An Oral History Of Frank Darabont’s Gut-Wrenching Stephen King Adaptation

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  An Oral History Of Frank Darabont’s Gut-Wrenching Stephen King Adaptation

Frank Darabont (writer/director): “The Mist” called out to me for a number of reasons. One of which is I just thought it was such a potent comment on not just our society, but all societies. We’ve got this very, very complex technological society and we’re becoming more and more dependent on that, by the way. And the more and more we do, the more and more there is this backlash of mistrusting science.



The more we progress into the future, the more there’s going to be a part of society that wants to go back to a very primitive, very superstitious [time]. And “The Mist” really spoke to that. It really spoke to the thin veil between how we feel when the lights are on and everything’s working fine, and when suddenly we’re back in the Dark Ages.



What’s scary to me is all it takes is one massive solar flare that comes directly at us instead of off into some other direction of space, and totally knocks out our technology and puts us back into the Dark Ages. If that happens, we’re not going to be having a conversation like this on [the internet]. We’re going to be out there shooting deer for our dinner and trying to grow turnips in the backyard.



It’s such a thin barrier between cooperation and savagery and I just thought it was such a brilliant callback to things like Rod Serling’s great “Twilight Zone” episode, “The Monsters are Due on Maple Street,” or “Lord of the Flies.”



The whole theme of the movie is in this scene where Tom says, “Yeah, when the machines are running and everything’s fine, okay.” Although even that’s getting a little sketchy these days. But turn off the lights, and no lights, no machines, no rules, you’ll see how savage people get, and that really struck as true to me. I love when an unpretentious genre movie will actually present a significant theme like that. It’s under the donuts and candy, there’s actually a very nutritious meal and I love when that happens.



When I was reading it, somehow I just pictured one of those low-budget movies that we grew up all watching. In my case, pre-video, late at night usually on some creature feature. It just reminded me of that sort of ’50s, early ’60s, low-budget, usually black and white, grainy kind of horror movie. It just felt like one of those things. And that appealed to me greatly as well. So it’s a fascinating balance to me between very high-brow and very low-brow elements. And nobody does that better than Stephen King.



So, Darabont reached out to the prolific author about getting the rights to bring “The Mist” to the big screen. Having already impressed King with his adaptations of “The Shawshank Redemption” and “The Green Mile,” King agreed.



Darabont: We did the typical dollar deal, and if it gets made, [King] gets more dollars of course.



Darabont is no stranger to King’s “Dollar Baby” program, in which he’ll allow aspiring filmmakers and good friends to option his short stories for a single dollar. The writer/director’s first project was an adaptation of “The Woman in the Room,” which ended up putting Darabont on the map in Hollywood and kicked off the whole “Dollar Baby” idea.



Darabont: It was, I think, the first time that Steve had ever done that. It was one of the very first, if not the first. His “Dollar Baby” policy is that it’s not to be released commercially. I wanted to make a short film, and try to release it commercially, so the dollar thing turned into an actual option. And it was actually a lot of money for me at the time, but I didn’t want to insult the man, so we offered him $5,000 for that. If I’d offered him $2, I’m sure he would’ve said yes anyway, but I didn’t know him that well at the time. Té Negro Frutas del Bosque



Then years later, years later when I actually had a pretty thriving career, I get something in the mail from him, and I open it. It’s that check, that $5,000 check. He never cashed it. I never realized he didn’t cash it. And he had it framed and he signed it, “Just in case you ever need bail money.” I just thought, I mean, that’s just such a great example of the man’s generosity and his heart. I can’t say enough about him.



I don’t believe that the writing [of the script] was a huge job. I think it was more of a pleasure than hauling a sack of bricks on my back, which some writing is. It never particularly came easy to me. My trick, my secret superpower is I could sit in my chair from dawn till dusk. I could write 12, 15 hours a day. I can’t do that anymore. Even my knees won’t take it, let alone my brain, and I have a life now! [laughs]



Back then, the secret to writing is sit your ass in the chair and do it every day and don’t leave unless you have to pee or eat. If you have to eat, do it at home. Don’t go out to lunch with friends. Eat and then sit back in the chair again. There’s a tremendous amount of work ethic and discipline involved, for me anyway.



I always say to people who’ve asked in the past, if it doesn’t come out perfect the first time, don’t feel bad because it doesn’t for me either. In fact, my first draft always sucks. My first draft of any page of any script, I look at it and it’s a mess. As I go along, breaking new ground, I always start every day with revising the previous set of pages. That gets me warmed up. It makes those pages nicer. So as I start to read them, they don’t suck so much. They actually start to look pretty good. Just don’t feel like you’re failing if it’s not the end result right off the bat.



I always had to hack at it for draft after draft. By the time I handed in a first draft of anything, I was ready to shoot the movie because I’d probably revised that page, any given page, 20, 30 times. Sometimes in big ways, sometimes in small ways. For me it was always the discipline. To capture the theme or capture characters or some nuance in the story, that just comes, honestly, as a result of sitting there.



My advice to writers, people who want to be writers and who really want to do good work, is don’t think that you get to wait until this inspiration shows up, because it’s not going to.



Stephen King has described his muse as a guy with a buzz cut, wearing overalls, smoking a cigar and saying, “Get to work, a**hole. You got stuff to do today. Get to it.” And I have to agree with him. If I waited for the airy fairy muse to drop magic fairy dust on me until I’m like, “Oh boy, I’m going to write something great today,” I never would’ve written anything.



The inspiration does not come first. It actually comes during. When you’re hacking through the underbrush of the story you’re trying to write, that’s when it shows up. That’s when it happens; sometimes in little drips and drabs and sometimes in a big way, but that’s when it happens. You don’t get inspiration without it. The inspiration follows perspiration.



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