2007 was such a good year that Frank Darabont’s The Mist – a really old fashioned (in the best possible way) horror movie with an ending that blindsided most people – sort of got lost in the shuffle. Now it’s hitting DVD and the folks who missed it the first time through will get a chance to see one of the bravest and best horror films in a long while, and the folks who saw it in theaters will have the chance to see the film as the black and white experience Darabont always wanted. The Mist is the kind of horror movie that I really like – it has something to say AND it has monsters killing people in delightful ways.
I’ve only spoken to Darabont on the phone, but from those interactions I have to say that he’s high on the list of people I’d like to actually meet and sit down with. He’s smart and yet humble, and he’s truly a fan in the best sense of the word – someone who loves film, and genre film, without being mindless about it (in fact check out what I think may be a little bit of a swipe at Grindhouse in this very interview!). This past weekend I finally got to see the documentary on the new Blade Runner DVD, the one that features yours truly jawing about the movie, and one of the best parts is that I’m sharing a documentary with none other than Mr. Frank Darabont.
The Mist hits DVD next week – order your copy from CHUD right now!
General audiences might look at The Mist and think it’s
you getting into the horror genre, but CHUD readers will know that this
is really you coming home. How does it feel to be returning to horror?
It’s really fun. Capital F fun for me. It’s not like I’m coming back in
my heart – I never really left in that sense. But to be able to come
back and play in the genre sandbox for a while is really great.
Another thing people who only know you from the films you’ve directed might find surprising is how dark and cynical The Mist is, especially the ending. Where are you coming from right now that you can make a film as dark as this?
It’s hard not to be in that frame of mind lately, quite honestly, with
everything that’s happened in the 21st century thus far. Another reason
I really appreciated making the film is that it’s a great way to
express what’s on your mind. I’m not sure if I’m explaining this
particularly well, but they say that film is the best form of self
expression. I’ve always found that to be true, and right now I’ve got a
lot of stuff to express that’s lacking hope, if you will. It’s been a
pretty shitty century so far, and I’m not the only one it’s causing
enormous anxiety for, so to be able to express that in a film is a
great privilege. Yeah, that’s kind of where my head’s been. But also
directing a movie is no different from an actor taking on different
roles and expressing different things. Every once in a while you’ve got
to get the poison out as well. Even Henry Fonda played the most evil
villain of all time in Once Upon A Time in the West. You have to show different facets of who you are, and while I’m the sweet and optimistic fellow who made Shawshank and Green Mile and The Majestic,
it’s just that lately I’ve been wanting to say something else. I know
that I appear somewhat schizophrenic to the outside person, but it’s
just that I’m expressing a different facet.
I hope that’s not too artsy fartsy an answer! Every now and again
someone asks something like that I go, ‘Oh no, is this going to sound
pretentious or what.’
Was there ever a point where it was hard to get the ending past the
studio? You don’t have just a downer ending, you have a downer ending
and then a punch in the gut.
Just in case the movie didn’t bum you out enough! No, it really wasn’t,
at least not with Dimension and with Bob Weinstein. He always knew what
the movie was saying and always appreciated where the movie was coming
from. Obviously enough to pay for the thing. That was a pleasure, but
the real indicator here is the fact that I had other people wanting to
fund the movie – indeed, one guy was offering me twice the budget that
Bob offered… with the caveat that I change the ending. I remember
asking the guy what he thought the ending should be and he said, ‘I
don’t know… anything but this.’ I said, ‘That’s not really a
suggestion for an ending there, pal.’ In any event, the ending that I
had was the one that had ever felt true to me, that ever made sense to
me. It was the only ending that I felt wasn’t going to be a cop out. So
I walked away from that and ended up making it for Bob Weinstein for
half the money and had to accept that to get my version on screen I’d
have to do it for less money and a lot less time, and in a way that
became the pleasure of the challenge of making the movie for me. It is
a low budget horror movie, and some of my favorite ones ever came from
a place of reduced resources and very, very tight schedules. Some
wonderful things have risen from that, so I thought ‘What the hell,
let’s embrace the status of being a low budget horror movie.’
That was going to be my next question: is there something about having
to do the movie with that budget and in that limited time frame that
gets the creative juices going? When you have a problem you have to
solve it, you can’t just throw money at it.
Yes. There was nothing we could throw money at here. We had to find all
those clever solutions on how to get the job done, and when you’re
actually meeting that challenge it’s very much a thrill. It’s very much
a pleasure. Rather than pretending you’re making a low budget horror
movie but you have all the money you need, just do it for real. We’ve
seen some movies recently that were trying for that aesthetic and wound
up spending a lot of money getting there, and we just went ahead and
did it. I’m really proud of what we did and of the talented colleagues
across the board, from the cast all through the department heads and
the crew itself – everybody has to be on the same page and you have to
convince them that what we planned in pre-production has to be what we
do on the day so that they don’t go spending money they don’t need to
Before you actually had the chance to make the movie you had wanted to make it black and white,
and now you get to have that version on the DVD. What goes into making
a film black and white like this – is it a simple computer thing or is
it more complicated?
I always had it in mind that if this version worked, if it looked good
– you can’t just take the color out of every color movie – I had the
hope that was going to work out. I remember that the Coen Brothers shot
The Man Who Wasn’t There in color. Did you know that?
They decided to release it in black and white – the contract stipulated
that they had to shoot the movie in color but nothing about how they
had to release it. So now there is a stipulation in every studio
contract that you have to release it [in color]! But I thought what
they did looked so great and it gave me peace of mind about doing the
movie in color knowing that nowadays with DVD if it looks right you can
release a black and white version. That’s a cool alternative version of
the movie to do. What goes into doing that is… nowadays we’re not
really cutting negative anymore, we’re using DI, digital intermediate,
and that digital source serves as your negative and you time the movie
from there. What it means is every shot in the movie is [gone over] for
exposure, for contrast, etc etc. This is a process you do for color. So
[the black and white version] involved going back in to the lab with my
color timer and retiming the movie for the needs of a black and white
image, tweaking exposure and contrast throughout. It’s a technical
process and not as simple as… I remember reading one knuckle-head on
Aint It Cool News going, ‘Well, I can just turn the color down on my
TV.’ Okay, Jethro, you do that. In the meantime we’re going to time a
new version because it’s not enough to just bring the color down.
And that was a great thrill; my color timer is Keith Shaw and we’ve
worked together in the past, on all of my films, and we were in his bay
there, watching this thing in black and white, getting very very
excited about it. Especially when a shot in the movie looks like The Last Picture Show. Or another shot looks a little ragged, so it looks like Night of the Living Dead. We get excited about that sort of thing.
You’ve been trying to get Fahrenheit 451 going forever. You’re
optimistic about it this year, but my question is – why is it taking so
long for a classic piece of literature that keeps having great actors
interested in it to get off the ground?
You know, it’s really funny because I’ve been having the same
conversation with people who are in the business. We’re all kind of in
the same boat about what the priorities of the industry are becoming.
They’re looking for that blockbuster tentpole thing, whether it’s a Harry Potter knock off or another superhero thing. To get a regular movie made anymore? Oof. It’s tough for everybody. The problem with Fahrenheit 451 is
that despite the fact that it’s got lots of things exploding and lots
of chases, it’s a very, very smart movie. Well, no credit to me, all
credit to Bradbury – it’s one smart piece of material. A hard argument
to make with a studio is to make a smart movie. Castle Rock used to;
they used to look at the quality of a script and go, ‘Okay, let’s make
it!’ The studios are always looking for that marketable component that
they can hang their decision on. I had one studio head tell me that
they had a Paddy Chayefsky script that they didn’t greenlight because
they couldn’t market it to 12 year olds. That’s the hill I’m climbing.
It seems like that’s the real problem today – the marketing departments
are making all the decisions based not on what’s good but what they can
I think largely thus has it ever been, but more so now. Other than
Castle Rock the marketing departments were always making the decisions.
Now it’s more than ever, because the costs are more than ever. You’re
stuck with what they can sell versus what they like, what they think
will make a good movie. That’s not to decry the whole thing, it’s not
to say the sky is falling, but it is making it harder and harder to get
smart scripts made.