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Frank Darabont Biography


Home > Actors > D > Darabont, Frank > Biography


Birth Name: Frank Darabont
Born: 01/28/1959
Birth Place: France


Born in a refugee camp in Montbeliard, France on Jan. 28, 1956, he was the son of Hungarian parents who had fled the country after the failed revolution that year. The family immigrated to the United States when Darabont was a child, and eventually settled in Los Angeles shortly before he entered high school. After attending Hollywood High, he began working in the film industry as a production assistant and set dresser; his first screen credit was the 1981 slasher film "Hell Night," and he worked steadily in the horror and fantasy genre - his favorite - for the next few years.

However, Darabont's career as a filmmaker began a year earlier, when he sent an ambitious letter to best-selling horror novelist Stephen King, in which he asked permission to direct an adaptation of his short story, "The Woman in the Room," about a man's struggle to ease his terminally ill mother's pain. King was impressed by Darabont's drive and granted him the rights to the story for the price of one dollar - a policy he would later extend to other aspiring filmmakers wishing to adapt one of his short stories. "The Woman in the Room" took three years to complete, but was eventually a semi-finalist for the Best Live Action Short Film Oscar. It also began a long and fruitful relationship with King, who granted Darabont the rights to adapt his novella Rita Hayworth and Shawshank Redemption after viewing "The Woman in the Room."

Darabont broke into screenwriting through a partnership with fellow aspiring filmmaker Chuck Russell, whom he had met while making "Hell Night." Together, the pair sold a script for the "Nightmare on Elm Street" franchise to New Line Cinema, which eventually became "A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors" (1987), with Russell in the director's chair. More scripts genre titles followed, including Russell's terrific updating of the '50s sci-fi classic "The Blob" (1988) and "The Fly II" (1989). The following year, Darabont made his directorial debut with "Buried Alive" (USA Network, 1990), a Hitchcockian thriller about a conniving wife (Jennifer Jason Leigh) who attempted to do away with her husband (Tim Matheson) by means of the title torture. It became one of the network's highest rated original productions, but did not further Darabont's directorial aspirations.

Instead, he turned back to writing, primarily for television. Darabont penned two episodes of the HBO horror anthology "Tales from the Crypt" (1989-1996) and five for George Lucas' "The Young Indiana Jones Chronicles" (ABC, 1992-93), which helped to establish a connection with Lucas and series producer Steven Spielberg. In 1994, Darabont began work on a film adaptation of Rita Hayworth and Shawshank Redemption. Initially, he was slated to act only as the film's producer, with Rob Reiner - who had successfully brought another King novella, The Body, to the screen as "Stand By Me" (1986) - serving as writer and director. However, Darabont saw in the project an opportunity to give his own directorial career a boost, and took over both positions for "The Shawshank Redemption" (1994).

A period drama about the friendship between two convicts in a draconian prison - lifer Red (Morgan Freeman) and Andy (Tim Robbins), a straight-laced banker convicted of murdering his wife - the movie's message of hope in the face of overwhelming odds and misery struck a chord with critics, though moviegoers were slow to find it. However, its overwhelming showing at the 1994 Academy Awards - seven nominations, including Best Picture and Best Adapted Screenplay for Darabont, as well as the Humanitas Award and PEN Center USA West Award - helped to build an audience through rentals and cable screenings. By 1997, it was a staple of TV broadcasts, and found its way onto numerous "best of" film lists. The picture also marked his first collaborations with character actors William Sadler, Jeffrey DeMunn and James Whitmore, all of whom would appear in his subsequent films.

After "Shawshank," Darabont returned to writing while honing his next effort as director. He was one of several credited writers on Kenneth Branagh's ill-conceived "Frankenstein" (1994), and penned all four of the popular "Adventures of Young Indiana Jones" features that played on The Family Channel between 1996 and 1999. He also broke his five-year directing hiatus in 1999 with the screen version of "The Green Mile," a story about prison life, again adapted from a Stephen King novella. The story here had more fantasy elements, specifically in regard to a prisoner (Michael Clarke Duncan) with miraculous healing powers. The drama was again embraced by audiences, who took to its theme of sacrifice and compassion. Darabont received his second Adapted Screenplay nomination from the Motion Picture Academy, as well as countless other significant laurels, while the film itself was nominated for Best Picture. Its Oscar nods put Darabont in august company; he was one of only six filmmakers to have their first two films receive Best Picture nominations.

The acclaim quickly put Darabont at the forefront of Hollywood's screenwriting community, where he worked on drafts of such major features as "Saving Private Ryan" (1998) and "Minority Report" (2002). He also penned a script for a fourth Indiana Jones film, which Spielberg reportedly loved, but was allegedly axed by producer George Lucas. Undaunted, he set forth to direct his third feature, "The Majestic" (2001), a Capra-esque fable about a screenwriter (Jim Carrey) who fled the Communist witch hunts of the 1950s and found a safe haven - albeit in the mistaken identity of a missing war hero - in a picturesque seaside town. However, Carrey's turn in a dramatic role, as well as the film's unabashedly old-fashioned feel, failed to find an audience, and it failed miserably in the Christmas season of 2001.

Darabont, who also acted as producer on "The Green Mile" and "The Majestic," served in that capacity for several films by other directors, including D.J. Caruso's "The Salton Sea" (2001) and Michael Mann's "Collateral" (2004); the latter of which reteamed him with Chuck Russell. He also made a foray into network television with "Raines" (NBC, 2007), a detective series with Jeff Goldblum as a homicide cop who hallucinates visions of crime victims, but the series, for which he also directed the pilot, lasted less than seven episodes.

In 2007, he returned to feature directing with another Stephen King adaptation - the novella "The Mist," which paid homage to science fiction of the 1950s with its story of shoppers trapped inside a supermarket by a mysterious fog filled with monstrous creatures. A favorite of the author's vast network of fans, its release was eagerly anticipated, though audiences and critics alike were split over Darabont's decision to alter the story's original ending from an oblique finale to a decidedly downbeat note. The picture was a modest success, and preserved the director's reputation as one of the most consistent translators of King's work to the screen.

While working on several long-gestating projects, including adaptations of fantasy legend Ray Bradbury's The Illustrated Man and Fahrenheit 451, Darabont announced that he was adapting the popular Image Comics series "The Walking Dead" into a weekly series for AMC. The show, about humans contending with a zombie apocalypse, featured many of Darabont's regular players, including Laurie Holden from "The Majestic" and "The Mist" and Jeffrey DeMunn, The show was virtually an overnight success following its debut in the fall of 2010, with a rabid fan base making it that season's water cooler program along the lines of "The X-Files" (Fox, 1993-2002) and "Lost" (ABC, 2004-2010).