Welcome to Commentary Commentary, our long-running series of articles exploring the things we can learn from the most interesting filmmaker commentaries available on DVD and Blu-ray.
Stephen King’s currently experiencing possibly his busiest year ever in regard to his writing heading to the screen. The Dark Tower hits theaters this week, both It and Gerald’s Game (via Netflix) are due in the next few months, and three new television series (Castle Rock, Mr. Mercedes, The Mist) debut this year too.
So of course we’re joining the party this week by checking out the commentary for one of the best King adaptations yet made. Keep reading to see what I heard on the commentary track for…
The Mist (2007)
Commentator: Writer/director Frank Darabont
1. The opening set, where David Drayton (Thomas Jane) is painting, is designed after Drew Struzan’s actual studio and features copies of his most famous poster work including The Thing and Pan’s Labyrinth. “My idea was our artist here is painting a movie poster for a fictional Dark Tower film.”
2. The exteriors were filmed outside Shreveport, Louisiana. It’s convincing enough as New England that when King first saw the film he leaned over to Darabont and asked “Did you shoot this in Maine?”
3. Jane was the first actor that he sent the script to.
4. Brent Norton’s (Andre Braugher) Mercedes that’s been crushed by a tree was a rental that had been in an accident but was going to be repaired. The production paid to use it with the understanding they wouldn’t damage it further, but miscommunication led to that understanding being ignored. They ripped upholstery, denting the body, scratching the paint, and more leading to thousands in extra bills. “That was a big fuck up,” adds producer Denise Huth.
5. The earthquake scene included a surprise in the form of a “huge earthquake rumble” recording that they played via large bass speakers without warning the cast in advance. “Everybody jumped.”
6. He picked Melissa McBride (The Walking Dead) from tapes given them by the local casting director, and she impressed even the more seasoned actors during her initial scene in the market where she’s concerned about her kids. “The audition was thrilling, but what she did on set was even more thrilling.” The cast and crew burst into applause when he called cut.
7. He loves Laurie Holden who plays Amanda Dunfrey here, saying she’s his “leading lady in The Majestic, which if you haven’t seen, you should.” Huth calls him “shameless.”
8. They had to prep the movie in six weeks. “I’ve never prepped a movie in less than five months.”
9. They filmed on sound stages in Shreveport that had been converted from the city’s old convention center.
10. He had no idea when he hired Chris Owen to play Norm that the young actor was already well known as “the Shermanator” in American Pie.
11. It took a while to configure, but the loading dock effect of having the mist stay at the open roll-up door without spilling in “had to do with temperature in the room and air pressure,” and they could control it by adjusting the temperature.
12. Toby Jones’ father is popular British character actor Freddie Jones, and “the very first time I met Toby I geeked out on him because I’m a big fan of his dad’s.”
13. Braugher added the brief racial subtext during his big outburst at the 35:00 mark which worked beautifully to cause discomfort with the others in the argument.
14. His films typically rely on steady, well thought-out camera work, but for this film he shook things up by going handheld for much of it. It was due in part to the film’s budget and schedule, but it also paired with the film’s urgency. “It’s all improvised camera work.”
15. He sent the script to Marcia Gay Harden, but she was resistant at first having never done a horror film. She apparently called Braugher to talk about it, and he encouraged her to take the role saying to “view it as an actor’s piece and not just a monster movie.”
16. Darabont’s initial script opened with a scene in a military lab showing the accident that ultimately releases the mist, but Braugher convinced him to cut it. “I’m very, very glad I did, because I don’t think it tonally matched and would have wound up on the cutting room floor anyway.” Huth adds that it would have ended up being a “very expensive deleted scene.”
17. Brian Libby, who plays the biker, also stars in The Majestic, The Green Mile, The Shawshank Redemption, and Darabont’s very first directorial effort, the 1983 short film of King’s “The Woman in the Room.”
18. He predicts big things for Alexa Davalos. He went to high school with her mom. Davalos is currently starring in Amazon’s The Man in the High Castle.
19. It was Guillermo del Toro who introduced Darabont to the effects house, Cafe FX.
20. The window impacts at 59:25 were accomplished by hurling baseballs at the glass and then digitally removing them and/or hiding them in the flying creature attacking the store.
21. The sequence where the flying bugs break through the glass originally included a giant centipede crawling in through the hole as well, but he cut it from the script for timing issues.
22. One of the big influences on the spider design was an episode of The Outer Limits called “The Zanti Misfits.”
23. The jump scare at 1:24:53 — William Sadler pounding on the glass door — made King jump in his seat on first viewing. “It was really one of the most gratifying moments because I scared the crap out of Stephen King, with the oldest trick in the book.”
24. He’s somewhat torn on test screenings saying “they’re miserable experiences, but they always teach you something about the movie.”
25. Darabont added the Private Jessup (Sam Witwer) character to drive home the danger that Mrs. Carmody (Harden) and her mob represent in the vein of Lord of the Flies and “The Lottery.”
26. Jane was a constant (and welcome) presence in the editing room in an effort to learn the trade as he was heading into his own feature directorial debut, Dark Country.
27. The giant creature at the end was one of several designed by the legendary Bernie Wrightson.
28. An early test screening saw two grown men approach him after it ended with tears in their eyes saying that while they loved the film they felt the ending “was too much” and needed to be changed. “I thanked them and they went off,” he says adding that two others approached him immediately after saying that they too loved the film and hoped he would keep the ending as is.
29. He felt the novella’s ending — the survivors drive off into the mist hoping to reach safety — was too open-ended for a film, but contrary to the belief that he simply created this new one himself the inspiration is right there in King’s tale. David in the story thinks to himself that if worse comes to worse, they have three bullets in the gun and four people in the truck. King never has them act on it, but Darabont does. “If we’re gonna make a horror movie based on a Stephen King story, let’s take Steve’s most horrible, dour, and darkest thought and follow it out to its logical conclusion.”
30. It was Jeffrey DeMunn‘s idea to have McBride’s character return at the end aboard the refugee truck with her kids and other survivors.
31. The flamethrower at the end was constructed by the effects department out of parts purchased at Home Depot, “which frightens me on all kinds of levels.”
32. It took four days to record this commentary. That’s apparently fast for Darabont as his track for The Green Mile was recorded over nine months.
Best in Context-Free Commentary
“The big theme of this production was low budget, low budget, contain costs.”
“It’s a very odd feeling shooting people running around and screaming and reacting to thin air.”
“The creature in the mist is me.”
“I love this bug.”
“I’m a wiener.”
Buy The Mist on Blu-ray from Amazon.
The Mist remains one of the best King films, and Darabont’s commentary offers plenty of observations and insight into the production and story itself. It’s a pretty great track that sees him explaining shots, complimenting his cast and crew, and discussing the film’s themes. It’s a good listen and recommended for fans of the film and of Darabont’s work in general.