Quantcast ICONS Interview with writer/director Mick Garris - THE STAND, PSYCHO IV, SLEEPWALKERS, THE SHINING

Mick Garris!

Mick Garris got his start much like we did here at ICONS, by interviewing filmmakers for magazines & his Z channel show FANTASY FILM FESTIVAL. He went on to write for AMAZING STORIES, then directed CRITTERS 2, PSYCHO IV, and later went on to work with Stephen King more then any other filmmaker on SLEEPWALKERS, THE STAND, THE SHINING, RIDING THE BULLET & DESPERATION. He also created Showtime's hit series MASTERS OF HORROR! It helps that he's probably the nicest guy in the movie business, which is why he agreed to speak to us about all of the above! Read on for the FRIGHT exclusive interview!- By Robg., Mike C. - 9/08

Robg.: First things first, what are your earliest recollections of the horror genre? As a kid, what memories do you have of what opened you up to the world of what’s scary?

Well, the first thing and I’ve told this before was that my mother, when she was very, very young, like 2 years old or something, one of her first movies was the original KING KONG and it so terrified her that she just never got over it! So, SON OF KONG was coming on television when I was really young. So I remember we had a TV and then another one on top of it for some reason. And my mom wanted to make sure that it was a very careful family viewing experience so there wasn’t any terror that would occupy my brain for the rest of my life.
She didn’t realize it was a good thing. (Laughs) And so we’re all watching, there were 4 of us Garris kids, we were all really young and we were all born within 5 years of each other. And my mother and father sat down to watch SON OF KONG in a very protective atmosphere with us. But SON OF KONG is a comedy. It’s not a scary movie at all, even though it has a giant gorilla! But that giant gorilla is my first memory of my step into the world beyond the real world. And so that was like “Wow, this is great!” After that, it was the Universal horror movies that played all the time on channel 5 when I was a kid.

Robg.: And you and your family used to go together to the drive-in’s all the time, right?
We went to the drive-in’s to see PSYCHO. I saw PSYCHO for the first time at a drive-in, the Reseda Drive-In, which is no longer there anymore. But it wasn’t that long ago that it finally shut down, but it’s where they shot the scenes with Boris Karloff in TARGETS. That was the neighborhood drive-in that we would go to. We’d bring in our own popcorn because it was too expensive for us…

Robg.: Even then? (Laughs)

Even then!
Robg.: So, it’s safe to say that you had a general interest in films from a very young age.


Robg.: So what was it that made you segue into really searching out how the people behind these movies made these films? What led to you doing the public access interview show?
It wasn’t public access! It was on the Z channel, a paid show. People often make that mistake but there’s a very large distinction between the two.

Robg.: Sorry, sorry! Well, the record is straight now! (Laughs)

Anybody can do a public access show, but this was paid TV! Well, at first, I wanted to be an artist and a cartoonist. My father had gone to art school and had talent in art, and I inherited some of that ability to draw. But I never really followed up on it, because once I started to write at age 12, writing took over my interest in drawing.
Then I became a rock n’ roll musician, when I was like 15 years old and the singer in a band at around 18 years old, writing songs. I’ve always watched television as a kid, movies and cartoons and television series, and all that stuff. When they were only 4 or 5 channels to chose from. It had always peeked my interest, particularly the “ultra real” or the “beyond real” supernatural things, horror movies, cartoons, etc. So my writing took that approach, that’s what I was most interested in. My writing kind of went that way, and then I thought I would try my hand at screenwriting.
I was a journalist as well for underground newspapers and school newspapers. At that time, underground newspapers were a big deal. They were the “alternate” press and they were very political as well as into more alternate arts, music and film. So I started writing about music as well and started doing interviews, and that was always fascinating to me; the creative process. The creative process was always something that particularly fascinated me. The more I wrote, the less I started to write fiction, and the more I started to write screen material, and became more interested in doing that.
And so, I was doing interviews for newspapers and magazines and all these things, and started writing for the Z Channel magazine, which was the first paid TV channel, before HBO. When I was writing for that magazine, I proposed to the editor of the magazine, who was also a program director for Z Channel at the time - that we do something, a serious version of those horror host things that came from my youth. Start with a 15 minute interview before the movie with the person who made the movie. And it was really fun and successful for the channel.
Robg.: A lot of them have surfaced recently. I mean, the one on the VIDEODROME Criterion DVD with you interviewing John Landis, John Carpenter and David Cronenberg is fantastic!

And a bunch of the MASTERS OF HORROR discs have them!
Robg.: Right! There’s even an episode on the bonus disc of MASTERS OF HORROR SEASON ONE.

Yeah, that has Steven Spielberg and John Boorman. I think it’s probably really boring.

Robg.: I’ll have to show that to you, Mike because EXORCIST 2 is one of his favorite movies, Mick.
Mike C.: I love that movie!

It is the most underrated movie!

Mike C.: It’s wild, it’s nutty and insane!

It is! And I like it! I did an interview with William Friedkin, and he was so insulting about the makers of EXORCIST 2 and the fact that we dared show EXORCIST 2 and have those people on, that the Z Channel thought – the legal staff thought it might be libel and they never ran that show.
Robg.: Wow!

So there is a great “lost” Fantasy Film Festival with William Friedkin. I was on my Honeymoon when they said they needed to redo it and I couldn’t redo it, so they ended up just not doing that show. That’s a little scoop that no one knows about. An exclusive for ICONS OF FRIGHT! (Laughs)

Mike C.: Right! ICONS EXCLUSIVE! William Friedkin… doesn’t like THE EXORCIST 2! (Laughs)

(Laughs) I don’t think there’s any mystery about that! But anyways, he was so nasty about it that it never got on the air.

Mike C.: Scorsese loved it.


Mike C.: Yeah.

Well, interesting enough – Martin Scorsese doing a remake of CAPE FEAR, and this is after we did PSYCHO IV. He’s the only other person to re-score the Bernard Herrmann music for CAPE FEAR, and it was after we had done it for PSYCHO IV. Nobody had ever done that before! So, I would like to think I influenced Martin Scorsese! Who by the way, directed the first script I ever had produced.
Robg.: Oh, which was an AMAZING STORIES episode!

Right. Which I’m not credited for, although it was a page one rewrite.

Mike C.: You wrote… MIRROR, MIRROR?


Mike C.: That’s my favorite AMAZING STORIES episode! I just got chills!
Well, Joe Minion got credit for it, but he wrote the first draft. For a number of reasons, it needed rewriting. Because of the network, because of Spielberg’s tastes. Because of what Scorsese wanted to try. And I was a story editor for the series, so it was a page one rewrite, every word.

Mike C.: It’s one of the scariest things I’ve ever seen.

(Laughs) Thanks!

Mike C.: It traumatized me! Even today, I watched it recently and its still terrifying.

Oh good, good! Yeah, Sam Waterson’s great. And you know who the monster is, right? Tim Robbins! So even though it’s uncredited, that was my first produced script.

Robg.: We were just talking about “MIRROR, MIRROR” because we did an article on the “Scariest Television Stories” to coincide with FEAR ITSELF. And that was Mike’s number one choice. Can you summarize your experience working on AMAZING STORIES?

Well… The greatest film school in the history of the world. The opportunity was given to me because I was doing a documentary on THE GOONIES up in Astoria, Oregon. They had just started shooting and Spielberg was there and I was introduced to him. And he said, “You must do a lot of these things?” And I had just started to really commit to writing, trying to do it full time. I left doing publicity at Universal to do it full time. And I said, “Well, I don’t do much now, because I’m trying to make a go as a writer.” “Oh, really?” You never want to tell someone “I’m a writer! Here’s a script in my back pocket!” But he said, “Oh really? We’re looking for writers on this new series I’m doing called AMAZING STORIES.”
My agents had known that and so fortunately his readers had really liked a script I’d done and they gave me an opportunity. I was the first writer hired to do AMAZING STORIES, an episode. I wrote it in 3 days. I turned it in, they really liked it and asked me to do another one right away. And so then before I’d even finished it, they called me and asked me to be the story editor. So, here I am, a story editor on AMAZING STORIES, never having had this job before, never having been paid to write before for screen material, and now I’m writing scripts directed by Bob Zemekis and Joe Dante and myself and Peter Heinz and all these people. Going to the set, there’s Clint Eastwood directing an episode. Here’s Steven Spielberg directing an episode. I learned so much, not so much on the set, what I really learned about filmmaking on the set is how much filmmaking takes place before you get to the set, and off the set.
With Scorsese in particular, he would clear the room of everyone except him and the actors when he was rehearsing a scene. And this is on television, you really don’t have time to do that! Although, AMAZING STORIES had a rather elaborate budget. And so, then he would bring in the DP and the first AD and then go through it with them. But to just talk with Scorsese about what changes he wanted in the script – I think there was a car chase sequence, a stunt sequence in the original script, and he said, “You know, I’m not very good at this kind of stuff. Maybe we should write around it?” What a great window into an amazing filmmaker! One of the great filmmakers of all time, to be at his beck and to be writing what he wanted.

Mike C.: Your experience on AMAZING STORIES had to have laid the groundwork for going into your anthology series, MASTERS OF HORROR?


Mike C.: What’d you take with you from your experience there when you were putting MASTERS OF HORROR together?

Well… I don’t like series television and I don’t watch it. THE OFFICE is the only series I watch that has a continuing cast. I don’t have the time or the inclination or the interest to get to know that family every week and to go back. I’m not addicted to LOST. I’m not addicted to HEROES. Where you miss a week and you miss the show. I like movies! I like a story that’s told all in one, and the AMAZING STORIES experience was something that really - it was just the kind of television that was my ideal. It was a little half hour movie every week, but not tethered by quite the financial restraints, although there’s still quite a bit of financial restraint doing a Steven Spielberg series as it was. But not as much. And yet, it also proved that anthology and network television do not go hand in hand, because the way television has developed over the years and over the decades is series television or reality television.
And even that, you have a cast that evolves. So, in the case of MASTERS OF HORROR and later FEAR ITSELF, it was just really reflecting of the taste for horror, it was strictly a horror series. But within the confines of horror, it was varied. AMAZING STORIES could be animated one week, it could be kid oriented, it could be science fiction, it could be a thriller like THE AMAZING FALSWORTH. That was really broad, and too broad for an audience to catch on TV, but on Showtime? First of all, MASTERS OF HORROR was financed by Anchor Bay and not by Showtime. Showtime licensed it for a very small fee.
It would’ve been made if there was a network or not, although it helped to have a network. Showtime’s audience is so small that you could be a big hit, and we were the number 2 show without any advertising for 2 years, just by being good and by word of mouth. And FEAR ITSELF, although I was not involved during the production and I left because of the writers guide and didn’t go back for a number of reasons, many of them over network TV and horror not being able to really mix, it showed that the audience for network & commercial TV doesn’t really want an anthology.
Mike C.: With MASTERS OF HORROR premiering on cable, that definitely freed that series up a lot, right? It was originally going to be a DVD series?

Yeah. And it still was. We made it exactly the same way, with a little bit of input from Showtime. They had 5 rules that we never thought of breaking anyway. And even so, IMPRINT never got shown. It didn’t break any of their 5 rules, but it was just…

Mike C.: What were some of the rules?

No violence against children. Uh, no male frontal nudity. Um, no sexual relations between kids. You know, some things none of us intended on breaking anyways.

Mike C.: How did IMPRINT not end up being aired if it didn’t break any of those rules?

Well, because it’s so intense. It’s hard for me to watch!

Robg.: Well, the thing I loved about it was it became the episode that you had to see.


Robg.: I remember all of us screening it together and we were horrified the whole time!

And the first version was 7 or 8 minutes longer! And that was almost all in the torture scene. (Laughs)

Robg.: As Jsyn from our site said, when Billy Drago is the least scariest, weirdest thing in your movie, you know you’ve got something intense! (Laughs)

(Laughs) Absolutely!

Mike C.: How’d you get all these names together for MASTERS OF HORROR?

Robg.: I love the original teaser poster that had George Romero and Roger Corman, who obviously didn’t get to make episodes.

They always intended to do it!

Robg.: Is the story with Guillermo Del Toro true? Did “masters of horror” come from him offering all you guys to sing happy birthday to a dinner party at a restaurant next to you guys?

Well, there was a table next to us having a birthday party, and so we all sang happy birthday, and Del Toro said, (in Spanish accent) “The masters of horror wish you a happy birthday!” (Laughs) So, he gave us the unofficial name. It was a joke! It was a self disparaging joke! The so-called “masters of horror”. But it was the perfect name for the series, and it gave it a validity that just a standard horror series wouldn’t. And it’s also – I came up with the title for FEAR ITSELF when I was still involved with it. We still intended to have these guys. But it also easened the burden of having to deliver 13 big name directors, which they didn’t really pull off.
Robg.: I’ve only seen a few episodes of FEAR ITSELF. Stuart Gordon’s (EATER) is really good. That seems to be the general consensus.

Stuart’s is really good. THE SACRAFICE, the one that I wrote was changed a lot. But it was pretty well received and that’s what I hoped it would be.

Robg.: As New Yorker’s, we were glad that Larry Fessenden got to do one.

I think he’s incredibly talented!

Mike C.: Now, if MASTERS OF HORROR was the number 2 show on Showtime, why make the switch to NBC for FEAR ITSELF?

MASTERS was very successful for Showtime, but Showtime did not finance the show, they paid a small license fee for it. The first season, Anchor Bay was owned by IDT, they were sold to Starz. Starz bought IDT entertainment and Anchor Bay, and Starz is a much more corporate organization then Anchor Bay was at the time. They had people that were interested in the immediate bottom line. And although it took them almost a year to make their decision, we thought we were going forward with a 3rd season. They backed out.
Immediately, LIONSGATE who was one of the first groups we took MASTERS to and wanted to do it, but didn’t act as quickly - LIONSGATE said, yeah we want to be involved. They actually had it set up at HD net and it was the perfect fit. They wanted something with similar variety to help their channel. You know, they have Dan Rather and then some movies that people don’t know about, but that they release day to day in theaters. It fell apart because they also wanted theatrical distribution rights for the same fee. When that happened, I thought, ya know, we did 2 years of groundbreaking television with Showtime, maybe it’s ok to end it at this. And then LIONSGATE sold it to NBC. But NBC of course didn’t want to look like they’d inherited a series from another smaller network.
So they wanted a new title, so we renamed it FEAR ITSELF. When NBC wanted to do it, I contacted all of the filmmakers and said, “Look, LIONSGATE and NBC are going to do this. I don’t think I want to take part in this, because I don’t think it could be what we intended”, where the filmmakers have final cut and total creative control. And almost all of them bowed out with the exception of Stuart Gordon who said, “No just stay on, we should do it. See what we can do! TWILIGHT ZONE was done for regular television and Alfred Hitchcock Presents.” Well, people’s ideas of entertainment were different then too. And it became very clear during the process after we developed a bunch of the scripts that they were looking to make something more familiar and not something ground breaking. Even though a horror anthology would be groundbreaking. And people like Stuart Gordon did make some good stuff, but it was the guys who were first that got the least interference. As time went on, and I wasn’t involved so I didn’t see what went on, but from what I heard, it just got worse and worse.

Robg.: That’s a shame.

It is. But MASTERS OF HORROR will always be there. We did 2 years of that, 26 films, all of which I’m really proud of. Whatever the fans have to say on websites and IMDB and stuff, we did some really great shit.

Robg.: It’s funny, because it’s been a couple of years since these have been on, and I was just re-visiting the first season on DVD. And not that it’d been so long that I didn’t remember them, but… I appreciate them now. I think they’re pretty good!

I think what happened was fans got so spoiled by Season One, that Season Two… I think most of the filmmakers outdid themselves with their 2nd films, but because they were second, it didn’t have the impact of “Holy shit! Look what’s on Showtime! We got Joe Dante, Stuart Gordon, Tobe Hooper, John Carpenter, Larry Cohen, Dario Fucking Argento! Takashi Fucking Miike! Doing a one hour TV show for American television! And doing it with no interference!” Interestingly, Miike and the producers in Japan were hugely disappointed that it didn’t air here, and they would’ve been happy to make cuts. But… we didn’t want them to! (Laughs) And Anchor Bay was really cool about it. And the other thing about IMPRINT, Walmart sells 40 percent of the DVD’s sold in the United States. And Walmart wouldn’t carry it. So, it wouldn’t run on Showtime and Walmart wouldn’t carry it.

Robg.: That’s actually a pretty cool thing to say though!

But how cool is Anchor Bay for doing it anyway? It is cool to say that, and it’s hard for me to watch, but the filmmaking is beautiful and fantastic. It would’ve been interesting to do it in Japanese with subtitles.

Robg.: I love the episode, but that’s my one critique. I wonder if it would’ve worked better had it been in Japanese with English subtitles.

Well, the thing is most of the Japanese cast did it phonetically. They didn’t speak English! And I was in the room where they’re doing these rehearsal sessions. We had an American coach in there with them. It was tough! The dwarf character? It was really tough for him to talk. English is a very tough language for Japanese people.

Robg.: I couldn’t speak Japanese phonetically! (Laughs)

The next one that we did with Norio Tsuruta, DREAM CRUISE, it was a small cast but virtually all the Japanese on that one spoke very good English.
Robg.: We were talking about this on the way here, but we totally forgot that you wrote THE FLY 2! We fucking love that movie!

I tried! I’ve learned to say “thank you very much.” But there was a lot of rewriting done and I was really proud of the original FLY 2 script. It was political, it was about anti-abortion and all this stuff. It got changed a lot. It was turned into a teen horror movie by the studio, which was very popular at the time.
Robg.: It was very gory!

It was very gory, but Chris Wales, the director was a make-up FX guy! So he leaned in that way anyways.

Robg.: All that stuff with Martin Brundle growing up and discovering his father’s work, it’s all brilliant stuff.

I share credit or blame with the Wheat brothers and with Frank Darabont for that. Because that’s where Frank and I met! I left to direct CRITTERS 2.
Robg.: And you wrote CRITTERS 2 as well?

David Twohy wrote the first draft, then I did the drafts after that. It’s a movie I’m proud of. It’s not something that everyone would love! It’s a sequel to a low-budget rip-off of GREMLINS! (laughs) But as that, I’m really proud of it! There’s really good performances, the photography and the FX are good. For a $4 million dollar movie?
Robg.: Lin Shaye is in that movie!


Robg.: Well, I remember seeing it in theaters as a kid and being blown away by the little Freddy Krueger cameo. (Laughs)

Oh yeah, yeah. My favorite little funny moment is when the “critter” ball rolls over the farmer and reveals the skeleton. That’s a funny bit.
Robg.: Was it challenging working with a ton of “critter” puppets? I mean, now it would be all CG. I miss the old days of puppets!

You know, I didn’t want my first movie to be an FX movie, and so my first movie is not only an FX movie, but a really cheap one and with lots of kind of effects! Opticals, as well as puppets and puppets that look like puppets!
It was really hard, but the Chiodo brothers were great though. They were really great. We had a really good time doing it, I have to say. I remember running back and forth to shoot second unit, and the table top of miniatures with the critter balls. It was really hard, but it was really fun.

Robg.: It must’ve been fun just to kill them. Like the one with the tire?
Oh yeah! That was my Warner Brothers cartoon gag that I put in there. Same with the critter that had the eyeballs that go BOING! That’s my voice going BOING! (Laughs)

Robg.: Let’s talk a little bit about your relationship with Stephen King. The first thing you did with him was SLEEPWALKERS. That was the first thing he specifically wrote for the screen. You must’ve worked very closely with him on it?
Not at first! He had written the script, and I had met on it at the studio and Stephen had director approval. It was a great meeting, and they said “ok, there’s a formality of another meeting that we have to do, then we’ll get you working”. Well, they hired the other meeting. That director got hired. He went and re-wrote horribly the script that King had written. Arrogantly re-written a script that King had written to turn it into this stuff with the planet of the “sleepwalkers”. Nobody liked where he was taking it, and what are you going to do? Rewrite it so much that you lose Stephen King’s name? The purpose of doing it! After I had not gotten the job, they came back to me a couple of months later and wanted to meet with me. I didn’t realize that at that lunch meeting, they were starting me that day. They didn’t tell me that was happening, but they hired me that day and put me in an office. So, I worked at putting back as much King into the script as possible, and did a rewrite myself with that stuff. And had not met King, but he had seen PSYCHO IV and that’s the reason he approved me! Because of PSYCHO IV.
Robg.: Well done!

Yeah, he really liked that film, and didn’t expect to. Nobody expects to like a film with 4 in the title! Especially based on one of the great films of all time. So, we didn’t really work together so much as just over the phone. I would have an idea, and I’d say “Would you like me to write it?” And he’d say, “Well let me give it a shot.” And the next day, in the fax machine would be a few pages of great stuff! The only scene I can really take any kind of credit for is the mirrors scene, which was cut to shit to get an R rating.
Where you pan off the mirror onto the clothing on the floor and pan across them making love, and in the mirror is what they look like as sleepwalkers. That was something I had written. And then when the film was done, the ending didn’t really work, and King told me – he said, “You know, I’m not very good at endings.” (Laughs) That was news to me!
He came up with a new ending and I said “since we’re doing a new ending, can we please add an opening scene that explains the sleepwalkers?” People were kind of confused about who the sleepwalkers were and what they did. And so I wrote the Mark Hamill scene. “Look, we’re going to do a week of shooting, this will be half a day, just let me do this and start the movie with a bang.” And so that’s what we did. But… I first met King on the set for his cameo.
We had spoken on the phone up until then. He came out to do his scene with Clive Barker and Tobe Hooper, and that morning I was eating my granola on the set and broke my tooth! This was up in Franklin Canyon and my dentist was down here on Ventura Blvd. So, I had to rush down here, get a brass temporary cap on my tooth and go back up before King arrived to shoot his scene, along with Barker and Hooper.
Robg.: That’s so amazing. To be doing one of your early films and to be directing King and Hooper and Barker all in the same day.

Yeah! It was fantastic. And all of them have become really good friends, all of whom I’ve worked with several times.
Robg.: I can’t even begin to imagine the complexity of tackling THE STAND…

Neither can I! (Laughs)


It’s the hardest thing I’ve ever done, and I hope it’s the hardest thing I will ever do.
Robg.: How did you get involved with it? King wrote the script for this too!

King wrote the script, it was going to be a film project for years, they were going to do it as a 2 part feature film with George Romero. For like 15 years, they were planning on doing it as a feature. And then, ABC came to him and asked if they could do THE STAND. They bought THE STAND from him to do it as a mini-series. And he thought, ya know? Maybe this is a good idea. It’s such a big book. To break it down into movies, it just hasn’t worked.

Robg.: Was this before or after the mini-series of IT?

This was right after IT. IT was done right around PSYCHO IV, because Olivia Hussey had worked on both, so that was 1990. We shot THE STAND in 1993, and it aired in May of 1994. At first, I think they went to a couple of feature guys, big name directors all of whom didn’t want to do television, and Steve said “Is this something you’d be interested in if we get this going?” “Are you kidding?” I did have those thoughts too. I had finally broken into features, and the idea of doing television, I was hesitate about it… but it’s THE STAND!
So, when they finally went forward with it, King asked for me to be the director. The script was delivered to my doorstep, all 460 pages of it. I remember looking at it when I got home thinking… “What the fuck?” (Laughs) First of all, reading it and having to do it quickly! I did one script a day just so I could give it the attention of the 4 scripts. Yeah, it was massive. I mean, how do we do it? The producers were known for doing very cheap films, very low-budget films. King had been partnered with them on other things before. When you have a project, you just figure out a way to do it. Give me parameters and we’ll figure out how to do it within those parameters. We shot it in 16 mm to keep budget down. Saved maybe $300,000 dollars we didn’t have.
We shot mostly in Utah, because it’s a right-to-work state and had a lot of locations we could use. So, we shot one day in the Mohave, we shot one day with a 16 mm second unit camera running around Maine. We shot a couple of days in New York. We shot a week in Pittsburgh, where we shot most of the New York stuff. And we shot a couple of weeks in Nevada for the Las Vegas scenes. It was just so big, you could never, ever see the light at the end of the tunnel. It was a 100 day shoot. And the first 13 weeks were 5 day weeks. The last 7 weeks were 6 day weeks.

Robg.: Wow.
Almost nobody shoots 6 day weeks anymore. It used to be common practice on location to do 6 day weeks because what else are you going to do? Well, for a director, 5 day weeks are 7 days weeks, but 6 day weeks are 8 day weeks! (Laughs) It just was so massive that some of the parts were even cast on videotape while I was on location. I would sometimes go on a location that I’d never seen except in pictures before we got there, because it was so big! It’s 100 days of shooting.
Mike C.: What’s going through your head during all of this?

Well, the first thing is getting the script so it’s great. So that you trust the script. Then you have to forget about everything surrounding you. All you can think about is what you’re working on now and what leads in and out of it, and then just trust it if it works for the picture.

Mike C.: How do you stay focused on all that with 4 scripts and shooting out of continuity?
Well, you have to. You just have to, that’s all there is to it. You have a continuity person with you, you have your assistant director with you, and each department is trained to focus on the progression. This takes place over the course of a long time. Originally, we had cast Diane Lane to play the Shawnee Smith part, and she would’ve been great! But what we didn’t know was that she was pregnant. And she said, “Well, wouldn’t that make an interesting facet of this character?” And I said, “Yes, but we’re shooting 5 months apart from these 2 scenes!” (Laughs) “They’re 5 months apart! It takes place over a long period of time too so we can’t make you pregnant the whole time either.” So, everything impacts on everything else.
We originally hired Moses Gunn. He was going to play the judge. We weren’t going to get Ossie Davis to play with Ruby Dee because they’re so often teamed together, we thought it’d be great to get her to do this on her own. But Moses Gunn had come to us very ill. So, he was getting better, we shot one scene in the train station, that giant scene where everybody’s in the train station gathering and Stu Redman’s up front and they vote him to be the leader. Well, Moses Gunn shot just one shot of him in there, and he never got over being sick. He had the flu and pneumonia. We replaced him with Ossie Davis who was fantastic, and right after the film was done, Moses Gunn died.
So, the shoot was an eternity. Plus, all the post-production was done in New York. I was living in a hotel! I lived away from home for a year on THE STAND. So, it was rough! But… Stephen King was on the set for at least half of it, off and on. It has an amazing wonderful cast with whom I became really good friends. So many of them are people I still see and am close to and still cast all the time.

Mike C.: How was Stephen King on the set of THE STAND and what were some of the things he interacted on?
It was like a toy train set for him. It’s like the greatest train set. Never once did he ever say, “You know? You should do this.” He was very respectful and trusting. He just wanted to be there and watch. And I would often go to him and ask him “How about a line for this or that?” or “What do you think of this or that?” But mostly, he was just there to have fun and to watch. You know the scene out in the middle of nowhere where there’s a line of cars and you see the city burning in the background and Adam Storke has his guitar there. Well, Adam Storke is all by himself playing guitar and singing “Eve Of Destruction”. Well, me and Steve and Adam were all playing guitar and singing “Eve Of Destruction” in between takes! (Laughs)
It was just great. But, it was the hardest thing. The weather was always exactly the opposite of what it should’ve been. It was the bitterest winter there in a hundred years. And so, when it was supposed to be sunny and clear, it was raining and when it was supposed to be raining, it was snowing. It was just really bitter and difficult. I have a very light nature, but I got really cranky. Not with other people! Just the circumstances were incredibly difficult. Everything I had done up until that point was very small scale like SLEEPWALKERS or PSYCHO IV. Even CRITTERS 2 seemed like a huge movie to me, and then along comes this scene where we’ve got 600 extras out on the Vegas strip. It was just enormous! And it just didn’t stop! And it didn’t get any easier, it just got harder.
We spent the last days in Las Vegas. It was rough, but it was also so great. It was such a great script and such a great book. We knew we were doing something special, but we never thought that it would become the monster that it became. Supposedly it was the most successful mini-series ever. It had 50 million people a night watching, and more every night of the 4 nights. They just added on. It became the water-cooler show. It was the JURASSIC PARK of television.

Robg.: Anytime it’s on cable, no matter what point it’s on, I have to watch it.
Mike C.: At the age I was when that hit, it was such a big thing.

It was huge, it was huge. And everywhere you’d go, there were billboards. It was the one time when I was involved in something that was a phenomenon.
Robg.: And you’re responsible for my crush on Molly Ringwald. I never really had a thing for her like most people did in the John Hughes movies! But you dyed her hair jet-black and I gained an instant crush!

I’ll tell ya, she had done a movie for my friend Tom McLoughlin, a TV movie about someone who had gotten AIDS called SOMETHING TO LIVE FOR and she was just amazing in it and really great. Because all I thought of was the John Hughes movies too and we cast her because of SOMETHING TO LIVE FOR. She did a great job.
Mike C.: There’s another version of THE SHINING that you did with Stephen King. Obviously, Stephen was never really happy with Kubrick’s version. So, when he decided to do THE SHINING again, what was the original intention? Did he come to you and ask you to direct?

What happened was after the huge success of THE STAND, ABC came to him and said “What do you want to do?” And THE SHINING was what he wanted to do. He wanted to do a version of the book! Books and movies aren’t the same thing, and he knows that. But, part of the deal was that Kubrick had the rights. Kubrick got paid a lot of money for the rights to that. He got a million and a half bucks for the rights for us to do this. And part of the Kubrick’s deal was that King could not say anything critical about his movie…

Robg.: Although we all know what he thinks!
He’s on record all over the place on it. We weren’t remaking the movie. We were doing a mini-series, a novel for television.

Mike C.: So, you never had the pressure of “remaking Kubrick”?

No. As much as I love the Kubrick film now, when it first came out, I didn’t like it at all, because I went in there with the highest hopes for one of my favorite books of all time, and it wasn’t that book. So I didn’t understand it as a Kubrick film, but I really didn’t like it as adaptation of my favorite book.
I went in there naively thinking “We’re not doing anything to do with the Kubrick film. We’re making a mini-series based on the King book written by King!” And it was the best script I’d ever read. It was a fantastic script. In a lot of ways, even better then THE STAND. So human, so emotional. I was naive, because it didn’t even strike me until this moment - The very first person I talked to was Gary Sinise, asking if he’d be interested in playing Jack Torrance before it had even got finalized. And he said, “You know? I’d be hesitant about stepping into Mr. Nicholson’s shoes.” That’s when it first struck me! We went through a lot of actors who wouldn’t do it, because the first line of every review was going to compare it to Jack Nicholson.

Robg.: Yeah, that was pretty much the same deal with the Joker in THE DARK KNIGHT more recently.

Yeah, but… Heath Ledger’s performance is amazing.
Mike C.: So, what about the final product? How do you look back on the experience of THE SHINING?

One of my favorite things I’ve ever done. First of all, the production values, we were in one place for most of it. Well, a couple of places – a stage, a hotel. So, I was able to really use some filmmaking that I wasn’t in THE STAND. THE STAND was guerrilla filmmaking and I did everything I could, but we were rushed and on a much tighter budget with so many locations and so much cast that we were trying to just get it and put as much art into it as possible. But in the case of THE SHINING, I was able to really build some dread. I think that some of the filmmaking in there was much more sophisticated in the like. And I know a lot of fans, because Kubrick had made THE SHINING, they were going to hate it no matter what.
Plus, it was made for television. But I’ll tell ya, that last hour? It would’ve been rated R had it been theatrical. It’s scary and it’s violent. I have a hard time watching violence against women. And directing violence against Rebecca De Mornay wasn’t easy! But, it’s one of my favorite things that I’ve done. I had a really great, great experience. The producer was terrific. King was there for probably 2/3rds of it. He was writing THE GREEN MILE at the time. And every time he’d finish it I’d get a stack of pages and would be able to read it before it ever got published.
Mike C.: Any update on your next King adaptation, BAG OF BONES?

We are very close to happening. We have a great script by Matt Venne. He wrote PELTS for Dario Argento. It’s a really good script, we’re about to go out to studios, but we’ve already done some location scouting, so we’re real close. It’s one of the things that I’m most passionate about. I love that book. And I love the idea of a passionate ghost story. There have been a few in the past but not like this.

Mike C.: What is it about that one in particular?

This one, it’s just all about imagination and loss and heartbreak. I had lost my brother. I had lost family members to death, and the feeling that they leave behind – this one is about death and rebirth. It’s about passion, it’s about romance. It’s about things that aren’t necessarily the FANGORIA reader’s favorite thing, but it’s a grown up really scary ghost story. I love it.

Robg.: Can’t wait for it! Thank you again for talking to us, Mick!

Special thanks to Mick Garris for his time!

All Content Copyright 2008 Icons Of Fright.com.
No articles may be reproduced in any manner without expressed permission of Icons Of Fright.com.
Back to Interview Index