Stephen King’s Dollar Babies

Have you ever wanted to shoot a short film, but completely lacked a good idea, while also not having the funds to purchase the rights for one? Well, no worries really, one of the world’s best selling authors has got you covered. For the sum of $1, anybody in the whole wide world can purchase the rights to adapt one of Stephen King’s short stories. Sure, the same fee does not apply in the case of his novels, but the good news is that he has plenty of short stories that filmmakers can pick from.

This arrangement, later called the ‘Dollar Baby’, became a thing back in 1977, when Stephen King started to gain worldwide fame after a few commercial successes, and decided to give away something in return, while also using the idea as a pretty efficient marketing mechanism for himself and his own works. There have, as expected, been plenty of Dollar Babies along the years – it would be impossible to give an exact number, due to the fact that many of them were not submitted at film festivals or registered for commercialisation, so they might have never made their way out of a film roll in the dark basement of a school archive. A book published in July 2015 by filmmaker Shawn S. Lealos documents 19 such Dollar Babies, and the ways they came to be.

Why you should maybe consider a Dollar Baby

Well, first of all, as said before, maybe you don’t have a good idea. Even if you have a decent idea, it’s very likely that Stephen King has had a better one at some point in time. If it’s to be found in one of his short stories – well, there you go. Even irrespective of quality, it’s clearly good business, since a horror story adapted from a Stephen King work is so much easier to sell than a horror story written by a no-name author (even though the latter might be considerably better). It might be easier to market the project, attract talent, or get people interested in it if it contained the name of a world-famous author on the cover page. Plus, if you manage to impress King with your short, it might land you a chance to prove yourself on a bigger stage. Just ask Frank Darabont, who rose to the big game on the back of a Stephen King Dollar Baby, The Woman in the Room. He eventually got to adapting some of King’s novellas and novels, with two standing out: The Shawshank Redemption and The Green Mile, number 1 and 30 respectively on IMDb’s ‘Highest Rated Films of All Time’ list.

Why you should perhaps seek greener pastures

Well, first of all, you’d make a film which wouldn’t be your film. Sure, you can buy a few beers and call over your mates to show off, but you couldn’t distribute it the way you wanted, and you certainly couldn’t own it. And that’s not exactly an ideal scenario. Then, think about it this way: because you think you can do it, so does everyone else with a camera and a dollar in their pocket. They’ve likely already done it. If there’s untouched source material left, it’s likely because of two things: it’s either garbage, or doesn’t translate well to screenplay format. And last, but not least, Stephen King himself has been left very unimpressed with a large majority of the Dollar Babies that he graced with his attention. So, by all means, you can try, but the chances of ending up as the next Frank Darabont are slim to say the least.

Article written by Julian Leu for The Monthly Film Festival

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7.9.2018
 

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