Redeeming the Writer  Part 2     redeemingthewriter.jpg (12488 bytes)    

      There is a segment in Shawshank when one of the prisoners, Brooks, is released after spending much of his life behind bars. It is a long interlude depicting his exposure to "outside" life, and though I liked it and felt it worked, I wondered if Darabont ever had given serious consideration to losing it or cutting it down. ""Absolutely not. Thatís the heart of Shawshank. Thatís what itís all about. I thought the Brooks segment worked best the way it was." In fact, with the foreshadowing by the Brooks interlude of Redís later journey from prison, Darabont did tighten the later segment.
     I wondered whether that final scene with Red and Andy on the beach made Frank feel good knowing that he was going to deliver something to the audience that would really make them feel good. "Oh God yes. Well isnít that really what filmmaking is. Itís about feeling an emotion and being able to communicate it to other people. Thatís the heart of it. Yeah, it felt great. It felt great the first time we showed it at a test screening even though we were showing our work with temp sound and everything, to see the audience kind of lifted out of their seats at the end of that movie."
     Darabont acknowledges the fear that goes along with showing a film to an audience for the first time: "Itís the worst night of your life. Youíre convinced that youíre having a heart attack. Youíre sweating bullets. You know, itís a work print and that alone drives you crazy. Youíve stolen the music from other movies, there are a million sound things that have to be attended to. Itís the worst possible technical way you can show a movie to an audience and you just suffer through every inch of it. The audience tends to be responding to it on an emotional level and thatís what you need a test screening for and thatís why itís valuable, to see what works and what doesnít."
     The preview process can be a dangerous trap for a filmmaker. The temptation to change an artistic vision, to mold it to what the audience wants and expects is enormous." That is a danger of course. My own personal experience on Shawshank, it was very valuable. It really told me that the movie was working and it pointed out, painful though it was, when parts of the movie werenít working. Thereís nothing more valuable than having somebody point to that something doesnít belong there. You can sense it when youíre there(in the preview room), you can hear the audience breathing, youíre so in tune to every little ripple in the audience. Itís great when you agree with it and itís great when the studio is not using the test screening process as a club to beat a filmmaker over the head with." Darabont was very happy working with Castle Rock as his studio and felt that Shawshank was protected by them and he was given absolute freedom to create.

Darabont doesnít get out to the movies as much as heíd like, but he is a certifiable laserphile. The director plays his 800 plus disc collection through a Pioneer Elite CLD-97 and a Pioneer Elite 60" rear projection television. "This is kind of an interim system because what Iíve been hoping for is a Runco 900 projector with a Faroudja line doubler. Iíll be checking into it probably next year. For now Iíll just settle for the system Iíve got. Iím renovating my house at the moment and just a ton of moneyís going down the chute. I just felt weird to spend that kind of money to get that system. The best Iíve seen is the Runco with the Faroudja. That was the closest thing Iíve seen to projected film. It was amazing."
     "I am not quite as demented about sound as a lot of people seem to be." Frank doesnít have a surround sound system for now, though he will invest when he does his projection system. "I tossed on Apocalypse Now, you know the helicopter scene and it just kind of blew me out the wall. Iíve got a Pioneer, their big Kahuna, a 97." Apocalypse Now is one of Frankís favorite lasers. "That is a really amazing transfer. That is a great disc. Itís not only a great war film, itís a great piece of opera, and itís also a great piece of introspective soul searching. I love the Aliens Special Edition that restored the missing material because I thought most of it was fabulous." The Mask, naturally, is another laser disc that Darabont thought looked really terrific. There are still some unopened lasers that Darabont is looking forward to ripping the cellophane, like The Howling: ""I love it. Itís great, itís great. In fact Iíve kind of gotten to know Joe Dante a little bit and I always compliment on it when I see him. Itís one of those movies Iíve really seen that kind of effects work, amazing stuff. It may be old hat now, but if you think back it was amazing then. They had a problem finding the negative for the laser disc release, which is kind of extraordinary to me."
     "Iím looking forward to is the directorís cut of The Wild Bunch. Itís one of my favorites. Iíve been bitching about a decent version of the directorís cut, widescreen, and now thereís coming out with that thank God. Thereís a movie that Sidney Lumet made called The Offence starring Sean Connery. An absolutely fantastic riveting film. Oh God I wish somebody would put that out."
     Director Darabont feels that the laser disc medium is a great learning tool for filmmakers. "Iíve stepped framed through certain sequences just to see how they were shot. The sequence in The Deer Hunter when they escape from the POW camp, when escape from that hell hole and theyíre playing Russian roulette and De Niro turns the gun on their captures and thereís that incredible happens so fast and itís so powerful and so visual and you know everything thatís happening on some sort of almost subliminal level. Itís absolutely brilliantly shot." There are times when the writer consciously avoids certain films on laser. "When I was writing Frankenstein, I was not, very distinctly not, looking at other Frankenstein movies. I didnít want that to pollute my process. With The Fan,(Darabont did a rewrite on the new Tony Scott movie.) I watched some baseball movies, if for nothing else to get a sense of the visual mythology thatís possible with a baseball film."

  Like every laser lover, Darabont has some pet peeves about the industry. "Laser rot would have to be number one on my list. It would seem they could do something about that. Another peeve of mine was that they would always release these films pan and scan and then later on they would come out with the letterbox so you have to buy it twice. Nowadays, they come out with it simultaneously both ways. But that hasnít solved the special edition pet peeve, which is how many .......versions of Terminator can I buy. Itís nuts. Theyíll do the original. Then theyíll do the one with the restored cut. Then theyíll do the one with the restored cut and the commentary. There could be seven versions of Terminator 2 out there. Give it to us once or twice, donít give it to us seven times. It makes me crazy."      
     Speaking of multiples, Shawshank may be reappearing with additional materials included. ""In fact weíre talking now of possibly doing a special edition of Shawshank. Hopefully, it will happen. It wasnít like some sneaky plan to sell you two versions of it, but I have to say there have been times when I thought, Ďthereís a conspiracy going on here. Now thereís this version of the thing.í On Shawshank, certainly the commentary track is something people have been asking for." Will Darabont be recruiting any other principles from the movie to participate in the special edition? "Actually, I think it would be great to do it as a group effort. A couple of interviews couldnít hurt and I wouldnít mind showing a few of the deleted scenes."
     "The published screenplay for Shawshank is going to be out in October and on of the things that I decided to with it is kind of along the lines of what people do with a special edition laser disc, which is kind of examine what went on in terms of how the script start out and how the movie wound up. Whatís the difference between whatís on the page and whatís on the screen and more to the point, why. What I did was I wrote a fairly involved addendum to the actual screenplay that describes scene by scene why stuff changed. It was a tremendous amount of fun to write and I think itís something that folks are going to really enjoy. It was great to look back and examine the experience at your leisure."
     Laserphiles seem united on many fronts including their hatred of television commercials and impolite theater audiences. ""Commercials are really the devilís work. I hate Ďem. I remember doing a direct to cable movie back in í89, Buried Alive, for USA cable, which is commercial cable, so sure enough, every ten minutes, you try to sustain mood or build mood, you know it was a thriller and building mood is a delicate thing and every ten minutes along comes this "Lucky Dog" adócome on, give me a break." Much of Frankís theater going is at Director or Writerís guild screenings. "You have a better chance for a decent audience. You know that youíre going to get a technically well projected film. You know people arenít going to be talking, chatting, throwing popcorn throughout the thing. When I go to a theater I like to concentrate on the film thatís in front of me. Chuck Russell and I did The Blob. Itís a fun movie. We still get fan mail on it. You remember the scene in the theater where this one guy is sitting behind our main characters, talking through the movie. You notice that heís the first one that the Blob eats. Thatís my commentary on people who chatter through a movie. Wishful thinking on my part."
     "Once Iím done with The Fan, I owe Castle Rock two scripts that Iím going to be writing that Iím attached to direct. Iíll either be doing one or both depending. One is adaptation of another Stephen King novella called The Mist, which is probably one of the scariest hundred pages ever written. So I am going to get back to my roots and do a horror movie somewhere down the road. The other one is a Robert McCammon novel called Mime. An absolutely fabulous writer. I think heís only had one thing adapted and was an episode of the Twilight Zone revival that William Friedkin directed."
     Any traps that were sprung when making Shawshank. "Every day is a set of traps that one needs to guard against. I think tops on my list is the self doubt trap. You go in with the best of intentions. In fact I was talking to Robert Benton(Nobodyís Fool, etc.) about this. We were both on a European press junket with our respective films in February, the feeling like a failure syndrome because you go in with these very keen ambitions and then the day always winds up as a set of compromises in one way or another because you donít have enough hours in the day to do what you want to do. Benton put it into words when he said thatís why every day of shooting feels like a failure. This coming from him. Okay, so I figure Iím in pretty good company. But what Shawshank taught me was that itís not a bad thing necessarily if you donít have enough hours in the day you wind up thinking on your feet and relying on your instinct and sure enough the thing can turn out pretty well in the final analysis. So maybe next time I wonít be feeling like such a failure every day."






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