Interview With Jared Rivet
Historic photograph of the recording session for The Creaky Stairs.
See that handsome fella in between Tracy Clifton and Kristy Chavez, the stars of Earbud’s latest podplay The Creaky Stairs? That’s Jared Rivet. He not only wrote and directed the piece, but also played adult Tommy. Super talented dude, super nice guy and was kind enough to come down to the Earbud lair to be interviewed (and lucky enough to make it out alive… hmmm).
EBT: I’m sorry I’m late – Steve Reeves told me … nevermind… Hi Jared How are you?
I’m good! Damn that Steve Reeves. By the way it never even dawned on me that I gave him the same name as Hercules.
EBT: I knew that sounded familiar! A real larger than life bully. So you’ve been a part of Earbud before, but as a performer on Over Halloween (which was great, by the way). What inspired you to write The Creaky Stairs?
A few years back, I had this incredibly strange part-time job delivering dietary supplements to people all over Los Angeles. It meant I had to drive all over L.A. County from 1 am to 5 am. People might not realize this, but L.A. basically shuts down between 1 and 2 in the morning. From 3 am to 5 am, the place is like a ghost town, like something out of I AM LEGEND. It was very surreal and involved me driving all over town and walking up to stranger’s houses in the dead of night to pick up their previous day’s supplements and drop-off new ones. The pay was not bad – not great – but they were reimbursing me for gas, and this is when gas was starting to go over $4 a gallon.
Anyway, I’m a hardcore horror guy through and through and driving around at night, it got hard to find interesting stuff to listen to. So I dug up recordings of old spooky radio shows (like INNER SANCTUM, LIGHTS OUT and SUSPENSE!) and also audio of some of the “scary stories” LPs so many of us had as kids. Some of those scary stories records are incredibly effective! Even to this day! It’s amazing to me that these things were produced for children (but thank god they were, I don’t think I’d be the person I am today without them).
So I’m driving around during the graveyard shift, getting nostalgic for things like the Pickwick Records “Famous Ghost Stories with Scary Sounds” and Troll Records’ “Scary Spooky Stories” and realizing we just didn’t have those kinds of things anymore. (Listening to the scary stories records also wound up inspiring a feature screenplay which has not sold but continues to get interest from producers to this day.) I was also managing to creep myself out while out on this weird job.
One of my stops was always on the top floor of this old seaside apartment in Venice. It didn’t have an elevator, but it had the creakiest stairs I’ve ever heard. And I felt bad because there was no way I wasn’t waking up people up…there I was showing up at three in the morning every night, walking up all six flights and then immediately back down again. I would have hated me if I lived there…
One night, I trudged up those stairs like I always did but when I got to the top and started switching out old stuff for new stuff, I heard someone come in the front door downstairs. They started walking up the stairs, and kept coming, floor after floor.
I realized I wasn’t going to be able to avoid passing this person (which can be all kinds of awkward at three in the morning), so I started down the stairs. Their footsteps were getting closer so I made sure to make enough noise that they knew that I was coming, stomping from landing to landing.
I could hear that we were about to converge so I took a deep breath and circled around the next landing…
And there was no one there.
The footsteps just STOPPED! I listened and looked around. I didn’t hear a door open and close, there wasn’t anyplace to hide, the footsteps just ceased right in that moment.
Creeped out beyond words, I raced down the remaining flights, got outside, hopped in my car and drove away as fast as I could. And once my heart stopped racing I started laughing and within minutes, the story started to form in my head.
And I knew the only way to tell it was as an audio drama, so much of it was just sound. It wouldn’t have made a very visual scene, although I’m sure you could do a lot more in a movie or a TV show with the scene that happened to me. But I was listening to Pickwick Records, so I knew what I had to do.
I wrote down the major beats, wondering what the hell outlet I would have for this thing and slowly realized it was probably never going to find a home. It sat as a loose document on my computer for a few years and then you asked me to play The Director in OVER HALLOWEEN and I caught the bug big time. I’ve often said I was born in the wrong era, as I’d love to be doing radio plays as a full-time job if there was such a thing in this day and age.
EBT: Me too. Maybe we move to England, I think it’s fairly popular over there. That story, by the way is just as freaky as your podplay. So you’ve been a fan of audio fiction for a while – do you have any favorites?
Do I! Oh, man. Let’s see…that Pickwick Records “Famous Ghost Stories” which was produced by Wade Denning (it might be him doing all the voices too but I don’t know for sure). All of those are great, he did adaptations of “The Headless Horseman” and “The Tell-Tale Heart” on that record that are fantastic. But the real nightmare fuel on that album belongs to “The Hitchhiker.” It’s an adaptation of the urban myth of the guy who picks up the female hitchhiker on the side of the road in the middle of the night. It’s not just the story’s sense of overall dread that gets you but the intensity-level of the sound design of the zing at the end.
And then that Troll Records “Scary Spooky Stories” has some real shivers-down-the-spine frights that knocked me on my ass as well. Great ones. I think they’re all retellings of campfire tales and urban legends. All public domain. The classic is probably “The Skinny Toe” but the one that might have inspired me the most was probably “The Dare.”
There are a lot of great old scary stories records from the 60’s and 70’s and I won’t even touch on the radio shows from the old days because there are so many great ones.Anything you can find from SUSPENSE! or LIGHTS OUT will almost always be a treat.
“The Hitch Hiker”, (Wade Denning, “Famous Ghost Stories with Scary Sounds”, 1970)
EBT: Those are some great selections and I have to admit I don’t know them all, so I’m looking forward to checking them out. Ah, records. I miss them, though I guess they’re making a comeback. We actually just bought Basil Rathbone reading The Telltale Heart on vinyl. And I especially miss the album art. Speaking of –
Simeon Wilkins really nailed the spot art for this episode. Did you discuss with him your approach to the look of it? What was the inspiration?
I don’t know why I had that particular image of us looking over the shoulders of the two boys while they read the old lady’s words with a flashlight, but for some reason it just seemed like an all-encompassing image for the episode. I knew that I wanted an EC Comics vibe for the style. I wanted something that wouldn’t look out of place on the cover of TALES FROM THE CRYPT or VAULT OF HORROR.
I know we were originally talking about an ominous low angle shot looking up the stairs and having the door with the writing on it being this shadowy destination at the apex, and that actually would have been very cool, but I really had this EC cover/”splash page” image in my head.
We were suddenly in a time crunch because the episode came together so fast and I knew exactly who to call.
Simeon and I have been very good friends for 9 or 10 years now. He is a very accomplished artist who has been doing storyboards and concept art for movies of all shapes and sizes. Everything from TRICK ‘R TREAT and CABIN IN THE WOODS, to things like WRATH OF THE TITANS and TED. He’s a consummate professional and fast. (Simeon and I were trying to sell a concept for a comic book based on one of my screenplays about five years ago. No one ever picked it up but the artwork is stunning.) He’s also a great guy and an amazing friend.
So we were under the gun and I decided to call in that favor. He asked me what I was looking for, I gave him a description of it and drew an incredibly crude version of it on a piece of paper, took a picture of that sketch with my phone and zapped it over to him. (I also sent him the text of the words scratched into the door, but he never read the script and we were still mixing the episode so he didn’t get to hear it at that point.)
I don’t remember how quickly he turned the rough sketch around but it was FAST. And it was exactly what I wanted. I didn’t even have to nitpick. I told him we needed it within a week, he asked me how tomorrow would be. I thanked him profusely and left him to his devices.
He emailed the final version back to me a few HOURS later. The same day. It was unbelievable. And again: just perfect. As though he saw the exact image in my brain and plucked it onto the page.
I can’t thank him enough. Please visit his website! And if you’re making a film, hire this man!! He’s the best!
EBT: Oh, he did this at warp speed and, from all of us in the Earbud lair, thank you Simeon! Jared, you got some great performances out of your actors, Tracy Clifton & Kristy Chavez, how was that experience? And wait, was this your first time directing?
It was my first time! And what a learning experience it was! I was so glad I had you as my producer because you have written and directed so many of these things, I knew I could turn to you for any and all advice and suggestions and let me know if I was screwing the pooch. And I don’t think I could have given my voice performance without you there to let me know how it was coming across.
Anyway, I feel like I learned so much on this one — things I would totally do differently next time. It almost feels like all I had was a run-through of “how to direct an audio drama” and we could sit down and do the real one next week.
And it didn’t hurt that I had such good actors! It just proves the old adage about bringing in good people and trusting them to do what they do best.
I knew I wanted to go the route of using women as the voices of Tommy and Danny, a la Nancy Cartwright, Pamela Adlon and Pamela Hayden. I just needed to find women with the right kinds of voices.
Tracy Clifton and I have been friends for a few years now. She starred in a short that I co-wrote with Wilder Konschak a few years back called PARALYZED and I was lucky enough to play a small role in an episode of the second season of Wilder’s web series HELL FROZE OVER which Tracy is the star of. She’s extremely talented and 100% dedicated to her craft. Just an absolute pro. So she was a no-brainer and had the right voice for Tommy.
And Kristy Chavez was Tracy’s suggestion. They go way back, so I met with them together, and after about 60 seconds of hearing Kristy’s voice I knew she was the right choice. It didn’t hurt that I saw that she and Tracy already had an existing rapport. It really helped with their back and forth, which suddenly had a built-in comfort level it probably wouldn’t have had if I had thrown two strangers into the booth just meeting for the first time. They already SOUND like friends in the episode, which was invaluable.
EBT: Before I let you go, I have to ask – any other ideas in your cranium? That is to say, can we expect another podplay from you sometime in the future?
Are you kidding? I would LOVE to do another one. In a heartbeat! This was a dream come true for me. And I’ve definitely got more ideas. Like I said earlier, “The Creaky Stairs” almost felt like a run-through, now I want to do the real one!
EBT: The door is always open for you here (provided you read the entire inscription on it before coming in). Thanks again Jared, we’re all looking forward to the next one!