By Ed Sum
(The Vintage Tempest)
Available on RedCircle
New episode every Tuesday
Some independent filmmakers had a tough time during the pandemic to stay creative, and others have adapted. For Jeremy Lutter and Marcy Waughtal of Lower Mainland based Broken Mirror Films in Vancouver, British Columbia, this duo adapted by venturing into producing audio dramas and crafted a piece of “Canadian Noir” with Ghost Town Killer, now available to listen to.
The two aren’t out to reproduce an old time radio show like Dragnet. Instead, they have a modern day tale which sees a young heroine, Lilith Black, digging for the truth and having problems in what to accept as the impossible (especially when this show features ghosts). Their primary focus is on making their tale as realistic as possible. Lutter describes this protagonist to have Fox Mulder’s (X-Files) drive in wanting to believe and Lisbeth Salanda’s (The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo) tenacity when dealing with people–despite being rough around the edges.
Black has to explore places that no sane woman should. She’s looking for her sister’s killer. In Fort Macbeth, a town in B.C. lost to time, Lucy Fu’s been wrongfully accused of a different murder. There’s a serial killer on the loose and as Lilith gets her feet wet in all these various cases, she discovers the facts don’t always point to the truth. She’s dealing with prejudice and rivalries with the people she meets. Another figure she’ll encounter is mayor Tiffany Harp with a sordid past. Life isn’t easy in this township, and the influences the writing team drew upon are varied. They’re not making a show like theCW’s Riverdale either.
“I love listening to Serial,” revealed Lutter. This true-crimes podcast from the creators of This American Life focuses on one story across several episodes and has a huge following. It’s one of many that he and Waughtal love listening to.
This producer added, “Another is a Scandinavian crime-drama television series, The Wallander, which I think is really bleak. In Canada, we don’t have a lot of this type of entertainment content…”
“Neil Gaiman had an audio adaptation of Neverwhere (2013), and that’s when I fell in love with the format,” said Waughtal. “The things they did was magical realism.”
The pair also listen to and watch shows like S-Town, Marsfall, Zone Blanche, and Blood Ties. One show they were heavily influenced by was The Killing.
Ghost Town Killer begins with a sweet nod to the yesteryears–scanning the radio, looking for something to listen to. We hear a few words from different broadcasts before settling on style which brings to mind Mercury Theatre on the Air. One of the first scenes is introducing Lilith. She runs a podcast, and it’s not doing so well. She needs a captivating story to raise viewership, and what we are treated to is a tale with an ambience from the late 50s.
In reality, this tale examines a current crisis in the corridor in British Columbia where a lot of ghost towns lay. This province has the highest number per capita; some fell because of certain industries no longer able to continue because of competition or globalization. Lutter’s seen a bunch of documentaries on the Knowledge Network about part of the ailing economy in this province. He said, “We have a Valley of the Ghosts–which is in the Lower Kootenays–where these towns lie. I thought, ‘What would it be like to live in a place that’s falling apart?'”
“If you look at a lot of these smaller towns; they have very Scottish names. The name, Fort Macbeth, sounded like it could legitimately be the name of a small British Columbia town,” noted Waughtal.
“Normally, writers would say, ‘Oh my god, I can’t believe that you’re invoking Shakespeare,'” laughed Lutter.
Marcy believes the right name can set up everything. “It captures that sinister feeling of a crime drama and the supernatural. I thought it was a good way to set the stage,” said this playwright.
Narrative-wise, Lutter wanted the tale to show how truth and myth are necessary for showing how culture can evolve. The two producers had a hard time nailing a title for their production. They thought of using “The Dead Zone” briefly, but too many people will remember the Stephen King novel, 1983 film or 2002 television series. They needed a title to let the world know that they have created a Canadian style crime drama and ghost story wrapped into a tidy audio package.
To make a supernatural audio drama can be tough. The performers have to sell the terror instead of relying on the sound effects to tell all the tale. In terms of writing for this medium, Waughtal learned that all they needed was the right minimal set of sounds to establish the atmosphere. To give this show a unique flavour, she and Lutter expanded upon the lore of the Hungry Ghost. There’s more to this South Asian terror than the festival celebrated in August; these creators wanted to consider the aspects as it pertains to survival out in the middle of nowhere. Lutter said Detective Tadashi will explain their take in an upcoming episode, and it’ll be Japanese.
“The mystery gets solved,” revealed this writing team, “But there’s an open endedness to it where we would love to continue, and explore this world in different ways.”