The Arrow interviews Mick Garris
The last time all-around swell dude Mick Garris offered us a theatrical release was with "Sleepwalkers" in 1992. So it is with open arms that I greet Mick's latest theatrical feature "Riding the Bullet", based on Stephen King's 30 page internet novella and starring "Skeletons in the Closet" genius Jonathan Jackson. "Riding the Bullet" appears to be a gripping, mind-toying, genre character study and I don't know about you, but I'm all for that. Here's what Mick had to say about his upcoming horror treat. Take the floor dude!
ARROW: How long was the development stage on "Riding the Bullet"?
MG: I downloaded the story the day it was published online, paying my $2.50 like everybody else. It struck an immediate nerve, and an approach to turning into a movie bloomed immediately in my fevered brain. You would not necessarily imagine a 30-page short story as the basis for a feature film, but I had some ideas. I optioned the rights from Steve to do the script right away, but I didn’t really want to tell him too much about what I had in mind until I had done the script.
I wrote my first draft in just under two weeks, changing the time period to 1969, and adding a history and a conundrum for the character of Alan Parker that were not a part of the King story, and yet were very organic to it. So it was written very quickly… and then we were unable to sell it. My agent thought we’d probably make a big money sale to one of the studios, but as it was an unusual kind of horror film, as much a nostalgic drama as it was a horror film, it didn’t sell right away. I spent about three years off and on getting it set up before finally making a deal to do it very independently for a company called MPCA—best known for comedies like DUMB AND DUMBER—and then spent another year getting it going with them.
ARROW: Good move on casting Jonathan Jackson in the lead. Was he your first choice?
MG: I was unfamiliar with Jonathan’s work until I realized that he had played the boyfriend in INSOMNIA. He has this great interrogation scene with Pacino that was quite stunning work. But I didn’t really know him until I met with him on this. But I must say, I can’t imagine any actor being more right for this role. He really nailed it. And a true pleasure to work with at all times. Smart, flexible, well prepared, intuitive. There were a lot of actors we discussed. Since the film was done independently, there were a lot of demands for “name” actors for the key roles. You wouldn’t believe some of the ridiculous, unbelievably inappropriate actors we had to consider (and, out of politeness, I won’t mention them here). So we went through a ton of people before meeting Jonathan, and making that work. He was a total surprise and relief. His band even did a song for the soundtrack.
ARROW: What was the biggest obstacle that arose throughout the shoot and how did you overcome it?
MG: Time and money. It was done very quickly, right before Christmas, in Vancouver. EVERYTHING was tight, and it’s just great that we had such a terrific crew. We had makeup FX, physical FX, visual FX, even though they are not a huge part of the film. All of them are complicated and time-consuming. We had some stunts, a lot of car work, and complicated schedules.
Because we got name actors for a lot of the roles, we had to fit them into a specific shooting period to keep the budget in line. So one actor might have X number of shooting days over the course of a week, or two weeks, or whatever compressed schedule it was. So we couldn’t have cover scenes, our schedule would not accommodate any changes because it would change the actors’ spreads, and cost us a lot more.
Because we shot so many interior scenes, that meant that we were going to have to shoot, no matter what the weather. That was complicated, but it all worked out okay. We knew we’d have big weather issues anyway in Vancouver, but it added to the gloomy atmosphere we were trying to create.
ARROW: Is the film gory, axed towards more subtle scares, or a little bit of both?
MG: There are some big jolts, I hope, but it’s a quieter kind of horror film. It’s as much a character study as anything else. When King read my script, he said something like, “this could be the IN THE BEDROOM of horror movies.” I think that’s a good thing, but this isn’t DAWN OF THE DEAD or TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE. I hope it reaches for an emotional sense of horror and dread, though we’re not above a cheap coffin scare…
ARROW: What kind of soundtrack can we expect from the film? Orchestral score, “metal bands”...please don’t tell me “Hip Hop”.
MG: Actually, since the film is set in 1969, we were able to get a handful of songs from the era, and they work out great. Nicholas Pike composed the score, as he has for most of my films, and some of it is orchestral, and some of it actually features some screaming electric guitar. And, not to disappoint you, but RIDING THE BULLET is a Hip Hop-free zone.
ARROW: Being that you and Stephen King are close and that he had a cameo in "Sleepwalkers", can we expect to see him in this film as well?
MG: I had written a part for him in the script, but he became quite ill, and was unable to make it. He was replaced with George Romero, but then there was a schedule change, and George wasn’t able to make it. So Matt Frewer came in and did his usual wonderful job. I don’t know why I felt the need to get somebody really tall for that part, but…
ARROW: In your opinion, what scene in "Riding the Bullet" will blow our genre-fiend sox off?
MG: I hope that ANY of them will. KNB did the makeup FX, and they are throughout the film, but perhaps the goriest is a fantasy sequence where David Arquette’s skull cap comes off. There’s also a pretty unique attempted suicide in a bathroom early on in the film that I hope will be effective. And of course, stuff I don’t want to give away. But it’s not a bloodbath kind of movie.
ARROW: What kind of distribution will the film get in North America and when will it be released?
MG: It’s coming out on about 200 screens in 10 or 12 cities at the beginning of October. It’s being distributed independently, with a gradual rollout after that initial release. It requires special handling, as it’s not your typical genre picture. Again, I hope and believe that’s a good thing. Some genre fans might not, though we had a fantastic reception at FanTasia in Montreal a week ago.
ARROW: I heard that DESPERATION will be your next project. Where are you with that right now?
MG: We’re in pre-production, to be shooting soon in Arizona. It’ll be a 3-hour movie for ABC.
ARROW: I yearn for the day where we’ll get an “original material” script by Mick Garris, shot for the screen by Mick Garris. Will that day ever come?
MG: God, I hope so. I have written plenty of original material, but it’s yet to be produced. Though it’s based on a story by King, this is the closest yet to an original by me, since so much of it was not in King’s story, and since it was done on spec. It feels personal, since I wrote the script as well as producing and directing.
ARROW: What was the first drink you ingested at the "Riding the Bullet" cast and crew party?
MG: Caffeine-free Diet Coke.
I'd like to thank Mick for dropping by the site again. The man is always welcome in my genre shack. I personally can't wait to see this flick. I don't know why, but it talks to me. Yes. I'm still beating myself for having missed the "Riding the Bullet" screening at Fantasia. Grrrrrrr!