It is an honor and a privilege today to share with you an interview I recently conducted with author, director, producer, screenwriter and the Co-Creator of Twin Peaks, Mark Frost! On the heels of the recently re-released Secret Diary of Laura Palmer, Mark and I discussed a few of the mysteries surrounding the show that still linger on today, as well as many of the aspects of Twin Peaks that still inspire fans to discuss, dissect, and celebrate the show more than 20 years later. Without any further ado, let’s rock!
BD: Hi Mark! Thank you for your time. I’ve been a huge fan of Twin Peaks since I watched it on ABC when I was nine years old, so this is a great honor for me!
MF: You’re sure it didn’t do irreparable damage to you at that age?
BD: To be completely honest, after Maddy was killed my mom wouldn’t let me watch it.
MF: Yeah, I can understand that. It’s pretty intense.
BD: Even for modern television twenty years later it’s still very intense. I went back to watch the show after I found it on VHS in high school and even then I was a little timid to revisit it.
MF: I rarely watch it myself for the same reason. I hear that a lot. We all knew Frank Silva and he was the least threatening person you’d ever meet, then he turns out to be this universally terrifying and demonic presence to millions of people.
BD: So what stories and mediums influenced you most growing up?
MF: I would say that I was equally entranced by fiction and film. I was initially swept away by classic adventure authors like James Fenimore Cooper, H.G. Wells, Jules Verne, H. Rider Haggard. As I got older I got a little more populist in my tastes and embraced pulp fiction like Doc Savage and Tarzan. I also became a comic book collector in my early teenage years, particularly the silver age of the Marvel Universe and that led me into Tolkien and fantasy and sci-fi like Heinlein, Leguin and Bradbury. After that, I got more into adult fiction.
On the film side , I grew up in the era of James Bond and the great adventure movies of Lean and Hitchcock, and came of age in the 70’s, a golden age in American film making. The Godfather, Chinatown and Raging Bull – that whole canon through that decade really had a huge impact on me.
BD: What else would you say was influential in your early artistic development?
MF: Well I started writing myself, inspired by all those influences but also by television shows like The Wild, Wild West, The Man from U.N.C.L.E., Mission: Impossible, Star Trek and The Prisoner. I began writing novels when I was ten or eleven and had written 3 by the time I was fifteen. So I knew pretty early on that storytelling was the path for me.
BD: After finishing the pilot episode of Twin Peaks and beginning work on the series in Los Angeles, what criteria did you use to find writers and directors that you could trust with the show?
MF: Well I only hired a couple of other writers and both of them were old friends of mine – Bob Engels and Harley Peyton and my brother (Scott Frost) came on later. I didn’t give them a lot of freedom, in that David and I had broken the main story, and then I did all the final passes on the episodes, but they definitely made some great contributions. But David and I had set the template, and he and I still talked a lot about the stories and everyone had to adhere to that through line.
What I would tell directors coming in was to study the pilot, look at the storytelling style we’ve evolved here and figure out what you can bring to it. We were hiring really talented and interesting people and I didn’t want them to just come in and feel like they’re stamping out engine parts at a Chrysler plant. I think everyone understood that was the assignment: work with the house style and the mood that David had so brilliantly created and then bring whatever you can of yourself to add to that; and I would say 9 times out of 10 that worked out really well.
BD: What was your previous working relationship with Bob Engels and Harley Peyton?
MF: I had never worked with them before, they were just friends. I had known Bob for a long time, he had been a student of my dad’s (ed.-Warren Frost, a.k.a. Doc Heyward) at the University of Minnesota, so I’d known him for nearly twenty years. I had known Harley for 6 or 7 years at that point, and I just felt each of them would give us something interesting. Harley has a wonderful and wicked, caustic, cynical-slash-romantic view of the world and Bob had this Midwestern… what’s the right word? Not simplicity, but a practicality that fit the profile of our town.
above: the 2011 re-issue of Jennifer Lynch’s The Secret Diary of Laura Palmer (available now)
BD: In the new edition of The Secret Diary of Laura Palmer, you mention in your foreword a “magical scout” of the filming locations. The Snoqualmie area has always fascinated me, and I’m curious what memories or stories you have of this trip.
MF: Well I remember David and I just having a ton of fun on that trip, excited that we were actually going to go make this thing. Washington seemed like the right place; David had grown up in that part of the world and it felt right to him. This local scout drove us all over and we didn’t see anything for the first 2 or 3 days. We had one day left, and he finally said he’s going to show us this area around Issaquah and Snoqualmie, and the minute we got there everything we’d written showed up in front of our eyes. There was a sawmill, the diner by the railroad tracks, a hotel by a waterfall, the gas station. It was all there like we’d been looking through some kind of magic crystal and seeing this place from a distance, then we get there and find it’s exactly as we’dwritten it. So it was a great last day and we came back on the wings of that scout knowing we’d found the place where we could bring it all to life.
BD: After finding the perfect place to film, did this experience influence the script of the pilot episode at all?
MF: No, everything was already written in stone at that point. We just knew we had found everything we needed and we didn’t need to alter anything.
BD: You directed the first season finale episode of Twin Peaks, which in my opinion is really one of the most thrilling episodes of the series. What was it like for you directing this episode?
MF: It was really great. I knew that I was going to do it because it was really the only one I had time to do, it was such hard work prepping the rest of the episodes that I couldn’t afford to take time away from that process. So we jam-packed it with all the cliffhangers, and it was just a riot to shoot. I remember all of us having so much fun. We were working really hard and it was at the end of the shoot and everyone was really gassed but we found a finishing kick where you can sort of “smell the barn” and everyone rallied and gave us the best energy for that final push.
BD: There is one particular chapter in your novel The List of 7 which to me reminds me of the use of mirrors throughout Twin Peaks-where did this idea of using mirrors originate?
MF: I think we may have mentioned it in the script, but it was something David really started working on in the pilot and it just became a motif, and as the character of BOB developed, the double images and the use of mirrors came together even more. I would say that was an element that largely came to David while we were shooting.
BD: Describe the pressure that ABC placed on you to reveal Laura Palmer’s killer. Do you think that you could have delayed “the big reveal” any longer?
MF: Well in retrospect I really wish we had because the show might have gone on longer, but on the other hand it is what it is, I think it played out the right way. In a way we did keep the idea of the murder going because Leland died but BOB was still around and we found a way to continue, as we were hinting. In retrospect it was a mistake. The main thing we were fighting was that the network had no idea what this thing was – they did an okay job marketing it – after David set them straight on the direction to take – but they almost seemed determined to kill the show. After we had all this success on Wednesdays, when it had clearly become the show everyone talked about the next day at work, to move it to Saturday night felt like a kamikaze mission. The audience we were delivering to them wasn’t home on Saturday night! We were giving them the exact numbers and demographics those outfits need, and they ended up discouraging them from watching. We never understood it and had no say on the matter, and I have my theories about why but “it was what it was”. We were stuck with it.
above: Mark as Twin Peaks newsman “Cyril Ponds” in Twin Peaks Episode 8
BD: I can vividly remember sitting in church as a kid on Sunday mornings during the second season when things were getting really crazy, and just wondering about the show from the night before and where it could possibly be headed.
MF: Really? Yeah, that would be a good place to contemplate it! We were working with themes of good and evil, not a bad place to be thinking about it – but trust me, they didn’t move it to Saturdays so people would be thinking about it in church!
BD: Twin Peaks is often heralded as the show that changed television forever. Since Twin Peaks has aired, what influences from the show have you seen reflected back, and what have been some of your favorite programs since?
MF: Well, there were obviously a lot of shows that benefitted from an expanded sense of what had been considered legitimate fare for networks. I don’t think I’ve watched a network show since Twin Peaks, at least not a drama that I can think of. My favorite shows since then have been The Sopranos which was utterly brilliant and I know that David Chase has been generous in saying that Twin Peaks helped him understand there was a new ceiling, so that was a show I didn’t miss a minute of.
I like Boardwalk Empire quite a bit, I think that’s really good. I watched a season of Dexter which I thought was terrific. I’m trying to think ofwhat else… Downton Abbey’s pretty great. I liked Seinfeld a lot- my dad was on that show so I liked it for that reason, but it’s a classic in its own right. But Curb Your Enthusiasm might be the best comedy ever.
above: Warren Frost with Grace Zabriskie (as Mr. and Mrs. Ross) with Jason Alexander (as George Costanza) on Seinfeld
BD: I have to agree!
MF: But none of those dramas are network shows. The network’s market share keeps getting smaller and smaller so they’ve had to aim broader and broader and they’re still losing numbers every year. I don’t know what the future is for that business. At least for pay and basic cable shows, there’s more good choices available and it’s more readily available (whether streaming or on demand) than it’s ever been, so for a viewer I think it’s a great time to be a fan of t.v.
BD: Who’s idea was it and when was it decided to ultimately leave Dale Cooper trapped in The Black Lodge? It seems to me like Cooper’s fate is heavily hinted at during your brother’s book My Life, My Tapes.
MF: Yeah, I think it was. David and I knew we were going to end up with him there and that was always the plan , so I think we added a hint or a reference in the book to help set that up.
BD: The original script to the finale episode is starkly different from what was filmed, particularly in the case of The Black Lodge. I am curious if you agreed at the time with David’s vision of what the Lodge became?
MF: Absolutely, I’ve never questioned David’s vision at any point in the process because his instincts are extraordinary. We knew it was going to be the last one, possibly for all time and I think I remember saying, “do whatever you want to do here, use this as a map, not a set of directions” and he did; and when you’ve got a talent as singular as David, you don’t question that. That would make no sense whatsoever.
BD: Do you have any particular moments from Twin Peaks that really stick out to you or mean more than others?
MF: There was a moment, not in the show but as an experience of the show. After we finished the pilot we’d only seen it with a few small groups of people, and we did a big screening at the DGA long before the show ever aired and the reaction was extraordinary; people just went nuts for it. So that’s the moment when we looked at each other and said ,“holy cow” we might have something here. It just rang people’s bells in ways they hadn’t been rung before and it was so cool to see that happen . In addition to writing fiction I’d worked in the theatre for a long time, so I was used to live audiences but you don’t get that very often in television, so to see the show received exactly the way we hoped it would be – for the first time – was an amazing experience.
BD: Do you have a favorite scene from the show?
MF: No, I don’t have a favorite. The only reason I have a favorite kid is because I just have one.
BD: Earlier this year in our twitter interview you said you “still visit Twin Peaks in dreams”. Have you ever come remotely close to calling David Lynch and saying “I have an idea… let’s bring Twin Peaks back”?
MF: We’ve never intended to do that, it’s just – something that worked so perfectly at the time. David and I are still really good friends, but that moment has never come.
BD: I have one final question, and it’s sort of a “sports bonus”. Pete Sampras vs. Roger Federer, who is the best of all time?
MF: If they’re both at their peak, I think Sampras wins six out of ten matches. He certainly doesn’t dominate him and probably wins on a tiebreaker in the final set.
BD: O.K., well I am a big Federer fan…
MF: I am too! I think Federer is incredible, but Sampras… wait, who has more slams now?
BD: I think Federer has 16 and Sampras has 13.
MF: Then I would say six out of ten to Federer. Okay, I was thinking Sampras had a slight lead, so I’m changing my answer. But if my son was going to grow up to be an athlete, I mean Federer’s the role model. This guy has so much class and he’s such a graceful presence, he’s the Cary Grant of sports.