Taglines: Dark days are coming.
David Drayton (Thomas Jane) and his young son Billy (Nathan Gamble) are among a large group of terrified townspeople trapped in a local grocery store by a strange, otherworldly mist. David is the first to realize that there are things lurking in the mist…deadly, horrifying things…creatures not of this world. Survival depends on everybody in the store pulling together…but is that possible, given human nature? As reason crumbles in the face of fear and panic, David begins to wonder what terrifies him more: the monsters in the mist-or the ones inside the store, the human kind, the people that until now had been his friends and neighbors?
In this legendary tale of terror from master storyteller Stephen King, the thin veneer of civilization is stripped away, the masks are discarded, and the true horror is revealed as us. In “The Mist,” the storm sets off a chain of events that leaves Drayton and a band of his fellow townspeople – including belligerent neighbor Brent Norton (Andre Braugher), religious fanatic Mrs. Carmody (Marcia Gay Harden), school teacher Amanda (Laurie Holden) and supermarket manager Ollie – fighting desperately for their lives. With determination, they may be able to vanquish the mysterious terror that has descended upon them. But they may not be able to survive one another.
The Dimension Films presentation “The Mist” is an MGM release, directed by Frank Darabont. Darabont, who previously adapted and directed the King tales “The Shawshank Redemption” and “The Green Mile,” wrote the script. Castle Rock’s Liz Glotzer produces with Darabont. The creative team includes director of photography Rohn Schmidt (“The Shield”), production designer Gregory Melton, with whom Darabont previously collaborated on “The Majestic”; costume designer Giovanna Ottobre-Melton (“My Name is Earl”) and editor Hunter Via (“The Shield”).
About the Production
In 1977, when now legendary fiction writer Stephen King enjoyed his first taste of success, he wanted to find a way to give back. In a show of support for other emerging artists, he granted students and aspiring filmmakers permission to adapt his short stories for the cost of one dollar. In the early 1980s, Frank Darabont wrote, produced and, directed one of these “Dollar Babies.” King loved the 23-year-old filmmaker’s screen version of “The Woman in the Room,” King’s short story about an incurably ill woman who seeks death.
“There’s something about Stephen’s voice as a storyteller that always resonated with me,” explains Darabont, who grew up in Los Angeles. “His work speaks to me; his characters speak to me. He’s a master storyteller, and his stuff just knocks me out. It inspires me to want to get behind the camera.”
Darabont was drawn to “The Mist” for several reasons. “King writes the ensemble tapestry particularly well,” he says. “I loved reading this `Lord of the Flies’-like disintegration of society that happened when people were put in a pressure cooker of fear.”
After shooting “Woman in the Room,” his screenwriting and directing debut, Darabont wrote or co-wrote such films as “A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors,” “The Blob” and “The Fly II” as well as episodes of the television series “Tales from the Crypt” and “The Young Indiana Jones Chronicles.” One of his favorite King short stories, “The Mist,” was always on the back burner.
“I’ve loved `The Mist’ since I read it back in 1980 in `Dark Forces,’ an anthology edited by Kirby McCauley,” recalls Darabont. “I remember reading the story before I even had a career in film and thinking, `Wow, I’d love to make this into a movie someday.’”
“The Mist” might have been Darabont’s first film once upon a time. “I remember sitting on the set of my first produced feature as a writer, `Nightmare on Elm Street 3′ in 1986, and thinking that since my writing career had kicked in, I should start thinking about what I might try to direct,” recalls Darabont. “Since he’d liked my short, I was thinking of going back to Stephen and asking him for the rights to `The Mist’ or `The Shawshank Redemption.’”
After debating with himself briefly, Darabont chose “Shawshank,” and the rest is (Oscar) history. Choosing to option the prison drama led to “a much classier kind of perception of me than I had actually intended,” the director laughs. “I always figured if I was lucky enough to make movies I’d wind up making lower budgeted genre pictures and horror movies.”
Hailed by critics and praised by audiences, “The Shawshank Redemption,” released in 1994, has since become one of the most beloved films of the 20th century. “`Shawshank’ came out, and it was nominated for seven Academy Awards. People tell Frank daily that it’s their favorite film, or it’s the best film ever made,” says co-producer Denise Huth, who has worked with Darabont for eight years and is now VP of production at his production company, Darkwoods Productions. “That’s amazing and wonderful, and obviously he loves to hear that. But it put a lot of pressure on him.”
The pressure continued to build with Darabont’s next two films. While he did option “The Mist” in 1995, he followed up “Shawshank” with another King adaptation and Best Picture nominee, “The Green Mile” starring Tom Hanks in 1999, and “The Majestic” starring Jim Carrey in 2001-two more films that, like “Shawshank,” he says, allowed him to “indulge my Kubrick-wannabe impulses with a very painstaking and precise kind of filmmaking.” Having started out writing horror films, “Suddenly there was a new level to the kind of production I was working on,” he says.
Genre films, however, were his first love. “People who only know Frank from the films he’s directed are shocked that he wants to do a horror film, but once you get to know him it’s more shocking that he’s never done one before,” says Huth.
Anna Garduño, a co-producer on “The Mist” has known Darabont since they were classmates at Hollywood High School. “He’s a genre guy. Frank loves horror movies because they really do expose a window into your own spirit. It’s a very interesting area to delve into.”
Darabont finally focused his attention on bringing “The Mist” to the big screen a couple of years ago. Why now? “I felt ready to try something completely different than what I’d done before,” says Darabont. “This film is an opportunity for me to get back to my horror roots-I really wanted to get back to the genre that I’ve always loved. I also wanted to try on a different kind of filmmaking-playing jazz versus conducting a symphony orchestra. I wanted to put painstaking precision aside in favor of guerilla filmmaking – shoot it super fast and as inexpensively as possible given the material. Some of the best horror films have been very low budget and done within extreme time constraints, and that was the tradition I wanted to embrace.”
Moreover, King fans had been itching for a film version of the story for years. “It’s a legendary story of King’s, and the fan base has been waiting for the movie version to be made for a while,” says Darabont. “You wait for all the planets to align and suddenly it’s finally time.”
Co-producers Garduño and Huth think Darabont just needed to have fun again. “I think he wanted to do something that reminded him of what he loves about directing,” says Garduño. “It’s almost like he’s a kid again.”
“He really wanted to have fun,” says Huth. “This is the first movie that he actually has enjoyed filming.”
Darabont agrees. “This has allowed me to throw everything that I know out the door and try on a different hat as a filmmaker,” he says. “It’s fun and it’s fast-it’s not a precise, measured thing. You’re not overthinking anything, you’re just going on instinct. It was liberating, and I loved it.”
Having adapted King’s work before, writing the script was “a very straightforward process because the material was so rich to begin with,” says Darabont.
The core idea of the story is preserved in the film: “The rules are stripped away, and now superstition has replaced reason and panic has replaced thought,” says Darabont. “What’s great about Steve’s story is the idea that, yes, there’s this mist that traps you in this supermarket with no clue as to what will happen next. But it’s not what’s outside that proves to be the real threat, it’s the inherent terror inside, the people in the market turning against one another. All of a sudden your friends are melting down, and they’re dangerous.”
Academy Award winner Marcia Gay Harden echoes this sentiment: “I was attracted to the `Lord of the Flies’ aspect of the story. `The Mist” is incredibly scary and remarkably intelligent. What do people do when they’re in catastrophic situations? Are people heroes? Are they divisive? And at what point do people crack?”
Darabont made a few changes to the narrative, like adding the character of Jessup (Sam Witwer). This is always the case, he says, when he adapts King’s work. “He trusts me with his material,” says Darabont. “He didn’t mind the liberties I took with `Shawshank’ or `Green Mile,’ and he really dug the liberties I took with this story.
“Fiction and film are two different languages, so things do change,” he continues. “You try to create the illusion that you’re telling the same story he wrote. You want to bring the story out, but you want to be respectful and maintain King’s voice in the screenplay.”
“Frank would never do anything without Stephen being completely on board. He feels a tremendous responsibility to get it right,” says Anna Garduño. “Frank and Stephen connect on some very deep level on what this material’s about.”
What was King’s biggest note after he read Darabont’s script? “Stephen sent me an email begging me not to have the actors try to attempt Maine accents in the film,” reports Darabont, “because it always sounds like a Pepperidge Farm commercial.”
Though the adaptation represents a return to Darabont’s genre roots, it is also a departure for him as well. “It’s not the mister nice guy stuff I’ve said before in my previous films. It’s darker,” Darabont says of the script. “I’ve been a little pissed off at mankind lately, and it shows.”
The ominous tone of the screenplay surprised some of Darabont’s longtime collaborators. “They know only my general optimism and my purported love of humanity,” he says with a devilish grin. “Now I’m gonna tell people what I really think of ’em.”
Last year, Darabont directed an episode of the critically acclaimed FX series “The Shield.” He was introduced to the show’s director of photography, Rohn Schmidt, who utilized a camera style that appealed to Darabont.
“`The Shield’ has attracted several high-end directors like John Badham and David Mamet,” says Schmidt. “Frank came in and did an episode with us, and he had a great time. He really connected with the crew. I think he really liked the fast, free, and easy approach to filmmaking that we do on the show.”
The style stems from “the idea of creating a moment on screen that has not existed before. It’s not rehearsed or planned out-you just happen to be there at that second capturing it,” Schmidt continues. “When we achieve that, it provides a very realistic, intimate, and present experience for the audience. When we’re successful, it’s magic.”
The “Shield” style uses two cameras at nearly all times. Both are always floating, searching for a reaction, an interesting angle, a glint of the light or an actor who’s hitting his lines. “The cameras have a lot of free range to shoot any actor at any time,” explains Schmidt.
“Instead of focusing on one piece of action, there are two cameras catching all kinds of bits and pieces. The operators have permission to follow what is more interesting.”
Darabont was sold on the less restrictive style. “It was a light bulb moment,” recalls Denise Huth. “He came out of the experience on `The Shield’ knowing that was how he was going to do `The Mist.’”
The choice was as much a budgetary decision as a creative one. Schmidt and “Shield” cameramen Bill Gierhart and Richard Cantu, whom Darabont also enlisted, were what Darabont calls the “secret weapon” that allowed the director to make a movie like “The Mist” in only 37 days on a meager budget. To shoot an elaborate scene involving most of the main characters, if done with normal coverage, would have taken a week. On “The Mist” it took one day.
“We would play a scene from beginning to end almost like a stage play,” says Darabont. “All the camera work is improvised. It’s a much looser, more ragged, vérité documentary kind of approach. You capture moments rather than pre-planning them. You just jump in. Billy and Richie improvise the coverage from take to take, while I’m watching what they’re doing in real-time on the monitors. I’ll go in after every take and make adjustments and suggestions – a little bit more of this, a little bit less of that – just like I would do with the actors. And then we’ll roll again.”
“Billy and Frank had a kind of telepathy,” says Rohn Schmidt. “Plus, Billy and Richie just have a nose for good performance.”
“I feel I had a bit of telepathy with both camera operators, actually,” Darabont says. “Billy and Richie are just amazing talents, and we seemed to have a knack for getting into one another’s heads while shooting. They’re incredibly intuitive and really know how to get in there and capture the moments of a scene. And Rohn’s not only a supreme talent, but by far the fastest D.P. I’ve ever seen. These three guys really were my secret weapon in shooting this on such a tight schedule. I could not have done it without them.”
“The camera is a participant,’ says Schmidt, “and it gives the scene a different energy. It has a pulse.”
“The actors had a very interesting adjustment to make, because there’s no saving the performance for the close up,” says Darabont. “You had to be on your game take after take.”
Next, Darabont rounded out his production team with Randi Richmond, who had met the director during meetings about another project.
“I had just finished a massive miniseries with earthquakes, volcanoes and a ton of visual effects,” says the co-producer. “When I read the script I immediately understood that this was going to be another picture with ambitious visual effects.”
Both King and Darabont, however, place well-drawn characters above all else, including effects. So casting the right actors for the over 35 speaking roles was essential.
Thomas Jane, no stranger to science-fiction having starred in such films as the forthcoming “The Mutant Chronicles” and “Dreamcatchers,” was cast as David Drayton, a movie poster artist and family man who becomes an unlikely hero. (It’s not a coincidence that Jane’s character resembles Drew Struzan, of whom Darabont is a huge fan and close personal friend. Struzan is the famed artist behind the movie posters for the Indiana Jones films, the Star Wars films and the Special Edition DVD’s of “The Shawshank Redemption” and “The Green Mile,” among many others. In an homage to the classic poster art that Darabont loves, a number of Struzan’s more renowned poster paintings appear in the opening scene in David’s studio. In fact, it’s a Struzan original commissioned by Darabont as a prop for this film that David is working on as the storm rolls in. Fans of Stephen King will recognize the image from his “Dark Tower” series.)
Jane was somebody Frank Darabont had always talked about for the role of Drayton. “He has always loved Tom as an actor,” says Denise Huth.
“I think this movie is going to do great things for Tom,” she continues. “He’s got this really strong movie star vibe about him. You just know he’s the hero of the movie, yet he’s different. He’s not the same guy you’ve seen in other movies.”
When Darabont sent Jane the script, Jane was pleasantly surprised. “It was one of those rare times that someone sends you something that’s actually really good,” he says.
Not surprisingly, it was the strength of the characters that drew Jane to the production. “With any story-especially a horror story or genre story-you look for really well drawn characters that can take you through what could otherwise be just a paint-by-numbers exercise, which is what ninety nine percent of genre movies are,” he says. “The ones like `The Mist,’ that invest in real characters and understand how to tell a story through characters, are the ones that succeed.
“It’s rare that a movie comes along like this, that you are willing to do anything to make it work,” he adds.
Oscar winner Marcia Gay Harden signed on to play Mrs. Carmody, an outspoken and ultimately divisive member of the holed-up group of citizens. For Harden, “The Mist” offered the actress “a chance to explore a genre that I hadn’t attempted yet-with two people who are really masters,” she explains, referring to Darabont and King.
And people do crack-especially Mrs. Carmody, whom Harden admits is “a bit of a religious freak who is very dedicated but very unstable,” says the actress. “Part of what makes her crack is power. I think that when you’re in a catastrophic situation, the mind can deteriorate very quickly.”
After Harden read the script, she confesses, “I wasn’t sure if I could do it.” She turned to old friend and fellow actor Andre Braugher, who had just agreed to play Brent Norton, a highpowered attorney and sometime nemesis of David, in the film. “Andre told me to read the book and I might understand it better.”
Braugher was drawn to the project by the opportunity to work with Frank Darabont. “Frank is a brilliant director and he did a wonderful adaptation,” says Braugher. “He adapted and directed one of the best films ever made, `The Shawshank Redemption.’ So when Frank Darabont wants to do a horror film in Louisiana, I’m there. Period.”
Braugher was intrigued by the inherent drama of the screenplay. “This is a piece in which people are being strongly drawn in different directions that are hard to resist,” he says. “Time is short, information is scarce, the stakes are high, and we’ve got to do something. And I liked that.”
Norton’s choice in the situation is to stubbornly play the tough-minded skeptic. “Norton is a hard bitten guy and a very good attorney. He just doesn’t believe in monsters,” says Braugher. “He just won’t believe.”
Laurie Holden, who starred in Darabont’s last film, “The Majestic,” plays town newcomer Amanda, who develops a close bond with David and his son. When Holden first read the script, “I thought it was great,” she says. “It was such a horrific morality tale. It was a very powerful story.
“What I love about this particular piece is that people’s characters are revealed under dire circumstances,” she continues. “When bad things happen to people, how they behave shows their true nature. How do people respond when life goes awry?”
Toby Jones, who was last seen starring opposite Naomi Watts in “The Painted Veil,” plays Ollie, a mild-mannered supermarket manager who is forced to take heroic measures to save his life and the lives of others.
“It’s interesting to work with directors whose work you admire,” says Jones of Darabont. “Also, I’m looking to change the kind of parts I do all the time.
“This is a different kind of film for me,” continues the actor. “You don’t know anything about these characters’ lives before everything takes place. In a way you don’t need to in a film like this. It’s the swift impact of events that is most enjoyable for the audience.”
Jeff DeMunn has been cast in all of Frank Darabont’s films thus far-and “The Mist’ was no exception. DeMunn says that when he gets a call from the director asking him to act in a project, “My answer is immediate-of course I’ll do it.
“It’s a wonderful friendship and working relationship that we have,” continues DeMunn, who recently appeared in “Hollywoodland.” “Frank is smart, and he’s creative. He’s got a big heart. And he’s courageous-he’ll try stuff. He never shuts you down.”
When DeMunn sat down with the script, he had a strong positive reaction. “Frank has such a wonderful sense of genres-for example, his tip of the hat to Capra in `The Majestic,’” says the actor. “I started reading `The Mist’ and I thought, perfect. We’re in good hands here.”
DeMunn’s character, Dan Miller, is one of the stronger, more reliable townspeople trapped in the pressure cooker. “The script reflects what happens to people when you surround them with fear. They do whatever they can to survive. There’s very much the feeling of first let me get mine, then I’ll take care of others,” says DeMunn. “Dan is a person you wouldn’t mind having next to you in a tough situation like this.”
Frances Sternhagen joined the cast as feisty schoolteacher Irene. Darabont had been a fan of Sternhagen ever since her comic turn in the 1979 comedy “Starting Over.”
When Sternhagen read the script, she couldn’t resist the idea of “combating these critters,” she says with a smile. “Especially when I read that I was racing around with bug spray and setting fire to spiders.”
She was also attracted by the more profound aspects of the story. “Stephen King and a great many other people are concerned about potentially destructive things happening without our knowledge,” says the actress. “It’s not a very pleasant story, but `The Mist’ is appealing because it reveals how human beings can be pretty vicious.”
William Sadler, another old friend of Frank Darabont’s who was cast in both “The Shawshank Redemption” and “The Green Mile,” plays Jim, a local mechanic with a chip on his shoulder.
“Jim is a bit of a bully,” says Sadler of his character. “He’s blue collar. He doesn’t like outsiders, folks that come to town and think they’re better than everybody else.”
Sadler loved finding the nuances in a character who could be easily pigeonholed as a narrow-minded good ole boy. “We know Jim starts here, and we know he ends up over here,” says Sadler. “How he gets there is not spelled out in great detail in the script. I love to fill in the blanks, to find all the little colors and notes to a character.”
Always game for another project with Darabont, Sadler was also attracted by the depth of the storylines in this genre film. “What’s extraordinary about this story is the breakdown of the social order that occurs,” he says. “It’s not about the creatures, it’s about the people in the situation. For all they know, the folks who are trapped may be the last people on the planet.”
Casting David’s young son Billy posed a particular challenge as the character is crucial to the overall storyline and the role demanded a young actor with significant acting abilities. The filmmakers’ prayers were answered when casting director Deb Aquila found 9-year-old Nathan Gamble for the role.
Not surprisingly, Gamble didn’t know who Stephen King was when he first got the call from his manager. “Now I know who he is,” explains Gamble, who made his big screen debut in Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu’s critically acclaimed “Babel.” “I didn’t know he did `Salem’s Lot,’ and my mom said that was the scariest movie she’s ever seen.”
Gamble is supremely confident about the film’s prospects. “Horror movies are cool,” he reports. “`The Mist’ is going to be a really cool movie.”
Alexa Davalos, who joined the cast as Sally, a supermarket checkout girl, had known Frank Darabont since she was a toddler. Her mother, actress Elyssa Davalos, and the director attended Hollywood High School together and remain friends.
“I have such a reverence for Frank’s work,” says Davalos, who also did the pilot of the recent NBC series “Raines” with Darabont. “He always brings something to the table that makes you say, wow, I didn’t see that coming. And `The Mist’ has a lot of those wow moments.”
For Davalos, the storyline resonates with the current environmental movement. “With pollution and global warming, we’re killing the earth right now,” she says. “There’s something really interesting about the idea that something like `The Mist’ is a metaphor for what we’re releasing into the air every day.”
The large, talented ensemble cast is rounded out by Sam Witwer, who makes his feature film debut in the pivotal role of Jessup. He won the role in classic Hollywood fashion-he did an impromptu reading for the role after helping a stranger laden with bags up to her L.A. office. The stranger was casting director Deb Aquila.
“Jessup is the character with the secret. He is the guy that the camera points to and says, What does he know?” explains Witwer of his attraction to the role. “And he gets to kiss the girl.”
He was also drawn in by the multifaceted characters. “Most films that I’ve seen recently are not very interested in characters,” he says. “They’re more interested in special effects or explaining some contrived plot device. `The Mist’ is really interested in the people, and that’s what will make it stand apart.”
* * *
Principal photography began on Fat Tuesday, February 20, 2007, in Shreveport, Louisiana. The trade and cultural center of a 200-mile radius known as the Ark-La-Tex -encompassing parts of southern Arkansas, northwestern Louisiana and eastern Texas- Shreveport was founded around 1835 by Captain Henry Miller Shreve. It is now a burgeoning film location due to the Louisiana legislature’s passage of hefty tax incentives for productions who choose to film in the state.
While assembling a top-notch crew, including director of photography Rohn Schmidt, editor Hunter Via (both of “The Shield,) Darabont turned to a couple of his high school pals, production designer Greg Melton and costume designer Gigi Ottobre-Melton to round out his crew.
“The quality of crew that we got for the price was amazing,” says co-producer Randi Richmond, who was also the line producer on the film. “We shot really quickly in a very short amount of time, and a lot of Frank’s friends with whom he’s worked in the past on big-budget pictures really helped us out.”
They were in for an adventure. “As a cameraman, I love reading a script for the first time, when the ideas start swimming around in my head. This one certainly grabbed me,” says Rohn Schmidt. “But my second thought was, how the heck are we going to shoot this? There were a lot of very difficult elements.
“Mist is always difficult to work with,” adds Schmidt. “It’s got to be consistent in color, texture and density.”
“This film was extremely ambitious. When I first saw the storyboards, my mouth dropped open,” echoes Greg Melton. “I couldn’t believe how many shots were in it, and how much action.”
The film shot mainly at StageWorks in downtown Shreveport. Melton’s main challenge was building the 12,000 square foot Food House Supermarket set on Stage A in a lightning-fast six weeks.
The story demanded a supermarket believably stocked with products-from the beer Jim and Myron drink to the multitude of flashlights that all of the characters use; from the t-shirt David changes into, to the rag mops that are converted to torches for use as weapons. “We also had to make sure that we had the store laid out so that we could follow the action,” says Melton.
During the design process, Melton and Darabont pictured the gable-roofed markets they’d grown up with in California in the 1960s. “I knew this market. It carried everything,” says Melton.
“Anything with Frank starts with a healthy dose of nostalgia,” he continues. “That’s been my experience working with him to conceive these sets. Somehow you walk into these places and you kind of feel at home. They’re familiar to you, yet there is nothing generic about them.”
Once completed, the market featured five checkout lanes, eight aisles, a meat department, a produce department, a frozen foods section and well-stocked wine racks. Everything from corn dogs to corn nuts to corn pads lined the startlingly realistic aisles. Except for the perishables, all of the items were real, largely provided by companies in exchange for product promotion. The items were then donated to local charities and shelters when production wrapped. Melton and his team added some Maine-specific and other personal touches: sharp-eyed viewers will notice a book rack in the store features only Stephen King paperbacks for sale.
Melton and Darabont were careful to maintain a timeless quality to the set. “We mixed future and past elements to keep everything off a little bit,” says Melton. “We didn’t use any registers that can read bar codes. Everything is hand totaled. We have dial phones, yet there are people using cell phones, too. We tried to make those kinds of stylistic choices.”
Another stylistic choice was the cheery color palette. “I wanted to keep it colorful at the beginning of the story,” says Melton. “As the mist descends on the market, the life sort of gets pulled out of the environment. So vibrant colors in the beginning gave us somewhere to go later in the movie when the tones turn darker and more ominous.”
Says Darabont, “Greg’s a top-notch production designer, A-level all the way. And it’s great to work with somebody I’ve known since we were teenagers, because we get a great vibe and shorthand going. And the market he and his crew built is just a marvel. That may sound strange because it’s not a particularly exotic setting, but even something as seemingly every-day as an old supermarket can be rendered brilliantly, and Greg really did that. The layout was awesome for filming, but add to that how perfectly it conveys a certain era with all the texture that entails, all the subtleties required…well, it’s just brilliant. And that Greg did it from start to finish in just six weeks is amazing.”
Darabont and Melton devised a design of the market that would allow for real mist to creep in around it. “The windows of the supermarket set face out onto the parking lot set, which are both on Stage A,” says Darabont. “We were able to fill the parking lot half of the sound stage with mist and seal it off from the supermarket half that we were working in. So if somebody walked outside during a scene, they vanished into real mist, not just a backdrop.”
Working in the confines of the supermarket set week after week, it wasn’t difficult for the actors to pretend they were, well, trapped in a supermarket. “It’s oddly stressful working in a supermarket,” says Toby Jones. “Normally, I want to get out of supermarkets in real life. I try to minimize the amount of time I spend in them, and here I’ve spent most of the movie in one!”
When shooting in the market, Darabont was often on a loudspeaker system in order to be heard by the actors and extras and to communicate with camera operators Bill Gierhart and Richard Cantu.
Darabont was amazed by the dedication of his cast to the often grueling process. “There was precious little time sitting around in trailers on this movie,” he says. “I loved my cast. They brought commitment and conviction to this movie every single day. Plus they kept raising the bar on one another, which was a thrill for me. It was like watching a world-class basketball team playing their A-game, passing the ball back and forth and pushing one another onward.”
Some of the actors weren’t fazed by the fast-paced, stay-on-your-toes style. “I did six years of this on `Homicide,’” says Andre Braugher. “I’m very familiar with a camera that can’t quite make up its mind what it wants to shoot.”
“I liked this style,” adds Thomas Jane. “It made perfect sense to me. I liked the interactive quality of a roving camera. It was almost like a war reporter capturing a battle, where anything goes and anything can happen.”
Jeff DeMunn was also comfortable with the style that he refers to as “the heat-seeking approach.” “It’s the closest thing I’ve ever experienced in film to what it’s like working on stage,” he says. “You’re always on. You don’t say, oh well, this isn’t my shot. You’re always fully involved in the event.”
For others, the process took a little more getting used to. “It was so fly-by-the-seat-ofyour- pants, never knowing where the camera was. There could be two cameras at any point over your head, or in your face,” laughs Laurie Holden. “And you’re in every shot, from the second you show up to the second you wrap. Frank told me it was going to be fast and furious, to be prepared for anything, and he was right.”
Some of the actors, like Sam Witwer, left with a new respect for the men behind the lens. “I had Billy Gierhart strap me into the steadicam rig. I could barely keep anyone in frame,” says Witwer. “Billy makes it look so easy, but it’s not. It’s carrying ninety pounds of camera equipment around while doing all these very delicate movements just to get the camera to be level and behave.”
As for Darabont, whose indomitable energy and enthusiasm for the material inspired cast and crew alike, the process was liberating, just as he’d hoped. It was commonplace to see the director pumping a fist, breaking into a mile-wide grin or otherwise physically reacting to the action unfolding on the monitors.
“Frank got so excited watching the monitors,” says Denise Huth with a smile. “For him, directing is an interactive sport. I tease him that he’s an overgrown twelve-year-old having the time of his life playing with his toys.”
“Frank was like a kid in a candy store,” says DeMunn. “The glee that he brought to this project and the joy that these two camera operators had together was infectious.”
“It’s good,” adds Huth. “It’s fun to see him having so much fun, because usually he’s walking around torturing himself.”
Those who worked with Darabont for the first time relished the experience. “What I love about Frank is that, though this is a genre film, there’s a human impact, too,” says Marcia Gay Harden. “There’s a story being told beyond just, `Ooh, let’s be afraid of the bugs.’”
“Working with Frank was a great experience for me,” says Thomas Jane. “He’s so intuitive and responsive. If a line’s not working he doesn’t try force it into an actor’s mouth, he changes the line to fit the actor. It’s the kind of experience that you hope for as an actor.”
Andre Braugher agrees. “Frank gives all his actors license to do what it is that they need to do, which is liberating,” he says. “It’s great to work with somebody who feels free to experiment.”
“I think directing is a very hard job, and very few people can do it well,” concludes Jane. “Frank’s one of those guys that does it really well.”
Because of the condensed schedule, every day featured something eye-popping on the set of “The Mist.” Gunfire, carnivorous spiders, pyrotechnics, human sacrifice-they were all in a day’s work.
Even B cameraman Richard Cantu confessed he got scared while operating the camera in the middle of the scene in which Mrs. Carmody confronts Jessup and whips an angry mob into a frenzy. The scene involved a hundred extras in addition to the entire cast.
“My heart was pounding,” says Laurie Holden. “Carmody’s confrontation with Jessup was awesome because the mob violence felt so real. Everybody got so into it-the extras, the crew. It was so visceral.”
“It really surprised me just how scary that scene was,” echoes Denise Huth. “With all the cheering, yelling, and screaming, I was tense just sitting there at the monitors. Obviously none of it’s real, and you tell yourself that. But I had never experienced that on set before, a feeling like I was actually nervous watching a scene unfold.
“For me, it’s the scariest scene in the whole movie,” she adds. “The creatures are the eye candy, but what people can do to each other is by far the scariest thing.”
Fellow producer Randi Richmond had a similar reaction. “To experience that mob mentality on our set was scary,” she says. “The energy was absolutely mind-boggling. It was horrifying.”
The effectiveness of the scene was due in part to Marcia Gay Harden’s layered performance. In light of her extreme behavior, Mrs. Carmody could easily shift from character to caricature in the hands of a lesser actress. “A tough role to pull off,” says Darabont. “Making an extreme character feel real always is. Marcia was just fantastic, she really made it convincing.”
Darabont, Harden and costume designer Gigi Ottobre-Melton collaborated to create the right look for the character. After exploring several possibilities-looks they dubbed “the nun,” “the hippie” and “the Tammy Faye,” to name a few-they settled on a prettier, more sedate look for Carmody that they called “the preacher’s daughter.”
“Frank chose the nun. I really wanted to go with the preacher’s daughter, which wasn’t as obvious. I didn’t want her to be so overtly ugly,” says Harden of Carmody. “Frank was right there along with me.
“Somewhere along the way,” laughs Harden, who severely thinned her eyebrows and donned hair extensions for the role, “this character evolved from a fat ugly lady in a pantsuit to a diva!”
The extras were an important element in the scene as well. In fact, many of these background players were part of a core group whose movements and expressions were just as important as the key players’ throughout the film.
With the producers new to the Shreveport area, and to the same degree, with filmmaking new to Shreveport, the producers were worried about finding the right extras. They needn’t have worried.
“This movie asked a lot of the extras,” says Toby Jones. “I was impressed by their patience and commitment.” Co-Producer Denise Huth adds, “Our extras were phenomenal. We required much more of them than extras are typically asked to do. They needed to be integrated seamlessly amid all the speaking roles, to react and engage in a believable, organic way and they absolutely delivered.”
“If our extras hadn’t been so good, our lead actors would have been left hanging in a lot of these scenes,” adds Darabont. “But the extras were right in there with our primary cast, giving it all they had. They really cared, and were exemplary. I’m very grateful to them.”
Scene 35, the lengthy scene in which mass terror and confusion ensues when the birds and bugs first descend upon the Food House, was another major undertaking. It was shot over six days-one sixth of the film’s entire schedule.
“Scene thirty-five was about ten pages of the script, and technically all one scene. It was the biggest sequence in the entire movie,” says Denise Huth. “It involved almost every actor.”
“The way we shot that whole scene blows my mind to this day,” says Randi Richmond. “We just flew through those sequences.”
In addition to many other memorable moments, including a gun-wielding Ollie, several grisly deaths and Mrs. Carmody’s close encounter with a bug, the scene involved the character Joe Eagleton accidentally being set on fire by a lighter fluid-soaked mop. Underneath his wardrobe, stunt double Jason Gray wore three layers of Nomex (a flame-retardant material), long underwear, and a head-to-toe covering of a thick gel containing aloe vera, tea tree oil and other natural ingredients. The fire sequence was captured in two takes.
The “earthquake” scene was another major sequence to orchestrate. Over 100 cast members and extras confined in the relatively small supermarket space were sent tumbling because of a huge, temblor-like jolt.
To simulate the quake, off-camera crew members threw groceries and other debris into the frame and shook the racks in the aisles. Monofilament was strung along the hanging light fixtures so that one crew person could manipulate them all, making them sway precariously. A voluminous booming sound was piped in to the surprise of the actors, eliciting a genuinely startled reaction.
The scene was done in one take except for a few pickups. The cast and crew were game for the intense scenes. “No one left this show without a bruise,” says Randi Richmond. “Nobody was a wimp. We were amazed day after day when cast members said, `Okay, let’s go again,’ after getting smacked upside the head by something. The cast was so into it-we didn’t have to do the stunt doubling we thought we’d have to do.”
The loading dock set was built on Stage B at StageWorks, where production actually began. The film’s first major special effects sequence-a gripping struggle to save the life of Norm the bag boy, played by Chris Owen-took place here.
The pharmacy set was built on Stage B once the loading dock set was struck. The entire contents of the pharmacy-from the tchotchkes to the prescription bottles to the soda fountain fixtures-were rented from an elderly lady in Atlanta, TX, who was closing the pharmacy she had owned with her husband until his recent death. The webs shrouding the interior of the pharmacy were created by a local artist couple using plastic sheeting and a hot glue gun.
In the pharmacy, Greg Melton and Darabont “wanted the audience to feel as lost as our characters,” says Melton. “You don’t know if the set is ten feet wide or a hundred feet wide. Our characters suddenly realize that they have been swallowed up, and they’re in big trouble.”
Additional locations included Tom’s Market in Vivian, LA, where exterior Food House scenes were shot. The exterior scenes at the beginning of the movie were shot near Cross Lake in Shreveport, where a large, white home built in 1938 and formerly owned by a local congressman stood in for the Drayton House. The film’s chilling final scenes were shot at Camp Minden, an Army National Guard installation about 30 miles east of Shreveport.
Special effects, visual effects and creature effects played a huge role in the film. SPFX coordinator Darrell Pritchett was in charge of on-set physical effects, including the mist. The combination of mainly propylene glycol and water was pumped in through giant tubes made of a material similar to heavy-duty plastic wrap. In minutes, the set was almost totally obscured by the vapor.
“When we got to Shreveport, and Darrell did his first mist test on the small stage, all of our jaws dropped,” recalls Randi Richmond. “You couldn’t see five feet in front of your face. We all said, `Oh my god, this works. This is really the mist!’ Frank wasn’t with us at the time. We all ran upstairs and called him like a bunch of kids on Christmas morning.”
During production, the mist was like just another actor on set- if less warmly received. “You can’t see anything in it. If something does appear, it pops out at you,” says Jeff DeMunn.
“The mist is a formidable adversary, and not a very pleasant interior.” The movie also contained over 300 visual effects shots, engineered by VFX supervisor Everett Burrell and his CafeFX team. Greg Nicotero of KNB EFX Group and his crew handled the makeup effects needed and worked closely with Burrell and Cafe. Nicotero also handled second unit directing chores.
A tour through the KNB room in the production office on any given day was a feast for the eyes of any sci-fi or creature feature fan. Handpainted tentacles made of thick foam rubber, dummies of dried up bodies, giant representations of menacing bugs and birds, and boxes of condoms (which make great vessels for fake blood spurt) all loomed in the studio at one time or another.
“’The Mist’ is unapologetically a horror movie,” says Frank Darabont. “I’m not messing around with namby-pamby definitions. I set out to make a horror movie.”
Nicotero and Darabont, assisted by Bernie Wrightson, a longtime friend and legendary artist known for his horror illustrations, spent months designing the creepy crawlies. They were assisted by artists Michael Broom, Tristan Shane and Aaron Sims.
“It’s hard to design monsters anymore, because so many monsters have been made,” says Darabont. “Thank god I had Greg Nicotero to work it out with. We both grew up reading Famous Monsters of Filmland, so we had a great shorthand. “It’s this mysterious language of obscure movie references that we speak that nobody else seems to understand.”
In the story, King describes four different kinds of creatures, none of which are sharply defined by the author-spiders, birds, bugs, and a tentacled creature. Turning these concepts into living, breathing creatures was a challenge.
“You want these things to be true to what King wrote, but how do you do it in such a way that they don’t remind you of somebody else’s creature from somebody else’s movie?” says Darabont. “How do you make this one different?”
Darabont and Nicotero tossed around numerous design ideas, many of which were nixed because they looked too much like something else. “I’ve seen enough dragons and dinosaurs in other movies,” says Darabont. “I wanted to create a new impression.
“What we ended up with I think is pretty fantastic,” he concludes. Everett Burrell was able to use a Maya pre-visualization program on several scenes, which allowed Darabont and the filmmakers to watch a VFX scene play out on a laptop computer using very basic CGI animation in advance of shooting.
After filming any shot involving a creature effect, Burrell’s team filmed a referencing shot with a bird or bug puppet provided by Nicotero’s team so VFX knew where to insert the digital creature in post-production. Nicotero and Burrell were often seen toting these large plastic creatures around.
“I think KNB and Greg Nicotero are absolutely amazing. I love working with this kind of special effects because it makes me feel like a kid again, using my imagination,” says Laurie Holden. “It was so much fun to kill imaginary birds and put out fires. It was exciting stuff.”
Not all of the actors shared Holden’s enthusiasm about their creepy co-stars. “Just standing next to the them makes you jump out of your skin,” says Bill Sadler.
“They’re the creepiest looking things I’ve ever seen.” Unlike King’s novella, the movie version of “The Mist” takes a definite stand at the end.
“If there was any aspect of the adaptation that made me a little nervous, it was that King’s story was open ended. We don’t know what happens,” says Darabont of his decision to end the movie decisively. “That can be pretty cool at times, or it can be really annoying. I think in a movie like this, to not have a conclusive ending would be really annoying. So I provided a conclusive ending.”
Darabont discussed the ending with King. “He sent me an email about the ending that I treasure. He said if he had thought of that ending he’d have used it in the story. I thought that was awesome.
“I had Steve’s endorsement,” says Darabont. “The audience may kick my ass, but Steve’s with me on this one.”
* * *
Some have said that the “The Mist” will leave audiences cherishing what they hold most dear.
“When people leave this movie they will be wide awake. They will walk out of the theater thinking life is so precious,” says Garduño. “This movie will get people thinking and talking about what really matters.”
Frank Darabont has a decidedly different hope. “I hope people leave thinking about a few things,” he allows. “I want people to feel like they went on this crazy, tense ride and got the most from the two hours they invested in `The Mist.’”
“I also hope,” he adds, “that it scares the crap out of them.”
Stephen King’s The Mist (2007)
Directed by: Frank Darabont
Starring: Thomas Jane, Marcia Gay Harden, Laurie Holden, Andre Braugher, Toby Jones, William Sadler, Alexa Davalos, Jeff DeMunn, Chris Owen, Frances Sternhagen, Amin Joseph
Screenplay by: Frank Darabont
Production Design by: Gregory Melton
Cinematography by: Ronn Schmidt
Film Editing by: Hunter M. Via
Costume Design by: Giovanna Ottobre-Melton
Music by: Mark Isham
MPAA Rating: R for violence, terror and gore, and language.
Distributed by: Dimension Films
Release Date: November 21, 2007