Don’t let the poor performance at the box office fool you; the fans have spoken and the verdict is near-unanimous praise for Mike Flanagan’s adaptation of Stephen King’s Doctor Sleep! I sat down with producer Trevor Macy at the historic Stanley hotel to chat about what it takes to shine. Beware – a plot spoiler lurks below!
Tell me about your collaboration with Mike Flanagan. How did that relationship begin?
I met Mike because I had seen Absentia , and I thought, ‘Wow, he sustained tension really well on no money,’ and that was interesting to me. My horror experience was similar, in that it’s shaped largely by the fact that I did The Strangers, and I love that sort of sustained tension, kind of minimal, things that stay with you rather than things that let you off the hook. And I thought, ‘Oh, here’s somebody who can do that.’ So we had this pitch meeting, which by all accounts, his and mine, was kind of a disaster.
Yeah. He came in and was like, ‘Oh, I got this, here’s what I’m doing,’ and I was like ‘mehh,’ but then he stops at the door, turns around and [inaudible 1:15] doing this movie about a mirror, and I’m like ‘hold on.’ And so we bonded over that, and he came back in and we talked about it for a minute, and then we got [Oculus] made. And the development process was super fun! And Mike, one of the great things about him, is that he sees the movie more holistically than almost any filmmaker I’ve ever met. He has a deep background in editorial, so his editing skills, directing skills and writing skills are all kind of in a horse race for which one is the strongest.
So he’s a polymath?
He really is. And so he sees everything about the movie, and so it became obvious on the set of Oculus to me that we’d get along. And we only had 24 days to make that movie, so we had to make the most of our days working with Annalise and Garrett, who worked kid hours. So it’d be like, ‘Okay, we have two hours and here’s how many scenes,’ and like a good producer, I was like, ‘Okay, we’ve got to cover the scenes, so work some editorial,’ and he’s like ‘okay, here’s how it cuts, we go here, here and here, and we cut this angle and we don’t need this one.’ He just knew all of them, He just knew it!
So let’s talk about Doctor Sleep, because I just talked to Mike and he’s such a fan of the original, as we all are. What’s your relationship to the source material? The original film, the book, all of that?
I saw the movie about two years after it was released, ’cause I was 10 at the time, and it kind of burrowed its way into my brain super early. It scared me for months, I have a vivid imagination. And I read the book much later. I came to King because of The Stand, which is what I read first, and then I sort of worked my way backwards.
Interesting. That’s a big book!
That’s a big book! At the time that epic good and evil struggle was really interesting to me.
And post-apocalyptic, that was ahead of its time.
It totally was! And then obviously, as you go, you realize the genius of Kubrick. It’s true for a lot of his movies, but especially The Shining, that if you’re channel surfing and you pass The Shining, there’s something about it that just makes you stop. It doesn’t matter what scene, it doesn’t matter whether the sound is on, it doesn’t matter. The framing, the composition, the sound design, the music; these are all so far ahead of their time as a movie and they are still references we live with and aspire to, certainly in our work. So taking that on is a pretty big deal, both from a King perspective and Kubrick perspective, and if Warner Brothers had said to us, ‘Come do The Shining 2,’ we would have said no. But King’s blueprint was what kind of gave us the way in. The trick being trying to convince King that we had to also incorporate the Kubrick, because there’s no version of the cinematic legacy of The Shining that doesn’t include that.
“If Warner Brothers had said to us, ‘Come do The Shining 2,’ we would have said no.”
I think that marriage of Kubrick’s film and King’s original vision is what’s so exciting about Doctor Sleep. As a fan, it always broke my heart that King didn’t like Kubrick’s film, so I feel like Doctor Sleep really pulled off the perfect marriage of the two. Did you had a hand in negotiating what went in, what stayed, what was cut? Because it’s a long film, and Mike told me it would have been three hours long if he had his way…
He does like to say that. Look, we have a great, and sort of non-traditional creative partnership. Though I don’t edit, direct or write, I’m involved in all that pretty intimately, so yeah, we sit in the edit room together and try on stuff for size, and I’ll pitch things and he’s super fast. For a movie like this, because the story is sprawling and it’s sort of three disparate threads that you have to weave together, there’s a lot of story to tell. And you’ve got to do that in a way that’s engaging and tight but thorough, because it’s a world you want to live in. But, you know, people don’t like long movies. So what’s that balance? I’d like to think we got it. I tend to come at things from the perspective of the audience; I feel like an audience’s producer, that’s really the lens through which I look at stuff. And if I’m sitting in the edit room like, ‘This is a great scene and I’m super interested, but this scene is dragging, so let’s think about cutting it.’ And the amazing thing about Mike, not to wax his car again, is that he doesn’t get attached to [scenes]. I always joke that writer Mike and editor Mike and director Mike don’t really talk.
He doesn’t get precious?
He doesn’t get precious about it. So my job is, as his creative partner, to test the waters, and hopefully by the time it gets to the studio or the test audience or the real audience or whatever, we’ve struck a good balance. It’s iterative, in that you have to try it a few times, because sometimes you get a little myopic when you’re close to a movie and you’ve seen it a hundred times.
I had a couple of problems with the book to be honest. When we discover that Dan is related to Abra, I was like, really? I call it “the Halloween 2 conceit.” I was delighted to see that fact excised from the film. Would you like to take credit for that?
*laughs* I will say that I agree with you. It worked in the book, but the thing about movie, coming at it from the perspective of the audience, what I like about them not being related is that anybody can shine. That speech that Danny gives Abra on the bench is like, ‘There’s a lot of people who shine and don’t know it.’ I love that idea, ’cause everybody wants to think they shine a little.