December 19, 2019

McQuaid & Fessenden talk “Natural Selection” starring Dominic Monaghan and Billy Boyd

Episode 11 of TALES FROM BEYOND THE PALE The Podcast is written and directed by Larry Fessenden and stars Dominic Monaghan and Billy Boyd, know the world over as Merry and Pippin from Peter Jackson’s LORD OF THE RINGS Trilogy. Monaghan went on to icon status as Charlie in JJ Abram’s LOST and is featured this week’s STAR WARS: THE RISE OF SKYWALKER, also by Abrams. Monaghan also happens to be Fessenden’s co-star in Glenn McQuaid’s Glass Eye Pix production, I SELL THE DEAD. McQuaid and Fessenden decided to have a chat about Fessenden’s audio drama “Natural Selection” in which a naturalist and his cameraman get into a heap of trouble while exploring a remote Galapagos Island.

Glenn gave Larry a Ring from across the pond and here is their conversation:GLENN McQUAID: “Natural Selection”, if I remember correctly, was inspired by a trip to The Galápagos Islands, did the ideas flow while in the environment or in retrospect?  LARRY FESSENDEN: I wrote the tale some years after I had been in the Galapagos Islands. But that trip was very vivid to me. And I was thinking about the Fukushima Nuclear disaster (March 2011) and the anxiety a lot of people had that the Pacific Ocean currents would bring nuclear waste across the ocean. There is of course a tradition of making monsters out of nuclear disaster (GODZILLA, anyone?), so I was riffing on those tropes. GM: And pollution in general. PROPHESY comes to mind And Have you see THE HOST by Bong Joon-ho? It has the most profound opening where an American  scientist orders his assistant to empty bottles of formaldehyde into the Han River. It’s surreal in its cause-and-effect simplicity.  LF: Of course, love both those flicks! Nature revenge movies, a class all their own. GM: I completely forgot that Natural Selection adheres to the found-footage format, what inspired you to take a stab at that style for an audio drama? LF: I always find it funny when you see a character in a remote situation on these reality TV shows and they seem to be alone and suffering but I say, what about the cameraman? So I wanted to bring that into the story. And yes, try doing a â€œfound-footage” piece for radio.The piece came together very organically. I had been haunted by my trip to the Galapagos for some time, the sounds as well as the images; it was certainly a great setting for the sort of immersive audio tales we are interested in creating. You and I have both been intrigued by the sort of nature audio that is out there, sound of the seashore or birds that play for an hour…GM: Dan Gibson‘s series of SOLITUDES records have always inspired me and I have had a mind to make a serious of nature records myself but each one should have a hidden little spot of peculiarity to them, a drowning or a rift in the space time fabric.LF: My favorite of my Tales are the ones where I have collected my own ambiences. For “The Hole Digger” I got my sound from Cape Cod where the story takes place. There’s a drowning in that one!

GM: I have fond memories of Dom between takes on I SELL THE DEAD, rummaging through bushes and investigating the local insect life of the grave yards we shot in, and since then he went on to have his own nature show, he seems like the perfect lead for Natural Selection, was he on your mind when writing? What was his response to the material. LF: Dom has a TV show called WILD THINGS in which he travels to exotic locations and interacts with unusual creatures and tries to excite people about the natural wonders all around us. I knew that my story would make sense to him. While I don’t claim to be an adventurous sort, I have a deep simpatico with nature and other creatures and Dom’s attitude is a lovely and profound expression of my own sense of place in this world. Difference is, he actually goes out there…The tale has another more existential aspect to it, and I try to contemplate the character Ross confronting death, and how he doesn’t fight it, he goes with the flow of his terrible fate without judgement and that eases his passage. But he leaves his cameraman behind to face a similar fate without the same perspective, a worse end for him. GM: Ross is deeply enamored and respectful of the environment but through celebrating it he ends up in a bit of a bind, I’m reminded of Hoffman in THE LAST WINTER, even the good guys will suffer the consequences of mankind’s greed and willful ignorance, perhaps more so than most as they tried to do something about it. Is it fair to say this existential tragedy is made more bearable with the addition of monsters? 

LF: I always find that monsters sweeten the pot! The story here seems to be that the Ross character has too much comfort in his own relationship with nature and gets too close to the creature and it snaps at him, causing his demise. Doesn’t take away from the truth of Ross’s world view, but fate has its own plans. My stories are not about winning, but how to accept defeat. That is the place where we can all have control.  GM: So fun to have Billy Boyd along side Dom again, they have such wonderful chemistry, how was it having them back together during  the production?LF: The whole production was so appealing, having Billy and Dom together again, they were very endearing to be with. It was Dom’s idea to give Billy a call and I couldn’t have been more happy. I had been very immersed in the LORD OF THE RINGS movies when they came out and again as my kid grew up watching them. I love my other actors as well: Pat Healy from THE INNKEEPERS and James Ransone from IN A VALLEY OF VIOLENCE and more recently SINISTER and IT 2. And my pal Darroch Greer from early Glass Eye projects. It was a very congenial recording session.

But here is the thing about “Natural Selection” that is truly freaky: On Dom’s show he was in fact bitten by a giant lizard. His grace on camera after the violent shock is very telling of Dom’s philosophy and poise. To this day I don’t know which came first, my script or this strange incident. I don’t recall ever discussing it with him when we recorded the show.

FURTHER READING: Here is an interview about “Natural Selection” with Fessenden and Eric Kohn of indiewire.

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