Attorney by profession, editor by passion, Tyson Blue’s name may not ring everyone’s bell, but his mark on the legacy of, arguably, two of the best film adaptations in cinematic history is here to stay. With Frank Darabont’s scripts for The Shawshank Redemption and The Green Mile in hand, Tyson Blue put together a commemorative masterpiece that’s built to act as a literary time capsule for these two endearing films.
Sitting down with Tyson, we discussed his journey since he first wrote for the Castle Rock newsletter, an unlikely venture which began his trajectory towards the eventual publication of Hope And Miracles: The Shawshank Redemption and The Green Mile (Two Screenplays By Frank Darabont) decades later. Touching on his first-hand experience working on set of The Green Mile, his connection to Frank Darabont, the massive efforts required to put it all together and everything in between, it’s time to discover why the latest specialty release from Gauntlet Press is worth its considerable weight in hope and miracles and what it means to the legacy of the films it represents.
(Interview conducted by Rick Hipson)
Tyson, when did you first decide to put a book together celebrating the scripts for The Shawshank Redemption and The Green Mile, and why these two films in particular?
Fortunately for my answer, the decision to put these two films together in book form was made before I got involved. As I understand it, it was Barry Hoffman, the publisher of Gauntlet Press, who came up with the idea of doing this. He’s told me a couple of times he’s always looking for screenplays and scripts to publish in these kinds of volumes. I believe that Frank Darabont is a regular customer of his. So, he got the idea of doing a book with Frank about these two movies.
I think the reason behind these two movies in particular is because they both have a lot in common. They’re based on Stephen King books set in prisons in the thirties and forties. They were both written for the screen and directed by Frank, which is why they didn’t choose to include The Mist, although we ended up talking about it a couple times. Frank liked the idea, so they did whatever contractual things they had to do to get going. At that point, Barry needed an editor, so he put out a solicitation for somebody to edit this book. Bev Vincent, who does my old job at Cemetery Dance doing their Stephen King column, knew that I had worked on The Green Mile and forwarded it to me to make sure I knew about it. I always found that a phone call works better than an e-mail or a letter when you’re trying to get a job, so I called Barry after I saw the listing. He said send me a list of your qualifications and I’ll let you know in a month or so. In the process of about twenty minutes he gave me the job, subject to Frank’s approval, which I wasn’t worried about since I had worked with Frank on The Green Mile back in 1998 and ‘99.
As to why I wanted to work on it, the making of book on The Green Mile ended up not coming out. The picture ended up shooting in August and in order to have the book come out by Christmas time, which is when the picture was going to open, the book had to be finished and in the distribution centers for bookstores by September. This meant they had to edit, proofread, typeset, compose, print, bind and ship this huge book that was going to have lots of pictures and storyboards and interviews and artwork of all kinds in about thirty days. I was disappointed but not surprised when every major publisher passed on it. At the time, it would have been the first book-length study of a Stephen King movie, but now we’ve been beaten to the punch a couple of times, most notably by the one that dealt with the two IT movies last year. If you’ve seen that book, that’s kind of what Frank and I had in mind to do with The Green Mile book. I saw Hope And Miracles as the chance to at least partially accomplish getting part of The Green Mile in print and, maybe if that did well, there might be a chance we could still get our Green Mile book out because Frank and I still want to do that book at some point.
Also, both films are among my favorite adaptations of Stephen King’s work. Which one’s my favorite depends on which one I’m watching at the time. I’m sentimentally partial to The Green Mile because I worked on it and I’m in it. On the other hand, Shawshank is a powerful movie which I actually got to see in a theatre when it first came out. Not many people can say that.
We can blame Pulp Fiction and Forrest Gump for that, I suppose.
That’s basically how I got started on that. I found out a little bit later that Constantine Nasr, a documentary filmmaker, had applied for the job the regular way and I felt guilty for beating him out of it because with his resources and the fact he lived in Los Angeles, he probably could have done as good or a better job than I did. I’m also glad I did because I was able to get a copy of the lettered edition of the book, which is really, really nice. We’ll talk about that later. I would have been mad because I couldn’t have afforded it.
Moving on about compiling Hope And Miracles and how we put it all together, Frank and I never had a face-to-face conversation or a phone conversation. We sent a lot of emails back and forth over the two or three years that we worked on this book. Almost everything on this project was done by email. I had a few phone conversations with Barry. The basic outline of the way the book is put together with the screenplays, the storyboard and photos was already something that Barry told me he wanted the book to be, so I knew what I had to do and it was a matter of assembling the components. The original plan was that he wanted as many of the cast members as we could get for interviews and to sign the lettered edition, but that didn’t work out to a great extent mainly because of the changes in the movie industry and the convention industry and how actors earn money when they’re not making movies.
I’ll do this now so I don’t have to come back to it later: What happened is, everybody turned me down at first. Tom Hanks gets asked to sign so many things that he only does things that are for charitable purposes. In our early negotiations with Stephen King, which I did to a large extent, the whole premise was that he wouldn’t have to sign anything because he likes to do that on a very limited basis.
There was another actor, I got in touch with his agent and she wouldn’t run the question by him unless we agreed to pay him thirty dollars a signature, which is part of the other thing. Nowadays, actors can go to a Comic Con and sit at a table for five or six hours and charge thirty, fifty, sixty dollars a signature for a photo or whatever and they can make more money doing that than they made in the picture most of the time. The big-name actors don’t do it because they get asked to do it so much. We couldn’t even get Morgan Freeman’s publicist to ask him because of his production company the way it’s set up. They just stonewalled me.
So many layers.
We did eventually get King, Hanks and Freeman to sign the lettered edition. Basically, we did what we should have done in the first place — Frank asked them. A division of labor evolved as the project went along. Barry had friends who had either edited books like this in the past or who had contributed to them, so he got in touch with them and presented this list of people and I used all of them. He had Josh Boone, who is editing a similar book for Stand By Me. I did an essay for Josh’s book, too, because he did one for me. Let’s see, who else did he have? He had Mick Garris, Josh Boone, and RC Matheson who did the introduction. I’ve known RC for twenty years, so I was really glad to have him in the book. Barry pretty much gave me free run to bring in anyone else I wanted to, so I brought in some more directors; I brought in a guy named Jim Cole. Jim wrote and directed one of the original Dollar Babies called Last Rung on the Ladder. And Steve Spignesi because he’s one of the other big King experts, but didn’t necessarily have the Green Mile connection. I asked Constantine Nasr because I thought it’s the least I could do after cheating him out of getting the book and he ended up writing one of the best pieces in the whole thing. And Greg Nicotero, whom I met on The Green Mile, did the effects work. I know I’m forgetting somebody. It’s like an Oscar speech. At any rate, we lined all these people up and in fairly short order over the course of a year we got most people’s pieces in.
The rest of the time was spent on other things. Because I’m an attorney, I told Frank I did not have the time to retype these scripts because the computer program he used to compose them doesn’t exist anymore so it’s not compatible with modern systems. Fortunately, he hired a typist to type both of those scripts, and also the essay, “Mutatis Mutandis,” which explains what was left out of Shawshank and why. Whoever he got retyped both of those. Also on board the project was Frank’s wife, who’s a very good editor, myself, Frank, and Barry Hoffman’s daughter, Dara, who laid out the book and did a fantastic job and is really responsible in a lot of ways for how the book looks, as we slide into your next question (laughs). All of those people read those screenplays over half a dozen times apiece. I don’t know about the other people, but I know I watched the movies about five times over the course of two or three years that we were putting this together just to compare the screenplays with the finished product. They really were read thoroughly and are probably flawless. Then right after the book came out, I found about six errors on the copyright page, but thankfully nobody reads that anyway. One of errors was the spelling of one of the contributors’ name, which was really embarrassing.
A lot of the materials from Hope And Miracles for The Green Mile came from my own collection from when I worked on the movie. I had all the call sheets, all the storyboards , a ton of information. I still had a lot of contact information for a lot the cast and crew members so I while trying to talk to them that came in handy. For Shawshank, what came from the book of Frank’s screenplay, well, the storyboards he couldn’t find anymore. He thought they were in a drawer at Castle Rock somewhere or at Warner Brothers. So, what I did is I went to Amazon and for five bucks bought an old beat-up paperback copy of the book and I sent it to Dara Hoffman-Fox’s box so she’d have them. When you press the book down on a copier to make copies of it you always get a shadow where the pages meet. She said I can make it look clean, but I’d have to take the book apart, is that okay? I said whoever owned this book treated it like child abusers treat kids; It was ruined. I told her I bought it to be torn up in case you needed to do that.
I think that’s about it. It was a matter of pulling it all together in digital format. Recently for my law practice I had to buy Adobe Acrobat Reader DC so I could bookmark things because judges are too lazy to flip through the pages. Fortunately, that was the program that made it very easy for me to be able to assemble the book. Every time I wanted to add something to it, I would just go to the right place and drop it in. We had it together and then I could send it as a single volume to Dara who would then go through and smooth everything out and make sure all the pages were matched up and they were all the same size and so on. It took a long time, but we got it done. Everybody worked on it right up until the last minute. The pandemic had an effect on the production of the book, too.
If you don’t mind, Tyson, before I do get to the next question, it would be silly of me not to ask something else here. You mentioned you were in The Green Mile. What part did you play? You’re making me want to go back and watch it right now.
If you remember at the very end of the movie, Dabbs Greer is telling Eve Brent, Tom Hank’s character as an old man, that he’s a hundred and eight years old and he’s going to outlive her. Then they cut to her funeral scene. First, they show her in the coffin and then he comes up to lay a rose in the coffin, but then they cut to the funeral itself and the casket is right in the middle of the shot. If you look to the right, I am the fourth person in. I’m sitting next to a woman in a black dress, a hat and a veil. Also, the person who is at the end of that row closest to the camera and looks like a funeral director is Constantine Nasr, who had bit parts in most of Frank’s movies. You can also see him in The Majestic in a funeral scene, as if it’s a specialty or something. I don’t know if he got into The Mist or not, and he wasn’t working for Frank when Shawshank was made. The minister presiding over the funeral was the minister for the church whose graveyard they used to film the scene. Most of the mourners were parishioners from the church who got hired for the day as extras. Throughout the movie there were people who had behind the scenes jobs that made split-second appearances. One I can think of off the top of my head is the scene where Michael Jeter is bringing Mr. Jingles in to show him to the dignitaries while they prepare for his execution. The guy who opens the door is Tom Hanks’ stand-in.
Throughout the film, every once in a while, there were people that worked on the picture that just said hey, can I be in the movie? They got non-speaking roles and were able to do that.
Very cool. And I think, If I’m not mistaken, Frank had said he was an extra in The Shining television mini-series during the grand party scene.
Yeah, I have to watch that and try to spot him because he shaved his beard off even though Mick Garris said he didn’t have to shave it off, but he did. He said it was the only time he was ever clean shaven. It was also where he got the rights to make The Green Mile movie. He read the first part then drove all the way to the Stanley Hotel in Colorado to make sure nobody else got to him first.
They did a handshake deal on it I understand.
Right. It seems to be how most of Steve and Frank’s deals got made. He gave him “Rita Hayworth and the Shawshank Redemption” for a dollar because he didn’t think anyone else would ever want to try and make a movie out of it. Nowadays I imagine there are some people who wish they had.
One hundred percent to say the very least.
I don’t know if you’ve listened to or watched the episode of Post Mortem where Frank and I appeared talking about things. In that podcast, Frank had said when he sent a copy of our book to Rob Reiner, Rob told him the reason he wanted to direct The Shawshank Redemption was because Tom Cruise and he had just made A Few Good Men together and they were looking for a project to work on because they really enjoyed making that movie. Tom Cruise had read the The Shawshank Redemption script and said if you direct this movie, I’ll star in it. That’s why Rob Reiner wanted to make it so bad, but it wasn’t until he had gotten a copy of the book from Frank that he told him that. More on that will probably work better down the line when we’re talking about previous projects and experience.
Before I went off on this digression, you had another question?
I did, but since I seemed to have gone off the tracks with it, I’m going to go on to my other next question, which is exactly the one you alluded to: what previous projects or experiences might have prepared you for this project? You touched on a bit of that with your experience with working on The Green Mile, which I’m sure made a big difference and probably helped you to get a lot done in a short period of time.
It actually goes back quite a bit further than that. This is one of those questions where the answer goes back decades. Back in the mid to late eighties! I wrote for Castle Rock, the Stephen King newsletter. You may or may not remember that.
I never read it, but I do know of it.
It was in a newspaper format that came out once a month. It was edited at first by Stephanie Leonard who was Stephen King’s sister-in-law, Tabitha King’s sister. Later, she left to work on other projects. She was also one of Steve’s assistants. When she left to do something else her brother, Christopher Spruce, took over and he edited it for the last two years two years it came out. It was only out for maybe five years.
That’s kind of where I got started. I covered the making of Maximum Overdrive. I was living in the South at the time, so it was like a day trip to go up to North Carolina where they were shooting, where I met Stephen King for the first time. It was the start of my professional writing career. I covered Maximum Overdrive for a major newspaper, my hometown local newspaper, for Castle Rock, and also for Twilight Zone magazine, which was another big magazine in the field at the time. In fact, I had to get all four of them before they would even consider letting me out on the set to do a press visit because I tried my hometown newspaper and they all but hung up on me. Then I tried the larger paper up the road whose editor is a friend of mine. They still weren’t interested. Then I tried Castle Rock. Stephen King’s sister-in-law works there, but nope that didn’t work. Twilight Zone was finally the one who kicked the door open. So, I drove up there and did a piece on the making of the movie. I typed it on an old manual typewriter in the production office of the movie then express mailed it out to New York that night.
To move back a little, when I called Twilight Zone, I told them what I wanted to do and I got put on hold. Next thing I knew I was talking to the editor of the magazine who said how did you know we were going to do a special Stephen King issue? I said, well, you know, you find this stuff out. Of course, it’s the first I’d heard of it. He asked, have you ever done anything like this before? I lied (laughs) and said sure!
As the process worn on, it was about two weeks out, the interview kept getting pushed back because of various things and we eventually passed the publishing deadline for Twilight Zone. It was a no pressure situation; a major national magazine was holding two pages open for the next issue which was waiting to go to press just for me. That was one reason I typed up the story and shipped it out to them immediately. It worked out. I got a lot more work from Twilight Zone and became a contributing editor for Castle Rock for the rest of its run. It was great. I wrote a book called The Unseen King about these little known or limited-edition things. A lot of the material I covered in that book has seen print since, like The Dark Tower, Eyes Of the Dragon and such. It’s fun to talk to some of the newer second- or third-generation Stephen King scholars and find out they’ve read my stuff and rely on it. I’ve actually ended up working with a couple of them on different things. It’s been fun.
So, that’s the kind of stuff I did that helped me prepare for this project. I did a piece on the Dollar Baby movies way back in Castle Rock and one of the ones I looked at was The Woman in the Room, which was directed by Frank Darabont, and I said nice things about it. Years and years went by and I found out through going to a lecture by Stephen King at Cornell University when he was touring to promote Insomnia that he’d given Frank the rights to The Green Mile. I got Frank’s contact information from Stephen King’s office, and I called him and left a message on the office recorder. I explained I know you’re going to be filming The Green Mile in the east, and I’d like to come down for a set visit when you’re there.
I didn’t hear anything two or three weeks. My wife and I had gone to the movies. I remember we were watching the then-current James Bond movie, which I think was Tomorrow Never Dies with Pierce Brosnan. When we got home, there was a message on the answering machine. It said hi, this is Frank Darabont calling for Tyson, a name I remember with great fondness. Here’s my phone number, call me up and tell me what you want to do. So, I called and got voicemail and said I’d like to do a set visit like I said, and maybe do interviews with some of the cast, maybe get a bit part in the film, read the screenplay and do the making of book, not knowing I would get to do all of those things. Three or four weeks later I’m at work and I get a call saying this is Dave Johnson — who’s now a famous screenwriter in his own right — and he said do you have anything you’ve written? Frank wants to do one of these making of the movie books and he thinks it would be easier to convince them if he had something you’ve written. The wheels started turning in my head. I said wait a minute, you mean he wants me to do this? Yeah, he wants you to do it. I accepted before they realized what they were doing and changed their minds.
To start getting ready to do it I talked to a couple of people who are usually the people who do these behind-the-scenes books and found out what to do. The interesting thing is, at the time, Castle Rock had never done one of these books and they had no idea how to negotiate the deal. Ultimately, without going into any details, usually what happens is you get “x” amount of money up front and that’s all you ever see. The deal I made with Castle Rock was for less than the going rate, but on the other hand, I got a big percentage of the proceeds from the book when it came out. I even owned up to it with Castle Rock’s attorney and said I realize you made me a better deal than you usually do on these things, but I’m not going to renegotiate. He said, yea I know. I found out after I made the deal. I could have retired already if the book had come out (laughs).
It’s hard to get any sympathy from people because one, I got to work on this movie with Tom Hanks and I got to appear in the movie, and I got to meet all these great people and they flew me wherever I needed to go. And then the book didn’t come out, for the reasons I told you already.
But then several years later, about the time The Walking Dead was getting ready to crank up, I got in touch with Frank about finishing it and getting it ready for publication. He was very interested in it and we were going to sit down and work on it over Christmas break, but then one thing happened and another thing happened and it didn’t happen. Walking Dead got started and they were writing those episodes then they got done with that, Frank got fired, and then other things got in the way. While we were working on this project, we started talking about it again and he actually read through some of it, and he liked it. He does want to finish it some day, but who knows?
Frank and I kept in touch over the years off and on. I gather it made it a lot easier for me to get the job editing this project when the time came for that. From what I understand we’re both satisfied with the results. It’s really great. Frank says in interviews its mine and Dara’s book and Barry’s book, but he stepped up and arranged for those screenplays to get converted when I didn’t have the time. He was such a stickler for every detail on those things being exactly the way it’s supposed to be that I would have dreaded doing it. It all worked out and everybody’s happy with it, so I’m satisfied with it.
It’s so good to hear about the original project as well for The Green Mile. That might have made lesser men quit. Yet, that project was the catalyst for all the connections you made that ended up playing into the Hope And Miracles book. Obviously, it would have been nice if you could have gotten your Green Mile book out there, but at least you had the opportunity to borrow from it for this occasion.
There are a couple of sections in Hope And Miracles that came from that manuscript, so that helped as well. Also, it was nice to renew acquaintances with people I got to know working on the movie with Frank and Constantine, and Greg Nicotero whom I figured had done so much since The Green Mile with his work on The Walking Dead and other movies for Frank and other directors. I thought he had forgotten all about me, but he’s like, no, how could I ever forget a name like yours? (laughs) It was fun to touch base with these people whom I haven’t talked to for twenty years. I think it affected everybody that way because we could all look back on that time. When I was talking to Rodney Barnes for the interview with him, he said it was nice to talk with these people because it helped convince him it was real and all that happened. It was like Camelot. It was a set where everybody really got along and worked together. There weren’t these strong ego conflicts going on. It was fun. I don’t have a lot of other movie set experiences to put up against it, but everyone I talked to said the same thing.
I’m sure that gave you a pretty awesome perspective of putting the book together, being able to close your eyes and visualize what was on set and having a full appreciation for how it was all put together. Did you find that helped with what you put on paper?
Yes. And there was so much of that that it was hard to pick out specific things to put on paper. Just the scene where Tom Hanks and David Morse and Doug Hutchinson are in the death chamber after Mr. Jingles is resuscitated where they slam Percy in the chair and make him swear to resign if they put him out front for the execution. Just that scene took an entire day to shoot. They did that over and over and over again. Doug Hutchinson said the next day he was black and blue from getting slammed into that chair over and over. Finally, it was eleven o’clock at night and we had started at nine in the morning. Somebody came over to Frank and said we have got to get this scene in the can. If they do that two or three more times, the chair is going to get ripped out of the wood and fall over. That’s how much they were all getting into it. They did it so they could shoot from multiple angles and try to get the best performances they could. It’s amazing how dedicated everyone is.
I remember I was in court one time one and one of the judges said something about elite Hollywood, or decadent Hollywood with all the parties and drugs and that sort of thing. I said, well, I worked in that decadent Hollywood you’re talking about and those people get up at three o’clock in the morning to get to the studio by six to get in the makeup chair to make it to a seven a.m. or eight a.m. call on set and they work with breaks for lunch and dinner until eleven and twelve o’clock at night. Those people have a better work ethic than anybody in this room. (laughs) They earn their big bucks.
One hundred percent. That’s one of the things I love about these conversations is finding out what goes into these films. It’s an hour and a half or two hours out of our lives, but it’s incredible. I think back to one of the things Frank had mentioned when I was interviewing him about The Shawshank Redemption. It was one of the opening scenes when we first arrive at the prison in the bus with that overhead shot. I think that shot lasted maybe ten seconds? Meanwhile, that overhead shot took a few months to get the lighting perfect and the helicopter in the right spot and all these little details. Like you said, all the work and the dedication that goes into something like that to ensure it’s perfectly executed, no pun intended, it’s amazing.
I also understand Frank was generous in providing all the materials and had commented how patient Dara was while waiting to receive these huge files, though I’m sure every email must have felt like Christmas. I know you had mentioned writing for Castle Rock and covering The Woman in the Room. Was that the first interaction you might have had with Frank?
When I did that piece, it was part of a general piece on Dollar Babies I had seen at the time, which was five or six of them. I didn’t actually contact Frank at the time. I didn’t even know he’d read it until he’d left a message on my voicemail in 1988. The first time I met him was when I walked onto set the first day. They were shooting one of the scenes at night where Tom and Bonnie Hunt are in the kitchen and he’s listening to the radio and so forth. I got there about seven-thirty in the morning. At first I went to the soundstage they told me they were going to be working on but it was the wrong one, so I ended up on The Green Mile set itself with nobody else around. I got to walk around for a few minutes. It was really unreal to see this place that you had imagined in your head, and it was real and you could touch it and walk around In it.
Talk about a happy accident.
But then I made my way to the right soundstage and introduced myself to Frank. He said make yourself at home; just sit back and enjoy it. It was fun. It took a while to get used to, but in the meantime, I was introduced to Constantine and we decided to pool our efforts and teamed up on interviews. If you’ve ever seen the long form documentary on The Green Mile Blu-Ray, it’s almost as long as the movie is. When he’s talking to the set designer, Terrence Marsh, I was sitting next to him for that. I was recording it for my purposes while he was taping him for his documentary. We did that several times. We went out to the San Fernando Valley where KNB was at the time, talking with Greg Nicotero and his partner about some of the work they were doing. Other times I would go around with a tape recorder and talk, especially to the behind-the-scenes people. The actors, I fit them in whenever I got a chance. Tom Hanks and Bonnie Hunt, I had to put them off until we were in Tennessee before I could talk to them.
After doing that and going all over the place and talking to people and so on, putting Hope And Miracles together was a lot easier. It was just time consuming.
A lot of chasing people down and gathering all the materials and such I imagine.
Right. And figuring out how to present it. As far as the order of how everything went in and what we used, they pretty much left that up to me. I know you want to ask me about the two different editions and what the differences were and this might fit in better there. Before we get into that, you said Frank’s emails to Dara were like Christmas, and one of the things I remember is one of the last things we did is after the screenplays were set and we were satisfied with them, that was when we started pulling photos together.
Barry and Frank elected Dara and myself to handle that so we were the ones who got all these Christmas packages. Frank had sent a few photos he had found and then he was in his garage and came across this box. It was the motherlode. It was hundreds and hundreds of his own pictures, Polaroids and his own pictures he’d taken with panorama cameras and things like that which had never been published anywhere. Almost all the photos in this book have never been published before. It wasn’t just a bunch of publicity photos like a lot of these books are. These are behind the scenes things that were taken, or he had taken. That’s another contribution he made. We were given complete free reign to use them. Dara sent them all to me and on a Saturday, my wife and I went through all of them and came up with the ones we liked and sent them to Dara who went through and made her suggestions. Between the two of us, we did the photos that are in the numbered edition. Then we came up with captions for them all. There were a lot of behind-the-scenes things from Shawshank and there were a lot of pictures I took from my set visit on The Green Mile. There were also a lot of pictures that I had taken from The Green Mile when my daughter and youngest son went with me. Those went into the lettered edition. Also, some pictures from the Tennessee State Prison that doubled for Cold Mountain that I had taken included pictures of the actual death house at the prison. You can see it in the movie in the scene were James Cromwell and Tom Hanks are talking about Bitterbuck’s execution and Melinda Moores’s brain tumor. In the background you can see people walking along and there’s a low sandstone- colored brick building there. That’s the death chamber for the prison. The electric chair itself I found in a closet in the administration building and took a picture. On the set in California, everybody wanted to sit in Ol’ Sparky. My author photo for the book was a picture of me sitting in it with my legs crossed and then I had them strap me in it like everybody else.
How could you not?
But, nobody wanted to sit in the real one. (laughs) I put those pictures in and by that time, I think it was May of 2019, a tornado came through Nashville. It went right down the middle of the cell blocks. The front building is intact, but the roof was torn completely off the rest of it. I’m not sure what they’re doing with it, whether they’re going to try to restore it because they do use it as a movie set, or if they were just going to knock it down. I’m not sure what they decided to do with it.
A lot of those pictures went in an insert that was put in the lettered edition and we had to do captions and run them by Frank to make sure they were all correct. And again, Dara and I worked on those. As far as the two editions of the book, if you take the lettered edition out of the tray case and set it down side by side with the numbered edition, they’re identical. The cover is the same. It’s only when you open the two books up that you see difference.
Frank got to pick the cover artist. He picked Drew Struzan and I couldn’t argue with that. I couldn’t think of anybody better. I mean, I put out some names, but for good reason they were vetoed, and Frank wanted Drew Struzan anyway. I’m perfectly happy with Drew. Originally, Frank had coaxed him to do a new wraparound cover for the book, but he developed physical problems that made him retire from painting so instead, he put together this collage of the Blu-Ray artwork of both movies which is just fantastic. On the back cover is a picture of Frank that Drew had done and given to him as a surprise one time. It’s a nice cover. It works for both books.
Originally, I don’t think anybody thought of end papers. I’ll take full credit for those. The papers in the numbered and the lettered editions are different. The lettered edition has the pictures of the four main actors from both movies. It has Tom Hanks and Michael Clarke Duncan, Tim Robbins and Morgan Freeman. My idea was to have full page pictures of the Shawshank actors on the front end papers and The Green Mile actors on the back end papers. I spent a lot of time thinking to myself well, should we put the black actor first or the white actor first or should we do it the other way around? They ended up going with all four of them on a two-page spread, front and back, and that was fine.
The lettered edition has a color photo of The Green Mile set. I think that’s on the front and back. My original idea was to have a picture of the Shawshank cell block in the front end papers and The Green Mile in the back. I couldn’t find a picture of the Shawshank set that would fit the format and then The Green Mile set even took a lot of work for Dara to come up with one that would look right. I don’t know if you’ve seen that one or not; and it’s in color, which is nice.
I got the ARC of it digitally, so I’m not sure what version that was.
Well, the digital version is the lettered edition because it has the extra ten page insert in the back.
Barry had a friend who he commissioned to do a picture of Michael Clarke Duncan holding onto the bars looking out and that’s stamped in silver foil on the front cover of the book under the dust jacket.
That has to look gorgeous, I bet. (Note: I got to see it and it did look stunning to say the very least.)
It’s also on the back of the tray case for the lettered edition. What else is there that’s unique? I think I’ve covered all the different things inside the lettered edition. Outside, the tray case was mostly Barry’s baby. I did get a little input. I suggested — and I’m not a hundred percent sure Dara didn’t suggest it to me as the question came, should we do this — one of us came up with … The title obviously comes from lines in the two movies. Shawshank deals with hope, and The Green Mile is all about miracles. One of us came up with the idea of having each of those words in the font that was used for the titles of the movies on the one sheet. For hope, I think we ended up going with a different font. Actually, it was Egyptian, but it looked liked the one they used. I think the book was at the printer by the time my son who’s a graphic designer noticed it, but by then it was too late.
Originally, Barry had a prototype of the tray case drawn up. On the front of it there’s a black-and-white picture of a man sitting on a bunk in a jail cell and the bars were in front of him and the lock on the door and hinges are real. They’re real, miniature hinges and a lock that go onto the front of the tray case.
That’s really cool.
It makes it a lot of fun to stick on your bookshelf.
But, then on the spine, someone suggested to Barry that it might be fun to put a little miniature rock hammer on it. I’m not sure who suggested it, but he pointed out the big tree that Morgan Freeman goes to at the end of the movie where he finds the message and the money from Andy. That tree became a tourist attraction in and of itself. People would come to see it, but then over the course of a couple microburst windstorms after the turn of the century, the tree had been destroyed. What people did was they took wood from the tree, and they made handles for rock hammers out of it and sold them as souvenirs. Barry found out they had enough wood left to make these little rock hammers — they’re maybe an inch long — and they got stuck onto the spine of the tray case. It’s really fantastic. Then the letter of each edition was carved In the handle, so “A” through “ZZ”, and on the back of the case was Michael Clarke Duncan looking out through the bars which was also stamped in silver on the front of the book.
There was a different cloth stock used for the covers of the two editions. They were both black, but one was satin, and one was whatever book covers are made of. The bottom of the tray case was lined in velvet to cushion the book when it was sitting on it. After it was too late and they were all printed, I thought wouldn’t it be neat if you opened up the tray case and took the book out and a Rita Hayworth poster was on the bottom of the tray case? It was too late by the time I came up with that and suggested it to them. I suppose you could always print it out; it’s available online and stick it in there for yourself. Then I found out the licensing fee for that photo is actually pretty steep so I don’t know if Barry would want to pay for it anyway. It’s four-hundred and fifty dollars, but I don’t know if that’s per use or a one-time thing, I’m not sure. It would have been neat, but that’s about the only thing that didn’t go into it that I didn’t get.
The numbered edition is signed by me and Frank. The lettered edition, when you open it up, there’s a remarque. I’m not sure it if is actually a remarque, that’s the term Barry used to describe them. My understanding is a remarque is where an artist draws an original piece of art on a page of your book whereas these, there were six different ones which were done by an artist who lives in Quebec somewhere, Francois Vaillancourt, who does a lot of book covers. There’s six of them, there was one remarque each for four of the actors. There was one of Morgan Freeman heading toward the tree near the end of the movie and a picture of Ol’ Sparky from The Green Mile. Vaillancourt had a template for each of the pictures and he would trace the basic image on a piece of watercolor paper. Once it dried, he would fill in the colour and the details by combination of pens and water colours. After each go-through of the process it would have to dry completely so it wouldn’t run or smear when he worked on it. Once they were done, he very carefully packaged it and sent it to the printer who put them in a vault.
At the same time, we sent tip sheets out. Everyone signed the ones they had to do I remember it took me about an hour and a half to sign the five hundred numbered sheets and the fifty-two lettered ones. Then they sent one around that all the contributors signed for the lettered edition. You’d get a box with all the envelopes and sheets in it, and you’d sign the sheets. I sent the numbered sheets back immediately and the other ones got sent to the next person on the page and so on. There were two pages, eight signatures altogether. After that, just before the book went to the printer, that’s when Morgan Freeman finally agreed to sign it. He was the last one. Sheets were sent to Tom Hanks, Stephen King and Morgan Freeman. When those were back, they were sent to the printer who put them in a vault until the books were ready to be assembled. Then all of those sheets were stripped into the lettered edition and the whole thing was bound.
Those are the differences between the two versions.
And did you say you had the lettered edition sent to you?
Do you happen to have it handy?
It’s in the next room. I can go get it if you’ve got a minute.
If you don’t mind, sure. I’ve got a minute.
(Tyson proceeds to go and get his lettered edition of Hope and Miracles and for the next several minutes shows me the ins and outs of one of the most stunning books I have ever seen. From interior artwork to the miniature rock hammer on the spine to the remarque of a silhouetted Michael Clarke Duncan sitting in jail staring out through the bars that literally took my breath away. With the best of my ability to use all the right words I know trying to describe my exact impression of the book would be futile. Hopefully, for those who weren’t able to purchase the book, Tyson might consider a sort of unboxing video so everyone else can see it, too.)
(As Tyson shows off the signature sheet, pointing out Morgan Freeman’s signature)
Morgan Freeman was in an auto accident a few years back and he is left-handed, so he doesn’t sign things very much now because he has to do it right-handed and it’s hard to do. We all really appreciated he took the time to do that.
It’s really nice. I mean, the price tag is four thousand dollars but despite that, it sold out in hours.
It was incredible how fast this sold.
I was really glad I got to do this project because I would have been really mad knowing this book was out there and I couldn’t afford it. (laughs)
No kidding, right? I also want to ask you specifically about Stephen King’s signature. Maybe I’m confused, but when you said he had agreed to be accessible as long as he didn’t have to sign anything. Was that for the stand-alone Green Mile book you completed and is still in a drawer, or was that for this particular book?
That was with this book. My understanding is Barry told him up front he wouldn’t be signing anything. What we mainly wanted to use was his introductions for the two original screenplays. I got in touch with his agent and put him in touch with Barry. Steve did want a fee for using that, but I let Barry work that one out. He was the one writing the check, so I didn’t worry about it. It was Frank who ended up asking Steve to sign the book and he agreed to do it for him, as did Tom Hanks and Morgan Freeman.
Tom Hanks turned me down three times, and I told Barry look, I really don’t want to ask him again.
The nicest guy in Hollywood; you don’t want to make him mad at you.
We’ve kept in touch over the years since then. He’s always been really nice about the requests I’ve made such as with screening copies of some of the HBO miniseries he’s produced and things like that.
When my son became an Eagle Scout — my son had met Tom Hanks on The Green Mile set one time and he was really impressed — I asked Tom to write him a congratulatory letter and we framed it and gave it to him. Frank Darabont did, too, actually. I got to know his assistants which is the best way to get things to and from people who are that busy.
You seem to have some pretty good foresight, Tyson, because you’ve already answered a few of the other questions I have. Regarding one of them, it sounds like you had a chance to chat directly with Tom Hanks, then?
I did when I was working on The Green Mile book. I got about a fifteen or twenty-minute interview with him. Every once in a while, in between takes we would chat. He collects typewriters as you may know. I had a couple of interesting typewriting stories I shared with him. He was always pretty approachable. He’d clown around on the set to liven things up. At the end of every shooting week, he would buy dinner for everybody. When we were in Los Angeles, he would have a food truck come in. I don’t know if they have food trucks in Kitchener (my city) or not, but we have them in Rochester.
It would be a different one every week. It would be an In-And-Out Burger or a pizza place or Chinese food or anything. It was a mix of things. They would come in and you could order up whatever you wanted, and they would make it for you. He had a sushi chef on location who would make you whatever you wanted day or night, and if we were out on location somewhere he would call up somebody and order food for everybody at ten o’clock at night. When we were out in the country shooting the scenes at the warden’s house, the nearest town was this little “wide place in the road” that had a Dominos Pizza. He called them up and ordered I think it was three hundred various pizzas. I would have loved to have been on the other end of that phone call wondering how long it took to convince the people on the other end of the phone that it was Tom Hanks and he really did want all these pizzas delivered. But, they delivered them and set them up in a line about five deep. I’ve heard since that he does this on every film set he works on. He really is this nice guy that everybody makes him out to be. I never saw him get sharp or irritated with people. I’m sure he did, but I never saw it. He doesn’t get full of himself or anything. I enjoyed being with him.
Michael Clarke Duncan was another one who I liked immediately. You could walk up to him most anytime and talk with him. I enjoyed meeting him. My daughter was the one who suggested he would make a great John Coffey. She worked at a movie theatre. She called me up one night and said, you should go see this movie, Armageddon. There’s a guy in it that’s really good. I went and saw it and after I watched the movie, I agreed with her and then I called Dave Johnson and said, my daughter saw this guy Michael Clarke Duncan in Armageddon and thought he might be a good pick for John Coffey. I got dead air for about five seconds because they were already looking at him.
They turned him down a couple of times, I think, before they actually gave him the role if I’m not mistaken.
I don’t think they ever cast anybody in his place. He was always the only one who got it. Frank writes about in detail to his introduction to Hope And Miracles. Michael told me, when I interviewed him for the Green Mile book about all the work he did trying to get it right. Frank has a thousand times told the story about how Hanks would stay on set to work off screen, off camera, with him to make sure he got the best performance he could. I can’t picture anybody else playing that part nowadays.
You really can’t. And how many people of his stature, with such a menacing presence up front, but are so soft spoken? To see him in other movies as well, you get the impression pretty quickly that, sure he’s acting, but you get the impression that he is that kind soul that you get on screen. That was certainly my impression from The Green Mile and in other films.
I wish I had the chance to talk to him again before he died, but I didn’t unfortunately. He was the very last person I interviewed for the Green Mile book because he was in the last scene that they shot; the reshoot of him with the two dead girls. I’m pretty sure he was the last person I spoke to about that. I talked to Greg Nicotero and Boone Narr who ran Boon’s Animals For Hollywood. He was the one who wrangled the Mr. Jingles mice. I’m pretty sure Michael was the last person I actually spoke with because he was the last one and had to come back and reshoot that scene a year after all his other scenes had been done. There was a big delay in postproduction, but it gave Frank a year to work on editing the movie. I think it worked out in the long run. The picture fell so far behind schedule that Tom had to go and shoot Castaway which pushed The Green Mile back and gave Frank all this time to work on editing and getting the score together and everything. I think one of the reasons the movie is as good as it is, is they had all this time they wouldn’t normally have.
Was your interview with Michael exclusive to Hope And Miracles, as well as one of the last he did?
That interview was actually done for the Green Mile book, but with a slight update at the end of it. After that, he was in The Whole Nine Yards and Daredevil and Sin City and The Scorpion King. I’m sure he must have done interviews for all of those things.
It wasn’t the last, but it was one of the more detailed in-depth interviews regarding work he did on The Green Mile. I would have loved to have had a chance to talk to him again, but I think he had already died by the time this project got started. I think we started working on this book in, I don’t know, 2018, I think. My file on the book, which is about “this” big, is on the floor behind me and has the initial email. I don’t remember exactly when in 2018 we started working on it.
In June we lost about two month’s time because I had heart surgery and picked up on it after. We worked pretty steadily until it was at the printer. Up to the last minute we were adding things and changing things. A couple of things came too late. There was one thing I thought was too late. I thought the book might have already gone off to print, but Dara said, I can do that. It was to correct a misspelling of Francois Vaillancourt’s name. That was one of the errors I noticed after the book came out. I was really embarrassed. At the time I did that copyright notice, I had not corresponded with him, so I didn’t know. I was going by Barry’s pronunciation, so I left out an “I” I didn’t know was there until I corresponded with him, and he answered me and typed his name. I wish I was able to change it because it’s embarrassing.
Sorry, Francois, you’re going to have to change your name now, or at least its spelling.
This next question probably puts you on the spot somewhat because it’s probably hard to pinpoint, but working on the Hope And Miracles project and by the time you completed it, was there anything new you noticed about either of the films that you weren’t privy to before you began this project?
In the case of The Green Mile, not so much because I was kind of hands-on with that one. When I wasn’t on the set I was in touch with them or Constantine sent me video of the things that were going on when I couldn’t be there.
Shawshank, I’m sure I probably did find out something I didn’t know about at the time, but sitting here I honestly can’t think of what it would be. The book is a little Green Mile happy as far as contributions go, mainly because I had so much Green Mile material available to me as opposed to Shawshank where I was dependent on Frank. I know there were things in some of the Shawshank photos that we got that I wasn’t aware of. There’s a photo of Frank looking over different rifles to pick the one Captain Hadley uses to shoot Billy with. I remember I didn’t really know what that scene was. Well, I knew what it was, but Frank wrote me, “we gotta change this, they’re gonna think I’m a gun nut. I was just checking these out.”
I’m sure somewhere along the way I had found out something I didn’t already know. Maybe about both pictures. In Constantine’s essay, he talked about things I was not privy to that he saw on the set. In his long form documentary, there’s a scene when we were in North Carolina when we were shooting the beginning and ending scenes. We were in back of the building that was doubling as the nursing home, and it was a cloudy day. Just as they were getting ready to do a shot, the sun came out. Frank glared up into the sky and pointed into the sun and said, “Hey, you! Go Away!” And it did. I wrote about that because it was typical Frank clowning around to keep things light on the set. It appeared early on in that documentary. If you ever get a chance to see it. It’s on the fifteenth anniversary Blu-Ray edition of The Green Mile. It’s worth tracking down. The documentary is almost as long as the movie and it has a lot of information in it.
Unfortunately, I don’t have a good answer for you on this one. When you’ve been through the material as many times as we did in trying to get this together and make this the best book it could possibly be, I don’t remember particulars that stood out as surprising.
Did did you find working on the Shawshank portion to provide you with a different perspective for the film after putting all the interviews for it together and studying it as much as you did for the purpose of Hope And Miracles?
I think so. Also, which we haven’t touched on yet, I’ve been to the Mansfield Prison in Ohio. It’s a pretty easy day trip from where I live. Well, you’ve got Lake Erie in the way. If the border ever opens up again, you might be interested in going down there sometime. It’s maybe an hour and a half south of Cleveland as you’re headed south on the expressway as you’re headed toward Kentucky. It’s right off the expressway. We were going to meet up with some friends in Kentucky and I saw the exit sign for Mansfield. This was late nineties sometime. I asked my wife how far off the road is Mansfield? It turned out it was right there, so on the way back about three-thirty, four o’clock, in the afternoon, we got off and literally you go past the trees that line the interstate and over a little hill and it is right there. We drove up and we were the only car there. It was late in the day, and the guy who was in charge of the museum didn’t have anything better to do. They have three tours there. There’s a Shawshank tour, there’s a movie tour for the films and videos they’ve shot there like Air Force One and all the prison scenes in whatever third world country Gary Oldman’s character was, they were all shot at Mansfield. The courtyard where the guy’s being taken where he’s supposedly being exchanged for Air Force One is the same place where Red and Andy had that last scene where they’re talking about get busy living or get busy dying; they were shot in the same place. There’s also a ghost tour because it’s supposed to be haunted.
So, this director had nothing better to do so he gave us all three tours jumbled up into one for one low price. It was interesting.
The helicopter shot behind the main building with the cell blocks, the administration building. All the rest of that stuff is gone now. They tore it down to make a new prison which is behind that. They had to shoot scenes really carefully in Shawshank to avoid having the new prison show up in them. That is one thing I picked up. I learned all the scenes that take place like the room where Brooks hangs himself where Red is later in the movie, that’s actually in the prison administration building on the third floor. There are some other places that are supposed to be, well, other places in the film that were on the prison location. The cell blocks looked nothing like they did in the movie because that was a Terrence Marsh set that was built in a warehouse nearby.
I was going to ask you about that, Tyson. I was wondering how much of the films was filmed on location in the actual jail. I believe The Green Mile was mostly shot on Terrence Marsh’s set wasn’t it?
Everything that happened outside was shot at the prison location. Everything that was inside was shot on the Warner Hollywood studio sound stage. It kind of bends your mind a little bit. I remember being at the prison in Tennessee and you’d see a character go and open a door and step in and Frank would yell, “Cut!” and months before they shot him coming through the door into the cell block. It was kind of strange. And for the first few times, I would watch the movie and come across scenes like that. (The actual prison and the soundstage) were three thousand miles apart. It was a real “I know where that is. I was standing right there when they shot that.”
Constantine told me when we were talking recently, that his elbow is in one shot. I got to check to see if I can spot it. It was one of those things when they were doing multiple takes. Frank looks at the video monitor and says, “What is that?” Constantine said the last time he looked it was still in the movie.
Probably one of those things that weren’t worth editing or it would have caused more problems than it solved. Since I’ve never seen it, as meticulously as I’ve looked at these two movies over the years, it’s probably something no one else would see.
What would you pinpoint as your favorite scenes from each of the two films?
Actually, it’s the easiest question to answer. My favorite scene in Shawshank is the scene where Red goes looking for the message from Andy in the cornfield, with the box under the tree. The music by Thomas Newman, whom we haven’t talked about, but really should have talked about it for this book now that I think of it, he did the music for both those movies. If we ever do a paperback I might see if I can talk with him. The music in that scene as Red is walking through the field and approaching the tree, it makes my hair stand on end every time I hear it, even nowadays. And the little touches Morgan Freeman threw in like when he digs up the box and he opens it up and he’s reading the letter and you hear a bird off in the background and he sort of jumps and looks over his shoulder to see if somebody’s coming. It works really, really well and I get choked up watching it sometimes.
It’s such a journey up to that point.
There are other scenes I really like scattered through the movie, which is why it’s as good as it is, like the whole escape sequence. In fact, we could be here all night.
For The Green Mile, there’s tons of favorite scenes. My ego likes watching my cameo. There were a lot of little scenes that I like. One I like a lot is what Frank calls his David Lean shot. It’s near the beginning of the movie — you know the one I’m talking about — it’s the scene of Dabbs walking up the hill and it’s a long shot. I thought about it and yeah, that is a David Lean shot. A brighter shot probably. I was there when he shot that. I think that’s when he made that David Lean shot remark. It didn’t take long to shoot because it was such a short thing. There’s a scene after that when Dabbs kind of comes up into view as he comes up over the top of the hill chomping away on his piece of toast. As soon as Frank yells cut, he spits it out. There’s lots of things like that, but my favorite scene in the movie is when Tom Hanks has to give the order for the guard to throw the switch on John Coffey and the camera cuts to him and his eyes are just flooded, and he can barely get the words out. The well he reached down into to be able to do that upon cue — I mean, I asked him, but he didn’t give me a straight answer. He said it’s called acting.
The first time I saw most of the movie, the central part of the movie during postproduction, Frank was considering having Paul Simon write a song for the movie so he showed him what there was of it and I happened to be there that day so I asked him if I could see it. At first, he wasn’t sure he wanted me to do it, but I promised him I would not say anything. I told him all I’ll say is if I really like it, I’ll say people are going to be in for a good time and if it sucks, I won’t say a word.
The movie was good enough at that point, there weren’t any real significant changes I don’t think. Even then, with music from another movie stripped in as a temporary soundtrack and everything, the movie was so good I forgot that the man seated directly in front of me had written “Bridge Over Troubled Water” and “The Boxer” and all my other favorite songs.
But the first time I saw the entire movie cut together, they had a screening at the University of Rochester. It was sold out by the time I found out about it, but I called up the guy in charge and said look, I worked on this movie. I’m in this movie. I want to see this damn movie. He arranged to get tickets for me and some of my family and we went to watch it. For the last twenty minutes of the movie, there wasn’t a sound in the auditorium except for a lot of male voices sobbing. I’ve never heard so many people crying at the end of a movie in my life. It was pretty amazing. Afterwards when I went to advanced screenings before the picture opened, it was the same thing. People were really affected by the movie. But, that scene with Hanks is my favorite scene in the movie. The rest of it are my other favorite scenes.
They’re both very powerful, very affecting movies. The Shawshank Redemption sort of trades places with The Godfather on a regular basis as number one on IMDB’s all time greatest movie list. The Green Mile is back down in the seventies or so, but it’s still a pretty respectable showing for a movie as recent as it is. I can’t open a conversation with somebody talking about either movie without them saying oh, that’s my favorite movie, we love it, we watch that all the time.
One hundred percent. I recently talked to some friends who said that very thing.
Pretty much every time I walk into a courthouse, one of the court attendants or there’s another judge who says, “I saw your movie last week!”
I told Frank once, if you plopped all of Stephen King’s books on a table in front of me and said pick one you’d like to work on the movie for, I told him I’m not sucking up to you, man, but it would be The Green Mile. I’ve read it, must be ten or fifteen times. I don’t even know how many times I’ve listened to it on audio. It’s always just been one of my favorites.
“Rita Hayworth and the Shawshank Redemption” was always one of my favorite King stories. I think I read it in a couple of days. It’s one of the ones where I think Frank’s screenplay actually improves on it a little bit. It works better as a movie to have one main villain. There are about four wardens in the original story, which is more realistic, but for dramatic onscreen purposes it makes more sense to have one, and Bob Gunton did a terrific job.
The very end scene, where he finally shoots himself, I don’t think it would have worked as well if there had been multiple people in the role. Given the fact the warden had been on such a journey with all the bad things that went down under his watch, it made sense why he did what he did in the end.
Right. There’s an interesting thing about that scene, too. Originally, when they shot the scene, Norton has a hole in his throat where it’s over here somewhere (Tyson gestures to a spot on his throat). You see where he puts the gun right up to the center of his chin. Then they cut away when he pulls the trigger, the hole is in the wrong place. When the movie came out on Blu-Ray, they digitally put the bullet hole in the right place. It was one of the few times Frank used CGI and the only time it was used in Shawshank. They did quite a bit in The Green Mile.
Right. With the flies and everything else.
The flies and a lot of the time they animated Mr. Jingles, too, because mice didn’t always do some of the things they wanted them to do. Like when he jumps out of John Coffey’s hand and runs away, that was a CGI mouse.
There were twenty-four Mr. Jingles that they used because each one they had a hero mouse and a backup that was trained to do the same specific thing, so they would have some on hand in case they didn’t work quite so well. I actually had one on my shoulder at one time, but I couldn’t get anybody to take a picture of it. There wasn’t anybody around. I had my camera with me, but the photographer couldn’t take a picture of it with my camera because of union regulations. I would have loved to have had it. And he was continent during the shot which I understand is rare because mice urinate almost constantly.
I’ve had several pet rats over the years and that’s definitely one of those things. It’s not a matter if they’re going to go on you, it’s when and how often they’re going to go. You never wear any of your favorite shirts when you’ve got one on your shoulder, that’s for sure.
The scenes where Tom Hanks had him on his shoulder, they had somebody standing by with a little brush to brush the shoulder of his coat off after the scene was done. It was like a felt brush that they used to dust him off, or maybe they used Scotch guard, I don’t now.
On the flip side of that, Tyson, as you reached the end of the Hope and Miracles book project, what did you find to be the most rewarding aspects of the project?
Part of it was the satisfaction I got from seeing at least some of the work I put in for the Green Mile book. Finally seeing that get out to an audience where people could see it and use some of that material and feeling like I had finally done what they hired me to do in the first place which I hadn’t been able to do with the Green Mile book itself. Getting the Green Mile book itself was like that scene in, I think it was Field of Dreams, where sometimes the universe kinda opens up and says here’s what we’ve got for you, try not to mess it up. No, that’s not Field of Dreams. I can’t remember what movie it is now that I’ve said it. But that’s what getting the Green Mile book felt like to me. That’s why I accepted it without even going home and asking should I do this. I was just like, yeah, the universe opened up and I want to take this before they close the door.
When the book didn’t come out, it was very frustrating. Again, it was impossible to get anyone to feel sorry for me because I got this great ride. But then it was all of a sudden, the universe opened back up and said hey, here’s another shot at it. That happens even less than the other thing. It was nice to get a second chance to do that and, tossed on top of that, was a chance to do the same thing with Shawshank, and just being able to contribute in a small way to the legacies of these classic movies. I’m sixty-eight. I’m not going to be here for that much longer. This book and those movies are going to be around for a long time. I can say I had something to do with that.
They really are timepieces. The movies are, as you mentioned, iconic, though iconic doesn’t even fully do them justice considering how well they truly dig down into humanity at its finest and worst, its most troublesome and hopeful. Both films capture that so well and the book further captures what was in those films and does an amazing job at doing that.
Generally, some might think reading a book of scripts might be a rather dry endeavor, but it’s not. Of course, there’s a lot more like the intro and various essays in the book on top of the scripts. If I may say so, my favorite part of the book was reading the examples of what was changed from the scripts and reading the stories about what and why the changes were made and the fact you were able to get so much material across in these books was appreciation overload for me after having enjoyed both these films for so many years.
Glad to be able to do that. I think that’s what everyone was trying to do. I did the best I could to show people how great these movies are and why they should get this kind of treatment. It was also fun for me because I got to revisit the The Green Mile and reconnect with a lot of the people I worked with back then.
It was kind of funny, Dara Hoffman-Fox wrote an entry for the Gauntlet newsletter a couple weeks ago talking about how strange it was to grow up in Barry Hoffman’s household and be acquainted with Frank Darabont and Stephen King and so on. And she talked about reading an article in the Castle Rock newsletter about The Plant, which King wrote and had sent out as a Christmas card novel to people on his Christmas card list. She wrote Stephen King and said Barry Hoffman’s my dad and I read about The Plant, and I would like to give it to him as a Christmas present. Steve signed a set of them and sent it off to her and she gave them to him for Christmas. I read that and I emailed her and said, I just thought you’d like to know I wrote the article you were talking about, about The Plant. It was the springboard that led to me writing The Unseen King and started me off on my career. She said it’s like things going full circle, how this thing sets off me writing to Stephen King to get these books for my dad and now here we are all collaborating on this book however many years later.
This project is full of stuff like that. It pays off in ways you don’t even think about. I have to pinch myself sometimes to think I really worked on it. Oh yeah, that is my name on the spine. I guess I did do it.
When you were going through the material for The Shawshank Redemption, did you have a chance to reach out to, well, obviously Frank Darabont, but also some of the main actors as well such as Tim Robbins or Morgan Freeman?
I tried to get in touch with them. I knew how to get in touch with Tom Hanks because I’d kept in touch with his office on and off when I had a question or wanted to see something, so that wasn’t a problem. Tim Robbins, I got to his assistant, finally, but it took almost the entire project to do that and then he said he didn’t want to take part. It’s like the movie documentary about back-up singers, I got three feet to stardom. But, Morgan Freeman, like I told you earlier, I couldn’t get anywhere. His production company would not put me in touch with his assistant. I explained what I wanted, but for some reason they just wouldn’t do it. Ultimately, Frank got in touch with them, and it was a week or less before the book went off to the printers and when he finally got in touch with (Freeman), he said he’d do it.
It was really funny because five or six years ago, the sheriff of the county where I live was retiring and was a huge Morgan Freeman fan. His wife who worked at the courthouse asked if I had any way to get in touch with Morgan Freeman because her husband was a huge fan, and it would be nice to get an autographed photo for his retirement. I thought about it a second and thought well, it never hurts to ask. Frank did get the picture. It was maybe two or three weeks after he retired. That time I was able to do it, but this time for the book it never happened. Luckily, at the end, Frank decided to do it. Actually, he got Tom Hanks and Stephen King to do it fairly quickly. There were within about a week of each other. Then, I think, we had to kind of nudge him for more, like Morgan Freeman so we could have the hat trick, and it worked out.
My job was basically to put it together and, well, I wrote a lot of stuff. It was nice to just reconnect with all those people and to see this thing come together and have it be as nice as it is. I can say that without bragging because a lot of it is the production value that is Barry and Dara’s doing.
I don’t think you’re going to have an issue there. Judging from what you showed me of the book, I can’t see anyone picking it up and thinking anything might be missing. It’s such a treasure with all those details
To wrap things up, Tyson, do you have any parting words about the importance of this project? I know you talked a little bit about the importance of this book for fans of the films. What do you say to them and, certainly, for budding filmmakers as well who will be picking this up and having the takeaway of all the great material within?
I don’t think there are very many better books on the art of screenwriting than this one. I mean, you’ve got two of the best examples of how to write a screenplay. Like you said, reading a lot of screenplays can be a dry and boring experience, but there are a handful of people who can write a screenplay or a script in such a way that it’s like reading a book. My friend, Harlan Ellison was another one. His scripts were very directorial and very readable. Frank is another one who’s excellent at writing screenplays you can read. They’re very compelling and the average person reading them, it makes them want to see the film if they haven’t. If they want to be screenwriters, they’ve got everything they need. And both of the scripts, I’ve either heard interviews or conducted interviews where actors said everyone wanted to be in these movies. It was getting passed around and people were reading them, and everybody wanted to take part. That’s what you want screenplays to do. Shawshank was so good, Tom Cruise and Rob Reiner wanted to make it. It started Frank’s career. They’re really important screenplays and they deserve this treatment and I’m proud of the result and I’m humbled I got to take a part in this project and that it will be out there. I think Frank sees it that way, too. He says one reason he likes publishing his screenplays is it shows people how it’s done.
I’ve read some of Frank’s other screenplays and they’re all like that. I read his Indiana Jones screenplay for the fourth movie which was not used, and that’s too bad because well, the basic plotline was the same, but there were some changes that would have made it a better movie. I’m not one of these people who piles on to say Crystal Skull was the most terrible movie ever made. It’s not my favorite Indiana Jones movie — that rotates between the first two somewhere. There were parts in the third one I really liked.
Then, there’s all this other stuff Frank wrote we could go on about like the Young Indiana Jones stuff he did for television and who he worked with on those. Daniel Craig was in an episode before he took on the role of James Bond.
No kidding? I could see him pulling that off.
Frank did a lot of those episodes. I haven’t seen his scripts for his television work, but I’ve certainly watched his episodes of The Walking Dead, Mob City and some of the television episodes he directed to get ready for The Mist, which he had to shoot fast and on the cheap.
Thanks to Bev Vincent, this Hope and Miracles book got dropped into my lap and I got up and ran with it before they changed their minds. Well, actually I had to convince them, but I must have done something right. It only took a half hour. Then, to have it all culminate into this and to have it turn out as good as it did. Everybody gave it their best. Dara told me it was the favorite of all the books she’s designed for Gauntlet over the years.
There’s a lot of them, so that’s high praise for sure.
A writer friend of mine I’ve known for forty, fifty years thought it deserved a Stoker nomination. I would like to see it win some award like that. It’s not the most important thing in the world, but it would be nice.
Rick Hipson is a Canadian genre journalist living in Kitchener Ontario with his partner in crime, young spawn and two cats who insist they aren’t vying for world domination. For over twenty years Rick has written for a variety of small press publications in print and online which no longer exist through, assumably, no fault of his own. He continues to share his love for dark culture entertainment through his film and book reviews, interviews and articles, which can be found through Rue Morgue Magazine, Cemetery Dance and Hell Notes.