Playing Tag with Death: Part 3 of an interview with Mick Garris about 'Bag of Bones'


On December 11th and 12th, A&E will air a four-hour miniseries based on Stephen King's novel, Bag of Bones, directed by Mick Garris. This is part 3 of my conversation with Garris. Click here to see Part 1 and Part 2 and stay tuned for my review of the miniseries.

How difficult was it to find a place to interrupt the story so that people will want to come back the second night?

There was definitely some decision making, but when you're telling a story and you know it's got to be split in half, there aren't a whole lot of choices available to you. You have to make it work and find a place. There was some talk just a week ago about finding a different spot to make the break and changing the lengths of the acts and things like that, but we tried some things with the network involved and ended up going back to the way we had done it originally. It seems to be the most powerful place to come into night two.

Matt Venne, who did the script, did a terrific job on that. It's his favorite novel of all time, so he was the right guy. If it's not going to be Steve, then Matt would be the perfect choice, and was. There were a lot of discussions and because he was in on it from the beginning, I worked very closely with him developing it. Both of us have such a passion for the book but, like Steve King himself knows better than anybody, a book isn't a movie. Sometimes you have to make creative decisions, like splitting it up into two parts. I think it's probably the most effective place. It actually works well and feels very natural.

At what point do you screen this for King?

He has already seen a version of it. He saw a version of it, really my cut—they're all my cut because I'm involved all the way through—but the first one we did with the editors and no feedback from anybody. He was really enthusiastic. It's a huge relief for me—probably a bigger one for him. A huge relief to know that he liked it because he's a guy who will tell you the truth. He'll be tactful about it, but he'll tell you what he thinks. Luckily we've had a pretty good batting average together. I'm hopeful. You never know what anybody outside of the production will think—well, Steve wasn't involved in the process other than as a friend. He had a couple of approvals of cast and director, but as my friend I would send him drafts of the script and dailies so he knew a lot of the things that were coming. He didn't watch all of the dailies—that's a tedious process—but he was very enthusiastic. But you never know how anything is going to be perceived. There are so many filmmakers, their favorite work is the stuff that's been least appreciated or even reviled at times but we all feel really good about this.

The Sara Tidwell component of the story is deeply rooted in her music. Did you use found music or did you have somebody writing music for those parts of the story?

We used some classic songs, some great songs that were available, and Anika Noni Rose is not only a fantastic actress, she's a Tony-winning actress and singer on Broadway. She sings these songs so beautifully, and she's so good in this part. I did not know her work well before, and I sure will now because she was amazing. You'll never see Sara Tidwell in any other way after you see this movie. The same goes with the entire cast. Mike Noonan—maybe you have somebody different in mind that doesn't have an English accent and I think he's written to be in his early forties—forty-ish, I think—but Pierce so commands this part and so makes it his. And Anika, and Melissa George, and Annabeth Gish and Matt and Jason, all these people. This doesn't always happen, but every single one of them was terrific to work with. I know people say that stuff in interviews all the time, but you get divas now and then. There's rarely a cast that doesn't have at least one actor who is difficult. But this cast was remarkable in that they're all terrific people as well as terrific artists.


What is your role as producer on Bag of Bones?

I'm executive producer and director on this. Basically it was getting the material from Steve and developing the script with Matt, hiring the writer and even helping pay the writer, which wasn't supposed to happen. Just living with it. Mark Sennett, my producing partner, is the guy who made the business happen. He's the one who made the deal with A&E and got it all going forward. It was a lot of work that took close to five years to make happen, but it was a great experience being a real producer on it and not just being a credit. Taking all of that stuff in hand, with all the casting choices. It still goes on now. Choosing the songs that Sara did. We're doing another couple of songs so that we don't have to repeat a couple of them that we'll probably record next week, and it's going through all these piles of songs, and choosing them, and deciding what the instrumentation is, all of that is part of the executive producer job, as well as the director job.


Is filming the most exciting part of the process, or do your find a lot of rewarding creativity from post-production as well?

You know, it's all great. The pre-production and casting process is always great. That's when the decisions are made specifically of what's going to happen. But the shooting process and working with actors and working with cameras, working with the effects and all—making it happen, being open to what your environment offers you to make the best possible choices on how to emotionally convey something visually and aurally—that's exciting too. As a writer, I love writing, too, but you're really making the movie here.

The shooting process is by far the most taxing, but it's also the most exhilarating. A short day is twelve hours. We had some that were substantially more than that. It's a long day and exhausting because often, in addition to that shooting period, you've got an hour drive to a location, an hour drive home after we wrap. And then all the weekends are spent—for me—prepping and doing shot lists and figuring out what the next week is going to be. It's amazingly work intensive, especially when you have all the mechanics of a genre film on top of what we hope is a really emotional and passionate drama. The mechanics are complicated and time consuming. The camera work, setting up your shots if you're doing nights or locations or stages, and trying to get the most rich and communicative visual style, it's time consuming. That's probably the most gratifying.

In post-production, you reshape it. It's incredible how important music choices are and composing the score, and sound design and sound effects editing and all that. Post is nice because I go home to my bed, work a little more reasonable hours, although this has been weird working with two editors because of the time crunch, jumping back and forth between two cutting rooms. "Mick, I've got something here for you." Okay, let me see. "Hey, Mick, I've got something here for you." Back and forth. But it's really fun. Shaping something. You have all of this raw material from what you shoot and shaping it in post-production is a lot of fun and it's as creatively demanding as production is.

I wanted to change subject for a moment and ask what you think about The Stand being remade.

I don't know. I just read a few days ago that Warner Bros. wants Ben Affleck to direct. I think he's a great director. The movies he's directed, The Town and Gone Baby Gone, I loved that film. I loved The Town, too, but Gone Baby Gone even more so. I'm a huge fan of the Dennis Lehane book. I think he's an interesting choice. It's weird, though, because you do feel kind of fatherly about something that you made. It's such a huge story—more power to them. It would be interesting to see something where they didn't have to limit themselves to shooting 16mm film and doing everything on a budget. Even though it was elaborate for a miniseries at the time, you felt the squeeze of it. But to see a big screen version where you have all the money that it deserves to be made—it would be fascinating to see what it would be. We made that movie seventeen years ago. We actually shot it and made it in '93. I wasn't grey then.

I can't imagine how they'll do it as a movie, but it'll be interesting to see. Some of the best genre films were remakes. The Thing was fantastic and Cronenberg's The Fly was fantastic. It's not automatic that remakes suck—it's just axiomatic, and usually the truth. But there are times when it's valid. Just from production value qualities alone, I would love to see what they do with it. But it's a huge and sprawling story that I can't believe we got through way back then. I don't know what the plan is now. I don't know if that's the kind of movie that you want to wait months to see the next installment. It's one thing for a Lord of the Rings movie or a Harry Potter movie or something but I'm just not sure that [The Stand] works that way. But, you know, I'm not making it, somebody else is, so I'm fascinated.

What do you hope the audience will come to Bag of Bones looking for and what will they take away from it?

Hopefully you'll be touched by the emotional resonance. It's about loss and it's about mourning and it's about finding your life after this loss. It's something that people experience during the course of life that doesn't necessarily happen when they're in their formative years. In a way it's a theme that Riding the Bullet was all about, too. Dealing with loss and continuing to live a life and acknowledging that loss, making it a part of who you are and carrying it with you but not keeping you from continuing in the stage of evolution. I've never put it in words before, so that's kind of off the top of my head, but the stuff that we were always trying to go for was the emotional resonance of that. I think there's a universality in mourning the death of a loved one and that opens the door to imagination, too. That's what our genre is all about, playing tag with death.