Calling Stephen King an author is like calling Tiger Woods a golfer. He is an author, of course, but he’s also a pop-culture icon and a living legend. His novels and stories have provided the source material for more than 70 filmed adaptations for the big and small screens.
The latest one, “The Mist,” is screenwriter and director Frank Darabont’s third crack at a feature film based on a King story (he helmed “The Shawshank Redemption” and “The Green Mile”). MTV News sat down with King to talk about the past, present and future of this successful partnership.
MTV: How did your working relationship with Frank Darabont begin?
Stephen King: I got a letter from Frank one day very early in my career — I can’t remember how long ago it was, probably around 1975 or 1976. He’d read a story of mine called “The Woman in the Room.” He wanted to make a short film and kind of show his chops, so he wrote me a letter and said, “Could I make a small film out of this?” …
Frank was the first of what I think of as my “dollar babies,” where people will come to me and say, “You have this story, you have that story, if it hasn’t been optioned for a theatrical movie, could I make a student film out of it?” And I’d charge them a buck and make them sign a paper that says you promise not to exhibit this for money unless I say you can.
MTV: What is it about Darabont’s screenwriting and directing style that makes him a successful adapter of your work?
King: Frank never takes the easy, quick way out. He always takes the work and says, “I want to make a real story all the way through. I don’t want to use any shortcuts, I don’t want to use any tricks.” He wants to do an honest day’s work for an honest day’s pay.
In some ways, Frank reminds me of the late Sam Peckinpah, because he tells stories from an adult sensibility in an entertainment industry that a lot of times goes for the quick emotional effect, whether it’s the quick scare or the quick suspense or whatever. Frank instead tells stories the old-fashioned way, one building block at a time, and that always appealed to me about his storytelling style.
The other thing is, you feel very comfortable with Frank. You feel that he’s somebody who understands ordinary people, and that’s what I write about: ordinary people under stress. A lot of times, filmmakers don’t really seem to understand ordinary people. I think there’s a reason that David Lynch has never made a Stephen King film, or John Waters, because they don’t really get ordinary people. But Frank does.
MTV: Darabont told us he hopes to adapt another of your novellas, “The Long Walk,” in the next few years.
King: I’m not sure that I want to see that done. [But] if Frank says he wants to do it, probably we’ll try it. Because I’m always interested. But it’s a very, very difficult, violent, wrenching story to tell. But when Frank does things, Frank writes and directs; that’s an agreement that we have. The agreement that I have is that he’ll take the source material and he’ll adapt it. I understand that he’s usually quite faithful to the story. And in a case like “The Long Walk,” that could be difficult.
“The Long Walk” is a contest where you have 100 boys who are about 16 or 17 years old. The implication is that they’re all malcontents or the children of malcontents, and the idea is that they have to walk at a certain speed, which was 4 miles an hour, and if they fall below that speed they’re shot and killed. The last guy standing is the winner. So you’re looking at a lot of slaughter in the course of that movie if it’s made according to the book, and Frank’s always been fairly faithful.
MTV: Like both “The Mist” and “The Long Walk,” so many of your stories revolve around a character who’s very young. Where does that come from?
King: It comes from life. I always took that thing in the writing classes — write what you know — very seriously. And you can almost trace a progression in my writing, from the early stuff, which was about teenagers because I almost was [one], to stuff about very small children when I was the father of very small children, to a novel like “It,” where the kids are a little bit older because my kids at that time were approaching 9, 10. If you look at the newer stuff, the kids aren’t there so much anymore, because my kids have grown up and they have lives of their own. But “The Mist” to me is a beautiful throwback because it was written at a time when I had a son who was about 6 years old, and the little boy in the movie is about 6 years old, and when I look at the movie, the kid’s very good, very winning, and he reminds me of my son Joe at that time.
Check out everything we’ve got on “The Mist.”
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