The internet has extensively covered every aspect of Josh Boone’s upcoming TV adaptation of Stephen King’s post-apocalyptic 1978 book The Stand. But back in the early ’90s, things were a little different when filmmaker Mick Garris was making his ABC miniseries version of King’s novel, which found characters played by Gary Sinise, Molly Ringwald, and Rob Lowe battling the agents of evil in a world destroyed by a flu-like virus known as Captain Trips.
“This was when the internet was new and there were chat groups on AOL, and that was kind of the only way you’re online,” Garris recalls to EW. “Everybody had been saying, ‘Oh no, The Stand, they’re going to ruin my favorite book.’ And, ‘Molly Ringwald, what a terrible choice.’ I live in L.A. and of course the first broadcast on the East Coast was three hours early for me. But I signed on to those chat groups and people are going, ‘Wow, are you watching The Stand? This is fantastic! Amazing! I’ve never seen Molly Ringwald better!’ It was like, I think it might be connecting with people.”
Garris’ show garnered positive reviews and huge ratings. Now, 25 years on, The Stand is being released on Blu-ray in a newly spruced-up version (out Sept. 24). To mark the release, Garris agreed to walk us through the making of his epic adaptation.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: How did you get involved in The Stand?
MICK GARRIS: When I did Sleepwalkers [the 1992 werewolf movie, directed by Garris and written by King], King and I really had a great creative meeting of the minds. He was very happy with how the movie turned out, and when ABC came he had director approval, and he suggested me. I went into doing my biggest project of all time and ultimately one of the biggest miniseries of all time.
It [the 1990 miniseries, also based on a King novel] had been a big success for ABC, but nothing like what was going to happen with The Stand. They basically just said to King, “We want this.” They paid a lot of money for the book and a lot of money for him to write the screenplay.
The screenplay came first. I was hired after he had written it. So that 460-page behemoth was on my porch when I came home one day. It was quite a massive document. But he had done it on his own, and from the first couple of pages, it was like, “Holy s—, this is the book, this is so good.”
Were you nervous? It’s an epic tale.
I think nervous is understating the point. I was terrified by it. I had only done films of a rather intimate nature. For me, my big epic was Critters 2. [Laughs] I mean, we shot in six states, it was 100 shooting days, we had 126 speaking parts. Yeah, it was massive. It was just huge. Literally, I was away from home for one year making it.
What do you remember about the casting process?
First they said, “Well, Stephen King is the star, we don’t need stars, just cast great people.” And then they started going, “You know, what about some of the Brat Pack? They’re well into their adult years now and it might be interesting.” [I thought,] “Okay, here we go.”
Molly Ringwald was one of their first suggestions. I didn’t think she was particularly appropriate, but a friend of mine, Tom McLoughlin, had just made a TV movie with her [Something to Live for: The Alison Gertz Story] and she was phenomenal in it. Rob Lowe was first offered up as the rock star character that Adam Storke plays. I said, “Well, what about Nick Andros? What about casting [Lowe] in an unlikely role?” Then I found out that Rob Lowe is a huge Stephen King fan, and so he jumped at the chance to do it. Because he plays a character who is deaf and mute, Rob is deaf in one ear and wanted to put a bug in the other ear that made static, so he’d really be deaf. This reminded me of the grand old line “What about acting, boy?” [Laughs] So, cooler minds prevailed and he did it normally.
The big find was Gary Sinise. He was represented by the same agency that represented me at the time. Of Mice and Men was playing in a theater on Hollywood Boulevard and an agent of another actor sent me two $5 bills to go and see this other actor. And when I saw Of Mice and Men, there’s Gary Sinise, basically he’s Gary Cooper, and exactly what we were looking for in Stu Redmond. And so that ended up working out great.
What was the actual shoot like?
The weather was always wrong. So if it was supposed to be sunny, it would be raining; if it was supposed to be snowy, it would be sunny. We just adapted to it because when you’re shooting over the course of five months, everything is complicated, you have to roll with the punches. When you’re scheduled to shoot in a train station in Salt Lake City and you have to be out the next night, you have to roll with it and just make sure you finish there and move on.
One day that we lost was, I had an impacted tooth that got infected, and I had a reaction to the penicillin, and we had to shut down for a day. I called Gary Sinise and said, “Gary, would you consider directing for the day?” He said, “You know what? It’s Friday, your crew will love you if you give them the day off.” We managed to make it up.
The main thing was, we shot 20 weeks and the first 13 of them were five-day weeks, but the last six of them — after everybody had been working their asses off on 18-hour days — were six-day weeks. An those were real torture. I just remember feeling like I was pushing the boat up the mountain. It felt like Fitzcarraldo. You know, there wasn’t light at the end of the tunnel. We weren’t even in the tunnel! It was just massive in scope.
Stephen King came in to visit the location when we were doing this huge scene in downtown Las Vegas with 600 extras. You know, he’s 6-foot-5 and stands out in a crowd. Suddenly, all 600 of them swarmed him. He got back on the plane and flew back home. It bordered on dangerous.
Whenever I think of The Stand miniseries, I think about that opening credit sequence with all the corpses and “Don’t Fear the Reaper” on the soundtrack.
That song was actually in the script. I knew we needed something really potent. The very first edict we got from standards and practices was “No open eyes on the corpses.” And so we raised a middle finger to the network. I had planned to do a kind of montage where the Steadicam was roaming, and finding the death and destruction and everything left in the wake of Captain Trips. One of those shots just goes right in on the clouded-over dead eyes of a female lab worker there. But it was always designed to be sort of balletic and ghostly. A lot of it was shot in slow motion on a Steadicam, shooting 16mm [film], and just dissolving through one devastation shot to another, but constantly fluid and to that really really haunting Blue Oyster Cult song. So it was sort of choreographed like a music video, but as an elegy.
What can you tell us about the Blu-ray?
I never imagined a Blu-ray would happen. Like I said, it was shot on 16mm and all of the post-production was done on standard-definition video. There was no high-def back then and no plan to accommodate for it. So I thought, “Nobody is ever going to go back to the negative and bump it up to HD or 4K or whatever.” For years, when people said, “When’s it coming out on Blu-ray?” I always said, “That’s never going to happen, it’s a very expensive process, and physical media is drying up,” and all of that.
Then I read online that they were putting out a Blu-ray. I thought, “Well, it must just be bumping up the resolution of the DVD, and I can’t really get excited about that.” Then I was contacted by Ryan Adams [not to be confused with the singer-songwriter], who was in charge of constructing the Blu-ray, and he showed me side-by-side comparisons. They went back to the negative, did all of the color corrections. It looks better than it has ever looked. They even spruced up some of the visual effects. I’m eager to say how it plays all the way thorugh but I’m very impressed by the passion that went it to this. It’s exciting 25 years after the fact to see it looking better than when we made it.
How do you feel about Josh Boone making another TV version of The Stand?
Josh is a friend. He’s been keeping me apprised. I’m really excited to see what they’re going to do. His budget is four times what our budget was. It’s going to be a 10-part, and I’m dying to see it. I don’t feel competitive about it. We did ours, it’s a part of history, and I’m facscinated to see what they’re doing. Josh told me that there were scenes that we did that they’re not going to do because they’re so familiar and iconic. I’m enthusaiastic about it.
Watch the video above to see how the original version of The Stand compares to the Blu-ray version.
This interview has been edited and condensed.