Thornewood sees 'Red'
Owners, area residents enjoy preview of macabre Stephen King miniseries
| Wayne Robinson
Ernest A. Jasmin; The News Tribune
J.B. Douglas' thumbs played on the remote control. He, his family and friends watched the television in giddy anticipation.
They gathered one recent evening in the dark ballroom of Lakewood's Thornewood Castle to see an advance copy of "Rose Red," the new, macabre TV miniseries by novelist Stephen King that was filmed in Pierce and King counties.
Thornewood - a 54-room mansion and bed-and-breakfast - was transformed into the haunted house that gives the miniseries its name. Most of those gathered for the preview live at Thornewood or at Thornewood Estates, the gated community that surrounds the manor, and they were eager to see how scary it would look on television.
An opening scene, which local viewers can see at 9 tonight on Channel 4, introduces Annie Wheaton, an autistic girl with telekinetic abilities.
The scene culminates in the troubled little girl summoning a hail of boulders to pummel a neighbor's house.
"Rose Red's" national audience might find that exciting, but for the viewers at Thornewood, the real fun began with the next scene.
Jillian Douglas, daughter-in-law of Thornewood owner Deanna Robinson, clapped excitedly as the camera creeps through a rusty gate and approaches the mansion. Thornewood Castle has never looked so creepy.
Fog wafts from the lawn. Dead vines cling to its walls. Horned cherubs and gargoyles seem on the verge of coming to life and wreaking havoc.
But none of that is as shocking as what the camera reveals as it pans away. Through the magic of special effects, Thornewood Castle has been lifted right out of Lakewood and stuck on a hill overlooking downtown Seattle.
"That is just incredible," Robinson gasped. "That is so weird. I don't know how they can do that."
Art imitates life - and death
That little bit of relocation is a result of King's fascination with the Winchester Mystery House, a reputed haunted house in San Jose, Calif., "Rose Red" executive producer Mark Carliner explained last month.
According to legend, Sarah Winchester - the widow of the inventor of the Winchester rifle - bought the house in 1884 and began nearly four decades of around-the-clock remodeling to stave off the ghosts of people killed by Winchester rifles. Her neurotic pastime began when a medium told her that if construction ceased, the angry spirits would kill her. (You can find out more at www.winchestermysteryhouse.com.)
"What Stephen King loved was, here was this house that was built in the middle of the city and the city grew around it," Carliner said. "Since we couldn't find a place that matches the description, you have to create it ... by use of computer graphics and some brilliant visual effects."
Oscar-winner Stuart Robertson is behind those special effects. And not only has he moved Thornewood north, he's turned it into an unearthly behemoth.
"When you see Thornewood as it has been enhanced by computer graphics, you will hardly believe your eyes," Carliner said. "People in Tacoma will wonder, 'How did we ever do that?'"
That was definitely the case among the 11 who watched the preview tape. They seemed more impressed with the way slick editing contributed to the overall illusion than with any of the performances.
"Rose Red" editors seamlessly spliced footage filmed at Thornewood with scenes filmed at a fake interior built inside a warehouse at the former Sand Point Naval Station on Lake Washington.
In one scene, for example, the door closes behind actor Jimmi Simpson as he enters Thornewood. In an instant, the viewpoint shifts so viewers are looking into a large foyer that was actually part of the Sand Point set.
Computerized special effects, painted Seattle backdrops and a number of props - such as disposable gates and fences - all add to the illusion that Thornewood/Rose Red is in Seattle.
"That is so bizarre," Thornewood owner Robinson said. "They're going to be driving there to find it."
The Thornewood residents' sense of wonder was enhanced by memories of what went on behind the scenes during the months that ABC crews spent at Thornewood in the fall and winter of 2000.
In one scene, a nerdy, overweight psychic played by Matt Ross unloads groceries from an old, sky blue Volvo station wagon.
"This is the car that gets blown up!" Jillian Douglas declared.
The car and a pair of identical backups were pounded with boulders and blown to bits right there on Thornewood's lawn. (Robinson admitted she was more than a little worried about the blasts shattering her stained-glass windows.)
Luella Johnson, a resident of Thornewood Estates, pointed excitedly at the beginning of a flashback scene.
"There we are!" she exclaimed.
Three older ladies - Johnson, Robinson and friend Maria Rabisa - climb a set of stairs as members of a fictional tour group. The shot, filmed at Sand Point, is over in the blink of an eye and will likely go unnoticed by people watching "Rose Red's" debut. But it warranted a couple of rewinds at the Thornewood preview.
"I expected to be on the cutting room floor," Robinson said. "No one else would recognize us because it was so brief."
Behind the scenes
Everyone had stories about things that happened behind the scenes when crews filmed "Rose Red."
They told of hydraulic machines used to make ghostly footprints appear in carpets and pyrotechnic devices that spewed flames through doorways.
They recalled bee handlers and trainers responsible for teaching African crows to peck at faux corpses.
Robinson seemed especially tickled by her ghoulish, robotic counterpart. The most prominent ghost in "Rose Red" is also named Deanna - a fact Robinson attributed to eerie coincidence - and it took 12 technicians with remote controls to bring the grisly specter to life.
"She could move every digit," Robinson said. "Everything you can do, she could do."
Jillian Douglas was most amazed by how long it took to shoot even the shortest scenes. She served as a stand-in for star Nancy Travis (who plays a paranormal researcher) during a scene in which characters load equipment into a van in preparation for a trip to Rose Red. Stand-ins walk through scenes to give camera people an idea of what it will look like when the actors perform.
Douglas' scene, filmed at the University of Washington, takes only a few minutes during Sunday's episode. In real time, she said, it took about two weeks to film.
"To see the work that's involved in this is just amazing," Douglas said.
Then, of course, there is the sheer spectacle of being around big stars.
King surprised everyone when he appeared on the set. He plays a pizza delivery man who shows up during a pivotal scene.
Rabisa remembered him as being as spooky in real life as his novels suggest. "When he looks at you, he kind of looked right through you," she recalled.
Robinson and her husband, Wayne, bought Thornewood Castle in early 2000. They were signing ownership papers right around the time that - with the encouragement of the Washington State Film & Video Office - they agreed to let ABC use their home for the miniseries.
ABC restoration crews began making changes in May 2000. They did everything from adding an orchard of dead trees, vines and cobwebs to lowering ceilings and knocking down walls.
The network spent about $500,000 on renovating the 27,000-square-foot manor - a small chunk of "Rose Red's" $30 million budget. (Carliner estimated that ABC may end up spending that much again on marketing.)
Robinson admitted it was a bit spooky moving into a haunted house - and even stranger going through 20-hour shooting days all fall and winter.
"We didn't get to live in it normal for six months," she said. "It was very stressful. ... It seemed I was never gonna get my normal life back."
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* Staff writer Ernest Jasmin covers pop culture. Reach him at 253-274-7389 or firstname.lastname@example.org%
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SIDEBAR: Dedicated to actor who died
In October 2000, David Dukes expected to fly to Washington, finish a few scenes for the ABC miniseries "Rose Red" and return home.
Dukes' role was that of Professor Miller - the nemesis of "Rose Red" protagonist Joyce Reardon (Nancy Travis) - and the 55-year-old actor had finished every scene but one when he suffered a fatal heart attack during a game of tennis.
"The irony was that the only thing left was his death scene," "Rose Red" executive producer Mark Carliner said. "That was the grim irony of it all."
Producers were faced with a dilemma: Should they omit his final scene or find a way to tastefully finish his role?
They chose the latter, with a stuntman standing in for Dukes, Carliner said.
Actors who were "killed" in "Rose Red" were fitted with latex death masks that would give them a ghoulish, otherworldly appearance when they returned from the dead.
Dukes had already been fitted for his, which his replacement wore during filming.
"It was unnerving to say the least," Carliner said. "It gave me sweaty palms."
"It was spooky, but it worked in a way that was seamless," he said. "We didn't have to cheat that much. ... I don't think anyone who sees this film will be able to spot the one or two shots where it wasn't David."
The "Rose Red" series is dedicated to the memory of David Dukes.
- Ernest A. Jasmin, The News Tribune
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SIDEBAR: Thornewood said to have its own ghosts
Thornewood Castle doesn't have the sort of evil spirits that haunt "Rose Red."
But that's not to say there aren't a few houseguests from beyond the grave.
"I can't say we don't have our own events, but ours aren't evil," Thornewood owner Deanna Robinson says. "We don't have bad things; the house doesn't gobble people up."
Robinson describes a handful of ghostly visitors, two of which, she speculates, are Chester and Anna Thorne, the mansion's first residents.
Visitors who stay in Anna Thorne's room - one of six that Robinson and her husband rent as part of their bed-and- breakfast business - sometimes see her sitting in the window behind them while gazing in the mirror. They turn to find no one there, Robinson says.
The most cantankerous ghost seems to be Chester Thorne. For a while, old Chester had a thing for breaking glass and unscrewing light bulbs.
"Now it's not as often," she says. "It's every once in a while."
There is also a child some visitors see playing outside by the water. Robinson says she thinks this is the ghost of a little boy who died in the 1970s.
You may not believe these unearthly tales, but a couple from South Carolina canceled their reservation after reading about Thornewood's ghosts on the Internet.
"They just didn't want to stay in a haunted house," Robinson says.
- Ernest A. Jasmin, The News Tribune
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* The Stephen King miniseries "Rose Red" airs in three two-hour episodes 9 p.m. tonight, Monday and Thursday on Channel 4.
* Want to watch "Rose Red" at Thornewood Castle? You can - for $100 a night, $250 for all three evenings. A reception and tour will begin two hours before each episode is shown on a 12-foot screen. For more details, call 253-584-4393 or see www.thornewoodcastle.com.
© The News Tribune