I figured I'd better start this blog with an explanation as to why I'm doing it.
So, here's the short version:
1. I like Stephen King.
2. I like fan-casting.
3. There are a number of King works that need to be adapted, yet never have been.
4. I feel like a number of existing King adaptations never got it right.
Has there been another author like Stephen King? Even Danielle Steel hasn't been adapted so often. Apart from ol' Bill Shakespeare, I don't think another author has had so many of his works adapted to film/television ever. That alone is quite an accomplishment.
And it gets better; King is an incredibly prolific author, and so much of what he turns out is so damn good that when he turns out something that's bad or merely okay, the public reacts with shock.
So...why is it that we so rarely see that in his screen adaptations?
Out of the umpteen-hundred movies, TV movies, TV mini-series, weekly TV series, short films, anthology films, et al, that have been adapted (however loosely) from King's written works, only a handful of them can be considered "good", let alone "great". In fact, so much of the King-inspired screen work is so bloody awful that it's almost a punchline today (the Nostalgia Critic makes it a point to do an annual review of a King adaptation). It's gotten to the point where some people have even suggested that it's evidence that we perhaps give King (as a novelist) too much credit. Perhaps the adaptations are bad because the books were bad, too, and the adaptations just make it obvious.
I say bullshit to that. It's akin to suggesting that the Beatles don't deserve their place in rock history because not all their songs were gems and cover versions of their songs by other bands are generally not as good. No; King adaptations tend to suck for several reasons: bad direction, bad screenwriting, bad casting, and thus bad acting, and bad formats. These usually come about thanks to uncaring suits at the top of the production food chain who are concerned mainly with getting a quick horror flick out into theaters in time to cash in on Halloween, or alternately to fill up the January-February dead zone (no pun intended) where all studios dump their crap that would flop at any other time of the year, and to do so as cheaply as possible. They've got the property, King is a name that will sell tickets, so no real need to worry about quality. Just get the butts in the seats and once you've made back twice the budget (not hard for films you spent virtually no money on) you can churn out a few in-name-only sequels that will go directly to video.
And therein lies the other problem; a (very) large cross-section of King-related films have, in fact, nothing to do with him. There are umpteen sequels to Children of the Corn that King had no hand in writing, not to mention sequels to 'Salem's Lot, The Mangler, Pet Sematary, Sometimes They Come Back, Carrie and Firestarter that don't even have one letter penned by King (and often don't even use use his characters!) and were made entirely because the studios in question still had the rights and saw the opportunity for a little extra cash. And then there's The Lawnmower Man and The Lawnmower Man: Beyond Cyberspace, neither of which have anything to do with the short story King wrote, and yet both claim to be based on it. Another blogger I know calls these "SKINO" films (Stephen King In Name Only) or "fauxquels", and those are apt terms. King cannot be blamed for any of those disasters.
But, the detractors say, what about the films he had a direct hand in making? He either wrote, or co-wrote, the scripts for Maximum Overdrive, Pet Sematary, A Good Marriage, The Stand and The Shining (the mini-series, not the movie) and heck, he even directed the crapfest known as Maximum Overdrive, not to mention he wrote the original screenplays for Sleepwalkers and Rose Red, and they both sucked, so not only can you blame him for the original ideas, but you can blame him for what we saw on the screen!
Okay, sure. But, to be honest, I'm still not sure why he decided his first (and ultimately only) directorial effort would be Maximum Overdrive, which was adapted from the already-lame short story Trucks. To continue the Beatles analogy, it would be akin to John Lennon and Paul McCartney making an operetta out of the song Why Don't We Do It in the Road? (which, if you've never heard it, is about exactly what it sounds like it's about, and contains only two lines; the title, and the phrase "No one will be watching us", both repeated ad nauseum).
Aside: Oh, great. Now it's stuck in my head.
For that matter, King needs to know his limitations. He is a novelist, a storyteller, not a screenwriter. Believe it or not, it's an entirely different skill set, and while some can master both, King is generally not one of them. There's a reason why the films taken from his works that are pretty well universally considered to be the best had no direct involvement from King. A few problems with King's writing is that he's usually forced to whittle down his extremely long stories into the space allowed, not to mention that King has a unique voice in the way he writes that works very well on the page, but doesn't always translate well to the screen. When you read Jack Torrance shouting for Danny to come out and take his medicine, it's frightening. When you see the guy from Wings shouting that line over and over, it gets silly. A screenwriter less close to the source material will be a bit better at getting rid of some of that.
Finally, not every screenplay King was involved in was entirely bad. The Stand was actually good in a lot of places. The problems with that one stemmed from other stuff. Pet Sematary suffered from bad leads, bad direction and horrible cinematography and visual effects. Silver Bullet was actually a lot of fun, even if it wasn't particularly scary, thanks mainly to limited visuals at the time.
What I'm saying is that King has some great stories that should be filmed, but the execution of it has been pretty bad in the past. There are several reasons; some of the stories adapted were among his lesser stories and weren't even scary on the page, let alone when we could actually see it acted out. Others just weren't given the care and consideration required to tell the stories right. A lot of that included problems with format; can someone tell me why the unholy fuck would It, the second-longest novel King ever wrote (if you don't count the complete version of The Stand, it's the absolute longest), get a mini-series that's only twelve minutes longer than the adaptation of The Langoliers, which in turn is based off a novella that's probably one quarter the length it It the novel? I mean, you could release the "mini-series" version of It to theaters and it would have seemed like a somewhat long movie.
A novel like It simply must be given a lengthy adaptation in order to fit in all the story and have it make sense. Right now, I understand that New Line Cinema has an It adaptation in the works, but the previous director (the brilliant Cary Fukunaga, who needs another shot at directing a King adaptation some day) walked because they insisted it be a single movie whereas he thought it should be two. My feeling is that it should be two at least and hopefully somebody at New Line wises up and remembers that they took a risk on The Lord of the Rings and it paid off big time. I sincerely hope Andre Muscietti, who was brought in to replace Fukunaga, insists on two films as well, and two films of pretty solid length (three hours each might be enough), for that matter, or this project is dead. Ideally, this project will head to cable television for a maxi-series of seven hours or even longer.
The Stand faired a bit better, actually allowed a whole six hours instead of just three, but an even bigger problem there than the running time is an issue that has also affected pretty much every other King adaptation ever brought to television: they all aired on broadcast network TV, or at the very least, cable channels that still are regulated by FCC broadcast standards. Why? (Don't answer that, I know rights get sold and re-sold, and that studios buy rights sometimes not knowing if they're going to turn something into a movie, mini-series, TV movie or whatever, or even what channel it will air on). 'Salem's Lot and Sometimes They Come Back aired on CBS. It, The Tommyknockers, The Stand, The Langoliers, The Shining and Desperation aired on ABC. Carrie aired on NBC. The second 'Salem's Lot aired on TNT. Bag of Bones aired on A&E.
Each project was doomed from the start; de-fanged by the simple act of airing on stations responsible for cranking out all-ages entertainment.
I think it can be stated as fact, not opinion, that any theatrical King adaptation must be rated R, and that he should never allow his works on TV unless it's going to HBO, Starz, Showtime, Cinemax or a web-based network that will leave in the profanity, violence, skin, etc., that makes King's works what they are. You can't air It on the same network responsible for Full House and expect it to have any kind of real impact. Just think of the cringe on your face when you heard Eddie Kaspbrack say "This is battery acid, you slime!" Ugh.
Even King at the keyboard for The Stand's script couldn't keep it from horrible casting (Molly Ringwald, Corin Nemec, Adam Storke, Rick Aviles, et al, just weren't up to the task) and the simple fact that a movie about the end of days featuring some pretty dark characters on both the "good" side and "bad" really belongs on cable, not network. The Stand had some other problems; its version of the song "Baby, Can You Dig Your Man" (I have never been able to get past that title) is changed from a gritty blues number that hearkens back to rock's earliest days and inspires many of the characters to a generic radio-friendly 90's tune that's quickly forgettable (even the characters seem to forget how it goes). The visual effects are incredibly lame. And it tries to adapt the expanded version of the novel (again, the longest one King has ever written) into a six-hour miniseries that glosses over many of the characters and weakens their plots.
Harold Lauder in the book is a fat, pimply, brilliant kid who has spent his entire life being ignored or even disliked by many, despite what he has to offer, mainly because of his appearance and the fact that his interests aren't considered "manly" enough. After the girl he thought he was destined for ends up with someone else, he starts letting his bitterness take over, and this is spurred along by the seemingly demon-possessed Nadine, who plays up all his bitter feelings and causes him to ignore the fact that the community he's found himself in actually thinks very highly of him. The reader initially sees him as a sympathetic character and even as he gets darker you hope he'll realize his mistake and be redeemed.
In the movie, Harold is an entitled man-child who acts like a disagreeable asshole from his first appearance onward. You literally can't wait for him to die.
Simply put, while The Stand might have gotten six hours, it really needs about ten.
So here's a blog I'm creating in the interest of seeing King done right. I'm playing casting director for a series of films and TV series based on King's works. I'm mainly going to be suggesting cast members for each project, as well as whether or not I see it working as a theatrical film vs. a TV maxi-series (absolutely no two-night "mini-series" for this project, no sir) and how I would go about expanding or shrinking it to make it work. Sometimes I might even suggest a writer or director for it, but mostly I'll stick to casting because behind-camera talent is not an area that I have much knowledge of. I'll be doing this in chronological order based on when the story/book was initially published and/or written.
A few caveats:
1. It might take a while for some posts to come up. Sometimes I'll have to read the book again (or in several cases, for the first time; there's a lot of King I haven't read) in order to re-familiarize myself with it before I try to cast it.
2. I won't be casting the preteen characters. Why? Because children grow and age much faster than adults. If an actor can convincingly play Ben Meares at age 30, chances are good he'll still look the part at age 40. If I suggest a child actor for, say, Ben Hanscomb, and even two years go by, that child actor will already be too old. This might even mean I will have to come back and reconsider/recast some of the adult roles if, say, an actor dies, or retires, or has aged poorly and no longer fits that role, or something along those lines.
3. I am limiting this blog only to projects that have either not been done yet, or perhaps could benefit from another adaptation. The Shining was a good movie, but it wasn't Stephen King's The Shining. It was Stanley Kubrick's The Shining. But then, King's mini-series version was just too long and too boring, and suffered from horrendous visuals and a poor performance from the child actor playing Danny. Not to mention that The Shining really has greater impact as a film. So I'll be doing The Shining when I get there. I'd like to have a film that combines the best of both worlds; faithfulness and actual quality. However, when King has been done before and done very well, I will not attempt a re-casting in that regard. I doubt we'll ever top The Shawshank Redemption, Stand By Me, The Green Mile, The Mist, The Dead Zone, Silver Bullet, Dolores Claiborne, Misery, Cujo, Christine or Apt Pupil, and the two cinematic versions of Carrie, while both have their weaknesses, also sort of compliment each other pretty well, and unlike The Shining I sincerely doubt a fourth adaptation (counting the abysmal TV movie) would be necessary or beneficial. Finally, I will be skipping stories and novels that I don't think lend themselves well to adaptation. I can't see a film based off Here There Be Tygers, for example
4. For the most part, if I know there's a project already going forward at some studio, I'm probably not going to bother casting it. For example there's plans to turn the Bill Hodges trilogy (Mr. Mercedes, Finders Keepers and End of Watch) into a weekly TV series, as well as an already-wrapped film version of Cell. For projects I know are definitely going forward, I'm going to leave off for now. Yes, it's possible the Bill Hodges series won't pan out, but it's pretty far down my list anyway. Some projects apparently have been announced, but nothing aside from hiring writers and directors, and in some cases, not even that, has actually happened, meaning those projects might be "put on hold indefinitely" at any moment. These include remakes of It and The Stand as well as plans to finally get The Dark Tower off the ground. I'm going to cast these, both because I'm far from certain these new versions will actually go forward and because I hope against hope that my choices might be taken seriously (assuming, of course, I get to those before casting actually happens on these projects) by the producers working on them.
5. I'm doing this as a shared universe, similar to the Marvel Cinematic Universe. This means if I cast Edward Norton in one role, he's off the table for any other roles, not to mention that if an actor plays a character in one film/tv series, he'll play him the next time that character shows up and so on. I'd love to see this sort of thing actually happen some day, but it's unlikely. However, this is my fantasy casting, and I can do it how I want, right? Besides, this way we avoid having two movies released the same year featuring the same character (Castle Rock Sheriff Alan Pangborn) played by two different actors (as he was in the film versions of The Dark Half and Needful Things).
So, stay tuned for my first casting post: Strawberry Spring!