Anyone in the horror industry who HASN’T heard of Mick Garris, the Nicest Guy in Hollywood, needs a good smack! A prolific producer/director of many of the TV adaptations of Stephen King’s works including The Stand and The Shining as well as being the father of the Masters of Horror series, Garris is also a published author. His two books to date, Development Hell and A Life in the Cinema are hilariously scathing looks at the “real” Hollywood (if Hollywood has any elements that could be called “real”). And now, he has contributed another “roast” of La-La Land for Dark Delicacies III: Haunted, “Tyler’s Third Act”.
Dread Central managed to catch the never-stopping-for-a-breather Garris for a brief interview before he hits the editing room for his latest film. And as always, he is THE nicest guy!
DC: Hello for the, I believe, third time now, Mick. One of my favorite interviewees! And thank you for taking time out of your production schedule to participate in this Dark Delicacies” “project”. How did you find yourself becoming a part of Del and Jeff’s latest anthology?
MG: Jeff and I have been friends since the Seventies, when he was a DJ on a local rock radio station, and I was the singer in a band in San Diego. We were both genre hounds at the time. Del and I have been friends for a long time as well, but not nearly so long as Jeff and I. They’d asked me to be a part of the first one, but I just didn’t have the time then. I’ve been writing fiction since I was 12 years old, and been getting it published with some regularity since the Eighties, so with my visibility in the horror film and TV world, as well as a track record with fiction, and the not-so-coincidental friendships, it was just a matter of when I’d be able to do it. The time was right: I had a story idea and the time to write it.
DC: Your story, “Tyler’s Third Act”, reminded me of something Ben Stiller, Robert Downey, Jr., and Jack Black all said in the behind-the-scenes for the Hollywood-skewing Tropic Thunder, which is that none of them would ever get work again after the movie opened. Obviously they were kidding and Downey even got an Oscar nomination, but this story really exposes the nasty underside of Hollywood and the film industry. I assume you fear no man or woman in the industry taking umbrage at your story?
MG: Well, hell, I’ve made a bit of a sideline writing the kind of fiction that nobody will make into movies. My novel, Development Hell, was even more of a feeding-hand biter than “Tyler”. I always enjoy reading an insider’s view of what he’s satirizing. And the world of movies and television is easily satirized. But I wanted to take it down to the level of the troops, not the usual movie-star, People Magazine celebrity, but the real-world, get-up-before-dawn work in the trenches types and the inevitable career hills and valleys the guys without marquee names go through. And, of course, exaggerate it just enough to not lose credibility. And I find that the darker you go, the funnier it gets. To a point.
DC: How did this story come into being? Some true-life event or just your observation of the film industry and how it eats its young?
MG: No one event. But seeing the worlds I’ve worked in evolving as everything does, particularly in these times of financial woes. I love to look at the egos of those involved in this business and puncture them a bit. It’s like any other business, just with a spotlight shining on it. As movies for television and miniseries have sort of disappeared, as independent film production is fading away, as unique and interesting stand-alone films are increasingly replaced by sequels and remakes for and about teenagers, I wanted “Tyler” to have a primal scream, so I can keep a smile on my face.
DC: What is Mick Garris’ definition of “haunted”, as it applies to this collection?
MG: I haven’t gotten a copy of the book yet, so I couldn’t tell you. But as far as “Tyler” goes, in this story he’s being haunted by the dreams of what he could have been (a contender?), crushed in the ashtray of his life. Only in his ultimate failure could he have achieved the fame and fortune of his dreams. It sure isn’t his talent that would rescue him.
DC: Being in the thick of the film industry, it may be hard to show “favoritism”, but what are some of your current favorite horror films?
MG: I love the stuff by Guillermo del Toro, who seems to be doing some of the most original works of horrific fantasy of recent years. I thought Midnight Meat Train was terrific, a lot of the work the guys did on Masters of Horror, without having the burden of being mall-tested and focused-grouped to death, allowed some of the best filmmakers in horror history to do some of their best work without interference. I can’t say I’m much enamored of teen horror, or horror comedy, or franchises.
DC: And some of your favorite horror writers/novels?
MG: Well, King, of course. We’re working on getting Bag of Bones off the ground, and it’s one of my very favorite of his. I love Matheson, Bradbury, Barker. There’s a lot of good stuff out there, but I’d love to find the best of the new breed. There’s so much going on in publishing that it’s becoming harder to find fresh new work in horror fiction, just like in Hollywood. I’m a big fan of Charlie Huston, though he’s not exactly a horror writer. And the noir authors of the Thirties and Forties—Cain, Chandler, Woolrich, and a bunch of the pulp guys that Hard Case has been publishing—have some of the richest, most compelling work on the printed (or Kindled) page.
DC: The question everyone seems to be asking in one way or another is, “Where are the current trends in horror films taking viewers?” What are your feelings about the current batch of CGI-driven/PG-13/pretty 20-something “actors”/torture porn in horror films?
MG: I just don’t have much interest. Give me a story I haven’t heard before, people it with characters I recognize and can empathize and sympathize with, and I’m hooked. Take me somewhere unexpected, and I’m yours. But franchises and remakes and bland teen-appeal, frightless fright films don’t really interest me. CGI is just a tool, and you can use it well or badly. If it’s your raison d’etre, well, wake me when it’s over. But if it’s used because it’s the best way to tell the story, then hurray. I mean, Jurassic Park was the first movie that relied on CG effects, and I thought it was wonderfully successful. It’s the only way to tell that tale.
DC: Many people may be unaware that you ARE a published author yourself as well as an amazing director, Development Hell and My Life in the Cinema being two of your books. Which outlet do you enjoy more: writing or directing?
MG: I love them both. Screenwriting is a bit more limiting than fiction writing, as there are a lot more rules: you have to consider budget, schedule, actors, studio notes, all of that. But in fiction, it’s much freer. But directing is a wonderful explosion of creativity that you’re sharing with a massive crew and cast. It’s a train that takes a long, slow ride climbing the hill of pre-production, but once you’re shooting, it’s a runaway train that you can’t jump off of or run out of the way.
DC: According to the ever (un)reliable IMDb, you are currently in production directing Stephen King’s Bag of Bones as well as producing King’s From a Buick 8. Do you ever SLEEP, Mick??
MG: Well, we’re not in production on either one yet, but getting closer. There are several other things in the works, but ultimately, only a small percentage of the stuff on the table ever sees the light of day. I used to only work on one thing at a time (and literally, I still do), but having several projects on the burners is the only way to keep going. And ultimately, the next production comes up unexpectedly, and you’ll find yourself shooting in Toronto on something you’d never heard of three weeks before you’re on the plane.
DC: May I make the assumption that as long as Stephen King continues to write, you and Frank Darabont will have major films to direct/produce/etc.?
MG: Well, Frank’s will surely be more major. But I love Steve and his work. We just seem to connect, as friends as well as collaborators. There are plenty of people making “Stephen King Movies”, but nothing would make me happier than to continue being among them.
DC: What advice would you give people who want to break into the horror fiction genre? There is a LOT of crapola out there right now (no titles, please).
MG: Just write something that can stand out from the pack, develop a voice and use it. And keep writing. It’s something you can get better and better at as time goes by, just by living. But practicing keeps you getting better. The more you read, the more you experience, the more you see, the better writer you can become. But you have to tell a story that feels new and fresh. Not that you can’t be successful as a hack, in publishing as well as screenwriting, by regurgitating what’s already out there. You might even find greater success by following trends and focus groups and box office charts. If so, more power to you. But if you can give voice in a unique and compelling and entertaining way, I think your success can last longer.
DC: Are there more novels in your future, Mick?
MG: Yes. I hope. Depends on time and all, but I actually wrote a script that I meant to be an expanded outline for a new novel called The Director’s Cut, but it looks like we might actually be turning it into a film. But that would be my next novel, if I get the time to write it.
DC: Would you like to add anything I haven’t covered?
MG: No, it’s fun to talk about fiction rather than the filmed material for a change. Thanks for the opportunity.
DC: Finally, do you ever get tired of being (honestly) described as The Nicest Guy in Hollywood?
MG: Well, I blush. I haven’t heard it that much, but the name of my corporation is Nice Guy Productions. I used it as a joke on my first short film. I had recently been divorced, and when I was going out again, I started getting “you’re such a nice guy” from women I was dating, and it really wasn’t the response I was hoping for. But it’s important to me that you don’t have to be an asshole to live a decent life in this business. So it’s a joke and a philosophy.
A big thanks to Mick for taking time out of his busy schedule to chat with us.
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