The Shining, alongside The Exorcist, is one of those movies that is on most people’s top ten horror films. Though the sequel to The Exorcist was catastrophically bad author Stephen King held off writing a sequel to The Shining for over thirty years until 2013 when Doctor Sleep was published. The plot follows Danny Torrance, now an adult, years after the events in the Overlook Hotel but still suffering from what happened to him and his family. He develops a psychic link to a 12-year-old girl who he must save after she gets involved with a sinister group led by Rose the Hat.
It’s a brave film maker who decides to direct any sequel and in this case it’s writer / director Mike Flanagan who took up the challenge. Having directed a previous King adaptation, ‘Gerald’s Game’ and garnered acclaim for the recent Netflix TV series ‘The Haunting of Hill House’ he spoke to us along with his producer Trevor May about the making of Doctor Sleep.
AnyGoodFilms: This is a brave project to have taken on
Mike Flanagan: We had to have robust conversations throughout about what it meant to step into a universe that meant both King and Kubrick had created that was especially in sync
Trevor Macy: Marrying the cinematic with the literary and standing on the shoulders of two giants it was something we wanted to be respectable and inclusive of both visions.
AGF: So is it a sequel to King’s book or Kubrick’s film or both?
Mike Flanagan: I would absolutely say, ‘Yes’ (laughs)There’s something about that sentence it’s a sequel to The Shining that’s enormously intimidating but also doesn’t really represent what we’re doing. So we were careful from the beginning not to identify it as a sequel to either although it absolutely celebrates and honours that world. So we approached it as an adaptation of the novel that takes place within the cinematic world that Kubrick established which is a long way of saying its neither but both at the same time. It’s an interesting thing thematically as it very much its own story. Dan as the protaganist having had so much time between this story and the events of The Shining. He’s a product of The Shining but this is very much his own adventure that he’s on and unable to escape the ghosts of what happened to him as a child. It’s its own self contained story without having seen The Shining or read any of the source material but he’s a product of those things.
AGF: Did you get the blessing of the King estate and did you get their blessing?
TM: Well it was essential to get both and we have a previous relationship with Steven that we value highly and we reached out to him early and asked what he thought and with ideas and similarly on the Kubrick side of things we were lucky to be at Warner brothers who have a wonderful long term relationship with his estate. Both camps engaged early and were very generous with their input and materials
Mike Flanagan: For all of us involved with the project which would excite both King and Kubrick estate seemed like an impossible needle to thread but which is ultimately what has happened.
AGF: What’s the relevance of the title to this story?
Mike Flanagan: Absolutely. In the book one of the places that Dan lands when he’s recovering from his own alcoholism that afflicted his father as well. He works as an orderly in a hospital and whilst he’s there he hasn’t used his ‘shine’ since he was a kid as he afraid of the harm it would bring him and his family after what happened at the Overlook but he does use it in tiny little moments to give comfort to patients right before they die. He uses it to peer into their minds and it’s a very empathetic thing. He gets a reputation at the hospital in that if he turns up at your bed it means your time is up. So they all him Dr Sleep and the genius of the way that King did that is that it speaks to the heart of the movie in that it’s a repurposing of Dan’s ‘shine’ in his adulthood for a completely different reason and the patients call him, ‘Doc’.
AGF: How did you go about casting Ewan McGregor as Dan?
Mike Flanagan: We met with a lot of big movie stars as there was a lot of interest in playing Dan Torrence grown up and one of the meetings we took was with Ewan and he has a lot in common with Dan and Ewan really opened up to us about what connected him to the character and Ewan’s one of those actors that l I’ve grown up watching him on screen and he brings with him an amazing level of empathy an audiences go with him on that based on his body of work. Dan is a fundamentally decent man who has had a hard life and is trying to find some redemption and Ewan really connected with that and it was clear to us that after he left that meeting he was the right for us
TM: If you approach it from the way of, ‘What would you be like after the horrible things from your childhood in the Shining?’ and what are the ripples of that as an adult Ewan’s ability to engender empathy is unparalleled.
AGF: What about Rebecca Ferguson as Rose the Hat?
Mike Flanagan: Rose the Hat is one of the most exciting Stephen King antagonists to come out of his books in twenty years. When I read the book I thought, ‘My God if they ever make a movie of this whoever gets to play her is going to have one of the most charming, terrifying, hypnotic villains that I’ve seen in so, so long’ and actually finding the right actress was really hard and we’re big fans of Rebecca so when her name came up we were exited but there were a lot of other wonderful actresses on the table as well. We skyped her and after about 6 minutes she WAS Rose. She’s one of the most charming humans but can spin to be menacing in a moment and its one of the most difficult things to do. People are going to be dressing up as Rebecca as Rose for comic-con. I hope we’re going to work together again.
TM: In the book she does some pretty awful things and what Rebecca did was find the humanity and it makes it all the more chilling as a villain
AGF: And then there’s Abra Stone who is a child
Mike Flanagan: That was the hardest role to cast. I think we saw more than 900 girls to play her and Kyliegh Curran, who won the part, this was her first movie. She lived 15 minutes from our production offices. It’s one of those rare stories that you hear in Hollywood and you tend not to believe. Out of all these very talented actresses the one that rose all the way to the top was a complete unknown an she is really the discovery of the movie. When you see what she does and how much she has to carry I’m just amazed. It’s rare as a film maker to look at a young actor and see the birth of a new movie star and I think that’s how we all felt when we saw her.
TM: Her chemistry with Ewan was really remarkable from the get go and as a pair in the book and the film they share some protagonist duties that was really compelling to us.
Mike Flanagan: Both of them are really the heart of the story and Ewan, who had come down to Atlanta to read with the candidates for the part and he felt the same way we did. He did the scene in the trailer where they sit on the bench and talk about magic that was her audition scene and when she left the room he said, ‘That’s her, isn’t it?’
AGF: The trailer has some iconic images for the film. How did you decide what and how to incorporate them into the film?
Mike Flanagan: I can’t go into too much detail but what is interesting about the images you see is that all of them except one are what we created from scratch . The only shot that isn’t is the brief one you see of the elevators but everything else is us. So we took an insane amount of care an delight in recreating so many environments and characters
TM: When I said earlier that the Kubrick estate were a generous part of what they provided to us with some of the original plans that were used in The Shining and that may or may not be the wallpaper in our office (laughs)
Mike Flanagan: I got to be this film student where we had to go through the production sign plans of the Overlook hotel as annotated by Kubrick and it’s one of the most amazing moments of my career but it was always part of the DNA of what this movie would be. The thing we had to do was get it right
AGF: There’s an expectation of you Mike after the acclaim of ‘Haunting of Hill House’
Mike Flanagan: We started production on this before the Haunting of Hill House was released so we had no idea it had been a hit as were in the middle of shooting when it came out and we didn’t get any chance to be in the pomp and circumstance so I never felt the pressure. I was too consumed with the Kubrick and King pressure and that pretty much consumed the latter half of last year (2018) Trevor and I have done 6 or 7 productions now and there’s very little time between them so we don’t get any time to worry about how the previous thing was received because we’re too busy drowning in the trenches of the new thing so I don’t think we felt the pressure
TM: …..other than maybe the pressure of the genre we choose to work in
AGF: Can we expect any Easter egg crossovers from the other King movies we’ve had over the years
Mike Flanagan: There are definitely numerous Easter eggs from the King universe maybe because I can’t help myself. I’m a King fanatic I don’t think there’s anything from anything recent like ‘Pet Sematary’ but this was true of ‘Gerald’s Game’ too and I can’t help getting stuff in there. There’s a moment in this movie where fans of The Dark Tower are going to lose their minds, there’s little references if you look at the posters in the background. But the short answer is yes there are lots of Easter eggs and I hope someone is able to find them all. There’s going to be King references in whatever I do.
TM: It’s more fun when we have the rights!
AGF: What was it like walking onto the set for the first time and why not recreate that on scene (The lift)
Mike Flanagan: Walking onto the sets is breathtaking. The first time we walked on them we giggled a lot of the time and there was a period of time, and I’m not lying about this, but we had an adult sized tricycle made and we all took turns cycling around the Overlook hotel. That’s an experience unlike anything I’ve ever had in my life. It’s humbling and it’s overwhelming, you feel so familiar with everything as a lot of these images had been burned into my mind since I was a kid. As for the elevator sequence… we could have spent months creating the fluid dynamic of the blood from the elevator doors that’s just impossible to do. The way that it happened when he did it, the elevator sticks as they start to open it and the blood kind of coils own to the floor and bounces back up again and we can’t recreate that . What you’re not seeing though in the trailer is not what’s in the film because that is still being perfected.
TM: Again we’re so grateful to the Kubrick estate in letting us use small bits of footage that connects us to the original in an organic way
AGF: The book has some upsetting moments that involve children as victims. Have you had any restrictions by the studio for certification purposes?
Mike Flanagan: We have not (laughs)
TM: With our work what you don’t see is scarier than what you do. It’s not going to be gratuitous but it does tackle some challenging subject matter and I hope you’ll agree that its organic to the story
Mike Flanagan: We expect an ‘R’ rating in the same way as The Shining would require an R rating. It was never our intention to de-fang the story.
DS: Are you using the unique soundtrack of Kubrick’s Shining or are you doing your own thing?
Mike Flanagan: The composers we are using are the Newton Brothers they’ve done everything we ‘ve done together and we have spent the last six months going through not only every piece available from The Shining but tracks that were not used that are composed for the film but were not used. The answer to that is kind of an answer to the movie as a whole which is that it is intentionally operating within that sonic universe they created but our score is also our own thing. It’s incredibly strange its really cool and if you’re a fan of that unique sonicscape then there will be a lot to love about this film. It has been a pleasure to go through what he didn’t use and there’s some stuff here with some of the recording where it’s clear he’s thought that was not upsetting or unusual enough and he played two tracks on top of one another in the movie composed for different parts of the movie and he put one top of the other an played them together even when there were moments when nothing was happening just to create an atmosphere.
TM it’s a way of using and celebrating the techniques he used with sound
AGF: Its well known that King was not a fan of Kubrick’s film. How did you persuade him to let you make this when you’re marrying it to that film?
Mike Flanagan: Stephen King famously hated the Kubrick film. He actively disliked it even to this day. What he said about it at the time was that he admired and respected the film making technique but he resented the changes that were made to the characters and to the ending and he described it at the time as a big beautiful cadillac without an engine. Now on the other side of that is that Kubrick’s The Shining is a masterpiece of cinema that is unrivalled within the genre and film geeks like me ended up studying it frame by frame. Reconciling these things was a scary proposition with Stephen in particular who is not shy of speaking about the treatment of his material we pitched him good things.We want to honour and acknowledge the Overlook in Kubrick’s but here’s why and how and here’s a couple of surprises. And when we finished how we were going to approach it to our great relief he was very excited about it and I think the most nervous I’ve ever been in my career was twice on this production -the first was when we sent him the script and I had a sleepless night but he loved it and then the second was when the film went out to him, to Stephen and the Kubrick estate. I still have ulcers from that particular moment but they both loved it. The part of bringing the story of the Torrence family back was what this was about for me. I was utterly terrified abut how Stephen would feel about it and I’m so grateful that he and the Kubrick estate are happy, so I can die happy!
TM: The feedback we got from other side was that they embraced it for what it is and being its own thing hopefully when audiences when they see e it they’ll agree we struck a good balance.