TWIN PEAKS REFLECTIONS PT. 2: Between Two Worlds: Creating Fire Walk With Me

TWIN PEAKS REFLECTIONS PT. 2: Between Two Worlds: Creating Fire Walk With Me

Two key writer/producers from the original run of 'Twin Peaks',  Harley Peyton and Bob Engels, reflect on their time working on the ground-breaking show, and the evolution of 'Twin Peaks' from cult series to the feature film 'Fire Walk With Me' and the long-awaited third season, 'The Return'.

With the second season of 'Twin Peaks' ending on an almost unbearable cliffhanger, many fans were looking to see the story continue in any way, shape or form. Fans eagerly embraced the news that the 'Peaks' world would continue in the feature film 'Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me', to be co-written and directed by David Lynch. On hearing the news, one thing immediately leapt out at Harley Peyton.

"The thing that, for me, was so significant was that Mark (Frost) wasn't involved," he said.

"It struck me as odd, because I couldn't figure out why he wouldn't be a part of it."

With Frost absent during the second season, Peyton crossed swords with Lynch - and Peyton had no expectation he would be a part of Lynch's return to the world of 'Twin Peaks'.

"On season two, they put me in the showrunner spot - although there was no such title as showrunner back then," he said.

"It became my job to say 'no' to David when no had to be said... that was not a good job for me.

"It wasn't like it was a big deal, but I can think of at least one moment where I had to simply say 'no' and, with Mark not there, that became a difficult process for everybody - I'm sure for David too."

Engels, on the other hand, had continued working closely with Lynch after 'Twin Peaks' was cancelled.

"From the first time I met David - it was probably the second or third day of shooting the series - we got along, as David would say, like Ike and Mike," he said.

"We had the same sense of humour, laughed at the same stupid jokes and all that stuff... it was pretty natural.

"When the series concluded, David and I started to write a couple of other movies.

"We started fiddling with a Hollywood story, and a romantic comedy - as much as you could say either of us could do a romantic comedy.

"It was called 'In Heaven', it was really a simple story of an ugly woman that became beautiful, for lack of a better way to put it.

"So we would work every afternoon at his house, going back and forth on stuff and doing other weird shit.

"Once, I was at his house and he was gone at a meeting... this was, like, two, three months after the series was over... and he came in and said 'We're going to do a 'Twin Peaks' movie... are you up for that?'

"I said 'Sure'. So I dropped everything else and started to write the movie."

Before Engels fully committed, though, he sought the blessing of Mark Frost.

"I wouldn't have been there without Mark," he said.

"So, when I got home that day, I called Mark and I said 'I won't do this unless you say it's OK', and he said 'No, go ahead'."

The duo began work on what Engels describes as a 'mammoth' early draft that clocked in at around 200 pages. He says Lynch's willingness to entertain the strangest of ideas helped make the partnership click.

"Sometimes we'd laugh and then we'd think 'maybe we should do that'... then 'I don't know, we can't do that'," he said.

"We would go down these roads like that and have fun - some of it would stay, some of it we'd say 'that's too much'."

The film's effectively divided into two parts - the first chronicling the FBI's investigation into Leland Palmer/BOB's first murder, the second covering the final days of Laura Palmer. Kyle MacLachlan's reluctance to return to the role of Special Agent Dale Cooper meant Lynch and Engels needed to rewrite the prelude, leading to the introduction of two new characters - Special Agents Chester Desmond (Chris Isaak) and Sam Stanley (an uncharacteristically bookish Kiefer Sutherland). Another new addition to the FBI was Phillip Jeffries - a time travelling David Bowie, who's seemingly been driven mad by his encounters with the killer BOB and his otherworldy companions. Initially, Bowie's part was considerably larger - featuring a full subplot involving his character's time in Argentina - only fragments remain in the finished product. Again reflecting the anything goes nature of the Lynch/Engels partnership, Bowie was cast in response to a weird running joke between Lynch, Engels and Lynch's Assistant.

"David's assistant, Debbie Trutnick, would come in with messages or this and that while we were writing," Engels said.

"She'd come in and listen to us for a while... then one day she said out of the blue 'and that's David Bowie's part, right?'

"We laughed, then the next day she jokingly said 'And then David Bowie would do that, right?'

"After about three weeks of that we said 'Why not? He's great!' and he was more than amenable to do it.

"That's that incredible cachet that David (Lynch) has."

Stylistically and tonally, 'Fire Walk With Me' represented a big shift in the way the 'Twin Peaks' world was portrayed (an evolution that would continue some two-odd decades later with 'The Return'). Elements that helped balance out the underlying Lynchian darkness of the series - such as the knowing humour, the post-modern pop culture references and the dialled-up-to-eleven soap opera shenanigans - were all but gone. The film instead leans heavily into the darkness, telling the bleak story of a young girl who comes to the abusive figure that has tormented her for years is actually her father. Engels says the shift in style and tone was less a conscious decision in the writing process and more of a byproduct of being able to continue the story outside of the confines of network television.

"When you did television in those days, there were restrictions," he said.

"From language to nudity, there were things you couldn't do.

"Once we didn't have those restrictions, we were free to do what we wanted."

Whittling down the "mammoth" draft to a more manageable length (and, in doing so, abandoning the idea of incorporating an intermission in the finished product) still left Lynch with the need for further cuts in the editing room (the extent of the cuts can be seen in the "Missing Pieces" feature on the now-inaccurately named "The Complete Mystery" blu-ray).

As Engels explains, a large part of the editing process was "removing the detours" to get back to the central story. Once a rough cut was completed, many series regulars found they'd been cut from the film altogether.

"We consciously tried to get everybody that was on the TV show into the movie" Engels said.

"A lot of that was shot and then, as David edited it down, we lost some of it.

"Sheriff Truman, I remember, took a big cut.

"I remember the day David finished a real rough cut, but the cut that was going to become the movie... we were back at his house.

"He called every person that he cut personally to say 'I'm sorry, we couldn't get you in and I apologise'.

"This was kind of remarkable - nobody ever does that.

"At the most, you get a note saying 'Sorry'."

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On its release, critical reaction wasn't kind... seemingly ending plans to continue the story. Harley Peyton remembers seeing the film in Westwood, but feeling somewhat lacklustre about revisiting that world without Mark Frost. 

"I think at the time I was predisposed to not like it, and I certainly didn't," he said.

"There was certainly less humour... it was almost closer to a horror movie in some weird ways.

"It came at the show from a completely different angle.

"It was almost like you had said to ... I don't know... Paul Thomas Anderson  or whoever 'we want you to go and do a Twin Peaks movie and show us what your version of Twin Peaks is'.

"The weird thing is that this was done by somebody who had co-created the original 'Twin Peaks'!"

And, like many devotees of the original series, Peyton found his opinion of the then-maligned film shifting over time.

"I think over time it certainly has grown on me, and the cinematic approach to those stories and those people was one that continued was continued by David over that third season," he said.

Anotherfilmnerd's earliest cinematic memory was seeing Don Johnson throw up all over a suspect in John Frankenheimer's 'Dead Bang'. Ever since, he's devoted his life to searching out cinema that's weird, wonderful and features vomit in the most unlikely of places.