A new film about the life of legendary producer Joe Meek is about to complete a $40,000 Kickstarter campaign. We caught up with Howard S. Berger – one-half of Palm Door Films, the company behind A Life in the Death of Joe Meek – in LA to talk about pushing the boundaries of production, gangsters and Joe’s “miraculous damage.”  

1. Who are you? Tell us a bit about yourselves.

We are PalmDoorFilms – a two-person operation based in Los Angeles. We've been both pretty well-steeped in film from an early age -- I'm a bit more obsessive about collecting and watching than Sue [Susan Stahman] because I'm also working on a longtime project of mine (www.destructibleman.com), where I deconstruct the language of cinema through films that use the special effect of a dummy-death (where an actor is substituted for a mannequin during a death scene). Together we've done many short music docs for record companies that have aired on MTV and VH1. Now we are just concentrating on finishing the Joe Meek doc - our first feature.

2. How did you first hear about Joe Meek?

Even though I had actually owned a few of his 45s when I was a kid (my cousins used to pick up singles as souvenirs for me when they went on vacation in the UK) - it was an article in Tower Record's PULSE magazine in the mid-90's that did the most damage. The story was just so sad and haunting - and the music sounded like it would be fascinating to hear - and we soon found a few compilations and were proved right. The music was amazing in unimaginable ways.

3. Why was Joe so important to Sixties music/pop culture?

Many reasons. One, Joe was the most popular engineer in the '50's -- he was also the most individual in terms of personal style, which was not encouraged in the major studios - at least not to the degree of signature that Joe was putting on things -- so for him to branch out on his own, to really be able to put his stylistic stamp on recordings, was a major step forward. His recordings really were a signpost to everyone else who came down the pike in the UK afterwards for how to record pop music.

Also, Joe was completely independent in business terms. He did it all and then licensed to the major labels – and had hits with them – sometimes despite coming to loggerheads over the intensity of his mastering. But he was nearly always right in the end. He made those companies a lot of money and everyone who bought those records then still love and defend them now.

4. What aspect of Joe Meek’s life and/or death are you aiming to capture?

It's really dependent on what people have to tell us -- we aren't writing a narration for this, so it's purely based on the individual observations, experiences, memories, emotions of who we speak with. We’ve really enjoyed the different viewpoints – sometimes completely contradictory ones – of the interviews. That disparity should really put people’s ears up.

5. The film’s been in the making for nine years. Tell us a bit about how far you’ve come in that time.

Mainly concentrating on the edit - turning so much ancient history into something intimate, personable, entertaining, educational and, most importantly, inspiring. Some of the people who we felt are crucial to the story - artists like Jimmy Page - took years to get to. Still hoping to get to a few others who have been elusive. Between that and working jobs to pay bills and for flights/travel back and forth from the U.S. to the U.K. - it's taken the better of a decade to complete. And we're not done just yet. But we're really close.

6. Who have you interviewed for the film? 

We've interviewed over a hundred people -- including Jimmy Page, Steve Howe from Yes and Asia, Keith Strickland of the B-52s, Edwyn Collins, Huw Bunford from Super Furry Animals and many Meek artists and colleagues, personal friends, enemies, critics, family, biographers and enthusiasts. There's too many stories to tell. The one consistent thing is that not one of them asked for money to talk to us and they all were incredibly generous with their memories and their photographic collections (we would show up with a portable scanner) and memorabilia. They basically treated us like good friends, if not family. It's an honour to know these people. They all leave such an important footprint on pop culture history - whether they realize it or not.

7. Any particularly great anecdotes you’ve heard about Joe along the way?

Oh yeah. And they are in the documentary. What's not will be in the "extras" - like an entire sequence devoted to the "mystery" surrounding his death -- whether it was East End gangster related or not. It's an interesting questioning of the accepted facts - but, since the only living witness to those terrible final events has given his testimony, that's what we have to go on. And the "essay" of the doc really isn't specifically concentrated on how he died, we felt it best examined separately.

8. In recent years Meek’s story has spawned two documentaries, a radio play, a stage play and a feature film, Telstar. What is it about Joe Meek’s story/music that’s still capturing people in 2012?

In 2012, hands down it's his accomplishments which were far-reaching, innovative and inspirational. Earlier, it was clearly the sensationalized docu-fiction that "endeared" Joe to the world. Upon 9 years of speaking to all the main players left alive (many of whom participated in the Arena program and Telstar [feature film starring Con O'Neill as Meek]) we were shocked to hear so many disgruntled comments about the earlier works - in terms of credibility and accuracy - not entertainment value. I've noticed, in all the work-in-progress screenings we'd had, that the most important and consistent comment uttered was how "inspiring" the story is -- and that's the wake we want this project to leave behind -- inspiration.

9. What would Joe Meek have to say about pop music today?

Hard to say, since his personal tastes were really that of his time -- but there is no doubt that he would have embraced every era and every genre in-between with the same individualism and intuitive conceptual genius that was his inborn nature. Had he gone on past 37 years of life he would've caused some miraculous damage.
To celebrate the film, Substance have put together a mix: 'The Wonderful, Terrifying World of Joe Meek'. Listen to it here:

The Wonderful, Terrifying World of Joe Meek by substance.tv


1. Meeksville Telephone Answering Machine Message
2. Telstar - The Tornadoes
3. Sea of Love - Marty Wilde
4. It Feels So Good - Big Bill Broonzy
5. Movin' In - Heinz
6. Powercut - The Cameos
7. Dumb Head - The Sharades
8. Crawdaddy Simone - The Syndicats
9. Come on Back - Paul Ritchie & The Cryin' Shames
10. Little Baby - The Blue Rondos

If you want to support PalmDoorFilms and A Life in the Death of Joe Meek in the meantime, visit the Kickstarter page here. 


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