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Set Visit: Masters of Horror - Mick Garris

July 12th, 2006: The temperature in Vancouver is clawing its way to record highs on the afternoon of my visit to the set of Masters of Horror so luckily for me; the sweat of nervous anticipation that soaks my shirt is covertly masked by the unrelenting heat.

As I pull up along side the incredibly unassuming warehouse-turned-soundstage in the Vancouver suburb of Burnaby, I’m immediately struck by the reality of what I’m about to do; I’m mere minutes away from interviewing one of my personal - all-time - favorite directors, Tom Holland (Fright Night) on the set of his triumphant (if not quiet) return to the genre that misses him dearly; Holland’s “We All Scream For Ice Cream” episode for season two of Masters of Horror marks his first time back behind camera’s since 1996’s adaptation of Stephen King’s Thinner.

I quickly find an empty visitor parking spot, check my recording gear on last time and make my way inside the front office building.

Walking into the Masters of Horror production office, I’m immediately struck by how laid-back and informal it is. The desks are set-up in an open-floor design, littered with bits of flair and empty coffee cups; it’s so laid-back in fact, that no one seems to even notice this 250 lb “intruder” that has just walked-in off the street. Another moment passes and finally I’m seen.

Coincidentally, the person that spots me standing by reception is the man I was told to ask for; Unit Publicist, Bill Vigars. Bill greets me with a hearty handshake and immediately whisks me across the production office floor, through a door and down a flight of stairs, littered with thick reams of cable, discarded camera-tape and cigarette butts. At the bottom of the steep, thin stairway, an impossibly high black curtain looms into view. Bill stops dead, and like a sinister carnie barker, he pulls the curtain aside and ushers me in behind it.

My first thought as I move in past the curtain, is that I’ve just stepped through Lewis Carroll’s wardrobe; as my foot falls on bone-white snow, a pine-tree lunges out of the darkness, its needles threatening to stick-out my eye. More cautiously now, I move further into the thick of the pines, navigating my path by a tiny twinkle of colored light up ahead…just through the trees. As the pines break around me, my thoughts of Narnia and cheery little beavers are quickly stripped away; an ice-cream truck sits silent and frozen in the middle of an open patch of grass…and it truly is a sight to behold.

It’s been beaten to shit, scratched and dented, and falling apart. The front grill has been kicked-in and now resembles a dead mouth. A slowly roiling mist moves around it, lending a haunting, dreamlike menace to the sight. Lengths of twinkling Christmas lights adorn the outside of the steel-beast; a pedophiles hot-rod springs to mind - crude indeed. The best way to describe it is: John Doe’s apartment from SE7EN...but on wheels.

An icy (no pun intended) chill races down my spine as I stand, staring at this impressive piece of production design. Slowly, the sound of distant walkie-chatter and the clank of grip-work bring me back to reality; it’s a convincing set, and one that should look absolutely fantastic on the screen.

A moment later, Bill shuffles through the thick stand of pines behind me like a little smiling badger and waves me over. He tells me that Tom (Holland) is busy wrapping up with the EPK (Electronic Press Kit) guys and he’ll be a minute, but Mick Garris (Writer/Director/and creator of Masters of Horror) would LOVE to chat with the site (a big fan of Arrow in the Head and JoBlo I’m told).

I am not opposed to this at all. Bill walks me across the set (a small neighborhood park so says the script), over a length of dolly-track, past a group of tattooed grips and into Video-Village (a bank of video monitors set up for the director to survey the action and call the shots from). A tall, thin man immediately stands and extends his hand. The youthful smile on his face betrays the grey on his head. Mick Garris introduces himself and I return the gesture.

Mick Garris

Congratulations…the fans really seemed to react to the first season.

Yeah, we’re really, really delighted that it’s such a success around the world. Showtime’s a very small network so it doesn’t take a whole lot of people to be a hit show. I think we’re their number two rated show.

How are things going on season two?

It’s going great. It’s very strange how much faster it seems to be going this year. It’s exactly the same schedule as we had last year, but it just seems to be booming by…but it’s going great, they’re all more ambitious.

So the scale and the scope of the episodes have gotten bigger this year?

It doesn’t seem like it on paper, but then if you start breaking them down and it’s like, “Oh, Jesus!”…you know, we don’t have much more budget…an inch more, maybe. It’s the same shooting schedule and all that, we’re just cramming more clothes into the hamper.

What do you feel is so attractive to fans in regards to Masters of Horror? Is there something that, you feel, keeps them tuning in each week?

I think that theatrical horror has settled into this kind of…one kind of movie, you know?

So the attraction would be selection?

Yeah! I mean none of them are alike, and this year continues that. There were thirteen episodes last year so now, after this season, there will be twenty-six of them and none of them are alike. I don’t know how long you can do that but…

I’m sure that the fans would hope for more.

Yeah, yeah…we hope! But even if there are some similarities, you know…maybe there’ll be another ghost story or whatever, things’ll be different…enough that it still feels fresh.

Right, there might be some similarities, but told from a different point-of-view.

Exactly! That’s what’s great about this. Even Tales from the Crypt, you know, as wonderful as it could be, still had very much the same style; it’s written by the same people all the time, and even though the directors were bringing their own personalities…they all looked very much alike…not alike, but…similar. They went for a particular look for the show and a style for the show, and a wink-wink horror attitude. As long as there were boobs and blood they were fine (laughs).

But you guys still get to do all the boobs and gore.

That's true! (laughs)

One thing people might be interested in is the selection process…finding the directors and then the scripts and, more importantly, pairing up those scripts with the directors. Is it a case of giving them (the directors) a stack of scripts and saying “See what you like”, or is it like; Tom Holland is kind of like this, this script is kind of like Tom Holland, let’s see if they work together?

It’s a bunch of different things, I mean the hardest thing about the selection process is getting the timing right for the directors and their schedules…it’s a domino effect. It’s like once you lock in one, another director says something like “Oh that was the only time I could have worked, oh shit!” So we’ve had to lose out on al lot of really great directors who really wanted to do the show like: Guillermo Del Toro, Rob Zombie, Eli Roth…all were booked to do one but the schedules were never able to work out right.

So it can be a real juggling act?

Yeah, that’s a big part of it. But the basic priority is each of the directors has to be someone who has made influential horror films. Last year, our young whipper-snapper Lucky McKee…you know we had lost out on George Romero and Roger Corman back-to-back and we had to fill a slot…quickly…with someone who was available, and Lucky’s May, was something all of us were really knocked-out by, and though it was very influential and The Woods looks like it’s going to be very good as well. So, that’s part of it. It’s about half-and-half.

We develop a handful of scripts…all freelance, there’s no writing staff but me, I write two for each season; one that I do and one that someone else does. So we’ll develop those, we’ll look for short stories that make for really good films…one hour films, and have either the authors of the story or writers that we know that can work in the genre…which is a very limited pool by the way. There are a lot of writers that love the horror genre, but not that many are really good at writing it. But yeah, it’s like you said, we’ll try and match them (the scripts) with the personalities of the director. Like in this case, Tom Holland and this story, John Farris’ story, and the Schow script really seemed like a good match…Tom really responded to it.

At this point in my conversation with Mick Garris, Bill Vigars politely interrupts to tell me that Holland has finished up with the EPK crew and has gone to his trailer to watch dailies from the previous day. Bill tells me to head out to the trailer and announce myself. I take a moment to thank Mick Garris for taking the time to chat and I’m off.

My interview with director Tom Holland tomorrow!

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