Adapting to horror: an interview with Mick Garris, pt. 2

mick garris


During the first portion of my interview with Mick Garris, we discussed his lifelong affinity for the macabre, his fantastic series Masters of Horror and his friendship with Stephen King.

This concludes my career-spanning discussion with Mr. Garris.

You can check out part one of our chat here

MANGLED MATTERS:  I particularly really liked your adaptation of The Shining.  I thought it was masterfully done.

MICK GARRIS:  That script that King wrote for the mini-series is the best script I’ve ever read, certainly the best script I’ve ever been offered.  It’s interesting because, when we were making The Stand, he had said things that made it clear that he didn’t respect screenwriting nearly as much as he respected fiction writing and I think The Stand might have been a turning point for him.  I remember having those discussions with him because I’ve been writing for decades now, but I made my career starting as a screenwriter before I started directing and everything was Shakespeare to me (laughs)

I really think the way that we approached The Stand, and the way he approached The Stand was an evolution in his attitude about screenwriting and realizing it was as literary as the books were.  It may be a template or a blueprint, but it is literature and his scripts are literature.  The Stand script was fantastic and that The Shining script was absolutely amazing because it was allowed to go deeper because it was such a smaller scale than The Stand.  I think he credits those experiences to him growing and finding the respect for screenwriting.

MM:  You’ve recently delved into some television work, with Ravenswood, Pretty Little Liars and Witches of East End.  That’s some pretty cool stuff.  With all of your experience in adapting novels and collaborating with other filmmakers, were there any extra challenges to conforming to a television series as opposed to collaborating on a film?

MG:  Absolutely.  Well, first things first, there’s already an established group of characters who have found their way.  The audience knows the characters way more than you do.  Being a director-for-hire, you come in for a week of prep and then you shoot, you do a few days of your cuts and then you’re gone.  At first, I was a little cowed by it because I hadn’t really worked on anybody else’s TV series other than my own or Spielberg’s in years, so there was some hesitation about it.

But, you know, a filmmaker works when there is interesting stuff offered.  These were work-for-hire where I didn’t have any emotional investment until I actually got there and started working.  The hours are such that you either love filmmaking or you don’t.  If you don’t love it, the hours suck- you’re working twelve to fifteen hours a day, every waking moment of your day.  But these were incredibly talented people who had this thing going.  These shows are aimed at a younger audience, and that’s something I really liked about taking on the challenge.  I started writing professionally thirty years ago and a year later was directing, so I’ve been doing it all this time and nothing keeps you fresher than working with young, creative people and shooting for a young audience.

Most recently, I was up in Toronto doing a series called Shadow Hunters and I did the second episode, so it had not been fully established yet and none of the sets had been built upon the first episode’s.  I was able to contribute a lot of the visual style to this series because we were shooting these sets for the first time.  You know, it’s a very different animal than being a producer and writing director.  It’s being a special guest director, but because of my background with King and other work I’ve done, I get lucky and have a chance to show what I can do rather than be a traffic cop on set, like so much television asks of their director these days.  These days, technically, television is more successful and creative than movies.  There is a lot more fantastic television out there than movies at this point in time, in my humble opinion.  But writing for younger audiences was a lot of fun to get back to.

MM:  Speaking of younger audiences, you played a big part in one of my all-time favorite films, Hocus Pocus.  I don’t know a single person in my age range that don’t just gush about that movie.  It’s one of the coolest movies I have ever seen.  Did you and David (Kirschner, co-writer) have any idea at that time that you were creating something that would be so long-lasting, something that would become such a huge cult classic?
MG:  You know, at the time, we originally pitched to Steven Spielberg.  Once he found out that Disney wanted to do it, Spielberg backed away.  Thinking, ‘here’s a Halloween story that Disney or Spielberg were going to do’, we thought it did have a chance to be something really special.

But there’s a strange thing about working in Hollywood.  David had come up with the idea and I was the first screenwriter on the project.  Screenwriters are like laundry, you know- you use them, get rid of them and get a new one (laughs) So I did a couple of drafts and was really excited about it, and then they decided to bring in another writer, and another writer.  I wrote my draft eight years before the film was made.  Then when they made it, they hired another dozen writers after me- literally, a dozen writers- and then, they kind of ended up going back to what I had written.  There were changes, but that’s why I have three credits in the title.

One of the biggest changes was, my tone was a little darker.  Not overly dark, but it wasn’t as child-friendly.  It was also about twelve-year olds as opposed to teenagers.  To me, the age of twelve is much more formative than sixteen and especially at that time of year, Halloween, where there is so much magic and mysticism to be discovered and made up.  The changing of your life at twelve is a bit more fascinating to me, but they made the movie and when it came out, it wasn’t a huge hit but it did OK.  It wasn’t a top grossing film or anything, but over the years, it became so broadly embraced.  Especially with females!  Every woman I meet from age fifteen to fifty brings up that film (laughs) It’s so great to have been a part of something that people have embraced.  I was the first writer on it and that’s such a great thing to see- these characters that David and I created being embraced so much so long after the film was originally done.



MM:  You are an incredible prolific interviewer.  You are widely considered one of the best interviewers in the industry.  Of the people you’ve yet to have a chance to interview, who would you like to sit down and chat with most?

MG:  Well thank you so much for the kind words.  You know, I’ve never interviewed King.

MM:  Wow.

MG:  He would be great.  I’ve never thought of it until just now.  You know, all the work we’ve done together and how close we are, there’s never been a time where I’ve sat down and interviewed him.  There will be news in the next couple of months about some more interviews that are going to be happening.  I can’t talk much about it right now, but it’s coming together nicely and I look forward to sharing the information with you all as soon as I can.

MM:  Can you share any details on any projects you are currently working on?

MG:  That’s the problem with this career! (laughs) There are so many things that look like slam dunks and then they don’t end up happening.

One thing I’m working on is a series, I wrote the pilot, for a series based on a Stephen King story.  I can’t tell what story that is but this would be a weekly series and there have been some passes and some interest, so I’ve written the pilot and outlined the first season.  So we’ll see what happens with that.

I’m also really hoping to work on the anthology project with an international twist, something I’ve been working on for years.

I’ve also just started work on my eighth book, so I’m keeping busy! (laughs)

MM:  No rest for the hard-working.

MG:  You know, I was actually supposed to be in Mexico right now, working on a project in Spanish, which I do not speak, and the rug got pulled out from underneath the project.  I am at a point in my career where I just want to keep evolving and stretching my boundaries, do things I’ve never done before.  I mean, a Mexican horror movie in Spanish!  And it really went for the throat, way more brutal than anything I’ve ever approached.  It was an opportunity to try on a new face and I was really excited about it but now it’s been postponed, possibly indefinitely, so you just never know.

MM:  Well I, for one, believe the horror world could use as many Mick Garris projects as it can get.  We need more fans of the genre creating the films that we watch.

MG:  (laughs) Oh, there are a lot of Mick Garris haters out there, too!  But really, if you work in a public field, you must have rhinoceros skin or get out.  If you pay attention to the good reviews, you have to respect the negative ones, too.  All you can do is give the best effort you can under the circumstances you are given.  That’s a big reason I also write books, because there is nothing between me and the audience but imagination.


Garris with Stuart Gordon at the Stanley Film Festival



2 thoughts on “Adapting to horror: an interview with Mick Garris, pt. 2

  1. Great work, Justin! Mick is a terrific guy. Looking forward to seeing new work from him. With Mr. Craven gone, it’s important to honor the masterful writer/directors we have left who are thoughtful about their work and its effects.

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