'The Mist' Showrunner Christian Torpe On How This Stephen King Adaptation Is Like Ingmar Bergman's 'Jaws' [Interview]

Stephen King has done really well on television. Miniseries adaptations of It, The Stand, Salem's Lot and The Tommyknockers were hits and Under the Dome managed to run three seasons. Even the miniseries remake of The Shining received King's blessing.

Now, the acclaimed novella The Mist is getting a television adaptation, following in the footsteps of Frank Darabont's 2007 film version. Spike TV's series is based on the concept of the King novella, but starts with entirely new characters and multiple locations. Instead of a supermarket, characters get trapped in a mall and library by a thick fog that hides murderous creatures within.

Showrunner Christian Torpe adapted The Mist for television and he spoke with /Film by phone last week to talk about about the new series. .

Is part of your idea that this could be the same mist that surrounded the supermarket in Maine? That we're just seeing different places it settled?

We are sort of in, let's call it, a parallel universe, I use the term lightly, to the original event. We definitely exist in the same world. Clearly, we're in a different time because now we have cell phones and other stuff so it's not literal, but we are very conscious of keeping this version of The Mist in the same overall world as the original was set in.

What is it about Stephen King that works so well in longform television?

To me it's always about the characters. That's why I always return to King and his novels. When I read things, even if you're not a horror fan, if you take away the blood and the shocks, there's still always great character work underneath and great characters that are in psychological or existential dilemmas that they have to deal with. And again, it's something we hope to achieve in this series. We have a rule in the writers room where if you need to resort to the mist to move story forward, than we're having problems. In many ways, like a good Stephen King book, even if you took out all the horror or the supernatural element, there would still be a great human drama underneath it. That's what we have been aiming for and that's what appeals so much in longform. These are characters that you want to see in their everyday lives and the conflict they have in themselves. It's just always such well developed characters.

Did you have to pitch Stephen King on your take on The Mist?

I did. I sat down pretty early in the process and wrote him a very long e-mail. Obviously we were all aware that the novella it is based on is about 200 pages and it takes place in a supermarket over pretty much two days. There's not an ongoing series in that. You need, at some point, to go in and either make some changes in the setup or expand that universe. So I sat down and I wrote him an e-mail with what I wanted to do, changes that I proposed making and why I wanted to do them. And also, how I, while changing these things, wanted to stay true to the DNA and the heart of his story and the overall King feel. I got the best response I could have hoped for. He was incredibly kind and generous and just said, "As long as you don't do anything average, you have my blessing to go crazy with it."

So you had Stephen King's e-mail.

I do and I can tell you the most terrifying thing I have experienced in my life is waking up and seeing an e-mail from him in my inbox. That's pretty scary.

Since your show has people in different locations surrounded by the mist, how do you balance the story equally between them? Can some episodes spend more time in one place than others?

We don't necessarily have to spend equal time. It's not a democratic show dividing the time equally between these little pockets. We go to these pockets when we have the best story to tell there and we have something meaningful to say. We are, in most of the episodes, sort of touching ground in all of them, but I can say that people aren't going to be staying in places throughout the show. There will be people moving around and people meeting each other and eventually world views colliding as people in different places come up with different theories or just different answers to what they think is going on.

The MistIs there more stuff in the mist than there was in the film and novella?

We're taking a slightly different approach to the mist. We didn't want to do too much of a monster show. I love the movie and I love that about the movie but we felt for sustaining a long running series, we had to take it in a slightly different direction. We went out and pitched as Ingmar Bergman's Jaws, which was a joke, of course, but there's still some truth to the extent that we are less concerned about the shark and more concerned about how people react to the shark. So we did sort of dial it slightly towards more psychological drama and horror than the monster movie homage that was in the original movie.

If it's different than the monsters from the movie and book, how long before we find out what exactly this mist is?

[Laughs] Well, I can't tell you that. I can tell you that we know what it is in the writer's room and that we have answers to everything that goes on. At least for the purpose of season one, it's more about people looking for answers than the answers themselves. Then, as we go further into the series, we do have actual answers to provide and a mythology behind it.

For the people trapped in the mall, do they find a lot of supplies to survive in the various stores?

That's one of the things that I found so interesting about using the mall. You have all these stores that sell all these appliances that we go out and buy in real life. When there's no power anymore, you really don't need a microwave. You find the very few basic things you need in order to survive. You need food and water. You also need things if you want to example what is going on out there. Without revealing too much, we have people sending a drone out that they found in a store. We utilize the different stores in the mall and use it to create story.

Did you shoot in a working mall?

[We did]. That was kind of crazy, shutting it down and yelling action and regular people walking around and looking. It was fun and it turned out to be a really fun experience. We spend so much time in that mall and everyone were good sports, the shop owners and the people shopping.

TheMist-5How limited are the people stuck in the library because they don't have a cafe or any food really?

There will be people that are stuck in places that they will have to move on from and travel through the mist to get to safety. They can't just stay behind, because there's no food or shelter.

The scariest thing about these stories are the people they're stuck with. In one part, you're dealing with a victim of sexual assault. Was it important to go there with real life horror?

I think it was. Always with King, it's not the monsters that are the scariest. It's what's inside of yourself or what's deep inside human nature. I wanted to explore in this show, that's the reason I said yes to doing it. I think the original novella is just unfortunately so incredibly timely. Even now after 40 years, it's such a beautiful metaphor for what people do when they are blinded by fear. How they look for someone to blame and someone to lead them to the promised land. The blame game definitely plays in and that's why I wanted to mine the area with various conflict even from before. The rape incident is one such thing. Mia has her own story with some backstory. Jonah has his backstory. They bring various little conflicts with them that were alive and present even from before the mist came.

But with the blame game, was it important that Alex's family never blames her?

When you see sexual assault or rape stories, it often chooses the wrong focus. It becomes all about a detective investigating it or solving the crime. We didn't want to do that in this show. We wanted it to be about the victim and her experience and what she's going through, and build a story about how an incident like this makes her lose trust in herself and lose any sort of contact she has with her own soul or her own mind, and how she slowly gets that power back. That's also why, if you see in the pilot, the way the confession scene is shot and edited, we pretty much stay in close up on her the entire time. We didn't want to cut too much to the parent and make it a story about oh no, how bad Kevin must feel because we really wanted to tell her story.

What are some of the other conflicts that come to a boil when they're all trapped together?

Well, I don't want to reveal too much, but as always, when people are under pressure [people] reveal their true selves. Whether they are opportunists or idealists, both will be revealed. If there's people who have a flare up of misogyny present in them, that will certainly explode when they are pressed hard enough. That's really what we are aiming for.

When we do see the results of the mist, are you able to use practical effects?

We do some practical stuff. We then enhance with CGI. The mist itself is also a mix. It's a base layer of real mist. We had something called the mist tent which was giant, giant indoor tent that we could lift up and control the density very, very precisely. We dressed that room to look like a parking space or a forest or whatever we needed to. Then we would eventually, when we shot the scene, add some details to the mist, some movement, some life to it. We didn't just want it to look like a stale fog so we added CGI movement later to the mix. It's a good mix of practical and computer effects.

The MistAre there any of the same artists who worked on the movie?

I actually cannot tell you. I was not involved with the movie. On a show of this magnitude, I think we have a good 1600 VFX guys. Because we had such a high capacity, we used between 15-16 different vendors in total to do various sequences. Some would do creatures. Some would do car flips. Some would specialize in the mist itself. Some specialized in what we call interior mist. Some would specialize in the mist approaching, like big shots of the mist approaching town, which is a beast of its own. So we had a lot of different vendors doing a lot of different stuff.

I was wondering if, because the movie exists, was it easier for them to generate those effects?

Not necessarily. The movie is also by now a good 10 years old. Technology has developed so much, even if it's on the same basis. No, we pretty much started from scratch. Of course we drew from the experience of other people working in this area, but we had to find our own way. Also, doing a TV show, we have much less time and at the end of the day, probably less money than on a bigger movie.

Frank Darabont released a black and white version of the movie. Would you like to see people turn off the color on their TVs for the show?

I love the black and white version. I saw the black and white version and thought it was so incredibly atmospheric, but I also think that Darabont shot and did his movie with the hope of one day doing a black and white version. You do approach certain elements slightly differently than if you never planned to do that. We worked pretty intensely with finding the right color scheme for this show. The colors we use mean something in the show so I think our show is not developed to be in black and white or to be translated to black and white like the movie is.

Are there any Stephen King Easter eggs that die hard fans should look for?

Plenty. Not just in the pilot, but throughout the show. We definitely worked very hard both to give it a King feel and have an overall awareness of the King universe and there's also specific references in there.


The Mist premiered on June 22, 2017.