Mick Garris Interview Part 2
Mick Garris to me is arguably one of the most inspiring and down right nicest person in Hollywood. To me he’s been one of the most inspiring persons in my life. I was lucky to do two awesome interviews with him. The first you can read here. This portion of the interview was taken the next day. Mick was nice enough to invite me back for more questions. So much so this second interview had to be broken into two parts. He just gave me too much good material that nothing he said was expendable to me.
You seem to deal with a lot of the darker side of things in your movies. Even more so than most horror directors of your generation. What I see in your work is a lot of personal inflection. What in Riding the Bullet was you and not just Stephen King’s story?
Mick Garris: A lot of what was drawn from my life is similar to King. We share a lot of similarities in our background in a certain regard. We were both raised by single moms in very uncomfortable circumstances. There was not a lot of money to be had and it was kind of a hard scrabble, his maybe more so. I had a mom who just passed away last December but she raised four kids. She had to work and do a lunch truck and all kinds of things to make ends meet similar to Riding the Bullet. I also wanted to be an artist when I was young and I loved horror and dark imagery and the like. Although, once I started writing at 12 I kind of gave up drawing. I really found myself drawn to the darker side of things, but not glamorizing it. The character of Alan in Riding the Bullet has this death wish you know. He’s suicidal because its glamorous. He feels like it’s an artist’s fate to be obsessed with death and his bluff is called by an emissary of death who says “Ok, it should be easy. Go ahead, take your own life.” you know? When I was a teenager I think most thoughtful and artistic teens considered. The dark side of stuff is what you usually aren’t outgoing about. I was very much alone and didn’t have a lot of friends in junior high, high school, like so many people who are in the genre or in the arts at all. So those are the things that you don’t talk about. When I was reading Stephen King from the very beginning I always envied the honesty. You know, the Shining is so honest about what a father can feel, the anger he can feel toward his own helpless kid because he pisses him off by misbehaving when things are going wrong. For me, Riding the Bullet was an attempt at that kind of honesty. Being in touch with the less savory parts of a character and other peoples character that I think we all have.
You said you had 3 siblings?
MG: Yeah, there were three and then my mother remarried and had three more.
Where were you among those?
MG: Number 2. Three boys one girl
You started off with music. Did you find that as an early escape from your situation that kind of lead into film making? Do you still play music at all?
MG: Well, I drew first and that was my outlet, but I wanted to be a cartoonist. I wanted to make animated films when I was a kid. The music didn’t happen until college but writing was really the outlet. From the age of 12 I was writing horror stories and grotesqueries. I was really inspired by the Richard Mathesons and the Ray Bradbury’s of the world. I think Ray Bradbury was my favorite writer. I read everything he wrote by the time I was 14. I may have been the class clown and stuff but I was not a popular kid by any means. So I kind of found my footing with the band. I was the front man of the band. I was the lead singer and that kind of changed my life from being very inward to being very outward. So I became more socially comfortable and I became popular because I was part of a band. I was very theatrical and bigger than life and all of that but I always thought if the band was successful it would allow me to be a writer and then maybe a screen writer and that if I really worked hard I would get that chance to direct. I was thinking 30 years earlier about being the next Rob Zombie before there ever had been a crossover artist like that. It didn’t really have anything to do with it, but it did change my life in that I was performing publicly for an audience even though it was being onstage writing songs and singing and performing. It was doing something for an audience and I’m much more comfortable and enjoy being behind the camera. It didn’t really have much to do with one another except instilling the confidence to go ahead and do it.
You brought up Rob Zombie. I know that he’s been listed as a person who’s attended your MOH dinners as well as Eli Roth. How well received are these younger directors who haven’t necessarily gone through as much heartache and trouble and success as the rest of the guys?
MG: You know, it’s a very non judgmental group. We’ve lived in the gutters so long. Outside of the genre there’s very little respect for it other than the bank accounts. I think I mentioned in the panel that the studios and networks don’t like, know, or respect the horror genre so you’re lumped into this gutter where they don’t offer you a great drama because you’ve made this incredible film. I don’t know whether or not the “Gray haired masters” appreciate the films by Rob Zombie or Eli Roth but that doesn’t even come into play. Everybody’s accepted. If you’ve made a horror feature or two or three or four, it’s not about the quality of it to join the club. It’s more of a come on in. It’s not that exclusive. It’s exclusive enough to be one of the guys who’s just gone through this because it’s not an easy road. Even for Eli it’s not an easy road. He was in his 30’s before he did his first movie and its a different world going into the horror genre . It’s the trenches that you’re often not let out of, so you better love it . It’s hard enough to make a bad movie. It’s just as hard to make a bad movie as it is to make a good one. So we all know how hard that is. It’s also an evolving group of people. Its whoever’s in town and in the mood and able and not working so every one of those dinners has a different group of people in it. A lot of constants, mainly me, and lot of different people. Ken Russel came once when he was visiting, David Croneneberg was there when he was in town, Dario had been there.
Now you’ve done work with Croneneberg, behind the scenes stuff for…
MG: I did the making of Videodrome and he recommended me as a writer for The Fly 2 but he also acted in two of the things I’ve directed in Toronto. He played a cop in a mini series called The Judge which is the only non scifi, horror or fantasy thing Ive been allowed to direct. And he was in an episode of a series called Happy Town that I directed and he was great in both of those. I did publicity on Scanners actually, and Videodrome.
I know you did a featurette or behind the scenes on The Thing.
MG: The Thing, The Fog, Gremlins and The Goonies.
Is that where you got your connection to Carpenter?
MG: No, my first film job was doing publicity on The Fog I was at AVCO Embassy, they brought me in and I had gotten this gig interviewing people on the Z Channel, the local pay TV channel in LA at the time. They would show genre films and I would do a 15 minute interview before the film. So Carpenter was on it and Steven Spielberg and various other people but it was only seen in LA and only on one cable system that happened to serve the west side of Beverly Hills and Santa Monica where all those people lived. So I got this job, I was the first specialized publicist in sci fi, fantasy and horror at AVCO Embassy and The Fog was the first thing I did. Then they kept me on to do The Howling and Escape from New York. The head of AVCO Embassy moved to Universal and he brought me on to do Videodrome and The Thing and E.T. So the connections kinda came through the TV show. I called Spielberg’s office and arranged an interview with him and he said yes! And afterward he told me he really enjoyed it ’cause would usually do Entertainment Tonight and sound bites where its all to promote your movie or whatever and this was just a conversation about his work. So he asked me to do the interviews with him for the Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom documentary. Then later on when I was shooting for the making of The Goonies, on the first day of production up in Astoria, Oregon he said “oh you must do a lot of these things” and at the time I was kind of giving it up because I was going to make a full time commitment to writing. So I told him I was doing less of that because of trying to commit to writing. And he said “Oh really, because Im looking for writers for this show I’m doing called Amazing Stories.” My agent at the time had sent a script to the Amazing Stories people that I had written called “Uncle Willy” that they really liked and someone snuck me the coverage and it was incredibly positive and it ended with “hire this man.” So Spielberg, when they were looking for writers said “let’s give Mick a chance” so I was the first one brought in to write one of the episodes.
Didn’t Matheson work on Amazing Stories as well?
MG: Yeah, Richard Christian Matheson did one that Tobe Hooper directed called “Miss Universe” He did another one too… Matheson Sr on the second season was part of a consulting staff of Robert Zamecus and bob Gale, Micheal McDowll, Richard Matheson, myself. The first season I was a story editor. They brought me on full time and then in the second season I had started getting other opportunities and things so I was part of this weekly meeting where everyone had read the scripts that had come in and gave recommendations and script suggestions and the like. It was this very heavy mix of Spielberg and Zamekus and Matheson and me and it was this incredible education and I don’t think it’s something that had ever been done before.
I remember growing up some of my earliest memories are of watching Amazing Stories.
MG: Wow.. about 1/3 of them are great, 1/3 of them are mediocre and 1/3 of them are just awful.
I recently re-watched the whole series and some of them I watched twice, like the one with Christopher Lloyd in it.
MG: Oh yes, “Go to the Head of the Class.” Most of the stories were ideas by Spielberg and that was my first original story. That was a blast. It was written to be a half hour and they padded it out to an hour because Zemekis did so many wild and wacky things.
It’s funny that you brought up “Miss Universe” with Weird Al Yankovic…
MG: I think that was a short story by Matheson Sr and then adapted by Richard Christian.
That was definitely a little more on the fringe
MG: That was a goofier one, yeah. Definitely a goofy one. I actually got an Edgar award for the script that I did for “The Amazing Fallsworth” which was the night club psychic with Jane Gregory Hines and Richard Mazer. That was my first experience with an award. It was pretty amazing.
Obviously Amazing Stories did very well.
MG: Actually it was a flop. It was a disaster. Universal committed to 44 episodes, 2 seasons, because it was Spielberg, it was groundbreaking at the time. And they had to do it. The first season was disappointing and the second season went way down but they couldn’t do anything about it because of the contract.
I grew up with it on marathons on USA and they would just play it all weekend.
MG: It was better in hindsight but anthologies were not and to this day are not successful and with broadcast tv, which has the widest reach, people want to get to know characters and situations. Amazing Stories was particularly schizophrenic. You’d get an animated episode one week and a kiddy fantasy another week and then “The Amazing Fallsworth” and “Life on Death Row” and “Mirror Mirror” were really dark dramatic horrific sort of things.
Do you see yourself ever doing another anthology project?
MG: I’ve tried. I don’t want to do MOH again. You know, we did it, it worked out great. Fear Itself was such a crashing disappointment and heartbreak. There have been a couple of things I’ve tried to get off the ground, so far unsuccessfully. They may give birth to something else but I’d love to do a series of feature films that would be under a certain umbrella. That’s something I’ve tried to do as well. Like an international version where we do it all around the world. But so far anthology is a tougher sell. It was a tough sell at the time of MOH but what we pitched to them was the best people in the genre doing whatever they wanted to do and it sold like that. It’s not the same market these days you know. Unfortunately you have to abide by those marketplace requirements.
I can’t help but gush over how exciting it was to talk with Mick. Meeting him at Salt Lake Comic Con FanXperiance definitely goes down in my book of best days of my life. In the third and final part of my interview with him we talk about conventions, foreign horror movies, and producing his peers like John Landis, Dario Argento, John Carpenter, and Don Coscarelli. Please stay tuned for that as it may be the best installment of this three part interview with thee master of horror.