Writer/director/producer Frank Darabont takes on his third Stephen King project with the horror film, The Mist, starring Thomas Jane, Marcia Gay Harden, and Laurie Holden. Darabont’s previous King projects earned him three Oscar nominations (two for The Green Mile, one for Shawshank Redemption) however Darabont doesn’t believe The Mist will be noticed by Academy voters. “The genre very seldom gets that kind of attention so I'm tending to doubt it,” laughed Darabont. “Really, the intention and purpose of the film is not quite in the pocket of that sort of thing so I don't think so. Hopefully though it just thrills audiences and does the job it set out to do.”
What has your relationship with Stephen King been over all these years?
“Well, it started off with a short film that I made in my early 20s based on one of his stories. I just sent him a letter asking permission and not really expecting much to come of it. But as it turned out, he had a very generous policy of granting rights to short stories to young filmmakers. That's kind of where it started. We got to be very good friends really as of '94, the year that Shawshank came out. The short film dates back to the early '80s though.”
So once you started making features, you've been friends?
“Yeah, that's when we really got to know each other. It's been a tremendous privilege to get to know him and get to be friends with him, a side separate really from the professional relationship. I really consider him a great friend. We trade a lot of very funny e-mails.”
What's so adaptable about his work?
“Well, he's a master storyteller. The guy is just a visionary storyteller, truly one of the greats. I think he's going to be remembered as one of the great authors. But his strength, his muscularity, really comes from the character-driven stuff that he does. I think for people who aren't regular readers of his, people have a certain perception of the trappings of horror, the trappings of the genre. But he always delves a hell of a lot more deeply than that, which is one of the reasons I think he helped bring horror into the mainstream really. I think before King, it was more of a niche literary form. After King it became very widely accepted, and that's because he brings a great variety of storytelling value to what he does. He never writes to the genre. He kind of brings the genre with him into his work. He had a huge impact. I think it's possibly easy to underestimate it now at this late date, but before King you never saw housewives reading horror novels on an airplane. After King you saw everybody reading that kind of material, so he did a lot to popularize it.”
So Saw owes a lot to Stephen King?
“I think everything owes a lot to Stephen King. I don't know about Saw particularly. I never saw it, no pun intended.”
Common wisdom is ‘Don't show the monsters.’ How do you show them without ruining it?
“You’ve got to play a little bit of hide and seek. At a certain point, Stephen King himself has said, 'You've got to put on the scary mask and go booga booga.' But I think the Spielberg approach, which is show when you absolutely have to and be somewhat coy the rest of the time, is really the way to go.”
How did you create the CGI creatures when we've seen everything now?
“That was a months-long process that I got into with my good friend Greg Nicotero who is kind of a legendary makeup effects artist with KNB. It's his company. He's the first guy I called and we got into it together, kind of spearheaded that effort, and brought some really wonderful artists onboard. Because we have a common language, Greg and I grew up with the same influences, we're very conversant with the genre. We know a lot of what's been done before and we were very consciously trying to not design creatures that owed something to somebody else's movie or somebody else's design. It's not easy to do of course because so much has been done, but I think we struck a really terrific balance of representing what Stephen King wrote but not making it feel like somebody else's movie, somebody else's creature design.”
Was the fog also CGI?
“No, only in a couple of shots was the mist a computer graphic effect. Mostly it's all practical.”
When did you know this was your most satisfying filmmaking experience?
“Oh, I knew going in and even before we started because I had decided to embrace a much faster and looser style than I've done before. That can be really terrific. It can be really exhilarating and in some ways liberating, because it gets you out of your comfort zone of what you know and what you've done before. You're trying on a whole different approach really, so I was very eager to do it even before we started shooting. The shoot just reinforced the pleasure I was having. We wound up shooting actually very, very fast. It's like a 37 day shoot.”
Can you adopt that going forward?
“Yeah, absolutely. It depends honestly on the material. I don't think that this sort of fast, loose documentary approach would have been applicable to, say, Shawshank or Green Mile. Depending on the needs of any given material, I would certainly not hesitate to do it again. Only when appropriate though.”
Why did you change the ending?
“Well, I didn't really change it so much as add to it. What I did was add something that was conclusive. Even Stephen King recognized that, for purposes of a film, a more conclusive approach might be best. He would ask me time to time through the years if I came up with an ending yet or not. Actually, I came up with this ending based on something that's actually in Stephen King's story. It felt like a natural extension of what he was doing.
I wanted him to read the script once I was done with it. My big question to him was, 'What do you think of the ending, Stephen?' He was really delighted with it. His response to me was that he loved the ending and wished he'd thought of it, which felt like it put me on some pretty solid ground. Obviously when adapting somebody like King, somebody who's work you really admire, you don't want to do something that doesn't please the author. Just on a personal level, that meant a lot to me.”