Posted: December 13, 2011
About a week ago I called Mick Garris to talk to him about the upcoming Bag of Bones miniseries and as usual he was very cooperative and really took the time to speak to me. And for that I’m very grateful. Here is what he said.
Lilja: So, Bag of Bones is done. Was this a bigger task than the other Stephen King adaptations you have done?
Mick Garris: Well, you know The Stand will always be the biggest because it was just so huge and we shoot it in so many places. This one was pretty complicated though even though there weren’t that many locations. It was complicated because it was on location and we had the period pieces with Sara Tidwell and the Dark Score fair. And it was a very emotional driven kind of production. It went from a lot of fun to incredible not fun like the assault of Sara Tidwell…it was not enjoyable. But it was pretty big. We did a lot for a book that really don’t have a big physical landscape. There’s a lot going on.
Lilja: I noticed that it was a bit crueler that the usual TV show. Both the scenes with Sara Tidwell and other scenes and there were more blood and gore than we’re used to see on TV.
Mick Garris: Well, I think television has changed a lot because there is a lot of competition from feature films and most people see their feature films on television through home video, blu-ray or streaming. And I think that once you say Stephen King in the title you’re allowed to do more. People expect it to be a little bit rougher. But for example The Shining miniseries, the last hour of that was incredible brutal because that’s what the story needed. The Stand has quite a bit of violence. And this one comes across as real and violent at times because of the rape and murder scene and I don’t want it to be titillating. I want it to be ugly. I wanted to show what life was and still can be like as the book did so I was very surprised that A&E didn’t ask us to change anything from my cut as far as the violence goes.
Lilja: So they accepted the script right away?
Mick Garris: Yeah, the script they were happy with but you never know until you shoot the scenes what’s going to happen. But because A&E is on cable it’s a little bit more liberal but it’s not like HBO but much better than for example ABC where we did the other King things. That’s a broadcast network and they are much more conservative.
Lilja: A&E wasn’t the first choice for Bag of Bones right?
Mick Garris: The first choice was actually to make it as a feature film for the cinemas but we had a lot of trouble getting that going. Bruce Willis had originally bought the book and wanted to produce it as a feature and he had a lot of trouble getting it together so after they weren’t able to set it up I asked King if we could try. And we tried for a long time. And these days when you talk about a genre film they think it’s for teenagers and this is, as you have seen, not a film for teenagers. I hope they like it but it’s more grown up. So, we went to ABC with it and we were there for about six months but nothing happened so after no activity there Mark Sennet went to A&E and they were very interested depending on casting and all so it ended up there and I couldn’t be happier. They are doing a wonderful job with it.
Lilja: Yeah, the promotion they are doing for it is amazing. Both with the press kit and the Dark Score Stories website that was created as a back-story to the series.
Mick Garris: Yeah, that was incredible! I’m very happy with how they have dealt with this. And a network like ABC has 30 shows a year they need to promote and A&E, this is there one big movie event so they are putting all of their attention to it. It’s really exciting. They love the movie and we’re all really proud of it, Pierce and the whole cast so it’s turned out to be exactly the right home for us.
Lilja: Where you ever involved when Bruce Willis had the rights?
Mick Garris: No. Never involved and never read any of the scripts they did so I don’t know anything about it.
Lilja: Then when you got it and got the greenlight to do it everything happened very fast. I remember it getting announced around this summer and now six months later it’s done and ready to air. Isn’t that unusually fast?
Mick Garris: Well, we tried to make it for five years and then suddenly when A&E said yes they also said yes if we could deliver it for a December airing. So it was a thought decision. It was “Yes we can do it” but we wanted to make sure so we had meetings with the visual effects people. We brought in two editors, the first time I have ever worked with two editors working side by side. But they where editors I had worked with before so…and that was the only way we could have done it. And we talked to the composer to make sure he could do all the music within that period of time. Amazingly six week after we wrapped production we were finished with the film. 100% finished. It’s the fastest I have worked, preproduction and postproduction. But I’m very happy with how it turned out and I don’t think you can tell by looking at it that we were rushed in any way.
Lilja: Did you feel that you had to cut some corners or is there anything you wish you could have done differently if you had had more time?
Mick Garris: That happens on everything. I bet James Cameron would say that if he had more time Titanic would be a better movie you know. But sure it would have had been great to have more time to devote to some of the effects scenes or to things here and there but in the end the movie has to speak for itself. You can’t put a title card on the front that says “If we had another two million dollars and three weeks to shoot this would have been a better movie but we hope you like what we did” [laugh]. So, it has to stand on its own.
Lilja: It sounds like you’re happy it was done for TV instead of a feature movie and I imagine you can do more since you have more time but is there something that you couldn’t do because you did if for TV?
Mick Garris: Yeah, there are some issues in there but that happens in theatrical films to. This movie would probably get an R rating if it were in the theatres but you have to make concessions here and there, you have to get the right casting and the approvals and they would have to be names that’s exciting for a television audience… But we originally wrote it as a feature film and there were a lot that we had to leave out. I’m much happier with the length that it is now. And you could never do that as a feature film with a Stephen King story. Unless it’s Frank Darabont and The Green Mile. It’s over three hours. That’s even longer for one movie that ours are.
Lilja: When you transformed it from a feature to a miniseries did you rewrite the script or did you start all over from scratch?
Mick Garris: We reworked it but we reworked it pretty heavily. It’s a different structure because you have to do it in acts where there are commercial breaks. So it have to lead up to a certain point where you know you gonna have to stop and then start over and rebuild the story again. But the basis for the script were there when Matt wrote the features but we worked really closely together on this to work out where is it going to end in the middle, between the two nights and how to lead up to each thing. But there are a lot of things that we were able to do that we couldn’t do in the feature. Like the three way romance dream sequence that you have seen in the film. There just wasn’t time for that so I cut that out of that. There were several elements that had been deleted from the book just because all we had were two hours to tell it instead of three so now I’m really happy with the length of this, for telling this story.
Lilja: And you got Pierce Brosnan back to TV after 15 years. How pleased are you with that?
Mick Garris: I was really impressed. We never imagine that that would work out but his agency is the same agency that handles Stephen King and King’s agent suggested him but we never imagine that that would work out. But once we started talking he was interested and I really like him as a person as well as an actor. His performance in The Matador is one of my favorite film performances ever. So we talked and we sent him the script and Sony and A&E made an offer and he said yes, we worked together and it was better than I ever imagine. He’s one of the best and most enjoyable actors I have worked with. He’s really good and not afraid to really go for it and try things and go deep and make it something…well you have seen how emotional he gets and I think you have to be brave to be a terrific actor.
Lilja: Yeah, and it’s good that he is that great because his part in Bag of Bones is very big. It’s very important that he is right for the part. And I think he was perfect for the part.
Mick Garris: Oh, great. Because you know I love what he did and you’re right, there are so many parts of the movie where it’s just Mike Noonan all by himself and you need an actor that has some depth, who can captivate the camera and the audience when there’s nobody else in there with him. So I feel so lucky to been able to get an actor with his caliber in this. It didn’t have to happen that way but thank God it did.
Lilja: About the other cast members. Did you get your first choices or did you have to look beyond that?
Mick Garris: It’s not exactly about second of third choices as it’s a matter of who’s available at the time, what the financial situation is, the names had to be right for Sony and A&E so it’s complicated but I have to say that this may very well be the best cast I have ever had. I have worked with maybe half a dozen of these actors before. Like Melissa George, we worked together on a pilot in Australia several years ago and Annabeth Gish we had done Desperation together. Matt Frewer, this is the sixth time I have worked with Matt so the cast, I don’t think it could have been better. And Anika Noni Rose was someone whose work I wasn’t really familiar with and I can’t imagine anyone else in the role of Sara Tidwell. She’s so perfect. And such a great singer as well. So, I think I was really lucky to get a cast who really loved the material and wanting to do it rather than just taking a job. And I really enjoyed the process of working with these actors as well. We really had a good time together except, as I said, the day we shoot the scene with Sara Tidwell being attacked. That was her first day at work.
Mick Garris: Yeah, and it was not a fun day. That scene is so brutal that I was really in a bad mood. I’m usually a pretty happy guy but I was really gloomed down that day. It was pretty rough on everybody and tempers where easily flared that day so it was good to be done with it. That was not fun.
Lilja: How did you and the cast and crew get past that kind of emotional scenes?
Mick Garris: Well, it’s interesting. For me it was hard to get out of that mood because I was involved in so many aspects of it. But Anika where able to joke around a little in between because they were hanging around together and there be an hours or so in between each shoot when we were setting up. So they were able to blow of some steam but for everyone else it was really dark and just not fun but everyone basically respected the story. And then there are scenes like her performances at the fair where it’s just fun, really a great time. You’re depicting 1939, small town America, rural America and all these period costumes and the music and all that’s some of the most fun I’ve had. So, she happed to be the center of the most grueling day I have ever had and the most fun I have had on a set. You know, most days where a lot of fun. They are all long; they are at least 12 hours a day that you work when you’re shooting. They are all a lot of work but they are all mostly fun. We’re telling stories, we’re playing games, we’re playing pretends so you can’t complain about making a living that way.
Lilja: Another scene that really stood out to me is Jo’s death scene. It was very surprising even though I know she would die. I wasn’t prepared for her being hit by a bus. It’s a very effective scene. Even if you know the book you don’t expect that.
Mick Garris: Excellent!
Lilja: That was a great scene but also a very emotional scene, Pierce runs out to her and she practically dies in his arms. A very strong scene.
Mick Garris: Thank you. We know that that would have to take everyone by surprise and we know that because we don’t spend much time with Mike and Jo together to see how much in love they are and how close they are. We try to do it very quickly in the scene in their condo but that was a really powerful scene. It was something that Pierce had put a lot of thought into, a lot of energy and we just wanted to make it, by doing it all in slow motion when he gets outside, slowing time down an exaggerating everything there, that was what we were going for. What separate Stephen King’s material and this one in particular from other ghost stories or horror stories is that they are human. The whole reason I wanted to do this was because it was so deeply emotional. I have lost a parent, I’ve lost two brothers, I’ve lost people close to me and death isn’t fun. It may be in horror movies but something like this when you have experienced it and you can help convey that into those emotional experiences and share it with an audience and hopefully find something universal in those feelings, that’s kind of the whole point of making a movie like this one. That’s why I wanted to do Bag of Bones.
Lilja: Yeah, it’s a great scene, one that will be remembered I’m sure.
Mick Garris: I hope so and we wouldn’t have done something like that without an actor like Pierce who was unafraid to just go for it and be emotional and be passionate about it. Passion is the word I like to use with the cast and crew every day on this particular set. Each time I do a movie I try to think of one word that is an emotional resonance of what we’re doing and this time it was passion.
Lilja: Also in the cast you have some…I really don’t want to call them guest actors…but they have smaller parts. You mentioned Matt Frewer and Jason Priestley and they are known actors in smaller parts.
Mick Garris: Yeah.
Lilja: How did you convince them to take smaller part I this?
Mick Garris: Well, Matt is probably my closes friend as an actor even though he lives in Canada and I live in Los Angeles. And he did it because it was a chance for us to work together. We are really, really close friends so that worked out because he was available and willing to do it. Jason Priestley I had never met before but he has a series called Call me Fritz that shoots in Nova Scotia coincidentally enough and when we looked for someone to play that part his name came up and he did all that work in one day! And we really had a good time with him. He was like “You know what? I’m gonna start my show next week. I’ve got time, when do we do it.” And he had a blast and we had so much fun doing it. And one day at the graveyard we had him and Pierce and Matt all together and they started “We’re the King’s of 80’s television” [laugh]. Max Headroom and 90210 and Remington Steel all in one place at a graveyard [laugh].
Lilja: Yeah, that is great [laugh]. And you also have Caitlin Carmichael who’s only 7 and William Schallert who’s 89. It’s a wide range in the cast. Both known and unknown, young and old. Was it hard to keep the group together because they are so different or was that strength?
Mick Garris: It was great. I love the range of age and all. It was a great time. I really enjoy working with Kids and Caitlin is a very unique little girl. She’s extremely smart and vice and understands her characters and she’s starting to work a lot. I had never seen her before and it turns out that her closest friend lives across the street from me. She was great. And Schallert I used to watch as a kid, when I was growing up and watching him on television, Twilight Zone and Patty Dukes Show. And just to be able to work with someone who’s been around. I also hate putting old age makeup on actors, if you have an older cast, an older actor. And King really liked the idea of him because he’s a big fan of him as well. So that wide range of ages adds something I like. It doesn’t make things more difficult you just approach different actors in different ways to get their best work and each of them was really fun to work with. And they were all committed to it and that isn’t always the case. You’ll usually have at least one diva in the cast but not here.
Lilja: Speaking of King: There was a rumor, I know it wasn’t true, that King would do a cameo, were there ever any plans for that.
Mick Garris: Yes, he was going to play Buddy Jellison and my wife Cynthia was going to play the waitress in the café but King wasn’t able to do it and my wife was recovering from back surgery that she had a while ago and it would have been tough for her to do it and be on her feet all the time so it didn’t work out but it would have been great. They are very good friends Steve and Cynthia and it would have been fun. And it was close by. Nova Scotia is nor far from Maine at all but King’s schedule didn’t allow it but we where planning on it upfront.
Lilja: Did you ever plan on doing a cameo yourself?
Mick Garris: I'm in it?
Lilja: You are?
Mick Garris: Yes but no one would notice. It's the first shoot after the accident when Jo is killed, the crane shoot in the graveyard, swooping down in and on Mike as he's in front of the coffin. The back of the minister that's doing the funeral, reading from the bible, that's me. You only see the back of my head though.
Lilja: So, are you planning any more King projects now that Bag of Bones is done?
Mick Garris: Not planning anything but I would love to do something but we'll see what happens to this one and what happens next. At this point I don't know what I'm doing next, which is pretty fun. But working with Stephen King is the most fun anyone can have. I love his material. We like each other’s company. We have a good time working together and there are tons of things I'd love to do. Don't know what it'll be though.
Lilja: What are your thoughts about the remake of The Stand that there's talk about?
Mick Garris: Well, Ben Affleck is a great actor and director. I love Baby Be Gone and The Town and I would love to see what he can do with a real budget. We had a big budget for television but a tiny, tiny budget compared to what you'd use to make a picture like that. And I'd love to see what they’d do with it. It was the hardest work of my life making The Stand and I hope I never have to work that hard again and I'm happy to see what someone else can do with it. I'm a big fan on the book and I'd love to see what they can do. It would be very different no matter what.
Lilja: OK, thank you so much for talking to me. It was a pleasure.