Alternate Takes 09.21.13 - The Stephen King Dollar Baby Filmmakers
Posted by Shawn S. Lealos on 09.21.2013
Stephen King offers student filmmakers the right to make a short film based on his un-produced short stories for just $1. Starting with Frank Darabont himself, here is a look at some of the more important dollar baby filmmakers
Welcome to Week 268 of Alternate Takes, my name is Shawn S. Lealos and you have entered my world.
Before we start this week, I want to let everyone know about a Kickstarter project I am running for a documentary I have plans to make. First a little about the background of the Stephen King dollar babies.
Back in 2000, I was a film student and learned about the Stephen King dollar baby movies. Basically, King allows young filmmakers to jumpstart their film careers by offering student filmmakers limited rights to make a short film based on any of his short stories that had not already been optioned for just $1. This is how Frank Darabont got his start when he made his dollar baby, The Woman in the Room. Based on this, King allowed Darabont to make The Shawshank Redemption.
The one thing about Stephen King dollar baby filmmakers is that they can only show their movies in film festivals or on their product reels, so many of them remain unknown to the general public.
Since 1976, there are now over 75 dollar baby filmmakers and I have already interviewed 17 of them for a book I am releasing later this year called Dollar Deal: The Story of the Stephen King Dollar Baby Filmmakers. I am now working on a documentary based on these filmmakers, where I will tell their stories. If anyone is interested in contributing to this Kickstarter campaign, or knows of people who would be interested in this campaign, click the banner below for more information, including the perks available for contributors.
With that said, let's take a look at some of the more notable of the Stephen King dollar baby filmmakers.
Frank Darabont, The Woman in the Room
Let's start with the most famous of all Stephen King dollar baby filmmakers – Frank Darabont. He made his dollar baby and released it in 1980. Darabont is the reason that most people today know about the dollar baby filmmaker program, as he mentioned it in his intros to the screenplay books for both The Shawshank Redemption and The Green Mile.
Darabont was smart and chose a story that was very close to Stephen King's heart – The Woman in the Room. This was a story that King wrote to honor his mother, and the fact that Darabont did such a good job with it, King has often called it his favorite. This was not the first dollar baby, as King had offered this since 1976, and it wasn't even the first known dollar baby (that would be Jeff Schiro's The Boogeyman - Schiro actually went to King's house and knocked on the door to ask for permission back in ‘79), but it is his most famous.
Thanks to the work Darabont did on The Woman in the Room, Stephen King optioned him the rights for Shawshank Redemption for just $1 as well (although it cost a lot more for the studios to make it).
Back in the early ‘90s, there was a DVD released with both The Woman in the Room and Jeff Schiro's Boogeyman on it – the only time Stephen King dollar babies have been made available to purchase and watch on home video.
James Cole, The Last Rung on the Ladder and Jim Gonis, Lawnmower Man
Back before the Internet, the only way to keep up with things was through newsletters and papers, and one of these options for Stephen King fans was the Castle Rock newsletter. This means that, unless you knew someone, there was little way of finding out about the dollar babies. The Castle Rock newsletter was one of the first to get the word out. This alerted men like James Cole and Jim Gonis to the deal.
Cole adapted King's The Last Rung on the Ladder while Gonis actually made a version of Lawnmower Man that actually had something to do with the story (unlike the ridiculous theatrical movie that came out that used the name and nothing else about the story). These came out in the mid to late ‘80s and were really the second generation Stephen King dollar babies.
Jay Holben, Paranoid
After Frank Darabont spilled the beans about his dollar babies in his screenplay intros, a rush started with people asking for, and receiving permission to make movies based on his short stories in the Stephen King dollar baby deal. The most popular of these new filmmakers was Jay Holben, someone who actually got special permission to screen his film online at the time.
Back in 2000, the idea of screening films online was still new and things like Atom Film were the craze. One of the stipulations of the dollar deal is to send your film to Stephen King so he can watch it and put it on his DVD shelf. When he watched Holben's dollar baby "Paranoid," King was impressed. King actually called Holben at his home to chat about the dollar baby.
This was very unusual, as most dollar baby filmmakers never hear back from Stephen King at all. Holben took this chance to ask if he could show the movie online and King said yes. The dollar deal is something that Stephen King loves, but he has said that his accountants and lawyers hate it. Of course, the lawyers called Holben, but he already had permission. They worked out a deal where it would be a limited online screening, and it remains the only one legally allowed. Any dollar babies you might find online are there illegally and breaks the dollar baby filmmakers contract with King.
Shawn S. Lealos, I Know What You Need
No, I'm not as important as other people on this list, but one thing I have been able to do since getting permission to make my dollar baby, I Know What You Need, was meet all these other filmmakers. Since I made my movie, it has been screened at festivals in Argentina, The Netherlands, Bangor, Maine, Los Angeles and just this summer in Houston, Texas.
It gave me a chance to meet people like:
Peter Sullivan: Sullivan made Night Shift, a movie that takes place in the world of The Stand. Since then, Sullivan has been working in his own production company and has made independent movies with names like Danny Trejo (The Contractor, writer), Val Kilmer (Wyatt Earp's Revenge, writer), Casper Van Dien (Christmas Twister, director), Cuba Gooding Jr. (Summoned, director) and was also the writer of Jersey Shore Shark Attack.
James Cox: Cox made Grey Matter, a film that seems very hard to adapt, but his remains one of the slickest and most polished dollar babies in recent years. For Walking Dead fans, his film stars Tyler Chase, who fans of the show know as Ben. Cox has since worked as a crew member on films like Lincoln and The Thing.
Rodney Altman: Altman made what I consider to be the best dollar baby film I have watched based on the story Umney's Last Case. What is interesting is that the TNT television show Nightmares and Dreamscapes adapted this as well with William H. Macy in the lead role and X-Files director Rob Bowman directing it, and I consider Altman's the superior version.
James Renner: Renner was the man who put together the first ever dollar baby film festival in the United States, up in Bangor, Maine. He directed the adaptation of All That You Love Will be Carried Away, and one of the best known casts of any dollar baby, with drive-thru movie icon Joe Bob Briggs in the lead role and iconic cartoonist Harvey Pekar in a supporting role.
Nick Wauters: Wauters directed Rainy Season, turning in an impressive technical performance in this short film. He has since went on to television success, creating the 2010 sci-fi television series The Event for ABC television.
These are just some of the names. Others include Warren Ray, a filmmaker who adapted The Man who Loves Flowers (reititled Maxwell Edison) and is currently acting in another dollar baby filmmaker's version of Death Room. Juan Reinoso also adapted The Man Who Loved Flowers, re-titled Flowers for Norma and co-starring a ton of famous names, including Chris Mulkey (Twin Peaks), Tony Plana (Primal Fear), and the Cigarette Smoking Man himself, William B. Davis.
These are just some of the filmmakers whose stories I plan to tell in my documentary Dollar Deal: The Story of the Stephen King Dollar Baby Filmmakers. It is fascinating and I look forward to telling their stories.
Once again, if you want to help out in any way, whether it is by donating or by helping spread the word, you can do so at the link below. Till next week, I'm out.