But it fits for another reason, as well. Most of what I've mentioned about Mick this past week has largely focused on his directing, but he's actually an accomplished and highly-credited screenwriter and novelist. So, to round out the picture, it just seemed proper to let the writer-side of the fellow have his say.
Edited by Robert J. Elisberg
Garris has generally worked in the science-fiction/ horror field. (Indeed, early in his career, before becoming a writer, he was employed by a production house where his expertise got him the unofficial title of "Vice President in Charge of Monsters.") His first professional writing job was an auspicious start: as a scriptwriter and story editor for Steven Spielberg on the television series, "Amazing Stories." Among his other early credits, he wrote, directed and produced the Disney Sunday Movie, "Fuzzbucket."
Garris soon moved to feature films, writing the story for "*Batteries Not Included," as well as "The Fly II (story and shared screenplay) and "Hocus Pocus" (for which he received both shared story and shared screenplay credit, and was also the co-executive producer.)
In addition, he is co-creator of the television series, "She-Wolf of London," for which he co-wrote the pilot.
As a director, Mick Garris's credits include the cable movie "Psycho IV," the feature film "Sleepwalkers" and the entire, eight-hour TV miniseries, "The Stand." Most recently, he directed all six hours of the TV miniseries "The Shining." In addition, he was co-writer, co-producer and co-director of the half-hour production, "Michael Jackson's Ghosts."
[Subequent to this interview, Mick Garris created the anthology TV series,"Masters of Horror" for Showtime, for which he also wrote and directed episodes, and the series, "Fear Itself." He wrote and directed the feature film, "Riding the Bullet," wrote and directed the TV film, "Quicksilver Highway," and directed the two-part TV films, "Bag of Bones" and "Desperation," all based on material by Stephen King. He also created the series, "She-Wolf of London," and for TV directed the legal thriller, "The Judge" and fantasy film, "Lost in Oz." He also is the host and creator of the interview series, "Post Mortem with Mick Garris." He serves as executive producer of the upcoming feature film, "Unbroken." Among his many novels are "Life in the Cinema," "Development Hell," and "Snow Shadows." Garris received the Lifetime Achievement Award from the New City Horror Film Festival, and was elected to the International Horror & Sci Fi Hall of Fame.]
MG: The books of Ray Bradbury and Richard Matheson were really my first inspiration to write... particularly Bradbury's. When I was 12, I read everything he'd written up to that point. "Something Wicked This Way Comes"
seemed to speak particularly to me. I was always attracted to his dark fantasy, touched with sentiment and nostalgia. My own tastes got a bit darker-- if not downright squalid-- later on.
Budd Shulberg's fiction, and eventually the pulp masters: Hammett, Cain, Chandler-- those were the ones who most held me captivated. In movies, the films of Alfred Hitchcock and Capra, of course, and maybe greatest of all,
Billy Wilder. Wilder as a writer-- with whomever he was partnered at the time-- was magnificent. And as far as the greatest writer/director I've ever been exposed to, I don't think anyone can compare to Preston Sturges at his peak.
I was also rabid about cartoons-- I wanted to be an animator when I was a child. So apparently, there was no avoiding the media input that books and television funneled through me.
>> When you write, how do you generally work?
MG: When I'm writing on assignment, obviously the outline comes first...the treatment. It's a step that isn't my favorite part of the process. That's really work. Does anybody really enjoy that stage of it? If I'm writing on spec, usually it's just sit at the computer and let my hands do the writing; I'll start right off into the screenplay (not without plenty of cogitation time, of course... I just don't do outlines or treatments when I'm working for myself).
But once the screenplay is begun, generally it's just time to go down to a little office I've rented for several years, and start plugging. I write best in the morning, or early afternoon; don't really enjoy it at night. I do procrastinate a little bit in the planning stages, but once the screenplay itself has begun, it's nice to just power right into it. I like to do ten pages a day; I guess I'm a fast typist. If it doesn't come out fairly quickly, that's because it's not working. For me, laboring at the script
usually screws up the work. I love the sense of a growing stack of pages from day to day.
>> Do you have any specific kind of music playing or prefer silence?
MG: I don't like having music playing as I write; it tends to distract me...although, that said, when I was writing "*Batteries Not Included" I played non-stop big band music. It helped.
>> What sort of characters and stories interest you?
MG: Is there really a particular kind of character that interests any writer to the exclusion of others? I really am drawn to the everyman/loner, and members of splintered family units, though any character with a story that takes him just slightly out of the realm of the ordinary can fascinate.
I like a character who is drawn into a story's web almost unwittingly, or due to powers beyond his control, and then being forced to take a more active command. That passive-to-active character interests me. And I do find that most of the characters I write about tend to be at odds with or totally lacking a family connection.
But Hitchcock's innocent man facing something not of his own devise always works for me.
Same with the stories: if you can set a tale in your own world, and then take a sudden left turn and surprise the audience-- without leaving logic behind-- that's exciting. I love going where you don't expect to go. I like mixing suspense with humor, romance with tragedy, and keeping it set in a very real world.
>> How do you work through parts of a script where you hit a roadblock in the story?
MG: So far, I have not had too many cases of roadblock. I mean, we all go through it, but I certainly have no advice. My normal practice is to just write the script-- in order-- from Page One to Fade to Black. This is just the way that seems to work for me. I don't write scenes out of order to skip the hard parts; of course, I'll come back to them and make them better, but my own method is just to start and keep writing until I finish the draft.
I'm very lucky to be able to work fairly quickly. I used to think how much better a writer I could be if I spent longer on a project, but found that the writing didn't get better, it just got more labored. And longer.
>> What is your best experience as a writer?
MG: Probably my best experience in feature films as a writer-for-hire was when I adapted Phil Williams's novel, "All the Western Stars", for Dick and Lili Zanuck. They were incredibly supportive, and just great people to work for. That said, of course, the film was never made, but I've never had a better time in development. The script came this close to being directed by Billy Wilder, and just knowing Wilder read a script of mine-- let alone considered directing it-- will add a couple years to my life.
It was also an opportunity to work outside of the fantasy and horror genre; Dick and Lili were really great to think of me as a writer, not as a genre writer, and I think it was certainly one of the best scripts I've written. And not a flying saucer, ghost, or butcher knife in the whole damn thing.
As wonderful as working with the Zanucks was, though, it really must come second to "Amazing Stories", which was my first paying job as a writer. I became a professional writer there; had a close working experience with remarkable filmmakers, Steven Spielberg primary among them; wrote several shows that actually were shot and broadcast as written; won a couple awards; and had scripts of my own directed by Bob Zemeckis, Joe Dante, and others. And I got a chance to direct, myself. Since then, every morning I face and salute my own personal Mecca, the Amblin building on the Universal lot.
>> Was there any particular writer who acted as a sort of mentor to you?
MG: As I said, I bow towards my own personal Mecca of Amblin every day for thanks to the greatest mentor any writer or filmmaker could have. Steven Spielberg was the most generous and inspiring teacher anyone could ever imagine, let alone hope for. His way of visualizing a scene opened me up; probably most importantly I learned about saying the most in the least words, making the text as readable as the dialogue, and just allowing the imagination free reign. A quote that stands out to me when I was about to direct an episode of the show was: "Break the rules. Do things you'd be afraid of being fired for." Pretty liberating. I learned a lot about telling the story with the camera, not masturbating with it.
>> Why do you write?
MG: I write because I can't not write. Although I've spent more of my professional time as a director than as a writer in the past few years, I still can't keep from going back to the keyboard. It's interesting; it's easy to see how writers who become directors give up writing. When a studio is ready to hire a director, they are close to actually making a movie. When they hire a writer, or buy a script, they're just ready to begin the development process... which almost never results in a film getting made.
But even as a director, I usually have a hand in the script process, but with the writer's involvement. It's collaborative, and I don't want to tromp on his toes as I've had mine tromped on. Of course, the last few scripts I've directed have been written by Stephen King, but even he is very collaborative...and he doesn't have to be.