INTERVIEW

Frank Darabont


Posted: February 6, 2007

Lilja: First, let me thank you for doing this interview. Itís a real honor!

Frank Darabont: Thanks for having me!

Lilja: In 1983 you did The Woman in the Room. Can you tell me how that happened? As I understand it itís one of the first Dollar Babies, right?

Frank Darabont: In 1980, I was 20 years old, working many miserable low-paid jobs just to survive and dreaming of a career in films someday. During that time I was a theater usher, telephone operator...man, I can't even remember all the awful jobs I had back then. I even ran a forklift and did a lot of heavy lifting for an auction company that liquidated industrial machine shops. That was the year I approached Stephen King about The Woman in the Room, and I hadn't even had my first job in movies yet! But I nonetheless decided I wanted to make a short film from his story, which I thought was lovely and deeply moving, so I wrote him a letter asking for his permission. I was shocked that he said yes. (I found out later about his "dollar baby" policy, which shows what a generous man he is. I doubt The Woman in the Room was the first dollar baby, but I'm certain it must be among the first wave of those films.)

Let me digress to say that my very first real job in films happened later that same year, after I'd gotten Steve's permission to do The Woman in the Room. Chuck Russell hired me as a P.A. on a shitty no-budget film called Hell Night, starring Linda Blair. If you haven't seen it, I don't really recommend it. Quentin Tarantino keeps telling me he really likes Hell Night, but I keep telling him he's the only one. It was one of the cheesier entries in the "slasher movie" cycle. But if you ever do see it, you can check out my name in the end credits -- my very first movie job! "P.A.," by the way, stands for "production assistant," although I've always felt it could also stand for "pissant." It is the lowest job in movies, a gofer who runs around doing every crappy job they hand you and never getting any sleep. I made 150 dollars a week, which was horrible pay even back then. But it was my entry into the film business, and began my association with Chuck Russell. Chuck was a line producer on low budget films at that time, just making a living, which is how he hired me. We later became dear friends and wound up collaborating as writers on a number of screenplays, including A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors. That was Chuck's first directing job and my first professional writing credit, in 1986.

Anyway, back to 1980. I wrote Steve King my letter, he said yes, and it took me three years to make The Woman in the Room. It took a while to raise enough money (from some kindly investors in Iowa) to shoot the movie and get it in the can. But then I had to personally earn the rest of the money needed to put the film through post-production: editing the film, doing the sound, paying for the lab work, etc. By 1983 I was working as a prop assistant on TV commercials -- not great money, but it was enough to get my movie finished. I earned $11,000 dollars that year and spent $7,000 of it finishing my movie -- how I survived on $4,000 that year is something I still can't explain; to this day I have no idea how I did it. (The IRS was also quite curious...that was the only year I've ever gotten audited for taxes, because they couldn't believe anybody could survive on $4,000 a year.) All I can say is, my rent was cheap and I lived very frugally. I spent that entire year with a borrowed Moviola in my bedroom, editing the film. I had heaps of 16mm film piled all over the place. At night, I had to move all the piles of film off my bed onto the floor so I could go to sleep. In the morning, I'd have to move the piles of film from the floor back onto my bed so I could walk to the bathroom. Very glamorous!

But eventually the movie did get done, and we entered it for Oscar consideration in the short film category. There are two things we should correct: 1) It wasn't the 1986 Academy Awards, but earlier -- either '83 or '84, I forget the exact year. 2) More significantly, The Woman in the Room was not nominated...it was named in the top 9 out of the 90 short films submitted that year, but we failed to make the final cut of 4 nominated films. (For some strange reason, the common belief has arisen through the years that the film was nominated, but that is incorrect.)

Lilja: Did King comment on what he though about it? The Woman in the Room is a rather personal story to himÖ

Frank Darabont: He liked it. In fact, we used his quote "Clearly the best of the short films made from my stuff" on the video box. He did feel the character I added, The Prisoner (played by Brian Libby, who later played Floyd in The Shawshank Redemption) was a bit cliched, and I can't disagree. Steve's favorite bit was the dream sequence where the mom turns into a rotted corpse -- he loved that! Hey, give Steve a rotted corpse and he's your pal for life. Here's some trivia: that corpse originally appeared in Hell Night. (If I remember correctly, Linda Blair stumbles into a room at one point where a bunch of corpses are propped around a table -- it was a male corpse, but in my short I passed him off as a woman. Corpse in drag!) Some two years after Hell Night, I borrowed the corpse to use in The Woman in the Room from the makeup fx guys who built it. He wound up sitting in my living room for a few months. Sometimes I'd wake up in the middle of the night and forget he was there. I'd wander half-asleep out to the kitchen to get a glass of water and he'd scare the shit out of me, this big human shape sitting in the dark in my living room.

That dream sequence was something I also added to the story -- looking back on it, I guess I took a lot of liberties with Steve's material. I'm kind of surprised he liked it as much as he did. But he liked it well enough that when I approached him again in 1986 to ask for the rights to The Shawshank Redemption, he said yes. So spending three years busting my ass to make that short did pay off in a very nice way. It gave Steve a certain amount of confidence in me.

As for me, I look at The Woman in the Room now and wonder what Steve saw in it. The movie actually makes me cringe a little, as I suppose any work you did as a kid will make you cringe (unless you're Mozart). Honestly, it looks like an earnest but very young filmmaker at work to me. The result strikes me as pretty creaky and overly careful in its approach. I think I was really afraid of making any mistakes, so my approach to shooting and editing was cautious, to say the least. And it's slow! Yikes!

Lilja: He later gave the OK to put it out on video. Whoís idea was that? Yours? Kingís? Most Dollar Babies never gets out to the big public so it must have felt good.

Frank Darabont: That was always my intention, even when I first approached him for the rights. So, yes, I was a dollar baby in a sense, but I had worked out a deal with his agent that paid Steve some more money if I got video distribution. So he eventually made more than a buck, though it was still a very generous deal for us. Unfortunately, the video distributor we originally got into business with totally fucked us. The guy's name was Gary Gray (not the director, I hasten to add!), this bottom-feeder with no integrity who made a shitload of money on the video but never paid us a dime of it, even though we had signed contracts. Jeff Shiro, who made The Boogeyman (which was paired with The Woman in the Room on the video), got equally screwed. Of course I didn't have a dime to my name back then, so hiring a lawyer was out of the question. I don't know if Gray is still out there somewhere, but I bet he is. Any young filmmakers thinking of getting into business with him should run in the opposite direction. And Gary, if you're reading this: shame on you. I may track you down and come after you some day with a tribe of high-priced Hollywood lawyers shireking like crazed Apaches in an old Western, just to see the look on your face.

At some point along the way, the video got bought by Spelling's video releasing company. I'm not even sure how that happened. I imagine it was that original distributor trying to squeeze a few more bucks out of it. Happily, Spelling did have integrity, they do business in a straightforward manner, so money started trickling in for a few years. It was a pleasure all those years later to track down my Iowa investors and send them checks. That's all I ever wanted, to see them paid back. It took a while, but at least they got their money. I think I might have kicked in a few bucks of my own, since I was making a good living by then.

Lilja: Then 11 years later you did The Shawshank Redemption, which became a big success and nominated for seven Academy Awards. Itís also one of the most popular adaptations from a King story. Why do you think that is?

Frank Darabont: Well, it's the power of the story, for sure. Steve wrote a humdinger there, he hit that ball right over the fence. It has a tremendous humanity to it, which makes for the best kind of storytelling. I recognized it the moment I read it. And it works gorgeously as metaphor -- everybody who sees it can project their own trials and tribulations, and hopes for triumph, into it. I've often referred to it as the "Rorshach Test" of movies. People see what they want to see in it, even if they've never been to prison. It's a very potent experience that way, and that's all credit to Steve King. The man writes deep, and with that story he was writing deeper than usual. All I had to do was translate it to the screen and not screw it up. I'm probably making that sound easier than it was, but the task was made a lot easier by the fact that I had Castle Rock's complete trust and support. That's an amazing group of people at that company. Bless their hearts, because the level of trust a filmmaker experiences there is almost unique in this business. If I'd had standard studio interference and meddling on that movie, if I'd spent my time battling to defend my film against executives who wanted everything different, Lord knows how that movie would have turned out. Probably not so well. It would have been some crappy prison movie long forgotten by now. But I had Castle Rock, and they were just the best.

Lilja: How happy are you with that movie yourself? Is it fair to say that The Shawshank Redemption was your big break?

Frank Darabont: I'd certainly qualify The Shawshank Redemption as a big break. You can't get seven Academy Award nominations including Best Picutre and not suddenly be taken very seriously as a director. And that movie led directly to The Green Mile. Hanks, one of my favorite people in the world, saw The Shawshank Redemption and rang me up and said: "Hey, love your work, we should find something to do together. If you ever have a script you think I'd be right for, send it to me." That's quite a nice door to have opened.

And, yes, I'm delighted with the movie. I watched it again when we had our 10 Year Anniversary screening and DVD re-release about two years ago. And with all that time and distance, I was knocked out by how well the movie holds up. (I'm glad I didn't get the same feeling I got watching The Woman in the Room again!) You know, after a decade goes by, you (the filmmaker) don't really feel like you had anything to do with it, you just kind of sit there and watch the movie on its own terms. It's almost like somebody else's movie by then, you just get caught up in the story like any audience member. And I was very pleased with what I saw. It's that Steve King tale, man, it works a treat. But the thing that really jumped out at me was how great Tim Robbins was. I'd somewhat forgotten that. Everybody talks about Morgan Freeman, and of course he's just superb...I always hear how much everybody loves his narration...but Tim really carries equal weight on his shoulders for the movie working so well, truly. Don't tell him I said that, he'll get a swelled head.

Lilja: Then 5 years later you have another success based on a King book. This time itís The Green Mile, which was nominated for four Academy Awards. Why do you think your King adaptations are so successful?

Frank Darabont: Because when I recognize that a story is great, I try not to mess with it too much. I promise you, that's not a glib answer. That's why The Green Mile wound up being three hours long. I'm the first to admit that's not an optimal length for a movie...it's a lot to ask of an audience to sit for three hours...but if I'd made that movie two hours, it would have cut the heart out of Steve's story. It would have given us a mangled version.

Lilja: I just the other day listen to your commentary track for The Green Mile. Just how hard was it to talk for 3 hours straight?

Frank Darabont: That's when I swore I'd never make another three hour movie again! Sitting in that recording booth! We joked about that quite a lot. I swear, trying to keep commentary fresh for that long is a challenge. And I'm not one of these guys who just mumbles through a commentary and doesn't care if it's good or not, or if there are long gaps of silence. To me, it all has to be right, or I shouldn't be doing it. The way I figure, if you buy my DVD and are willing to give me three hours of your life to hear what I have to say, I better damn well say something worth your time and money.

So I think I might have set a record for time spent recording a commentary. Call the Guinness Book. The whole process, beginning to end, was about nine months. I don't mean nine months putting the DVD together, I'm talking nine months recording that commentary track alone. Of course I wasn't in there every day, but I did devote every day that I could spare out of my schedule. We should have kept a log of hours to say for sure, but I'm betting if we total it all up it's about three or four solid weeks of full-time work: recording commentary, working with the editor (giving him endless notes) to lay it in the right way, re-recording sections if they sucked the first time, re-editing to accommodate that, going back and filling in all the gaps and silences. I'm told most directors spend an afternoon or two in the recording booth, but I spent the better past of a year. I'm the first to admit that's excessive, but I figure it's my time and I want to do the job right. As I said, I owe the listener my best effort.

I have to say, the fine folks at Warner Video were really patient. I'm sure they were tearing their hair out, but they never showed it. At least not to me.

Lilja: All three King movies you have done so far has been nominated of numerous Academy Awards (The Woman in the Room was nominated in 1986 as best short film). Do you feel an Oscar-pressure with The Mist?

Frank Darabont: Again, let's clarify that The Woman in the Room wasn't nominated. That's a myth. I suppose I could just keep my mouth shut about it and let people think I'm cooler than I am, but that's just not in my vocabulary. Fair is fair, and it wouldn't be fair to the people whose films were nominated.

As for The Mist, no. I feel absolutely no Oscar pressure, because there's no way it'll be nominated for anything! It's just not that kind of movie! It's what I describe as a "nasty little gut-puch horror flick," and those just aren't on the Oscar radar at all. The only pressure I feel is to get the movie done on such a tight schedule and tight budget -- it's a real nut-cruncher from that standpoint. But I'm taking inspiration from Danny Boyle -- he did 28 Days Later with very limted resources, and that turned out great. He's my hero.

Well, then again, I suppose there is a slight chance for some nomination in the effects category, who knows? I'm sure my effects will be great, but we're not nearly as effects-heavy as the films that usually get nominated in that category, like Pirates of the Caribbiean or something. Cafť FX will be doing my CGI, and they're wonderful. My buddy Guillermo Del Toro turned me onto them; they did his effects on Panís Labyrinth. Which is an awesome film! A masterpiece! Everybody must see it! And Cafťís work was terrific.

Plus there's my pal Greg Nicotero of KNB Effects handling the makeup effects and designing end. Greg and I have been designing Steve King's "mist monsters" for months now, and having a blast! Greg's one of my best friends, I've known him for 15 years, and we're both monster kids from childhood. We both grew up reading Famous Monsters of Filmland and seeing every bad black & white movie we could -- and even some good ones. We've talked for years about wanting to design some cool monsters together. Now we've gotten our chance, and I think we've come up with some fantastic and original designs. Greg's been just amazing. It helped quite a bit to have the legendary Bernie Wrightson, also a great friend, contributing some design ideas. There's a reason he's billed as The Master of the Macabre -- he's awesome. Plus there are some other artists Greg uses in-house at KNB who contributed some wonderful stuff along the way -- like this young guy named Mike Broom. He's a hell of an artist, and I think he has a big future.

Lilja: Will your adaptation of The Mist make use of the monsters that Stephen King describes?"

Frank Darabont: It's all about the monsters! First: the monsters from another dimension that want to eat you. Second: the monsters you're trapped inside with, in this case your friends and neighbors you're trying to survive with, but who are going crazy with fear and pressure and might prove to be more dangerous than those hungry monsters outside. Like I said, it's a nasty little gut-punch horror flick, and one of those great pressure-cooker situations that King specializes in.

Lilja: I know you are working on more King movies and I wanted to ask you to comment on them, if you can. First out is of course The Mist. I know this one has been in the making for quite a long time and now youíre finally ready to starting filming. Can you tell me your planes for it and when we can expect to see it?

Frank Darabont: This one will be quite a change of pace for me...literally. It's a very tight budget and schedule, so it wil be the fastest shooting I've yet done for a feature. I directed an epsiode of The Shield last year to prepare myself for this...a very fast and loose style, all handheld, very liberating for me in many ways. I'm not aware if The Shield has aired yet in other countries, so you may not be aware of it, but it's just terrific -- one of my favorite shows ever, a very gritty police drama with amazing writing and an equally amazing cast. It makes Hill Street Blues or NYPD Blue look like Sesame Street. Its creator, Shawn Ryan, had been after me for a while to direct one because he knew what a big fan I am. Finally my schedule cleared and the opportunity was there, so I grabbed it. Doing the show was liberating, as I mentioned. Directing, for me, has always been a very precise and painstaking approach, like brain surgery. I jokingly call it "delusions of being Kubrick." Doing The Shield changed that aspect of it -- it's very fast and loose, more like playing jazz than performing a precise classical composition. If what you're used to as a director is more like conducting a huge symphony orchestra performing Beethoven's Ninth in perfect tune, then suddenly shifting gears into jazz can be wonderful. It's throwing caution to the wind. You suddenly don't care if you miss a few notes -- in fact, that ragged style is part of the attraction. Same with The Shield -- all the camera work is improvised as we shoot, rather than thought out by me far in advance. It's very immediate, very instinctive, very "in the moment." No time for second-guessing or doing careful math, just go go go, shoot shoot shoot! It's nerve-wracking to work that way at first, but I got into it very quickly and loved it. My intention is to adopt this style for The Mist. I can always go back to conducting Beethoven later, but The Mist will be jazz, stylistically different than any movie I've done.

Probably the smartest move I've made is to hire the team I worked with on The Shield to come do The Mist with me: the cinematographer, both camera operators, the editor, and the script supervisor. Their skills are very honed in this style after five years of working on that TV show, believe me. They're going to save my ass and make this schedule possible.

Lilja: I suspect that the cast has been selected since shooting starts soon. Itís already know that Thomas Jane is in it but can you reveal any other names?

Frank Darabont: Let's see...well, Laurie Holden, who was my leading lady in The Majestic and recently played the motorcycle cop in Silent Hill. She's probably best known to fans as Marita Covarrubias from X-Files. Gorgeous and incredibly talented. Very excited to be working with her again. Also Andre Braugher -- a hugely talented man, I've been a fan of his since Glory. Frances Sternhagen, who is a legend, will play Irene...folks may remember her from Starting Over, Outland, and Misery. Alexa Davalos...wow, a remarkable young lady, a stunning new talent. Let me be the first to predict she's going to have an amazing career -- remember, you heard it here first. Sam Witwer, a terrific young actor who played Crashdown on Battlestar Galactica. Plus a few of my stalwarts that I love working with again and again: Bill Sadler (Heywood in The Shawshank Redemption and the father of the two dead girls in The Green Mile), Jeff DeMunn (who's been in every movie I've made starting with The Shawshank Redemption)...and, hey, I just cast Brian Libby! The real hardcore fans will recognize him as The Prisoner from my Stephen King short, The Woman in the Room...plus he was Floyd in The Shawshank Redemption. It'll be great to work with him again.

Lilja: Some time ago there where a rumor that Michael J. Fox was going to star in it, was there any truth in that?

Frank Darabont: I remember that rumor! That was a persistent one! No, I've actually never met Michael J. Fox, nor had I ever gotten any indication of interest from him. But I am a fan. I was watching Back to the Future just last night...it's been all over satellite TV the last few weeks...love that movie, and love him. I'm very sorry he's dealing with the severe health issues he's been facing. He's very courageous. Nobody deserves that...except maybe the assholes in power in this country who are blocking stem cell research at every turn. Those preposterous, uncompassionate turds. God, if you're listening: let them get sick, we'll see how fast the arguments go away and the funding happens.

Lilja: The next one is The Long Walk. I just hear that you have option the film rights for it. How do you plan on realizing it? Some might say that itís just a bunch of kids walking and impossible to turn into a movieÖ

Frank Darabont: It is just a bunch of kids walking. And talking. And getting shot. That's why I love it. It's a very intense ensemble character piece, another one of those "people in a contained pressure-cooker situation" stories that Steve does so well and seems to specialize in. To me, it's an existential metaphor for our mindless obsession with war -- kids being sent off to die for no reason other than "just because." I don't think it's a coincidence that King wrote it in the shadow of Vietnam, though we've never really discussed that part of it, that's just my interpretation. It's a remarkable and pointed piece of fiction, especially considering he was basically a kid when he wrote it. In fact, is it true he started writing it in high school? I suppose I'll ask him, I've always wanted to know. Anyway, chances are The Long Walk is more of an art house film than what we'd consider a mainstream Hollywood movie. When I do make it, I'm sure the budget will be even lower than on The Mist...a lot lower.

Lilja: How far away is The Long Walk?

Frank Darabont: Hard to say at this point. I'll get there eventually. Just like I finally got there with The Mist.

Lilja: In the book Creepshow - The Illustrated Stephen King Movie Guide the author Stephen Jones said that you where (the book was released in 2001) planning an official adaptation of King's story The Monkey, probably for cable TV. Is there any truth to that and if so, whatís happening to it?

Frank Darabont: The same answer as with The Long Walk. The Monkey is a story I've always loved, but I have no idea what its commercial viability might be these days as a theatrical feature. It's gentle and old-fashioned Steve King storytelling, not Saw 2 or The Grudge. So maybe doing it as a cable film would be the best option available. I don't know, we'll see, maybe I'll be surprised. But I will get to it one day.

Lilja: Am I missing any King adaptation? Do you have more of them up your sleeve?

Frank Darabont: Steve and I have kicked the idea around of doing The Dark Tower some day. Man, I love those books -- they're glorious, Steve's magnum opus. But to be honest, it's merely been idle talk. I've told him the thought of adapting that saga makes me break out in a cold sweat, curl into a ball, and weep. It's just so metaphysical and trippy, so much of it almost impossible stuff to visualize on screen. Not to mention it's just staggeringly huge and massive! I don't think I'd even know where to begin! Hey, you thought The Green Mile was long? You ain't seen nothin' yet! I'm afraid The Dark Tower might make the expanded Lord of the Rings trilogy look like a short subject. As long-winded as I am, I'm probably better off sticking to Stephen King's short stories and novellas.

Lilja: What else are you working on? I read that you where involved in the 4th Indy Indiana JonesÖ How does it feel to work on something like that and then find out that they arenít going to use your script?

Frank Darabont: Pretty awful. It was a wasted year or more of my life, and I have only so many years to devote. I worked very closely with Steven Spielberg, applied all my passion and skill, and gave him a script that he loved. He was ready to shoot it that very year -- 2003, I think? Maybe 2004? Well, no matter. The point is, Steven was ecstatic. We both were. It was going to be his next film. He told me it was the best script he'd read since Raiders of the Lost Ark. That's a quote, and I'll always treasure it. As a screenwriter, you dream of making a guy like Steven Spielberg happy and excited. Then George Lucas read it, didn't like it, and threw ice water on the whole thing. The project went down in flames. Steven and I looked like accident victims the day we got that call. I certainly don't blame Steven for it. He wasn't in a position to overrule George, and wouldn't have overruled him even if he could. He and George have been close friends for a long time, and they've had an agreement for years that no Indiana Jones film will ever get made unless they both completely agreed on the script. It was just such an awful surprise, after all my hopes and effort. I really felt I'd nailed it, and so did Steven.

Yes, as you can imagine, I would rank that very high on my list of professional disappointments. More than that, it was emotionally devastating. For somebody who, as a young man, was inspired to want to be a filmmaker by Steven and George, by movies like THX-1138 and Star Wars and Raiders of the Lost Ark, it was the ultimate kick in the nuts. In fact, it's the main reason I quit my career as a "writer-for-hire" (writing for other people for a living). It's not the only reason, but certainly a main reason. I swore never to go through that again. From now on, my intention is to write only for myself on projects that I produce or direct.

You know, I am trying to turn it into something positive. When life hands you a blow like that, I think you should move on as well as you can, or you risk becoming an embittered shithead. I'd rather do the former and not the latter. The experience did get me to refocus my energies on my directing career, which for me always came second to writing. Now it comes first. So maybe it was a blessing in disguise. I don't know...we'll see how it goes with The Mist and whatever comes after. If I direct some hits, I'll look like a winner. If I direct some flops, I may eat my words and beg my agents to find me a job rewriting somebody's next movie.

Lilja: How about more books? You have already written Walpuski's Typewriter which is a very good book and you have also done a story in Hellboy: Odder Jobs. Is writing something you want to continue with?

Frank Darabont: Yes, as we just discussed. Writing is a vital part of what I do...it's part of who I am, really. I can't imagine not being chained to this computer. I'm not sure I'd know what to do with myself. I've spent twenty years here professionally. I'll certainly keep screenwriting, though hopefully not "for hire," assuming the directing goes well. And, yes, I have a novel or two I'd like to try my hand at.

Lilja: In an interview that I did with Stephen King he said you wanted to do a limited edition of The Mist (as a book). Can you tell me what you want to do?

Frank Darabont: Well, I'd love to reprint Steve's story in a gorgeous but unpretentious small edition. Even though he's not fond of limiteds, he's thinking it over right now. The last time I heard from him, he said to me, "Frank, I might agree to this, but only if you agree to also include your screenplay adaptation, plus some of the pre-production monster art you've been doing." My reply was, "Gee, Steve, twist my arm." My name on the spine of a book alongside Stephen King's? Are you kidding me? Hell, yes! I'm there!

Lilja: In the same interview Stephen King says he isnít that found of limited editions. What is your comment on that?

Frank Darabont: When I read your interview with Stephen King (wonderful interview, congratulations), I had to laugh when I read his comments about limited edition books. I laughed because he and I have had this debate many times. It is a loving debate, as only friends can have. After I read the interview, I sent him an email that said: "Steve, contary to your notion that people who buy limiteds never read them, I've read every single one of mine, some of them more than once. I had the gigantic 'Salemís Lot limited from Centipede Press, all twenty pounds of it, resting on my stomach for three nights in a row as I lay in bed. Not only did I enjoy every word of it, but it also strengthened my stomach muscles. And last year I re-read that gorgeous The Stand limited edition published some 15 years ago that looked like the Bible and came in a wooden box." (That The Stand limited was actually a gift to me from Steve, which was incredibly generous of him!)

I went on to tell him: "I agree it's absurd to put a book on a shelf and never touch it, as if it were some holy relic instead of a book. That's like being afraid to open a bottle of wine because it's too expensive and rare, or afraid to drive a classic car for the same reason. Wine is meant to be drunk, books are meant to be read, classic cars are meant to be driven -- and I do all three!" (He responded by suggesting that I refrain from doing all three at the same time.)

As I've told Steve in the past, I really feel that presenting a beloved book as a limited edition is a way to honor that literary work and the author responsible for it. The people who create these limiteds do so because they love the book; it shows in the care and quality and effort they put into creating them. I feel it's a huge compliment to the book and its author. I became email friends with Jared Walters (who runs Centipede Press) because I was so knocked out by that awesome huge 'Salemís Lot he published. So I got in touch to compliment him on it; I sent him a fan letter. And it was very clear to me as we emailed back and forth that he published that limited for one very compelling reason: Jared read 'Salemís Lot when he was younger, and it changed his life. He loves that book so much that he wanted to honor it, make something special of it, like putting a painting in a perfect frame and hanging it on a wall with just the right lighting. (Jared still hopes to do The Shining some day as a limited, and I hope that Steve will eventually allow him. The Shining is the very first Stephen King book I ever read, so it's very special to me; it's the book that turned me on to King and led me to be a lifelong fan. It stands as one of Steve's all-time best works, and my personal favorite.)

As for people who buy these books, like me, they do so for the same reason: we love the book. I certainly wouldn't buy a limited of a book I didn't care for just as an investment, or some other silly reason -- but for a book I love, how wonderful to have a special edition of it! I've told Steve that as long as the books are also available in low-cost trade editions ("books for the people," as Steve admirably calls them), then what harm is there in doing a small number of special editions for loony, hardcore book lovers like me? It is the difference between buying a gorgeous custom-made chair lovingly handmade by an artisan who withholds no effort in crafting it, and buying a cheap mass-produced chair at Ikea. You can sit on both, they serve the same function, but the aesthetic of the hand-crafted chair makes it a piece of art in itself.

Here's another analogy I've given Steve. You can go see a flawless 65mm print of Lawrence of Arabia in a beautiful theater with great projection and sound, or you can watch it on a crappy videotape at home. You're seeing the same movie, all the words are there, but the experience is vastly different. The same thing holds true for a book. You can read something on acid-free paper with a hand-sewn binding that your great-grandchildren can read because the book will last for centuries, or you can pick up a paperback that'll turn yellow and fall apart after a few readings.

When I have reverence for a literary work (as I obviously do for King's oeuvre), I love the sense of event and ritual involved in reading a special edition. Opening the box or pulling it from the slipcase...the smell of the binding, the quality of the paper...it's an experience that says: "this book is special to me." It's like seeing that flawless print of Lawrence of Arabia in a theater: by indulging ourselves in the best presentation of that experience, we not only heighten our enjoyment of it, but we also honor the artist who spent years developing his talent and has put so much effort into creating this piece of art that we love. To put it another way, there's just simply a big difference between seeing Monet's Waterlillies reproduced in a book, and seeing the actual canvasses hanging on the wall at the Monet Museum.

Anyway, that's my side of the debate. I love Steve and respect his opinions enormously, but I'm sure our debate will continue and we'll never see totally eye-to-eye on this. Steve always responds to my impassioned perspective by making gagging sounds and yelling: "Books for the people!" I respond to him: "Thank you, Karl Marx, but I want my fucking limiteds. As long as the people aren't starving, I occasionally want filet mignon and a bottle of Mouton Rothschild." It's a pretty funny debate, because Steve and I are politically identical. We're both liberal democrats who believe in compassion and fairness, that everybody in our society should be cared for. But when it comes to limiteds, I'm more like Marie Antoinette: "Let them read paperbacks."

Lilja: I wish you the best of luck with all your upcoming projects and once again, thanks for agreeing to do this interview and please feel free to stop by the site any time!

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