’t know. This is such a complicated or intricate story that you completely lose it but I think you will enjoy it more if you basically set some time aside and say I’m just going to have – sit down and listen to this and put your full attention to it. I think you’ll enjoy it much more if you do it that way rather than having it on in the background while you’re doing something else. That’s just my own kind of ten cents.
Beth Accomando: Well, thank you very much for speaking with me and I can’t wait to listen to some more episodes of this. Radio Drama is a lot of fun. So, thanks for being here.
Neal Hallford: And thank you for having us.
Jana Hallford: Thank you.
Beth Accomando: That was Neal and Jana Hallford, the creative team behind Unchartered Regions. I spoke to them just days before the first episode, Some Day, Over You would premier at Horrible Imaginings Film Festival. Now you get to have a chance to listen to it as well. Enjoy.
[Audio Clip] [01:13:15]
Beth Accomando: That was Some Day, Over You, the kick off episode of the radio drama Unchartered Regions. Thanks for listening to another episode of listener supported KPBS Cinema Junkie Podcast. Cinema Junkie is also a proud supporter of the Ken Cinemas Midnight Movies which will be devoted to horror and zombies for the next few weeks beginning with George Romero’s Classic Dawn of the Dead this weekend. It will be followed by Shawn of the Dead, Evil Dead 2 and Rocky Horror Picture Show with Shadow cast.
If you enjoy Cinema Junkie, please tell a friend. The best way to help build an audience for a podcast is word of mouth. People trust a personal recommendation more than any advertisement. So, bring a friend into the cinema junkie listening family. Till our next film fix, I am Beth Accomando, your resident cinema junkie.
Satisfy your celluloid addiction with the Cinema Junkie podcast, where you can mainline film 24/7. This film and entertainment series is run by KPBS Film Critic Beth Accomando. So if you need a film fix, want to hear what filmmakers have to say about their work, or just want to know what's worth seeing this weekend, then you've come to the right place