Frank Darabont Discusses His Film, "The Green Mile," and the Academy Awards
March 21, 2000
The "Green Mile" has been nominated for best picture at the 72nd Academy Awards. Adapted from a novel by Stephen King, it tells the story of Paul Edgecomb, a prison guard in Cold Mountain Penitentiary’s Death Row. There he meets John Coffey, a black man convicted of killing two nine-year-old sisters. Coffey is scheduled to traverse the green mile, a length of green linoleum that leads convicts to the electric chair. Edgecomb is a man who has dealt with cons of all types, but in Coffey he finds something different. He finds a simple, naive man who has a gift for magic.
Frank Darabont was the director, screenplay writer, and producer of "The Green Mile." Not only is his picture nominated for best picture, he is nominated for best screenplay adaptation. Mr. Darabont joined a CNN special Oscar chat about the upcoming awards and his film. The chat took place on Monday, March 20, 2000, and Mr. Darabont participated by telephone from Hollywood. CNN.com provided a typist. The following is an edited transcript of that chat.
Chat Moderator: Thank you for joining us today, Frank Darabont, and welcome.
Frank Darabont: Hi to everyone! I'm delighted to be here.
Question from Green_Worm: After doing both "Shawshank Redemption" and "The Green Mile," would you say you have a fascination with prison films, or is that a coincidence?
Frank Darabont: Purely coincidence, really. Not a function of the fact that they're prison stories, but that they're stories I fell in love with. It really was a coincidence that they're both in a similar arena.
Question from Gilgamesh: You've had a very good run of films and projects with Stephen King. Any more plans to work with him?
Frank Darabont: I've got a few projects on the backburner with Steve, including "The Mist," which his regular readers will recognize as an out-and-out horror piece.
Chat Moderator: What was your reaction when you heard your name listed as a nominee?
Frank Darabont: Well, delighted, of course! :) One doesn't get sad when that happens, only happy! I was particularly delighted with the best picture nomination, because that one reflects on everybody that took part in making the film. Everyone shares in that one. That's why it's such a great thing.
Question from Drake: What is the beauty of the story? What is the best thing about the story?
Frank Darabont: I think that's really up to the audience, up to the viewers. I'd like to know what YOU think is the beauty of the story! At a certain point, it's not really my movie anymore; it's your movie. That's the exciting thing about any art form. You put it out in the world, and it belongs to them now.
Question from Drake: I think it is the attention to detail, the time taken to enjoy the story.
Frank Darabont: Bless your heart! What a great answer, thank you.
Question from Candyce: What are you gonna wear to the Oscars?
Frank Darabont: It's funny you should ask! I happen to be standing in the Armani store in Beverly Hills with my sweetie, Julie. I was in the midst of a fitting when the time for the chat came around, so I happen to be conducting this chat while standing in front of the mirror in the Armani store. Julie agrees! She gives two thumbs up, and she'll also look great!
Question from Sunny1: And what about Julie? What is she wearing?
Frank Darabont: Oh, Julie will tell you. I’ll put her on.
Julie: We're here having a grand time. Frank looks fantastic, kind of like Jack the Ripper! So, what am I wearing? I'm wearing Armani. What an amazing guy! Our host at Armani pulled out a dress that is a museum piece, and said, "This should fit!"
It's a three-quarter length, dragonfly embroidered, beaded dress, understated in Armani's classic way. It's grayish, a pewter color. It's absolutely gorgeous. Back to Jack the Ripper now!!
Frank Darabont: She's only calling me that because I put on one of those long tuxedo jackets! Just doesn't work for me!
Question from Tommy: How old were you when you wrote your first screenplay and what was it?
Frank Darabont: If we're talking about first produced screenplay, first job, that was "Nightmare on Elm Street III, Dream Warriors." That would have been in 1986, so I would have been 27.
As far as unproduced, the first script I ever wrote... I had dabbled in writing scripts in high school, but I never really finished those. So I'd say, the first completed script, unreadable though it was, was a year after high school. So that would have been about 1978.
Question from Jagger: What are the limitations to adapting a story to screenplay? What are the advantages?
Frank Darabont: Well, the limitations, I don't know if there are limitations. The challenge, particularly in a long piece like "The Green Mile," is trying to retain as much of the essence of the book without making it TOO long and unwieldy. Although, if you listen to some critics, especially Turan of the "L.A. Times," I did do that!
But, really, the most crucial thing is condensing intelligently, without losing the author's voice, the storyteller's voice. As far as advantages are concerned, if you have a really solid story with compelling characters, it's impossible to go wrong. I mean, you can go wrong, but you have to TRY to screw it up. :)
Question from Drake: Have you always been a fan of Stephen King?
Frank Darabont: Yeah, I have, actually, ever since I first encountered his work in high school, when I read "The Shining." I was so knocked out by that book that I read everything he's published, and a few things he hasn't. I expect you all to be appropriately jealous of that. :) I've always been a devoted fan of his work.
Question from Tommy: Any plans to release a special edition DVD with your commentary for "Shawshank?"
Frank Darabont: Good question. The reason the regular DVD didn't have commentary is because I've always been somewhat ambivalent about the commentary aspect. I'm not sure I much like them, for a whole lot of reasons. Nevertheless, I'm gonna give it the old college try, and possibly do commentary for both films.
Castle Rock is planning on releasing a boxed set of all the Stephen King movies that they've produced. It'll be a boxed set of six films, including "Shawshank," "Green Mile," "Stand By Me," "Dolores Clayborne," "Misery," and "Needful Things." There will be a seventh disc, which will have a lot of "making of" supplemental stuff on it.
I'm thinking I'll do a commentary for both "Shawshank" and "Green Mile," and see if I can stand to hear myself droning on for all that time. I know the fans have requested it, so I'll give it a try.
Question from Tommy: Any known release date on that?
Frank Darabont: I'm not sure of the date, but it will be sometime this year.
Question from LordZul: Mr. Darabont, how does an independent spirit survive in Hollywood these days?
Frank Darabont: Well, by the good graces of Castle Rock Entertainment, in my case. I cannot lavish enough praise on Castle Rock, for being a very unique place in Hollywood, by virtue of supporting a filmmaker's vision, and letting the individual vision of the creator hit the screen, rather than trying to committee everything to death. I'm really very lucky that they're there. Without them, I'm not sure where my directing career would be.
Question from Drake: You wear so many hats on this film. Are you disappointed that only one got the nod from the academy?
Frank Darabont: No, actually two got the nod. Best picture is a nod for producing. And I was also fortunate enough to be nominated for best-adapted screenplay. That's two, and way more than any human being should be allowed to have. I can't find it in my heart to be disappointed by that, believe me.
I assume you're referring to the lack of a directing nomination. But that really doesn't bother me. The exact thing happened on "Shawshank." My movies apparently direct themselves. ;-) Had I known, I wouldn't have bothered getting up every morning. I really don't have a sense of entitlement when it comes to having work recognized. I feel like it's already been recognized in many wonderful ways, most wonderfully, by the public. And I should also add that though there was not a directing nomination from the academy, there certainly was from the Director's Guild. That alone is acknowledgment enough for me.
Question from Jagger: What has been your favorite film up to now?
Frank Darabont: My favorite? Hmmm… I don't think we have that much time. I don't know if I can pick, although if forced at gunpoint, I'd say, "It's a Wonderful Life." I think it says everything about the human spirit that I want to hear, and says it better than any movie. Any movie that reduces me to a blubbering mess is a good thing.
Question from Tommy: Did you go to film school?
Frank Darabont: I did not attend college. I'm a graduate of Hollywood High School, class of '77. Which isn't to say that there wasn't training, because I worked in films as much as I could as a production assistant, most notably as a set dresser, not to be confused with the costume department, by the way.
The set dresser works with the set department, constructing and dressing the sets. That was during my struggling writer years that I was set-dressing. I've always referred to my six years as a set dresser as my "film school." That allowed me to be on the set, watching shot by shot, and observe the director, and absorb the process.
Question from Drake: As a director, who has been your favorite person to work with? How was it working with the "Green Mile" cast?
Frank Darabont: I honestly can't point to a favorite person, particularly on "The Green Mile," because everyone was so great. Certainly, I'd have to say that Tom Hanks was a high-water mark for me. As a professional, and as just a human being, I would be tempted to say he is unparalleled, except that everyone else was that great as well. I'd have to say I was very, very blessed with this cast. I hope I get this lucky again.
Question from Tommy: How did you break into Hollywood?
Frank Darabont: There really isn't enough time to answer that question! There isn't really a specific answer. I've told you about my six years set-dressing. There are so many variations along the path; there's no prescribed way to do this. The way to do it is to roll up your sleeves, jump in, keep trying, and never give up. That's not the most satisfying answer, but it's the most honest one.
Question from Jagger: Out of the many different hats you wear --you are so talented-- which is your favorite?
Frank Darabont: Wow, thank you for thinking I'm talented! I'm not sure I can really say which of those aspects are the most satisfying. Writing certainly is, directing is, and producing is, each in its own way.
But in terms of actually making the movie, I can tell you what my favorite phase is, what my favorite place to be is. That's in the editing room. After all the noise dies down, and the stress goes away, you're left with the very pure task of actually making the movie, which happens with the editor and the director in the editing room.
Everything prior to that is really preamble. It's all generating the raw materials for the real job, which is in the editing room.
Question from Tommy: What advice would you give to an aspiring screenwriter?
Frank Darabont: I think my advice, for what it's worth, is not to merely aspire, but to write. It's fine to aspire, but you've got to back it up, and put the effort in. Which means, regardless of what else you're doing, you write every day, and you're willing to spend years, if necessary, to develop your craft until you can make a living at it. The answer is to be willing to put in the elbow grease. And, good luck. :)
Question from Candyce: Aren't you glad they found the Oscars in that dumpster?
Frank Darabont: They found them? I actually just heard that, right now, when you asked. I think it's cool! I'm curious to see who took them in the first place!
Chat Moderator: Do you have any final thoughts you would like to share with us?
Frank Darabont: I guess, really, I'd like to say from the heart, thank you to everyone who went and saw the movie and opened your hearts to it and allowed yourself to be touched and moved by it. Given that that's the reason I'm doing this in the first place, which is to touch people. That is the greatest reward.
Chat Moderator: Thank you for joining us!
Frank Darabont: Good-bye to everybody, and thank you for letting me be here today!
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