Interview

Interview

Playing Tag with Death: Part 2 of an Interview with Mick Garris about 'Bag of Bones'

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On December 11th and 12th, A&E will air a four-hour miniseries based on Stephen King's 1998 novel, Bag of Bones, directed by Mick Garris. This is part 2 of my conversation with Garris, conducted while he was in post-production. Click here to see Part 1.

When you started filming Bag of Bones this summer, did you know it was going to air so quickly?

Yes. We actually did. It was part of the deal: Can you do this? After five years of trying to get it under way it suddenly got launched and it was damn the torpedoes and full speed ahead. We had all of our meetings with all the post-production people, the visual effects, the editors. For the first time in my life I worked with two editors. They were working simultaneously as we were shooting, but I don't think you'll know by watching.

So it's not like one person is editing one night and the other person is editing the other.

No, because you shoot out of order and whatever you shoot they are cutting right away. In fact, because of the nature of us shooting in Nova Scotia and the editing being done in Los Angeles, we would shoot and then the dailies would be sent by ISDN line to Los Angeles. They would cut scenes before I would see the dailies. I normally do very extensive notes on dailies—and I still do—into a recorder and then have them transcribed and e-mailed to the editors, but they'd already done it. I thought: this is superfluous.

What were the special effects demands like on this production?

Pretty extensive considering the kind of story it is. It's mostly about one man's emotional journey of loss. There were a lot of things we had to do that were difficult on the kind of schedule we have. My situation is almost always the same: I'm doing a genre film on a drama schedule. Hopefully it's a drama first and then it's the genre film. There are a lot of key visual effects. Sara and the tree sequences. There are hauntings. They're not all over the movie, but there are some pretty extensive things in it. It was also a group of people—the crew, I had never worked with any of them before and so that's a real gamble and a real test of faith and taste and mettle and all of that. It worked out really well and I think it's a wonderful production and hopefully people who weren't involved with it will think so, too.

How much of the effects did you do "live" on the set and how much of it will come in during post-production?

All of the make-up effects were live. The tree is a post-production thing, although it happens in a lightning and rainstorm out in the woods, so all of those effects were live. And even some of the digital effects aren't really computer created—they're live pieces that were brought into it. But there is some 3D animation going on right now on the tree effects. I had worked with Jeff Okun on Sleepwalkers way back when and we've been friends ever since. He's a very high-end visual effects supervisor. He was our consultant on this and brought in Paul Bolger from CosFX and Paul was just fantastic. We got a lot of wonderful work that you could never hope to get in the kind of schedule that we've had. We were reassured by Paul and by Jeff that they could do it on this schedule and do it well. We just leapt off the diving board and it all has been working out great.

There are a lot of physical effects and the makeup effects that Adrien Morot did are really superb. Mainly, the rush is because we started so late. The production period was fine but the prep was very, very short. The post-production is very, very short. Normally when a make-up effects guy has to do what we asked him to do, it's a couple of months of prep and he ended up having like a week of prep for some of these characters that weren't even cast until a week before they were going to play the part. It was very, very challenging and demanding and we're really happy with how it turned out.

When you were scouting Alaska a couple of years ago, you told an interviewer that you had somebody in mind for the male lead. Did that change?

It did change. For a while, Rob Lowe really wanted to do it. We'd worked together on The Stand and he's a huge Stephen King fan. We talked about various people. It's always a fine line between who the studio or network is interested in and what they see is most commercial, and being right for the movie. Rob was busy on some other work. We were talking about various other people and once Pierce Brosnan came up, it was like this is such a great idea but he hasn't done television in fifteen years. But then his agent was encouraging us to offer it to him. It ended up working out great. I think he's just fantastic in the part. It was my first time working with him and I'm a huge fan of The Matador, it's one of my favorite movies and performances in a movie ever. He's not really done genre film before—you know, Lawnmower Man wasn't really this genre, and not really a Stephen King movie, either.

Once we were able to talk about it, he was intrigued about the idea of it. It's a very daunting role. He's in every scene in the movie virtually. I think there was one day that he didn't work out of the forty days that we shot. There's a lot of it where he's by himself so it's a real challenge. I think it's a rare actor who has ever done a movie like this where it's just him for long, long stretches of the movie. And because you shoot things out of order—there are three leading ladies in this and you don't shoot them in story order so it's like: here's a movie starring Pierce Brosnan and Melissa George, and then after that we're shooting a movie starring Pierce Brosnan and Annabeth Gish. And then here's a movie starring Pierce Brosnan and Anika Noni Rose. They were like distinctly different movies so that by the time we were shooting the last week and talking about what we'd done the first couple of days, it was like—was that this movie? It seems so far removed.

Pierce Brosnan (Mike Noonan) and Melissa George (Mattie Devore)

What I love about Pierce is that he's a guy who wants to take chances. He wants to try things. Working with him was just a fantastic experience, aside from just doing a movie-star movie. There's a reason he's a movie star. Often his characters, Bond and the like, they're very charming and intelligent and very well played, but in this he goes raw. The depth of his emotions and despair at times are quite remarkable and it's stuff that I had not seen that much of before in his work—and you can't find a bigger Pierce Brosnan fan than me. We had a wonderful time and doing some things that I'd never done before with a movie and how things were portrayed and things that I'd rarely seen him do. One of the secrets of being a great actor is fearlessness in tackling something like a tree that's attacking with its branches or seeing letters move on a refrigerator by themselves and still carrying with it the veracity of the human character he's playing. It's a remarkably performance and I hope it gets noticed.

Director Mick Garris with 7-year-old Caitlin Carmichael, who plays Kyra Devore

At the other end of the spectrum you've got Caitlin Carmichael who plays Kyra.

She is amazing. She's a wonderful actress. She turned seven years old right before doing this. She is one of the brightest, canniest actors of any age and, again, she gets to do some very, very emotional sequences here of—I'm sure most of your readers know the story, but— just what happens with her mother and lots of things that happen in this movie but she's capable of such depth and maturity and here she's just seven. Where did that come from? She's a major part of the movie.

Director Mick Garris with 89-year-old William Schallert, who plays Max Devore

I was pleased to see William Schallert, too. There's a familiar, friendly old face in a not very friendly character.

Max Devore is not one of the most pleasant people to spend a day with. We have a lot of fun with him on that. Here's an actor who's 89 years old and it's a pretty demanding role. That was a great experience and I've known him from The Patty Duke Show and The Twilight Zone. I'm old enough to remember that from my childhood.

Jason Priestley, Matt Frewer and Pierce Brosnan

Did Jason Priestley just happen to be in the neighborhood?

We wanted a cameo for that because even the small parts need to have some depth, a feeling that they lived before the role began and after the credits end. Jason does a show called Call Me Fitz that shoots in Nova Scotia and we thought he'd be great to play Mike's agent, Marty, and it was a great opportunity. He was close by and excited about doing it and we were all glad to have him. It was only one day but a lot of important stuff takes place during that day and a lot more dialog than I think he realized he was going to have in one day. He killed. He knew what to do and made the most of it. He really did a good job.

Matt Frewer as Sid Noonan and Pierce Brosnan as Mike Noonan

And, of course, Matt Frewer, this is my sixth movie I've done with Matt. He plays Mike's brother Sid. There's a scene between the two of them in a bar that Matt Venne, the writer who did the screenplay, said, when he saw the dailies, it was like watching a masters class in acting. Really great to see the two of them together. They seem genetically linked as brothers. He and I first worked together on The Stand. He was the first actor we ever read for any role in The Stand and he just blew us all away. King was in the meeting when he came in and read, and he did the scene where he first finally meets Randall Flagg, when he holds up the flame for him and says "my life for you" the first time and it was so filled with pathos. We saw that this isn't Max Headroom any more. This is a guy who's capable of incredible range. We've become really good friends. Any time I can get him on a set I'll kill to do it. He and Pierce got along great. Pierce was The Lawnmower Man and Matt was Lawnmower Man 2.

Photo credit: Chris Reardon

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Check back next week for the final part of my interview with Mick Garris, in which he discusses Stephen King's reaction to the miniseries, Sara Tidwell's music and his thoughts on the rumored remake of The Stand.

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