Science-Fiction Filme) Dear Mr. Garris. I think you don't need to be introduced. Movies like CRITTERS 2, THE STAND or QUICKSILVER HIGHWAY (many here love this movie). You have also written many scripts for HOCUS POCUS or THE FLY II and you are very active as a producer. A lot of movie maniacs know the films you´re involved. Could you please tell us what you did before you come into film business? Why have you chosen the way of being into directing/ writing/ producing?
Mick Garris) I’m amazed that anybody, in Germany or elsewhere, has a fondness for QUICKSILVER HIGHWAY, as very few people here are aware of it. But thanks! I got started in the film and television a bit late; I was hired for AMAZING STORIES at the age of 33. Before that, I started writing fiction at the age of 12, wrote music and film reviews and interviews for underground newspapers at the age of 16, interviewing the likes of Rod Serling, Janis Joplin, and Jimmy Hendrix as a teenager. I worked in record stores and was a singer-songwriter in an all-original progressive rock band called Horsefeathers. Our first album came out last year, 50 years after we formed.
And I just love film. I always have. And the genre has always had a strong pull on me, since I was a single-digit aged kid. Directing, writing, and producing chose me. I was very lucky to be able to pursue my dreams of making movies, never knowing that it was even a possibility for me.
SFF) As far as I know, you wrote about bands or movies for many different print media in the 1970s. Did you take a lot from that time for your future passion? What could you take away from that time?
M.G.) It was a great foundation for finding out how various creators whom I admired worked. I learned that everyone approaches their art in a different way, and the best of them, whether they make music or movies, have an independent spirit, and a way of seeing the world a little bit differently from the crowd. The best ones have developed a unique artistic voice.
SFF) It seems that you were already a multi-talent at that time. For example, you were the singer of the band "The Horsefeathers". I must confess, I don't know this band at all. I absolutely have to catch up. How did you go from being a singer to making films at that time?
M.G.) We formed in 1970, and pursued a path that didn’t make us a living, but provided us with 7 or 8 years of creative expression and a unique musical path and a lot of fun. We never were able to make a label deal, but were constantly recording demos on our own. Recently, we took a bunch of the best of them, added new vocals and instrumentation, and released them as an album called SYMPHONY FOR A MILLION MICE. And recently we’ve started recording a few new ones, which we are releasing slowly, one at a time. It’s great to go back to a place we haven’t been for decades.
Being a singer didn’t lead in any way to the film work, other than being a source of creative output, and doing the unusual kind of music that we did, it also instilled in me the love of creating unexpected turns of story and character that I hope have found their way into my film and television work.
I just never gave up writing, because I couldn’t. Not to be a success, but because I’m a writer, and writers write. And I was lucky enough to get a great agent who was enthusiastic about my work, and got it in front of Steven Spielberg, who liked it enough to hire me to write for AMAZING STORIES back in the 80s. I was very lucky.
SFF) Looking at your filmography, it seems perfectly clear that you are hugely devoted to fantastic film. What fascinates you about these different genres?
M.G.) They are places that are the best place to use the tools of cinema, to tell not only real stories, but to represent the surreal as well. You are able to not just shoot reality, but expand upon it, visit dream worlds, use metaphor about the human condition and what’s going on around us without being preachy or pedantic. It’s a way to address our fears and extinguish them or enjoy them!
SFF) Where did you get your inspiration from and do you have some basic preparation for a movie?
The people who inspired me most in my youth were Ray Bradbury, Richard Matheson, Rod Serling, Alfred Hitchcock, a lot of the names you might expect. I really look up to so many of the creators in our world: Guillermo del Toro, David Cronenberg, Steven Spielberg, Jennifer Kent: people who have a unique cinematic voice, and are able to tell their own stories their way. People who have a filmic voice unlike others.
SFF) Your movies had often a dark matter and some kind of scary atmosphere. Do you process personal opinions/ fears in your movies?
M.G.) Definitely. I don’t have fears of the supernatural, but I fear for the safety and hearts of loved ones. I have experienced a lot of losses, from losing two brothers and a sister, both my parents, and several friends. Each of those losses deepens you, as a human and as an artist, and it refines your fears. Rubber and CGI monsters don’t scare me, but crippling illness and loss do, and my work in more recent years reflects that. I’m interested in the pain that comes with death, and feeling something more than jump scares can provide. I call it Emo Horror.
SFF) What do you like the most: producing, writing or directing?
M.G.) Well, I produce mainly to protect myself, or to bring together amazing people in a project to protect them, as in the case of MASTERS OF HORROR and NIGHTMARE CINEMA. But I love writing and directing both, maybe even equally, but they are entirely different animals. I do enjoy the solitude of sitting in my office and creating stories and characters all by myself. But I also love the very opposite social requirements of directing, interaction with a cast and crew of creative people who surround you.
SFF) What is your opinion about education to become an expert in directing? Is there any requirement or talent you need to have next to enthusiasm?
M.G.) Well, you need commitment and you need to understand the tools of filmmaking. When I started, I knew a lot about movies, but not about moviemaking. When you’re new, you rely on your director of photography to help you choose lenses and lighting patterns, but the more you know of the technical side, the more you will understand how best to relate an emotion to the audience through cinematic means. I never went to film school, but I was lucky enough to write for AMAZING STORIES in the beginning, and watched my scripts be shot by Martin Scorcese, Joe Dante, and Robert Zemeckis, among others. The more you know about the tools of cinema, the more you can translate thought to images. You really need to be a sponge. And the tools of cinema keep changing, you need to love movies and stay current with them, and if you’re lucky, even get ahead of what the technology offers. But the most important thing is to tell a strong story with realistic, complex human characters that the audience can identify with. A great story with interesting characters that isn’t filled with showy filmmaking is always better than a great-looking empty film.
SFF) I did an interview with Chris Walas. we also talked about THE FLY II. He told me and I quote: "We use the wonderful possibilities that Cronenberg's film offered to make a venerable follower. But the studio did not like us. They only wanted a teenage movie, so I decided to make this movie less than monster movie. He was not as emotional as the first part, but I think the fans still love him." You wrote the screenplay for this movie. What do you say to that statement? Were there really many changes?
M.G.) I think he’s right. But I was the first writer. The studio didn’t let my original story become the film. It was a frustrating process, because we had some great ideas, but the new head of the studio had a completely different idea of what the movie should be. To the studios, movies are for and about teenagers, and that doesn’t interest me. There were three screenwriters on it after I left to direct CRITTERS 2, and things changed a lot. I wish we’d been able to do the more adult story I had in mind.
SFF) Then can you please explain what the original story was?
M.G.) Originally, Veronica (Geena Davis from the first part) is persuaded by a religious group not to have the child aborted. This group has a secret training center where children are raised to excel mentally and physically, unaware of what little Brundle is capable of. They are in the process of building a Christian army. But Brundle Jr. grows up fast and escapes in search of his mother. And all hell breaks loose
SFF) Let's move on to the film THE STAND. A film that I love divinely. The book is an enormous work. How did you prepare this behemoth project in the 1990s? How do you approach such a realization?
M.G.) First of all, thank you. The most important thing you can do is trust the script. King’s screenplay was a behemoth of 460 pages, and it was brilliant. Going over and over it, and trusting it, was the best preparation we could have. But there were three months of planning, sitting with the director of photography, the production designer, the cast and casting director, and with King, finding our way to doing the book and the screenplay justice. I knew we had a great script, and if we just stuck to figuring out the best way to shoot it, to heighten the tension and suspense, to illustrate the dreams cinematically, constantly moving from location to location, we’d be okay. We shot for 100 days, and it was the longest, most difficult job I’ve ever had, but we had an amazing cast and crew, and we were able to stimulate so much creative enthusiasm and love for the project that everyone gave much more than they had to to the production. It was an amazing experience, and I was really, really lucky it all worked out the way it did.
SFF) What always fascinated me was the production design. Nelson Coates was mainly responsible for that. What exactly was the artistic brief for this project? How do you begin to design an apocalyptic world?
M.G.) One major stumbling block was the budget. Figuring out how to do that was really crucial. We wanted it to take place in a very real world and yet, make the dreams dreamlike, but with a lot to say. We didn’t build very many sets, and the ones we did, like Mother Abigail’s home in the cornfield, was hampered by having to shoot it on the stage. We imported tons of real cornstalks from Florida, and they were all dead and brown by the time they reached the set in Utah. So I made the decision to embrace the artificial theatricality of it, and really pushed the dreaminess of it harder than the reality of it. Sometimes, not having enough resources makes you tap your creativity to find reservoirs of imagination you didn’t realize you had, and unlock what you can do. Again, almost all of the movie was shot on actual locations, so finding really interesting and deep locations to shoot the film really gave us a lot of production value that we wouldn’t otherwise be able to afford.
SFF) The cast in this film is just wonderful. Even the cameos like Kathy Bates or Ed Harris. What criteria did you use to select the actors?
M.G.) Kathy Bates had just won an Oscar for her role in MISERY, and King asked her if she would do it. The producer had worked with Ed Harris before, and we got him for two days. But our casting director, Lynn Kressel, came up with brilliant ideas, and all of us, from me to King to Lynn to friends and agents, helped create a memorable cast of more than 125 actors. The ones that brought something surprising to the role were the ones that were easiest to cast. Molly Ringwald, Rob Lowe, Ruby Dee and Ossie Davis all brought something very special to it, but Gary Sinise was really pretty new to us, and blew me away in OF MICE AND MEN. The first actor we read was Matt Frewer, who was the first actor to read for a role in it, and blew us away with his combination of insanity and pathos. He truly brought tears to our eyes in his audition.
SFF) According to Imdb, Jeff Goldblum was also involved in the film. But only his voice. Is that right?
M.G.) No, it's not true.
SFF) THE STAND is one of many Stephen King adaptations you directed. You can never please everyone, so there were always critics or fans who didn't like one or the other film adaptation. What do you think about this perennial theme that you can never make a literary work 1:1 as a film?
M.G.) Well, I think it’s bullshit. Think of the many classic movies made from books: from FRANKENSTEIN and DRACULA to PSYCHO and LET THE RIGHT ONE IN. But not all movies can or should be made into movies. But King’s books are very cinematic, and the best of the adaptations are as good as movies as they are as books.
SFF) Do you have a project you always wanted to do or are there something in progress we can enjoy in the future?
M.G.) I’d love to adapt my novel SALOME and my novella FREE into movies. And Clive Barker and I are currently creating a new anthology TV series based on all new original stories that Clive has written just for this.
SFF) I held up with the most important question to the end: Which of your films was the most difficult to realize and why?
M.G.) That’s easy: THE STAND. It was huge, it was complex, we shot it in six states, over 100 days, mostly in the elements, and when it was supposed to rain, it was sunny, and when it was supposed to be sunny, it snowed. There were 126 speaking parts, we often shot on two locations a day, and we were constantly moving. It was a huge machine, and new challenges faced us every day. EVERYTHING about making THE STAND was difficult but that which doesn’t kill you makes you stronger, right?
SFF) Right. Dear Mr. Garris. I thank you immensely for taking time doing this interview and wish you all the best for your future movie making.
M.G.) Thanks, Till. Cheers.