“If you want to become a screenwriter or filmmaker to get rich, well, fuck you … do it because you love it … Number one rule on making your film … is don't hire your friends as the actors unless they are the best possible actors around.”
Mick Garris is one of the most prominent names in horror history; he is a prolific writer, prolific director, a prolific human being in every sense of the word.
One of the most interesting things about Mick is that he’s been working in horror in one way or another since the 70’s and has watched cinematic history unfold. He began his career answering phones on Star Wars and went on to do publicity work on An American Werewolf in London and he even makes a cameo appearance in The Howling (he’s the guy on the couch at the end watching Dee Wallace turn into a werewolf on TV).
Mick has produced, written and directed a countless amount of movies and TV shows and has had a famously long standing collaborative relationship with Stephen King. Mick has also worked on such films as: Critters 2, The Fly 2, Psycho 4 - The Beginning, The Shining (TV movie), Bag of Bones, Hocus Pocus, The Stand, Riding the Bullet, Sleepwalkers, Batteries Not Included & multiple TV series including: Tales from the Crypt, Amazing Stories, Freddy’s Nightmares, and Masters of Horror.
Mick has been interviewing big names in horror for decades and you probably know him best for his podcast, Post Mortem with Mick Garris - if you haven’t heard it, turn this off right now and go listen to Post Mortem, right now. Seriously, I’ll wait…
Also be sure to check out Mick’s new film, Nightmare Cinema, coming to theaters in February.
In addition to having worked in horror for so many decades, on so many movies in so many different capacities (writer, producer, director), Mick is beloved in the industry has had close friendships with some of the biggest names in horror; Tobe Hooper, Wes Craven, George Romero, John Carpenter, Joe Dante, Guillermo Del Toro all have the pleasure of Mick’s friendship --- on top of being incredibly knowledgeable, Mick is a genuinely sweet and kind person. I had a wonderful time speaking to him, and hope you enjoy this interview as much as I did.
Now, here are 3 keys from Mick Garris for aspiring horror filmmakers:
- Keep Calm and Write On - Even if your script doesn’t get bought, it can still have an impact later down the line. A lot of aspiring screenwriters are put off by the risk of spending months on a spec script because there’s always a chance it won’t get made. Mick tells us that’s not the point. Even if it doesn’t get made, a producer may still read it, take note of your style, dialogue, or storytelling ability and contact you for something else later on. Because of this, it’s important to approach everything you write or create as a potential calling card and potential stepping stone. Don’t skimp on quality because it’s “just a spec script.” Spec scripts matter.
- The other thing about writing on spec, is that when you do, the script is entirely yours. Mick has written a ton of projects, a lot of which have gotten made, but some of which haven’t gotten made. In Mick's experience, pitching a fully developed script, as opposed to just a concept or treatment, enables you to have way more control over the project. When you pitch a concept, producers are likely to assign multiple writers, other producers and multiple others who will want to weigh in and leave their mark on your project - this quickly causes ‘film by committee’ which no director wants.
- Lastly, and possibly the most important thing about writing spec scripts, is this: it enables you to work on your craft. Each script you write makes you a better screenwriter - so to avoid writing that script because you’re afraid it won’t get sold is preposterous, because the more scripts you write, the better your writing gets and the more and the more likely you’ll be to sell a script. It’s important to hone your storytelling, dialogue and writing skills, and spec scripts allow you to do all of those. So write that script as well as you can - if it doesn’t get bought it can open doors for you and if it does get bought, you’ll have more control over the project but regardless, you’ll be a better writer and storyteller having written it. Which segues nicely into the next point.
- Read On Writing By Stephen King - In an interview, George RR Martin (of Game of Thrones Fame) asked Stephen King, and I quote, "how the fuck do you write so many books so fast?" This book tells you how. It’s the most straightforward, no nonsense, actionable guide for not just aspiring writers and screenwriters, but artists in general. A lot of important people cite it as a critical volume and it’s an easy read. I’ve read it and listened to it, and I recommend doing both. Stephen King does the narration, and he’s not only hilarious at times but, it feels like he’s sitting down talking to you and giving you writing advice, which is super cool. So listen to it to get the basic principles, then read it to really let those principles sink in. On Writing by Stephen King. CHECK IT OUT.
- Ego is the Enemy - Mick touched on something that doesn’t get discussed very often, but makes a huge difference in careers - be the kind of person people enjoy working with. You know those actors that fall of the map and you never hear from them again and you think to yourself ‘what ever happened to so and so?’ Most likely they were assholes on set and were never hired again. Same goes for directors, same goes for writers. Be the kind of person who is enjoyable to work with. Mick is adored in the industry and always have been, and it’s because he’s not only a sweet and wonderful human being, he’s also a great collaborator. Being collaborative is a big element of Mick’s success both as a director, writer and producer - there is no more communal job than filmmaking, so while it’s important to fight for your vision, always, be open to the fact that some of the best ideas can come from outside of yourself.
- BONUS: Don’t network - be a good friend - Your immediate circle of friends can be a huge part of your success. Mostly because of the inspirational value they can bring you. Mick's closest friends were people like Tobe Hooper, Stephen King, George Romero, Wes Craven, the list goes on. Imagine how much they shaped him as an artist, and imagine how much he helped shape all of them. Organize dinners and hang outs with people who inspire you - you are the sum total of the five people you spend the most amount of time with - so choose your circle of friends wisely.
That’s all we have for this week, big huge thanks to Mick Garris for being so generous with his knowledge. Be sure to check out Mick’s podcast, Post Mortem on the Blumhouse network.