The Mist's Opening Scene Nearly Spoiled Its Biggest Mystery

Frank Darabont's "The Mist" opens with a moody tracking shot showing its lead character, David Drayton, hard at work painting an untitled western movie poster, a sly nod to Stephen King's "Dark Tower" books, as a storm rages outside. Old-timey music plays in the background, the walls are filled with Drayton's artwork (which just so happen all be painted by legendary poster artist Drew Struzan). It's an oddly calming opening.

The storm intensifies, the lights go out, windows break, and then the next morning we see the aftermath of the storm as a mysterious mist slowly works its way across a lake.

This opening is a tone-setter, one that fills the viewer with a sense of impending doom right off the bat, but that's not how the movie was originally planned to begin. In the original scripted opening of the movie, we saw exactly where the titular mist came from.

First, though, a little backstory

Back in the mid-aughts, I happened to meet Frank Darabont at a film festival and, much to my surprise, he happened to be a reader of the website I wrote for at the time and was familiar with my work. Considering that I've never been shy about my particular fandoms, he knew I was a big Stephen King nerd and we bonded over that.

It was known he had the rights to "The Mist" and was working on a movie adaptation. We talked about that for a little while and then he had to go. I thought that would be that, a nice little interaction between a Stephen King fanboy and the guy that just so happened to make some of the best Stephen King movies (his credits also included "The Shawshank Redemption" and "The Green Mile").

Not long after that initial meeting, a package showed up at my doorstep. It was a hardbound copy of his script for "The Mist" with a note to let him know what I thought.

That script is largely what you ended up seeing a couple years later when he finally got "The Mist" made, including the very polarizing ending. What did change was the opening, and thanks to Darabont graciously sending me a copy many moons ago, I can tell you exactly what was planned.

The Mist's original B-movie origins

The original opening, as scripted, would have evoked a totally different feel. We see the storm come in from a very different perspective. The script opens within the walls of the Arrowhead Project, a military installation that is spoken about in the film as being a possible origin for this mist concealing tentacled monstrosities.

Well, the original opening would have told you right up front that's exactly where the mist came from. Military scientists are running an experiment in a lab as the storm rages on outside. Darabont describes banks of video feeds and "wave-spectrum camera" images trained on a chamber with a thick glass window.

The scientists talked nervously about the storm, but pushed on anyway. With a few keystrokes and flipped switches, the experiment is underway, opening what is described as a pinpoint of light, "like a spotlight being shined through a keyhole" inside this room. This pinpoint of light grows bigger and bigger until it's a portal shining light out on all the scientists watching in awe.

At this point lightning strikes the base, sending a surge of power that ends up feeding into the experiment. With the increase of power, the portal opens even larger and things start moving in the mist emanating from this thing. The scientists look on as the mist envelopes the room. The glass separating them begins to crack and spiderweb before exploding outwards, dooming the poor scientists on the other side.

That was the original opening. It was supposed to transition from there to David Drayton painting and the lights going out. The decision was made to ax the opening and I have a little insight into that.

Andre Braugher planted the seed

On the DVD commentary track, Darabont credits the decision to cut the scripted opening to a meal he had with Andre Braugher, who plays the crabby neighbor, Brent Norton, in the movie. Darabont says Braugher asked him if he thought he needed that opening, and that he hadn't really given it much thought. But that within days of that conversation, he had decided to cut it.

Darabont said he was glad he did, because tonally it didn't fit with the rest of the movie and, looking back on it, he's pretty sure they would have spent three expensive days shooting this scene only for him to remove it in the edit anyway.

Now, I spent about a little over a week on the set of this movie. I went to the Louisiana location expecting to write a little set visit report and ended up doing a whole series of reports over multiple days of shooting. Darabont gave me an amazing amount of freedom to take my own photos, interact with the cast and crew and even sat me directly behind him at the monitors. As a movie fan and massive Stephen King nerd I was in hog heaven.

Budget restrictions prompted the creative cut

One of the days I was there, I was sitting behind Darabont and his producer, Denise Huth, and they were talking about the end of the movie. It turns out that most of the crew and even some of the cast weren't given a copy of the script with the brutal ending in it, I assume as a means to keep it from leaking early, but Darabont knew I had read the ending a couple years before, so he turned to me and said "You know the ending and you know the original story, so let me ask you something..."

My memory is that he really wanted to get more military vehicles and tanks in for the final reveal of humanity pushing back the mist, but the budget just wouldn't allow it. They'd have to lose something from the shooting schedule in order to afford it. This is the gut punch, the final twist of the knife, and it was really important to Darabont that we see the full might of humanity's response that would have been our poor survivor's salvation had they just waited a few more minutes.

'What do you think about my opening? Can we lose it?'

Darabont said to me, "You know the short story and you've read the script. What do you think about my opening? Can we lose it?" My response was that he absolutely could lose it, and if he did, it'd be more like the original King story. We don't need an origin story for the mist and the monsters it conceals. In fact, the more mysterious it is, the scarier it will be.

I'm sure I didn't relayed that as elegantly as I was able to write it just now from the comfort of my living room with time to formulate my opinion as cleanly as possible, but the gist was the same. However it came out, Darabont responded to it immediately. He smiled really big and exclaimed to Huth: "That settles it! The beginning's out!"

So while Braugher undeniably gets credit for planting that seed in Darabont's mind, I'm gonna take a teensy amount of credit for backing up that instinct at the right moment. Or maybe you've read what the original opening was going to be, think it sounds awesome, and are angry at me for putting in a dissenting voice on it being filmed.

Either way, that's my particular contribution to this topic. Re-reading the original scripted opening for the movie was fun and gave off definite B-movie vibes, which was obviously a key inspiration for the original King story, but I think the right call was ultimately made. The final film is proof positive that we don't need to know exactly how this mist arrived, just that it brings death in its wake.