The World of Stephen King's Short Films
The World of Stephen King’s Short Films
With over 50 novels, 6 non-fiction books, and 200 short stories to date, it’s clear that Stephen King is a prolific writer. Whilst you may have read all his books, and seen all the films and TV shows, you may have missed a wealth of short films based on his stories. You see, King Himself made it possible for film students and aspiring filmmakers to have a crack at adapting his works years ago. For the bargain price of just $1, you can adapt one his short stories, as long as they never commercially distribute the film. Kings calls this his Dollar Baby policy. There’s even a list available on his site of stories that have not yet been optioned by film studios. In order to adapt a story , just drop King a message (and I’m assuming a check for $1) and get filming. And yes, King does collect on his $1 (Those root beers aren’t going to pay for themselves!).
King says this about his Dollar Babies.
“Around 1977 or so, when I started having some popular success, I saw a way to give back a little of the joy the movies had given me…’77 was the year young filmmakers – college students, for the most part – started writing me about the stories I’d published (first in Night Shift, later in Skeleton Crew), wanting to make short films out of them. Over the objections of my accountant, who saw all sorts of possible legal problems, I established a policy which still holds today. I will grant any student filmmaker the right to make a movie out of any short story I have written (not the novels, that would be ridiculous), so long as the film rights are still mine to assign. I ask them to sign a paper promising that no resulting film will be exhibited commercially without approval, and that they send me a videotape of the finished work. For this one-time right I ask a dollar. I have made the dollar deal, as I call it, over my accountant’s moans and head-clutching protests sixteen or seventeen times as of this writing .”
September 2004 saw the very first public film festival presentation of Dollar Babies. The festival was held in the D. P. Corbett Business Theater at the University of Maine, Orono, which Stephen King had attended as a young man. Since then, Dollar Baby festivals pop up all over the US, each one having the strict rules that the films submitted must be a Dollar Baby, (Kings permissions and a $1).
These films may have previously only be available to King himself and anyone attending festivals. However, the rise of YouTube and other video services has made it possible to view them. There’s a whole wealth of films out there, some good, some bad, but all having this one common connection in King. As a fellow King Fan, I wanted to share with you my favourites.
Bike (2012) ( Just After Sunset )
To start you off, I’d like to share with this adaption of KIngs Stationary Bike. Made in 2012, it’s a real eye catching piece with actor Stephen Hope-Wynne playing the role of a man who becomes obsessed with his new health regime.
The Man in the Black Suit (2014) (Night Shift)
Despite the Terrible acting, choppy camerawork and frustrating music, this version of The Man in the Black Suit manages to capture the essence of the story.
Disciples of the Crow (1983) (Night Shift)
Hard to believe, but this is the very first adaption of Kings 1977 short story Children of the Corn, made a year before the film of 1984. The story is heavily abridged, with most of the named characters removed (Malachi and Isaac have been fused into one character called Billy and the towns name changed from Gatlin to Jonah) but at its heart is King’s grisly tale of children twisted by some unseen deity that hides in the corn. As one of the first “dollar babies” based on Stephen King’s work, it was previously only available to king and director John Woodward , until it was released on VHS in 1986.
Strawberry Springs (2001) (Night Shift)
There are many adaptations of the short story Strawberry Springs, but this one by Producer and Director Doveed Linder is the best. With a nice sized budget behind him and a capable cast, this short film is edgy and atmospheric.
The Man Who Loved Flowers (2010) (Night Shift)
Being one of the best adaptations of The Man Who loved Flowers, this short film by Christopher Harrison is fun, vibrant and light hearted (with a little dusting of disturbing thrown in!). Starring Steve Byers from The Man in the High Castle and the upcoming 2017 Flatliners sequel.
Gray Matter (2010) (Night Shift)
This Short film based on Kings strange story about a mutating man, was written & Directed by Daniel Baas. The film is dark and moody and beautifully build the anticipation of the audience.
Mute (2014) ( Just After Sunset )
Jacqueline Wright Directed this amazing adaption of Kings Mute, about a mute hitchhiker and an overly talkative driver. It’s well directed and shot, and the only issue I have is that it’s not longer!
The Lawnmower Man: A Suburban Nightmare (1987) (Night Shift)
Based on kings wacky story of a Demonic Lawnmower Man this brilliantly 80’s short will certainly put a smile on your face. Written by screenwriter and New Line Cinema production executive Michael De Luca (In the Mouth of Madness) and directed by Jim Gonis. It has screened at several film festivals: including one held at the Stanley Hotel (the hotel that inspired King’s novel The Shining) and at the 1st Annual Dollar Baby festival in Orono, Maine in 2004.
One for the Road (2011) (Night Shift)
Starring Reggie Bannister from Phantasm fame, this adaption of Kings “One for the road” is a semi-sequel to Salem’s Lot. The actings a bit hammy and the Vampire effects are pretty shoddy, but it’s the best version of this short story.
The Woman in the room (1983) (Night Shift)
Celebrated director Frank Darabont started his film career by adapting the story “The Woman in the room” into a short film. Proving King was right with his policy on “Dollar Babies” Darabont went on to adapt Kings The Shawshank Redemption, The Green Mile and The Mist. He also launched the successful TV adaption of The Walking Dead.
The Boogeyman – 1982 (Night Shift)
Written and directed by Jeff C. Schiro, this very 80s take on King’s Short The Boogeyman is an amazingly uncomfortable affair. From its horrifying score to its careful pacing, this short will give you nightmares.
There are also a lot of Dollar Babies that have never been seen outside of festivals, that only exist in the public eye as trainers. Despite being several years old, these films could be fated to never see the light of day, as the directors honor King’s contract NOT to commercially release their films.
SOMETHING TO N’d ON
And finally something special. In 2008 this short film was used as a promotional tool to advertise King’s new book Just After Sunset. It is a multi-part graphic video series adaption of the Short Story N. The episodes were drawn by artist Alex Maleev and colored by comic-book colorist José Villarrubia. It’s dark, moody and should just terrify you.
Stephen King’s inspiring vision of young film makers adapting his work has changed the world, in some sense. He has help to grow fledgeling directors by giving them a solid story in which to film, but more than that, he has given us a way into his books that other writers dare not. I Myself have been inspired to head back into some of Kings novels for one more look. I’m currently reading Salem’s Lot, a digital copy this time around, as my well thumbed copy finally gave up the ghost and fell apart. I hope that these shorts inspire you too, whether it be too finally reading that book that’s sat gathering dust, or even to take King up on his Dollar Baby offer. One thing is for sure, If you find yourself sleeping with your lights on tonight, you know who to thank.