Barry Hoffman is a former inner city school teacher who founded Gauntlet Press Magazine, which focused on topics of censorship and controversial subject matters of the day. Barry is currently the founder and editor of Gauntlet Press Publications, a Bram Stoker award-winning independent specialty Press with numerous titles from legendary authors such as Richard Matheson, Ray Bradbury, Stephen King and Jack Ketchum., and is also an author in his own right with several titles to his name including the ongoing acclaimed Eyes series.
I recently sat down with Barry to discuss Gauntlet Press’s most recent title, Hope And Miracles: The Shawshank Redemption and The Green Mile (Two Screenplays By Frank Darabont). This signed limited book is due to release in December and, as of this writing, there is now a waiting list for the platinum edition signed by Morgan Freeman, Tom Hanks, Frank Darabont and Stephen King, among others; the edition also comes with a replica rock pick carved from a tree felled from the very set of The Shawshank Redemption.
Join us as we chat about this latest specialty release, certain to become one of Gauntlet’s crowning achievements. Barry details what it took to put this cinematic celebration together, what it means to have done so, and more.
(Interview conducted by Rick Hipson)
CEMETERY DANCE: How did the idea first come about for publishing what is essentially a fascinating, educational celebration of The Shawshank Redemption and The Green Mile? Did you first approach the editor, Tyson Blu, about the project or did he approach you?
BARRY HOFFMAN: I approached Frank Darabont directly. I consider Shawshank and Green Mile to be two of the best three adaptation of Stephen King’s work to film (the other being Stand By Me). Darabont wrote the scripts and directed both films so I went to the source first. Once he agreed I needed an editor. Bev Vincent mentioned the project to Tyson Blue who then contacted me. Once I received Darabont’s blessing, Tyson became the editor.
Of all the screenplay adaptations to celebrate, and considering Frank Darabont has two other successful King adaptations under his belt, how did you decide to focus specifically on these two screenplays for the book?
As I mentioned above I considered these two adaptations of King’s work among the best and that both were written and directed by Frank Darabont made it an easy call to ask if we could publish the scripts from both films. Interestingly enough it seems the best adaptations of King’s work are not horror films. The Green Mile has a supernatural twist to it, but it is far more than a horror film.
I’m certain everyone who watched the films then and revisited the experience years later has their own opinion, but what do you think makes these two masterpieces stand the test of time and, if anything, hold even more relevance for today’s audience than ever before?
Shawshank is part of a large number of films to focus on a prison escape, but even more important the two main characters are so fully developed that they eclipse your typical prison escape drama. The first time you see the film (if you haven’t read the short story it was based on) you don’t even know there will be an escape.
The Green Mile deals with an issue which is still front and center in this country — capital punishment. With DNA evidence having advanced, in hindsight, there are have been numerous individuals killed via the death penalty who would today be exonerated. As long as the death penalty is on the table in this country, The Green Mile will be relevant. While not preachy, racism is exposed in the film and that’s a hot topic right now.
I can only imagine the daunting task of pulling so many moving pieces together in commemoration for just one of these films, let alone both The Shawshank Redemption and The Green Mile combined. What can you tell us about the process of putting it all together and what it took to not pull your hair out along the way?
It took three-plus years before we were prepared to lay out the book. Tyson Blue provided a vast amount of material, including an interview with the late Michael Clarke Duncan. Just as daunting for us was the photo section. Frank Darabont sent us literally hundreds of photos from his personal archives, none which had seen print. My layout and design editor, Dara Hoffman-Fox, along with Tyson chose the photos for the book, including a bonus 10-page section for the lettered edition. Frank and Tyson provided the captions.
Then the past few months (amid Covid-19) we were greeted with great news that proved to involve a lot of additional work. Darabont contacted Stephen King and Tom Hanks who both agreed to sign the lettered edition. I was going to charge more with the inclusion of their signatures, but I also wanted to enhance the book itself. We added remarques by Francois Vaillancourt. Soon after, a customer who was a fan of Shawshank suggested we put a small hammer on the traycase (similar to the one Tim Robbins’s character used to escape prison). He sweetened his pitch telling me he knew a person who had wood from the tree in the film which fell down several years ago. He had been making other items related to the film. So we added a wooden hammer from the tree from the film to the traycase. The last few months have been hectic, to say the least.
Did you already happen to have expert-level knowledge of these two films, or were there any passages in the book that came as a fun surprise for you as well?
That’s a tough one to answer. As an avid fan of King, I read the source material for both films when they were published. I saw both films in the theatre shortly after they were released. I think what surprised me most when I saw them again to prepare for the book was the tone of both films. Just how deep the friendship was between Freeman’s and Robbins’s characters struck me when I saw the film this year. And while one was black and the other white the film wasn’t about race relations. Morgan Freeman played a character who happened to be black. In most films the racial tension is much more extreme, but it would have detracted from the film. Duncan’s portrayal of a convicted child killer in The Green Mile also surprised me on viewing the film so long after I originally saw it. It was a remarkable character brought to life by a memorable performance.
When you finally held the finished product of Hope And Miracles in your hands for the first time, was there any specific section of the book or part of the process in putting it together that stood out as especially enjoyable or rewarding for you? Something your most satisfied with above all else?
I know this will sound funny, but I’m probably most proud of the traycases. They were constructed by Chris Loan and you have this wonderful jail cell on the front, a Harry O. Morris piece of art in foil on the back and the hammer I mentioned above on the spine. It’s a true piece of art.
What do you think readers of this book will be most likely to take away with them after the experience of enjoying this book?
The humanity shown by many of the characters in both films is what I think will stand out. The Green Mile has a supernatural aspect to it but takes a back seat to the humanity of Duncan, Hanks and several other supporting characters. The shared respect between Freeman and Robbins in Shawshank is also far more important that the prison escape plot.
Considering how well this book came together and the success of other collections of scripts you’ve published, are there any plans on giving the Hope And Miracles treatment to other important films of our generation?
I’m always looking for scripts to publish. Last year we published the Paul Schraeder script for Taxi Driver. Martin Scorsese and Robert De Niro signed that book. We’ve published all of Rod Serling’s Twilight Zone scripts (ten volumes) and next year we’re publishing scripts from The Outer Limits (possibly several volumes if the first is well-received). One problem with films is getting the permissions required. The Joker (2019) interested me but we were told there was no way DC would grant permission. It took me several years to get permission to publish Richard Matheson’s screenplay for Duel and just as long to get permission from ABC to publish the two movies of the week based on the Kolchak character (we added a third script that went unproduced). But, I’m continuing to pursue other scripts. I’m persistent, if nothing else.
Any final words on the overall experience of putting this book together and where you feel it stands among the legacy of great story telling and movie making?
First, I’d like to thank all of those who helped make this project so memorable. I received emails from total strangers with suggestions, many of which I pursued (i.e. the hammers from wood from the tree that was in the film). I think both films, as well as the stories they are based on, will stand the test of time. Shawshank, in particular, is a staple on television similar, in a way, to the longevity of the original The Twilight Zone.
Thanks so much, Barry. It’s always a pleasure to chat with you and, as always, I look forward to your next publication.