Published at: March 1, 2007, 12:58 a.m. CST by quint
Ahoy, squirts! Quint here, currently typing from the “Breads ‘n Cakes” section of The Food House in Shreveport, LA. Well, theoretically I’m somewhere in Maine.
This is my first of many days on the set of Frank Darabont’s adaptation of Stephen King’s incredible short story THE MIST. After a brief chat with Darabont and the Unit Publicist I have gotten the okay to write daily reports, so this is one of four potential reports and so far I’ve seen some great stuff.
I quickly found the set, across the street from a Casino no less, and made my way to the production office where I met with Juan, Darabont’s assistant, and Denise Huth, co-producer of THE MIST.
After some friendly words I was led to set.
On the way down I saw a room filled with tons of corpses. Obviously this was the KNB room, so I stopped in and found a familiar face, long-time KNB guy Gino Crognale who was painting up a leg wound prosthetic. A quick glance around the room gave me my first glimpse of a tentacle, unpainted. I also caught a glimpse of a bug, but more on those fuckers later.
If you’re not familiar with King’s story, THE MIST is about a small town in Maine that weathers a horrible storm. An average, everyday guy and his family (wife and son) are working to clean up their property, hit badly by this storm.
He and his son go to the town’s grocery store to stock up on supplies as a strange mist rolls in off the lake. As they’re in the store, with the good amount of the town’s residents fighting over emergency stock, the mist rolls over the town, concealing horrors you couldn’t expect.
There are two units filming right now. A Unit is the Supermarket and B unit is the stock room.
I decided to stop off at B Unit first for a few different reasons. One, my longtime friend, Greg Nicotero of KNB fame, is directing 2nd Unit on this film and for that reason I knew 2nd Unit would be the more likely to feature a creepy-crawly and my hunch paid off.
Those familiar with THE MIST know that the story kicks into high gear in this room, the store room, and I couldn’t imagine a more perfect introduction to my time here on the set than the image that hit me when I walked through the door marked B Stage.
All the walls have stacks and stacks of supplies, product from toilet paper to plastic-wrapped mounds of dry dog food. There’s a room off to the right, doorway covered with clear rubber strips. Next is a little caged area, chainlink creating a square room about 6X6 filled with wine boxes.
Past this is an open area and on the far wall a giant metal door, big enough to receive supplies. You know the kind that rolls up like a garage door.
And this is the key image… The door was open maybe 2 feet with thick, bright white mist on the other side, slowly inching in along the concrete floor.
This scene is our first glimpse at what insanity the mist conceals and I didn’t have long to wait to get my own glimpse at the Lovecraftian horrors.
The shot featured a tentacle reaching in, under the door and wrapping itself around the leg of one of the doomed characters.
The tentacle itself is pink, fleshy… like a giant earthworm, with almost segmented ridges. There is a departure from the novella in that there are no suction cups on the tentacle. Instead, the tentacle will open up, like a gutted shrimp, revealing some incredibly nasty looking sharp, black spikes, like teeth. I didn’t get a close up look at the open version, but I’m assured that there are little biting mouths on the inside, just like how the suction cups are described in the book.
The shot is a continuation of a 1st Unit shot of one of the characters getting a tentacle wrapped around his ankle, pulling his feet out from under him. I’m being purposefully vague on the identity of this person just in case we have any Mist virgins reading. Those Mist nuts out there know who we’re talking about.
Anyway, the shot was a close up of the tentacle fully wrapping itself around the leg of this person. The tentacle they brought out was about 5 feet long and controlled by cables. I can’t tell you how eerie and cool as hell it was to see the tentacle moving through the mist. They were starting the shot with the tentacle already most of the way there, under his calf, and the action was the tip of the tentacle curling around the poor bastard’s thigh.
Knowing I was going to come back very soon, I ventured to the 1st Unit on A stage, at the Super Market.
I was led the long way around so that my first glimpse of the supermarket set itself was the complete front. They built the whole store, The Food House. This is no Super Wal-Mart, no Sam’s Club, but a small town food store like I remember being all over the place in the ‘80s. They even built part of the parking lot and the backdrop completes the parking lot and gives a creepily detailed and three dimension view from the front of the store.
Walking in to the market itself I was shocked that it smelled like a real market. When I first was greeted by a grinning Darabont he told him I was shocked that the bread section, where video village was set up, actually smelled of bread. He said that aside from meat, fish and milk, everything else in the market was real. This would include a couple hundred loaves of bread, a few dozen packs of bagels, etc.
Darabont also said, “Feel free to wander around,” which was magic to my ears. I checked out the entire market, all eight aisles and even ventured into pieces built on, like the employee’s locker room and the rather sizable bathroom, which I’m told now features as the setting for a new scene with Mrs. Carmody, played by Marcia Gay Harden.
On the way back through the market I got my first glimpse at the main cast. Ollie, a manager at the Food House, will be an audience favorite, especially considering they cast Toby Jones (INFAMOUS) in the role.
I saw him standing next to the ice cream, wearing a long red apron with the Food House’s logo and name on the front. What was odd about this encounter is he was so nondescript in his actions that he literally could have turned a corner at a grocery store and seen him fiddling with the frozen foods.
I went back to the bread section and watched as Darabont blocked the first sequence I would see filmed in 1st Unit.
The front of the store has 5 check-out lanes facing the windowed front of the store. The lanes are all clogged with people, lines stretching back down the aisles. In these lines (or at the registers) are the majority of our characters.
Including Marcia Gay Harden in her Mrs. Carmody get-up. It’s not a tracksuit, like in the original story, but I like the change. It feels more right for the character. She’s now wearing a silk head scarf and very schoolmarmish dress and blouse. Harden looks fuckin’ mean. I like it. God, Carmody’s such a bitch… it’s gonna be great to hate Harden onscreen.
It was very interesting watching Darabont direct. I found out later this isn’t his usual filmmaking technique, but he shot this sequence very fluidly. When I saw Robert Altman film for a couple of days on THE COMPANY, he had a similar technique in which he had one of his cameras always floating, searching for a reaction he might use or an interesting angle or a lucky catching of the light.
Darabont’s technique here was more focused, but just as fluid. He has the cameramen from THE SHEILD operating the cameras, his secret weapon to be able to make a movie like THE MIST in 35 days.
So, they have specific beats to hit, but with so many characters they’ll float between these specific moments, knowing they have to get from point A to point B by the time this certain line is spoken, etc.
I sat behind Darabont when the first rehearsal went up and was a little confused at what was going on. He had 2 monitors in front of him, A and B cameras, and focus was off, they kept coming to people in the middle of a sentence, find their path to the actors were blocked by the extras, etc.
They cut the rehearsal and Darabont took off his headphones and sighed. “Wow. That was messy,” and he went off to talk to the cameramen.
The next rehearsal was better, the paths slightly clearer, the focus better and by the time they rolled their first official take (I say “official” because Darabont likes to roll on his rehearsals) you could see everything come together.
The sequence had damn near every cast member. Let’s run them down a bit.
David (Thomas Jane) – The lead character, everyman type. He’s a Drew Struzan-like poster artist.
Billy (Nathan Gamble) – The kid from BABEL plays David’s young son.
Amanda (Laurie Holden) – Pretty girl in the market. There’s a chemistry between her and David.
Norton (Andre Braugher) – David’s dickish next door neighbor.
Irene (Frances Sternhagen) – The sweet old lady from MISERY plays this character, a school teacher.
Ollie (Toby Jones) – Like I said before, Ollie’ll be an audience favorite. He’s a manager at the store.
Mrs. Carmody (Marcia Gay Harden) – Creepy religious zealot.
Sally (Alexa Davalos) – Check-out girl. There might be something between her and…
Jessup (Sam Witwer) – A young army man who enters the store, about to go on leave.
Jim (William Sadler) – A mechanic.
Norm (Chris Owen) – The bagboy who doesn’t have a good day.
I’m leaving out a few other characters, but those are the core.
The sequence starts with David, Billy and Norton waiting in the 5th checkout line, David with a cart full of food and Norton with a basket. Every time they were about to roll, Tom Jane would strike up a conversation with the kid (everything from shopping at Best Buy to fishing to the planets to dogs to peanuts) that would lead directly into the kid’s first line of dialog.
Two army men enter the store and the kid says, “Look, dad. More army people.” They’d walk in and Jane then struck up a conversation with Irene and a real estate lady about the storm that just hit and how bad they each were hit.
The kid tells the old school teacher that their boathouse was “smooshed” by Norton’s tree, which causes David to throw a look at the man.
This was the first big moment and A camera worked to catch the look Jane throws to Braughton, racking focus between the two men (Braughton in close-up and Jane behind him).
Irene goes on a rant about how the government keeps cutting funding and as she’s talking a few other things happen and in the various takes that went on through the day the cameras focused on those moments.
There’s a group of army people talking to an MP (military police ya’ know), being told their leave is cancelled, that something came up. There’s the two army guys that come in and a flirty look between the cute check-out girl, Sally, and Jessup as he enters. There’s a smile exchanged between David and Amanda, who is couple aisles down.
A police siren (usually represented by the AD saying “Siren!”) goes by and the crowd hushes, watching it go by. The MP tells his group that he’s going to the pharmacy next door and to meet him at his jeep in 5 minutes. As he’s walking out the town siren starts to go, causing worried looks to be shared between the people in the store and some of them to start drifting towards the glass front windows.
One take, Darabont got a bullhorn and when it came time for the town siren to go off. He let the loud beep go and damn near every crew and cast member had their fingers in their ears.
Speaking of crew members, I met an incredibly cute girl named Natalie around this time. She was a stand-in for Mrs. Carmody, of all people. I don’t know what it is, but I always seem to find hot stand-ins on these sets…
Anyway, that was the end of the first segment of the day.
Like I said, it was fascinating watching the cameramen fine-tune the sequence as it went along and pick up different people. There’s even a shot of Mrs. Carmody in line looking pissed off and bitchy.
I can imagine it saved them a ton of time because if they had set up the camera for every character, the scene would have taken 2 days to shoot. This way, they spent a little more than half the day shooting 3 or 4 pages of the script, then getting the reverse and covering it the same way, often zooming from medium to close shots within the take. I’m sure Darabont has an incredible amount of coverage for this sequence, all sorts of reactions to choose from.
During the filming of this sequence I noticed that Darabont was very energetic when watching the monitor. If he liked something on one of the two monitors he’d point to it like an excited kid at a zoo. He’d also give the thumbs up to the monitor he liked. It was great for me to watch because it told me exactly what framing he liked, what reaction he liked, what camera movement he liked… and what he didn’t like. In other words, I got to see which pieces from which take he was more than likely going to use.
It was around this time that I met Laurie Holden, who came and sat next to me, eating a lot of garlic. She’s fighting a bug… not in the movie (that comes later, heh), but a flu or cold or something and decided to down a lot of garlic.
We talked a little about SILENT HILL (she was the cop in the movie) and she told me they were going forward with a sequel, but that Christophe Gans hasn’t made up his mind whether he’d do it or not.
I decided to head back over to B Stage and see what was going on with Nicotero and the tentacles.
Nicotero had replaced the cable-controlled tentacle with a completely limp and floppy one, but with a monofilament wire attached to the tip of the tentacle.
Instead of trying to control the tentacle with cables they were going old school and when action was called one guy would be holding the tentacle end, just off camera, and pulling as another guy yanked the monofilament tight. With the limp tentacle loosely wrapped around the dude’s leg to start with, this action made it look like it slid up his leg and latched on in one quick motion.
They did this a few times then a clean plate was shot for Everett Burrell, the lead guy from CaféFX, who just did the digital work on PAN’S LABYRINTH.
There’s another set up where KNB’s Gino Crognale (you remember him from before… and you’ve probably seen his face and didn’t know it… he’s the face on the poster for HOUSE OF 1000 CORPSES) is wearing the pants and shoes of the unnamed victim. The camera is very low to the ground and the shot is of the closed metal loading dock door raising up, revealing the mist outside. When the doors open the mist slowly begins to creep in, glowing brightly. It is daytime, afterall, but since we were in a studio the light was artificial, a strong light set up on the other side of the door.
A few takes of that happen and I notice the store room now has a certain chill that wasn’t there before. I come to find out that it’s because of what makes up the mist. Frank Darabont’s THE MIST is made up of Carbon Dioxide and Nitrogen, which my buddy Kraken pointed out was like taking those compressed air bottles and turning them upside down and spraying it.
They quickly set up the next shot, which was probably the geekiest shot of the day, one that any fan of the novella is dying to see executed. The door is open about 3 feet and the outside a wall of white. Out of the mist comes the tentacle, slimy and gross. It was operated by cable controls again. This is the first appearance of the tentacle as it delicately probes the room.
When it worked well it looked a little like a snake in its movements, sweeping back and forth in the air, but in a slithery fashion. When it didn’t work well it looked clunky and lifeless. But they got some great moments, including one which really made me smile… It’s a small thing, but I love it. There’s a point as the tentacle is searching around the room where the tip curls up and delicately feels the lip of the door, pats it for a second or two before going back to it’s probing of the interior of the storage room..
When they got this shot I left to go back to A stage, see what was going on there.
It’s the same sequence, but with each take focusing on someone new, the steadicam flowing through the people, the dozen or more cast and the at least 50 extras in the market. There was one take that had both cameras focused just on David and Billy (Jane and his son if you’ve forgotten) through the whole run of dialog, catching every one of their reactions to everything, sometimes racking focus to someone else, but always racking back.
There was one that focused on Irene which began with her reading The Castle Rock Times. That’s pretty damn geeky cool for us Stephen King nuts. Even cooler is a closer look revealed the top story being about the bad lightning storms the night before, relating directly to this story, but the bottom two headlines were: “Rabid Saint Bernard traps woman and child in Pinto” and “Sheriff seeks help from psychic in ongoing murder investigation”. Yay for in-jokes.
Lunch was called around this time. I spent most of my lunch with another visitor to the set, comic writer and artist Eric Powell, known for creating THE GOON. I was embarrassed to say that beyond a recognition of the name and visage of The Goon I was ignorant of his creation. But he was a good guy to chat with. I’ll have to pick up his stuff at Austin Books, the best comic shop in Austin, when I get back.
I also had a few words with Darabont, a short chat about the flick. He told me he commissioned Drew Struzan to actually create the poster David is working on at the beginning of the movie. The poster itself is actually another nod to King fans… I won’t say much… just that it involves a door, a man on a beach and a rose. I can’t wait to lay my eyes on it.
When we got back from lunch they shot the MP arriving, his jeep driving forward maybe 2 feet (it was in between the front of the store set and the backdrop). After they got this shot, which worked surprisingly well… that backdrop was incredibly creepy how much depth it had… they then turned around, getting the reverse of the sequence I saw before lunch.
In this turn-over, I went back to the tentacle room and boy… what horrors did my eyes see. The poor bastard who only had his leg wrapped up last time I saw him now had giant chunks of flesh removed all over his body and a tentacle, or maybe multiple tentacles, wrapped around his torso. He was under the door, half in the store room and half in the mist.
When Nicotero called action they raised the guy on wires, his knuckles white clutching the lip of the door for dear life. After some struggle, he falls to the concrete, his back hitting with a thud. He turns over and reaches a bloody hand out at the camera. This was my favorite shot of the day. So dramatic, so fucked up. The camera was on the floor, so he was reaching almost right to the lens, tentacles still wrapped around his bleeding torso as the thick mist wraps around his body until it obscured his face, leaving only his reaching hand sticking out of the mist.
Talking with Everett, he said that the reason they were getting clean plates (shots of the set without anybody in it… done for CGI effects) was to give Darabont more options. If he doesn’t like the practical dailies, then there’s always CGI.
Back to A stage.
After a bit of them getting more shots of the sequence I’d seen for most of the day, Darabont got all the coverage he needed and went to block the continuation of that sequence.
Following the town siren going off there’s a bit of discussion on what’s going on. Irene asks if there’s a fire. Another character, an elderly black man, tells her it could be because he saw some downed live electrical wires off of Kansas Rd. David double checks this information, being that’s the road to his home, where his wife was left behind.
A group of teenagers at the front of the store spot the mist coming up the road and point it out. Of course, the mist doesn’t exist on this set… yet, so I’m sure that’ll be an effect saved for later on location.
The crowd by now has broken out of any semblance of lines. They’re more of a mass now, gazing out the glass storefront.
The cameras were only set up to record the crowd, so I didn’t see this new character today, but I’ll probably see this continued tomorrow… But a man with a bloody nose runs up to the door as the mist rolls in completely.
He runs into the market and screams, “It took John Lee! I heard him screaming!” and yells at them to shut the doors.
When the bloody nosed man appears, David protectively scoops up Billy into his arms, the child asking his dad “What’s that bloody man?”
In between takes Jane approached Darabont with a suggestion, that one of the extras “jostle” him, bump him hard in an effort to get up to the front of the store. It would add another layer of the chaos that is brewing. Darabont agrees and on the rest of the takes Jane got bumped.
I was introduced to Jane around this time. He was very friendly and laid back. He knew of the site and talked a lot about his comic book, Bad Planet. He said he only released one issue in an year, but that was because his penciler went a little cuckoo and he had to find a new person for the job. He did, but wanted to do the entire run of 5 or 6 books before he started releasing them again, to ensure an uninterrupted run.
Jane also suggested people be on their cell phones in the background, trying to get a signal. Nothing to focus on, but something to see. Darabont said he could incorporate that thought in a later scene.
Around this time I got to overhear a great geeky conversation between Frances Sternhagen and William Sadler where they traded TALES FROM THE CRYPT stories as they had both starred in episodes of the TV series. It wasn’t so much stories about filming, but descriptions of the episodes they were in.
Sadler came up to me a few minutes later, after another take which had the floating cameras focus on him and his reaction to the mist rolling in, saw my notepad and asked me who I was. I introduced myself as a writer for Ain’t It Cool News. He didn’t seem to know the site, but he sat down and struck up a conversation, joking that I could interview him anytime. He said it sarcastically, like why in the world would I want to talk to him at all.
I was like, “Dude… Do you know who you are?” I fucking love DEMON KNIGHT and brought that up straight away. But I mean… the dude was great in THE SHAWSHANK REDEMPTION, BILL & TED’S BOGUS JOURNEY (“Whether you’re a king a lowly street sveeper, soon or later you dance vit de reaper!”) and he’s a great villain in DIE HARD 2.
We talked a lot about Demon Knight and he seemed very happy to talk about it, proud of the film. He said that he rewrote the whole scene where he describes the history of the key because the way it was written didn’t make any sense to him, so after a phone call with Joel Silver, he got the okay and rewrote the sequence.
The day ended on a funny note. One of the extras behind Thomas Jane was doing his damnedest to get noticed and get noticed he did. To call what he was doing overacting would be an insult to Sharon Stone. I feel a little sorry to have gotten so much personal amusement from this guy, but his panic face was like a guppy out of water, mouth opening and closing. And he was almost dancing he was moving back and forth so much.
Wow… that’s a lot. I hope it’s readable. I am now back in my hotel room and I’m so tired. I’m waking up in about 7 hours to go back to set, so hopefully what’s above works because I’m posting it as is.
I leave you now with a great quote from today. Darabont had to ask what day it was and when he was told it was Wednesday, he just shook his head and said, “I’m in a Twilight Zone of my own devising. Rod Serling could be up my ass I wouldn’t even know it.”
That made me laugh anyway. Be back tomorrow with Day 2!