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Capone Interviews Frank Darabont!

Hey, everyone. ”Moriarty” here. I haven’t seen the final release version of Frank Darabont’s THE MIST yet, but Frank mentioned to me in e-mail last week that he tightened it up from what I saw, and that he’s really pleased with how it turned out. Quint did a great job with his interview with Frank, and Capone’s follow-up makes an interesting counterpoint, and it turns out, they made better use of their time with Frank that I originally knew:
All the prologue you need for this interview is right here. That was Quint's interview with Frank Darabont that he posted last week. Once we realized that we both had the opportunity to talk with Darabont on his whirlwind, nationwide press tour, we decided to make this something of a two-part interview with (hopefully) no overlapping questions. Instead of one 20-30 minute interview, you get an extended, two-part piece that probably amount to more than one hour of conversation with one of the coolest filmmakers around. I remember first spotting Darabont's name as a frequent writer on “The Young Indiana Jones” television series and as one of the legion of writers on NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET 3: THE DREAM WARRIORS, as well as early scripts for THE BLOB remake and THE FLY 2. But since becoming a director, he primary focus has been on adapting off-the-beaten-path Stephen King stories (THE MIST and THE SHAWSHANK REDEMPTION were both novellas; THE GREEN MILE was a serialized set of short books). I also obsessed over the fact that Darabont directed an episode of the “The Shield” last season, an experience that completely shaped the way THE MIST was made. Since Quint spent so much time on THE MIST set, that his perspective on the finished product (which he had not seen when he spoke to Darabont) allowed him to talk about details of the work I knew nothing about. Please do read his piece before this one to get the complete experience. I think you'll be really pleased with then end result of our time with this fun and geek-friendly individual. Enjoy the hell out of this… Capone: First of all, thank you for letting Ain't It Cool double dip, as it were, in interviewing you. Frank Darabont: Sure thing. My family lived in Chicago when we first moved to this country[from France, although his parents were Hungarian refugees] on the immigrant side of town. I lived here for the first four years when I was a kid and then we went west, so I don't know Chicago as well as I ought to. Capone: I guess I have the bonus of having seen the film, so we can talk a bit more about the ending, obviously in vague terms. I don't want Stephen King coming after me; I know he's very protective of your ending. FD: Well, bless your heart. And if you're with Ain't It Cool, you're a geek after my own heart. What name do you use on the site? Capone: I write as Capone. FD: Oh, you're Capone! Holy shit! Okay, you're a celebrity Capone: Well, I may be internet famous. I'll take that. FB: Yeah, you write good stuff. There are a few folks who write for the site, Drew certainly, you, Quint. You're the guys I tend to read. Capone: If you add Harry to that list, we tend to do the bulk of the writing. Harry just put up a great review of the movie last night. FH: And Harry, of course. Bless his heart. Harry's enthusiasms are really fun to track. Capone: After reading all of the set reports that Quint filed, I think the obvious first question is: Is it tough directing a film with this annoying internet reporter watching your every move? FH: [laughs] No! Actually it was cool. The truth is, I really love having visitors on the set because it takes me…even though I don't really have much time to hang with those visitors--it's not like it's a garden party--but it's nice to have somebody from the outside. It reminds me that, although it's exciting, the process is of trying to get the stuff on film every day, that there's the outside world and there's a light at the end of the tunnel. I had Eric Powell, who does [the comic book] The Goon, he's the writer, artist, creator of The Goon, out here. He's become a really good friend, and he visited the set for about a week. He was one of the guys shaking the shelves during the earthquake scene. So I dig that. I had lots of great visitors during THE GREEN MILE. I had Spielberg come down. I'm dropping names like crazy, but it's wonderful to have those kind of visitors on the set. [Artist] Bernie Wrightson was there virtually every day. C: One thing Quint couldn't talk to you about when he interviewed you last week was the end of THE MIST. How long did it take you to get to this version of the ending? People have asked me if the ending is different, and I say, it's not different, it's just longer. FH: Exactly. It goes a little further. It's been at least 10 years I've had this ending in my mind. And, in fact, it is very much based on a sentence in Steve's story. It's there, the seed, it's very clearly planted for that ending, which is part of the adaptive process, finding those little seeds that he plants that I can turn into a narrative component of the film. That sort of thing really helps. I try to find those clues and those hints. I call it connecting the dots of his story, and capitalizing on them in the adaptation. Best example of all is the James Whitmore character in SHAWSHANK REDEMPTION, who was a pretty significant component of the film, and was never even actually on stage in the story. There's one little paragraph in the book where Red, the narrator, says to the reader, “I remember an old con named Brooks Hatlen, who got paroled and couldn't make it on the outside. He died in an old folks home.” Well, that was a very important seed there. For what it helped illustrate thematically, I took that paragraph and fleshed it out and actually added the character to the movie. So that stuff is in there, and the two things being different languages, things do, by necessity, adapt. Things do evolve. Capone: Even thought you had nothing to do with this other film, your MIST ending makes up for the happy ending that was tacked onto CUJO for sure. FD: [laughs] Yeah, yeah. I also love the European cut of THE DESCENT, which is the ending…it's not that the somewhat happier ending in the U.S. cut invalidates it as a terrific film, because it is a terrific film. It's just that it feels so much truer to me as a work of horror, and I dig that. I always dug THE NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD ending, which felt like…I remember when I first saw that at some revival house years after its initial release. I think I saw it in the mid-1970s in a theater projected, and I remember just getting kicked in the head by that movie. And I thought, Wow this movie is about a lot of stuff more than just the surface of “Oh we're trapped, it's scary, and there are zombies outside.” It really, boy, Romero just pulled one of the more potent endings in the genre out of the hat box with that one, and I've always loved that. Capone: Let's talk about bigger meaning. Even thought the story “The Mist” is fairly old, the idea of this religious war going on in the store and this mob mentality taking over, that's very current and you play that up. FD: It's a timeless thing going back to Greek tragedy. It's never not relevant, but you're right, it more relevant and timely now than ever. And it gives you a reason to want to make the movie really. I always hesitate to talk about this stuff because it makes you sound pretentious and it's certainly not meant to be. On the one level, it's meant to be a really cool, intense, scary creature feature. But if it were just that, I wouldn't have wanted to adapt that story. What it does give is something somewhat subversive, which I think all the best horror is. Really, it's an examination of people in a pressure cooker. What does a climate of fear make you do? What mistakes does it compel? How far off the precipice do we sail? Which speaks to the ending as well. I just find that absolutely fascinating, because we've been nothing if not living in a pressure cooker of fear and the exploitation of fear, the fear of fear so far in the 21st century. That seems to be defining our behavior, so that makes it really fantastic material to dive into. Capone: There's a great line in the film--I don't remember who delivers it--where someone says, “It's only been a couple days.” Or something to that effect, commenting on how fast people have been turned into religious zealots by Marcia Gay Harden's Mrs. Carmody. FD: That's Laurie Holden's line. “It's only been two days.” And she's shocked. And this may piss off some of the arch-conservatives who read the site, but I've been shocked at how fast things have changed because you've added the ingredient of panic and fear. If you told me five years ago that we were going to have torture as part of our policy, I would have said, “This is America, dude, this can't happen.” But it does, and it's another thing I find particularly fascinating, not to turn this into a political discourse… Capone: Some of the best horror is. FD: Some of the best horror is, though. Yeah, it's very sociological. Hey, it's the Serling thing; you can talk politics without actually talking about politics in a movie. You can tell a story where that stuff is there for those who want to extract it in the experience of seeing the movie. I always loved the way Serling was able to do that. He was a real humanist in his writing clearly, and that's why “The Twilight Zone” lives on while lesser works have kind of faded into memory. Those are still as vital as ever. But I dig that stuff. Capone: With your career so closely tied with Stephen King, do you find yourself tracking other King-related projects? 1408 or the “Nightmares and Dreamscapes” series as recent examples, just to see how other people are handling his material? FD: I loved “Battleground” from “Nightmares and Dreamscapes.” My friend said I got these Emmy discs, and you got to check out this story, and I thought it kicked ass; it was awesome. Yeah, I do. I pay attention to everything that is King. I've given, much to my regret, short shrift to 1408 this year because I've been so damn busy that I really haven't had any chance to see any movies this year. It's been…we started prepping the movie in January for coming out in Thanksgiving. Talk about a compressed timeframe. Capone: I did notice that it seemed like a ridiculously quick turnaround. FD: Oh yeah. Super-quick turnaround. I'll state this for the record: Bob Weinstein has truly been our Medici and our patron, because he's the only one who had the balls to say, “Wow, this is some dark stuff; let's make this.” I had other people offering me twice the budget on the condition that I change a few elements, particularly the ending of the movie. Instead of doing that I came to do it for Bob for half the money, but then I was able to retain the original vision of the movie I wanted to make, which is more important to me. Part and parcel to that is, yeah, man, you're going to have to shoot it really fast and put it through post very quickly because the dollar only stretches so far. I thought, okay, I'm kind of been looking to do this anyway. I've been looking to do my guerrilla filmmaking thing that I never really got a chance to do. And indeed it's part of the aesthetic of the horror movies that I really love, because some of them were made very quickly with limited resources. I thought, okay, don't be scared of that aesthetic; embrace it and let's turn it into a positive. Let's make into something to celebrate. And I gotta say, man, we shot this in six weeks. 37-day shoot, six weeks and a couple of days. And I watch the movie and I scratch my head and thinking, “How the hell did we shoot this in that amount of time?” Even though I was there, I'm still not quite sure how we pulled it off. I remember one day, we shot eight pages. That's a TV schedule, man. Capone: And I was going to mention that. You brought in the crew you worked with on your “Shield” episode. FD: My secret weapon. Capone: It's one of my all-time favorite shows. FD: Mine too. Capone: And I was really happy to see the episodes you did, and even happier to see that you'd pulled some of that crew in to make THE MIST. You probably couldn't have done it any other way. FD: Absolutely not. If I'd been the guy I'd been before, the kid who grew up watching Stanley Kubrick movies and has this very painstaking approach, very classic filmmaking approach to things, I never could have shot it on that schedule. And I knew that going in, and that is why indeed I went and did that… well, one of the main reasons I did that episode of “The Shield.” The other reasons are, I love the show. I'm like you, I think it's thrilling stuff, and I'd gotten to know through Deborah Aquila, who's one of my dear friends and my casting director, I'd gotten to know [“Shield” creator] Shawn Ryan, because she had put the ensemble of that show together originally. And Shawn said, “Well, if you're a fan of the show, you can always come direct an episode if you like.” And I thought, Wow, that sounds like great fun to me, but it also sounds like great course work and a great way to bone up on my intentions on how to shoot THE MIST. I believe in doing the leg work and the course work before you actually have to do your final. And indeed that experience worked out so well, I had so much fun directing that show, and I loved working with Billy [Bill Gierhart] and Richie [Richard Cantu], who are the camera operators. These guys are brilliant at that in-the-moment, improvised camera work, find-the-moment kind of documentary style that I'd intended. I said, “Guys, you, Ronn Schmidt, the D.P., come on your hiatus, please come make this movie with me.” And I also took Hunter [M. Via], who's the editor, and Alison [Young], who's the script supervisor. So I had this core “Shield” crew, and it really did make possible what I needed to accomplish here in terms of time and money. This is a rather ambitious thing to make for what we made it for and in the schedule we did. Capone: Despite how your affiliation with the INDIANA JONES franchise turned out, are you excited that the “Young Indiana Jones” series are coming out on DVD now. FD: Yeah, absolutely. That was a fantastic experience, I have to say. I was one of seven writers on that show. We did three seasons of material, and it was at a time early in my writing career where I was getting to do a lot of action movie rewrites as a script doctor, and I was ever more well paid as that went along. But I slammed the brakes on that, and went and did the “Indiana Jones” series instead, because at that point I thought, “Okay, I can write squealing car tires as well as anybody, but what I really want to do is get myself in a venue where I can write more character-driven stuff. So I got to blow some stuff up as a writer on that series, but mostly it was a very character-oriented thing, again, sort of course work for writing SHAWSHANK REDEMPTION, because I knew that was coming in my future. I wanted to expand my vocabulary of what I know how to do. That's another reason I love having done THE MIST. It expands you're vocabulary. There are more tools in the toolbox now, and I think that's a really rewarding and thrilling thing, when you get out of your comfort zone of what you know and try something else completely different, and THE MIST was really an opportunity to do that with a tremendous amount of immediacy to shooting this while you're in your instinctive flow, in a way that more careful filmmaking doesn't allow. With this, there isn't time to over think, second guess or re-think anything. You've got to make a judgment call, and you go with it. It's a snap-judgment way of making a movie. The plus side of that is that you do learn that your instincts are okay and that you're not going to screw it up to badly. But it also infuses an energy into the film that is definitely a more heated, energized kind of movie than my previous films. Capone: Is FAHRENHEIT 451 definitely going to be your next film at this point? FD: Fingers crossed, knocking wood. I've wanted to make that since I was nine years old. Capone: Is Tom Hanks actually involved in that officially at this point? FD: Tom loves the script, and we're talking about it. We're trying to work out whether it's possible for him. I have a feeling that if he didn't have anything else going on in his life, he'd jump right in. But, lord knows, he's a busy guy. Capone: He may have one or two things going on in his life. FD: Yeah, absolutely. And right now, the truth is that the strike is casting a lot of things into uncertainty because it's not like you can say, “Okay, I'll be there tomorrow.” You really have to plan your year out in order to be able to take part in something. And when you can't plan your year out, it's hard to say, yeah, 100 percent, it'll happen. So right now that's all in flux and up in the air. Capone: I don't know if you saw that Shawn Ryan wrote an article for “TV Guide” this week about how they are just about to shoot the very last episode ever of “The Shield.” And he can't go on the set for that event; he can't go to the wrap party. But he's willing to do it for the sake of his union. Still, it breaks my heart to hear that. FD: I'm well aware because one of our leads in THE MIST is Laurie Holden, who is playing a pretty major role in this final season of “The Shield.” So I've been hearing from her, and she has to fly back to L.A. to do one more day of filming right now. And I've been hearing from her about what a bummer it is that Shawn Ryan, the guy who created this whole thing, can't be on the set. I think everybody's a little depressed because they're wrapping up a landmark television series, and the guy who's responsible for it can't be there. It's kind of a drag, but I admire Shawn's conviction. It's a pretty impressive thing. Capone: Again, thank you so much for doing this. FD: Thank you, yeah, it was a great pleasure, man. How fun. Capone

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