November 6, 2019

'Doctor Sleep' Producer Trevor Macy Reveals the Scariest Thing About Making 'The Shining' Sequel

Doctor Sleep producer and long-time Mike Flanagan collaborator Trevor Macy reveals the hardest part about making the movie wasn't being in Kubrick's shadow, but watching it with Stephen King.

[SPOILER ALERT: Do not read until you have seen the movie, as its ending is discussed below.]

Doctor Sleep joins Mad Max: Fury Road and Blade Runner 2049 (all released by Warner Bros., interestingly) as sequels to '80s movies that took forever to get made. But not for lack of trying. 

It's no secret that Stephen King was not a fan of how Kubrick adapted his book, The Shining. The choices he made bumped into those that which King felt would service the story of Danny Torrance struggling to survive is father's "redrum" rampage. Doctor Sleep was written in part as a response to that, sort of in a "just-try-and-adapt-this" way, in a story about an adult Danny (Ewan McGregor) -- struggling with PTSD and alcoholism -- forced to confront his past at the Overlook if he ever wants to have a future. Along the way, he encounters Abra, a young girl who also has the Shine, and together they must stop a gypsy-like tribe of villains that literally suck the fear and Shine out of people. 

Doctor Sleep the movie takes some necessary, and, arguably, more emotionally successful liberties from the book (especially the ending), it also better captures King's voice and intents than Kubrick did with his Shining. (The movie even gets to use the original ending to the book of The Shining.) That's all because of director Mike Flanagan (Netflix's Haunting of Hill House) and his long-time producer Trevor Macy. The latter recently sat down with No Film School to discuss how they pulled off this much-anticipated movie, what it was like shooting on the Overlook Hotel set, some Shining Easter Eggs, and why watching the movie with King for the first was almost scarier than the horror in it. 

Credit: WB
No Film School: As a Shining fan, I gotta ask: Where the hell was the guy in the dog costume? Where's that ghost? Not gonna lie, I'm a little bummed he wasn't in the final scenes. 

Trevor Macy: [laughs] Um, well, we -- we talked a lot about that. 

Really?

Well, we didn't -- we never really got to the point of seriously considering that cause, I'm not sure we know what [that ghost] is. But we did talk about it a lot. We also talked a lot about that, about the room full of skeletons and that sort of thing. But I think -- and while those serve brilliantly to put you off center as a viewer -- that character's appearance, not essential to the story. 

That story, what I love about this movie is how it's seemingly built from the themes up. It's a movie about addiction, and grief, and family -- about how the former can forever scar the latter. It's ultimately about hope. And to have a big-budget studio release, built on those themes, come out during an IP-obsessed time, well, that feels like a revolutionary act.

Yeah. Those are themes that, you know, are near and dear to both Mike and me. All this stuff. Which is odd because neither of us had particularly traumatic childhoods. But I do think it's impossible to separate fear from childhood. Because -- whatever you are thinking right now about that, if you embrace the principle that nothing I can show you is scarier than what's in your head, I think it has to start there. From an "entertaining-the-audience" point of view, that works. But I also think one of the highest and best uses of genre is that lens through which you can look at [things like] human trauma and, more broadly speaking, human behavior. And, so, if we can do both, that's genius. I want to see that as an audience member. And you know, I'm proud to work on that. It makes me happy to come to work every day.

As effective as the film's scary scenes are, my favorite scene in the movie is Danny's speech at his AA meeting. Can you talk about how Mike shot that?

That particular scene,  I think you're looking at take one of that, by the way. And that's in the final cut. Take one. And Ewan came to that with -- that scene kind of encompasses why he wanted to do the movie. He was very strict. He was very interested in that father- son relationship and, in his own way, it was his way of approaching the same thing I was just talking about which is how does little Danny Torrance as trauma kind of affect him as an adult. And that scene is him finding some empathy for his father, which you know, is pretty hard to see. We were misting up at the monitor in video village when he was doing it.  It was a powerful day and it was a great moment in his performance.

You said Mike used the first take. How many takes does Mike usually do? Did he just stop after one for that scene?

We didn't really, we usually don't stop after one. Mike laughs, you know, Mike is a -- he's a meticulous filmmaker. So he has planned a lot in advance and because he writes and directs and edits, he sees things from a perspective that's pretty holistic. So, normally -- I joke with him about this -- but normally he's kind of a two to four take kind of guy. And he's responsive to his actors in that sense. So if somebody needs another few takes to get there, or if somebody is kind of a "first-take person," person, then he is aware of that. But that tends to be the rhythm on set. It's not like Kubrick.

Speaking of Kubrick, obviously the movie's third act -- I'm sure you're hearing a lot about that. Did you guys ever get in touch with Nicholson's people about having him come in at all, or maybe de-aging Jack?

Yeah, so, we did. But it was kind of an informal ask. And [Jack], he's firmly retired and happily so. We didn't take it personally. But, with those final scenes, there's a couple of things you have to pay attention to [in terms of] the rules of the Overlook. Which are that you stay the way you stay, the age you were when you died. And Kubrick established that firmly and King, too, so if you have the scene where Ewan/Danny talks to the bartender at the Overlook -- the Bartender is what we called [Jack Torrance] in the script -- this scene is kind of a pretty big emotional arc that you could say starts with his father and ends with him.

And what we didn't want to do is anything that took you out of that scene, because you run the risk of being pulled out if you're not watching Jack Torrance, per say. You're watching Jack Nicholson. The way Kubrick handled Delbert Grady -- who didn't really admit to being Delbert Grady -- is very much the blueprint for how that goes. And for the other legacy characters, we really wanted there to be a familiarity without there being an impression. And we wanted there to be kind of a nod without trying to exactly mimic. And so, first, with young Danny talking to [the ghost of[ Dick Halloran (Carl Lumbly) and seeing his mom, Wendy, we tried to set the table there. 

Was there a scene, when you were testing the film, that surprised you with the reactions it got? Because in my screening, audiences were cheering and fist-pumping and clapping when certain scenes featured villains getting what they deserved. 

I mean, you always hope that they'll land in that way. Like, that shoot out -- I mean, look, [the villains] are pretty fucking awful. So in that scene, we didn't expect the level of reaction we got. We were pretty happy the first time we showed that publicly.

And there was also a big gasp at the Jacob Tremblay cameo. How did that come together?

So we had that long-standing relationship with Jacob from, um, from Before I Wake. And we stayed in touch and I called his dad and said: "Good news, we want you to do something that'll only take three days. Bad news: Please read the script. And you know, as a parent, let me just apologize to you for sending this in advance." But he -- they dove right in. They were excited to be there. We filmed that scene on Jacob's birthday --

You filmed his murder on his birthday? Yeah, I bet that did not traumatize him at all. 

[Laughs] Right. Well, it's so funny you say that.  We got him a cake, which was red velvet and in the shape of a baseball. You feel his, his murder on his birthday, and it as cold. But the scene, his take, his performance, he managed to traumatize literally everyone at video village and all the other actors on his first take. Because we started in as a close up on him, and it was -- he did that first scene, we were looking at each other like -- "what have we done?" And a couple of the actors had to step away and we had to take a minute. But Jake gets up, and high fives everyone and his dad. And he laughed afterwards and I was so concerned about it at the time that I said, "you know, please make sure that when that tape gets sent up to the studio -- so that they don't worry -- please include the laughter at the end of it after we called 'Cut.'" So they don't think we were actually, you know, hurting the kid.

Jacob and Mike, they had rehearsed only in as much as it was about blocking and the [general] beats and [Jacob] went there. Mike might have called "cut" sort of with a broken voice. 

Making a sequel to a Kubrick movie -- shooting on a set built from his blueprints -- and working with King... that's a lot of "pinch me" moments packed into one movie. Was there every a moment for you where you or Mike went: "Holy sh**, can't believe we are doing this?" Or one that felt maybe overwhelming?

Well, we had a relationship with King because of Gerald's Game. That was a good experience for everybody. And Warner Brothers had a fabulous and long relationship with the Kubrick estate. So we brought it to King first because we wouldn't have done it if he had not said "okay, sure." And we wouldn't have done it if he hadn't. When Mike came up with the first kind of take on what the story would be, and we went back to the Overlook, we showed that to him and said "this is what we want to do. Are you okay?" And he thought about it for a minute because -- first, I don't think he was sort of naturally inclined towards that path, but you know, he thought about it and then embraced it relatively early in the process, which made it no less nerve wracking to send him the first draft of the script. 

But he was involved sort of in the script stage and he stayed abreast of casting. You know, we invited him out to do a cameo, but he'd already been in It: Chapter Two that year, so he respectfully passed. And we showed them the cut of the movie and he had some thoughts, but he was really supportive the whole time. Mike and I sat on either side of him as he watched the movie -- in his favorite theater in Bangor -- and that was pretty cool. It was also, it felt a little scary, a little daunting, watching with him. But, right around the same time, the Kubrick esstate was watching it in the UK and they were equally supportive and equally generous with their time and support along the way. Mike would say that he's, he breathed a lot easier after that, you know? 

Doctor Sleep is now playing in theaters everywhere.     

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I contrast with most people I have a big problems enjoying this movie knowing every scene from the Shining. It seems like a totally different world. Too much on the nose dialogue and forced storytelling. It feels like a great story got bent to fit as a sequel. Oculus is still my favorite film directed my Mike.

November 8, 2019 at 10:26AM

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Jan Becker
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