Why Frank Darabont can hold his head up high in the world of TV

Everyone in Hollywood considers television a step back for such an established writer/director, but is that the right way to think?

Frank Darabont is a legend in the world of film and one of the most underrated writer/directors of our generation. But for the last few years he€™s been moving away from film towards the world of television. Everyone in Hollywood considers television a step back for such an established writer/director, but is that the right way to think?

His best known film The Shawshank Redemption was snubbed at the oscars in 1995 and barely even made its money at the box office (and only after being re-released the following year). Darabont has always had a topsy turvy relationship with Hollywood throughout his life, but did you know that before he even got a job in the film world he had already gained the rights to adapt a work of Stephen King?

Darabont was born in 1959 in a Refugee camp after his parents fled Hungary in 1956. They very swiftly moved to Chicago and then onwards to the Mecca of LA. Darabont says that after his parents split he spent most of his time with a father who didn€™t want him watching movies and the rest with a supportive mother who let him sit up at night and watch the b-movies he loved as a kid. As soon as he left high school he already knew he wanted to be a script writer and make films, but he had no idea how to do any of that.

In 1980 he wrote a letter to Stephen King asking for the adaptation rights to The Woman in the Room. This was before he even had a real job in the industry, but Stephen King saw something in the kid and gave him the rights for $1 (part of his €œdollar baby€ general deal with young up and comers). Darabont then worked with future partner in crime Chuck Russell on the set of Hell Night as a Production Assistant. Spending his days working and his nights raising funding for The Woman in the Room.

Eventually, after scraping by on absolutely no money, he shot and edited the film, which was entered into the Oscars for that year. It wasn€™t nominated but was named in the top 9 of 90 films and became one of Stephen King€™s favorite €œdollar baby€ adaptations. This led to King allowing Darabont to adapt Shawshank for the screen. But before Shawshank there was a tumultuous eleven years of struggling to survive in the film industry, waiting for another lucky break. Darabont worked various PA jobs, working a few months at a time and then writing until he needed more money and so on until he got himself an agent and started working as a script doctor, eventually writing (with Chuck Russel)Nightmare on Elm Street III. And then in 1989 he directed his first film, a schlocky cable film for USA called Buried Alive. This was his first waltz into writing and directing for Television but it would be several years before he decided to stay there.

The success of The Shawshank Redemption in 1994/95 brought Darabont a lot of offers (most of them to do Die Hard rip-offs so he says) and a lot of fans, but thankfully, so he claims, it was such a slow burning success that he never became too much of a commodity for Hollywood, allowing him to continue to work anonymously. This led him to work on another successful King adaptation in The Green Mile, which became a box office hit and was critically acclaimed (though Darabont was once again snubbed at the Oscars).

He worked on several high profile script doctoring jobs during his downtime between movies, including Mission Impossible 3 and Saving Private Ryan€” and these jobs led him to a dream gig with Steven Spielberg when Darabont€™s childhood idol hired him to write a script for the fourth Indiana Jones. He worked on the script for a year and Spielberg claims it is one of the best scripts he has ever read, but another childhood idol, George Lucas, decided he didn€™t like the script and it was never made. This was the end of Darabont€™s playing ball with Hollywood and one of the things that brought him to the world of television.

There is a lot more control in television where writers also act as producers and are far freer to make changes and even direct episodes€” which of course plays to Darabont€™s strengths. There is also a sense of grandiose to the longer stories television is able to tell, which fits with Darabont€™s epic film runtimes for Shawshank and The Green Mile. Darabont says instead of thinking he€™s making a television series exactly he tells his writers instead that they are making an eight hour movie.

Darabont, who recently stepped down as a showrunner for AMC€™s The Walking Dead also claims to have been a lifelong TV drama fan, directing an episode of The Shield and almost directing an episode of the re-imagined series of Battlestar Galactica. But the biggest reason, he thinks, that television is now his medium of choice is the alacrity of the process. He finished writing his latest pilot, LA Noir on New Year€™s Eve and it was green lit in April. He€™s showrunning this new show for TNT who are hoping to rival AMC€™s growing audience€” and what better person than Frank Darabont who left The Walking Dead under a cloud of controversy over budget cuts at AMC.

Frank Darabont is not the first or last person to make the leap from big screen to small screen but he does take pleasure in sublimating the expectations of Hollywood. You can see this clearly in his cameo role in Entourage Season Five where he tries to get Vincent Chase to join him on a new TV Series. Darabont has never been one to follow the rules and that is why he is such a great filmmaker, and I why I can€™t imagine we€™ve seen the last of him on the big screen.


Fred Salmon hasn't written a bio just yet, but if they had... it would appear here.