Wednesday, August 16, 2017

The Dollar Deal: One for the Road

Welcome back to We Who Watch Behind the Rows, and welcome to the first ever installment of The Dollar Deal, where I interview filmmakers about their experiences and ambitions in making short films based on Stephen King's work. For the first installment, I'll be talking with Pennsylvania based writer/director Joseph Horning. On an editorial note, I do want to make it clear that this is not a sponsored piece, we have no connection to the film being made, and this shouldn't even be read as a suggestion to go and donate. I find the project interesting, and I thought the readers of this site would feel the same way. This piece, and potential series of pieces, is meant to be a spotlight on the ever-growing world of Dollar Babies, and the people behind them.

Joseph Horning has worked steadily in the Pennsylvania film community for the past ten years as a producer, writer, director, and sometime actor. In 2016 he joined up with Curtis K Case and formed CKC Quarterly Productions in order to produce the screenplay for Where Is My Golden Arm, and the web-series Siblings. His latest project, another CKC Quarterly Productions venture, is a Dollar Baby adaptation of One for the Road, the 'Salem's Lot-related story that appears in Stephen King's Night Shift short story collection. The film is in the crowdfunding phase at the moment, and you can watch the Indiegogo trailer and then read the interview below.

Aaron Lowe: In keeping with the theme of this blog and your project, I'd like to start by hearing your history with Stephen King. How did you first come across him as an author.

Joseph Horning: Growing up I had a vague idea of who Stephen King was. I had seen bits and pieces of the films adapted from his novels over the years but was never that interested in his work until I heard about the mini-series for IT. There was something about the idea of a clown that could change itself into any childhood fear that struck a chord with me. Now, I was never much of a reader when I was a kid, I had to be forced into reading books for school, but for some reason I wanted to read IT before the mini-series premiered. It was the first time I ever felt compelled to actually pick up a book and read for fun. I remember my mom saying “You’ll never finish that book” and she was right. The first time I tried to read IT I ended up putting it down half-way through the first chapter. I don’t think I was really ready for the world of Stephen King at that time, especially with how descriptive he can be and how massive that book is.

The first book I completely read of his was Cujo. Since then I’ve read nearly every novel he’s written and credit him for my love of books and writing.

AL: We must be around the same age, because that's remarkably similar to my introduction to Stephen King's works. I imagine all those miniseries in the '90s brought a lot of people into the Constant Reader fold. I was an avid reader at that age, so the only thing my mom said when she saw me reading IT was that one of her coworkers had been too scared to finish the novel. It had the reverse effect on me, inspiring a lifetime of awe and wonder at the macabre and spooky. You establish your King bona fides pretty clearly in your Indiegogo video. Out of all of the available Dollar Baby titles, what drew you to One for the Road?

One for the Road teaser poster
JH: Well out of all of them it seemed like the most fun to do. I’ve always loved vampire stories and ‘Salem’s Lot was one of those films that terrified me as a newfound lover of Stephen King. I obviously saw the mini-series before reading the book so it left an impression on me, specifically with the portrayal of Barlow and the other vampires. I know that Barlow is a subject for debate amongst fans and that Rutger Hauer’s performance in the remake is much more faithful to the novel than Reggie Nalder’s, but you can’t deny that his appearance is downright scary! It felt like gothic horror in New England, the kind that H.P. Lovecraft use to write.

One for the Road was an extension of this feeling of dread but it’s more than that. Reading it gave me this sense of feeling isolated, not just because of its setting during a snowstorm, but because of what each character was going though in the moment. Gerard was alone in his quest to find help from Tookey and Booth and when they finally do decide to help him, he’s treated like an outsider as most people from out of state are. Tookey and Booth are best friends and you get the story through Booth’s point of view but even though he’s in the story helping Tookey and Gerard, he really isn’t. He’s alone somewhere, maybe in his bed dreaming, reliving that night over again. As King is fond of doing in most of his stories, the theme that “hell is repetition” plays out well here.

It’s just an all-around great horror story that’s short but packs a punch.

AL: We're still working our way through the stories in Night Shift here at We Who Watch, and one thing keeps coming up is how amazingly succinct Stephen King could be. He's known for his longer works and the epic length of some of his novels, but his short stories can pack quite a wallop at only a dozen or so pages long.

I was surprised at the level of ambition I saw in your plans for this short film, shooting in Centralia, harness rigs for the flying effects, prosthetic makeup, are there any aspects that you're nervous about? Any that you're particularly excited about tackling?

JH: Anyone who has an investment in the making of a film, whether it’s the writer, director, producer or actors are all excited and nervous at the same time. Anyone who’s said they never felt any trepidation making a film is either lying or has never made one before. It’s a scary process because you go into this thing with an idea of how you want your film to look and sometimes it comes out looking much different than how you envisioned it. That’s not always a bad thing. Sometimes it ends up being better than you could’ve hoped; other times not so much. That’s what I’m most nervous about – the final result of the film. That all comes down to me, though. I’m critical of everything I create so even if it’s good I’m always saying, “Yeah but it would be better if we had done this.”

I’m very confident in the team I’m putting together to make One for the Road. When I first sat down with my producer Chris Wagler to discuss locations, sets and special effects my initial thought was that the only way we’d achieve any sort of stunts with levitation would be in front of a green screen. The concern I had with that was matching the exterior lighting at night in a studio. If we had a big enough budget we could do it using the same technique they used in ‘Salem’s Lot by sitting the actors on a chair connected to a boom. We probably still could. Chris assuaged my concerns by telling me he could easily build a rig with a harness to lift the actresses off the ground. It’s a pretty simple idea that will have a big payoff at the end of the film if it works.

I’ve seen other adaptations where the vampires just move through the scene normally like we do. In King’s story for One for the Road Janey is described as drifting out of the woods towards Gerard like a ghost. Now you can interpret that any way you want but to me it conjures up an image of her floating on air, the tip of her shoe just brushing the top of the snow. That to me is a frightening image and one that would definitely make our film standout from others. That’s what I’m excited to see.

The whole pre-production process is nerve-racking. I just can’t wait to finalize our cast and move forward on production.

AL: From the glimpses you've shown so far, you seem to be expanding the short story quite a bit, from apparent larger roles for the wife and daughter characters, to more explicit ties to the 1979 Tobe Hooper film. Are you using the story more as a jumping off point, or will this be a fairly faithful adaptation?

JH: I tried to stay as faithful to the original story as possible though I’ve made some changes, specifically in expanding the Lumley families journey to Maine and the circumstances that leave them stranded in ‘Salem’s Lot. Anyone who’s read the story knows that it takes place in the middle of winter during a violent snowstorm that cripples most of the state. Gerard Lumley and his family get stranded in the snow after making a wrong turn and he has to trudge through the freezing cold to find help from Tookey and Booth who are shutting down Tookey’s Bar for the night.

C. Augustus Garfield, Joseph Horning, Chris Wegler
 at casting sessions for
One for the Road
This is where King’s story for One for the Road starts, as Gerard comes barreling through the door. What I decided after reading the story was that if it were adapted to a film of any length, the audience would only be shocked by what they see transpiring on screen. They wouldn’t feel any remorse for the Lumley’s, except perhaps Gerard. I wanted people who watch this film to have an emotional response to what happens to Janey and Francie Lumley, so I took what Gerard said in the story about them coming to Maine to visit relatives and added on scenes showing the family together in the car. I wanted there to be an emotional investment so that when the final horror unfolds we’re not only shocked but feel sorry for what they go through.

The other change is as I said with the circumstances leading up to how they get stranded in ‘Salem’s Lot. I explained in my Indiegogo campaign video that we’ve taken liberties with the story since it does take place in the middle of a snowstorm and we can’t just make snow appear out of nowhere. We are going to shoot in the winter but there is no guarantee that there will be snow on the ground. The weather in Pennsylvania can be temperamental. One day it’s 34 degrees and the next it’s in the sixties. So we came up with an alternative to the car getting stuck in the snow. I’m not going to reveal what that is but it’s simple and effective. It also allows me to feature a vampire that hasn’t been seen since the 1979 ‘Salem’s Lot mini-series which will be the connector to that film.

AL: How did you get into filmmaking? What inspirations pointed you towards writing and directing?

JH: It all goes back to IT. Well, partly. IT was the deciding factor in why I chose to work in films but I’ll get to that in a minute.

When I was younger I always wanted to be a comic book artist. It’s what I loved to do more than anything. One summer when I was 11 or 12 the high school in my hometown began hosting a Summer Consortium for local kids who were into art, theater, writing and photography. I was enrolled for the art courses but I had to also pick a second course in order to attend. I reluctantly chose photography. It was one of the best decisions I ever made. The teacher I had during that and subsequent summers was Mr. John Doyle. He opened my eyes to how the world looked through a lens, but more importantly he introduced me to the art of filmmaking. We weren’t just there to take photos; we were also going to shoot a short movie. That excited me for some reason and I just jumped right in and started throwing out ideas for us to shoot. Until that point I never really thought of myself as a storyteller, just an artist. But I guess you could say I had to be a little of both. Each character I created had a unique backstory so the impetus of what would become my love of screenwriting was already present.

The first movie I ever made was this ridiculous murder mystery that took place at the school and the following year we made a horror movie called Death Be Not Proud. I didn’t write that one, I starred in it. It was fun but I never felt comfortable being on camera. I still don’t.

What really cemented me into wanting to make films was IT. I loved the mini-series when it first came out but after I read the novel I just started asking myself what the filmmakers were thinking. Yes it was a decent adaptation but the heart and horror of the book just wasn’t there. I decided that it was my duty to re-write the film and make a more faithful adaptation, complete with all of the terrifying scenes that kept me up at night. I started writing in the summer of 1992 without any idea on how a script was structured and I think by that winter I had this amalgamation of novel slash script that was bigger than the actual source material. I still have it lying around in a drawer as a reminder of where I started and how bad I was.

The more I studied that better I got but I never would be where I am today if it wasn’t for Mr. Doyle’s photography class and my desire to see IT made into a purely terrifying film.

AL: I still love a lot about the previous IT adaptation, but agree it's basically half of a great film. Definitely for what it was, a television movie in 1990, it's pretty much the best anyone could have hoped for. That's funny that you wrote a script for your own version of that film, because one of the first things I remember writing was a short script for a sequel to The Blob in 6th grade. Probably because that first film ends with the blob just dropped into Alaska, where I was born. I never had much talent as an illustrator, but I got so far as making a bunch of index cards with scene illustrations on one side and the actual text on the back. Unfortunately that material has been lost to the ages, but it's a great way to practice your craft; to basically reverse engineer the things you love and home in on what you love about them. Speaking of which...

Your previous short film, The Field Across the Way, carried some real Tales from the Darkside vibes, particularly in the opening titles which gave me flashbacks to the sheer terror that television show's credits used to instill in me. It's listed as Episode 1 of The Forest of Darkness, do you have plans to continue that series?

JH: First off, thank you for getting the reference. Tales from the Darkside was one of my inspirations behind the opening sequence as well as the overall tone of the film. The other was The Twilight Zone. I originally wrote the script sometime around 2006 and just envisioned The Field Across the Way as a short film. A few years later my friend C. Augustus Garfield and I developed an idea for a web-based anthology series similar in style to shows like Tales from the Darkside but based off of local legends in Pennsylvania. We did our research and came up with dozens of stories that we planned to shoot over the course of a year. Even though it was loosely based on an old Nova Scotia myth about the forerunner of death, the first one we decided to shoot was The Field Across the Way since it was already written. I wrote half a dozen more scripts since then, and we got as far as shooting another film called Midnight Coffee, however equipment and location issues made it difficult to complete the second episode. Our hope is to resurrect the idea of the web-series after we complete One for the Road.

AL: Most of your work so far has fallen within the horror genre. Would you like to consider yourself a horror filmmaker, or is that a label you might be wary of accepting?

JH: I love all different genres, it’s just that horror and thrillers are the ones I gravitate to the most and I have no problem with being labeled a horror filmmaker. However screenwriting is my real passion. The first script I wrote that I was ever truly proud of was called Darkness on the Edge of Town. It’s a psychological thriller similar to Silence of the Lambs and Seven about a flawed FBI agent hunting down a serial killer in Philadelphia. Darkness won me my first ever screenwriting award in 2012 from the Philadelphia Film Office. Since then I’ve won the LA Screenplay Festival in 2015 and was a top 20 finalist in the Screenplay Replay Competition and Fourth Quarter Finalist in the Breaking Walls Thriller Screenplay Competition.

Curtis K Case of CKC Productions
Over the last few years I’ve written some feature-length dramatic scripts with my friend Jonathan Cross and we actually moved ahead with production on one of them called The Trainer. Unfortunately, scheduling conflicts and budget issues caused production to stop early on and we never got the chance to finish the film. I’ve also dabbled in action/spy films with my friend Andrey Nikiforov, another filmmaker from Philadelphia. Our first collaboration was called An Unusual Request and since then have worked on three other scripts.

Most recently my business partner Curtis K Case and I developed a dramatic comedy web-series that was shot in LA called Siblings. The show focuses on an African-American family who gathers at their brother’s house on the night of his big interview with the Washington Post. He’s running for mayor and wants to bolster his image and numbers in the polls by giving his constituents a glimpse into his personal life; however things don’t turn out like he plans when his siblings arrive and prove to be completely different than they were growing up together.

So far Siblings has been making the festival circuit and has won a few awards out in California. We’re launching the series on Labor Day and hope to start working on season two shortly.

Curtis and I also co-wrote a horror script based on the old Mark Twain jump story, The Golden Arm. That has gone on to be semi-finalist in two competitions last year. I’ve also collaborated with my friend J.P. Hoffman who is a horror filmmaker that’s had some success with shorts he’s produced for Eli Roth’s Crypt TV. We’re in the process of developing original content to present to them for future film projects which I’m excited about!

AL: Finally, if budget was no concern, what would your dream Stephen King adaptation be?

JH: Well, since IT and The Dark Tower are already hitting theaters I’d have to say I’d love a crack at Insomnia or maybe even Eyes of the Dragon. Both are connecting novels in the Dark Tower series so it would be great to expand upon that cinematic universe. Insomnia definitely wins out though since it takes us back to Derry, Maine, home of the Losers Club where Mike Hanlon is still librarian, the place where I fell in love with Stephen King and where “things that disappear into the sewer system have a way – an often unpleasant one – of turning up.”

I would like to once again thank Joseph Horning for taking the time out of his schedule to answer all of my questions. If you would like to look into One for the Road further, or possibly donate to his campaign, you can follow the link below. I myself will be following the project closely. And of course I'd like to thank you for stopping by, and I hope to see you again soon.

Wednesday, May 3, 2017

We Who WILL Watch: The Dark Tower (2017)

Aaron: Well, the hits just keep coming in the world of Stephen King adaptations, this time in the form of a full trailer for the most hotly anticipated King film of 2017: The Dark Tower. I say it's the most hotly anticipated, but that comes from the chatter and excitement I see online. I myself am surely looking forward to it, but I don't have the same love for the novels as a lot of fans, so that tempers things just a bit. And while in terms of general awareness and the interest piqued among non-Stephen King readers, It is probably the most popular adaptation coming out this year, among many readers The Dark Tower is slightly in the lead.

A lot of that has to do with the sheer improbability of the sprawling fantasy epic being adapted at all. The first book was published 35 years ago, and the film version has been in some form of development for so long that I don't think anyone really thought it was being made until that teaser poster was released just over a month ago. Casting announcements had been made, promo images had been released, interviews had been given, Idris Elba and Matthew McConaughey (Roland of Gilead and The Man In Black, respectively) had some tongue-in-cheek twitter exchanges in character for the film, and yet we'd been down this road before so I know I never put much stock in any of it...

Referencing the famous first line of
The Gunslinger in March 2016.
Any lingering doubts as to the film's inevitability were laid to rest yesterday with yet another twitter exchange between Elba and McConaughey (or, as is almost certainly the case, the film's marketing department taking over their accounts for a few minutes). The exchange culminated in a pair of teaser trailers for the film, each focused on their respective characters, along with the announcement that a full trailer for the film would be released the next day...

Well, here it is, the next day, and a full trailer has indeed been released...

I've watched it through a handful of times now, and the first thing that occurred to me when the trailer started was the immediate shift in perspective. The film's entire marketing so far has been focused on building up Idris Elba and Matthew McConaughey as these two titans facing off against each other. The posters, the tweets, those two clips yesterday, each serving to make the film about these two characters (who actually don't interact all that much in the source material). The full trailer takes the opportunity to not only introduce Jake, the third major character (so far) in the movie, but it shows us everything from his point of view. That's maybe my least favorite part of this trailer, which is otherwise pretty exciting; the fact that the movie is being sold, however slightly, as another young adult style fantasy where an otherwise unremarkable youth finds a doorway to another world full of epic adventure where he or she has an important role to play. To be fair, that is an aspect of the story, but the novels are so singularly following Roland's quest that it never registers as quite so obvious on the page.

The second thing I really noticed is how much of our world is in the trailer. The Dark Tower series eventually encompasses the fictitious Mid-World, along with every book Stephen King has ever written, but it also crosses over into the "real" world several times. But that doesn't happen until the second book, and the first novel, The Gunslinger, takes place entirely in Roland's world. Jake is a pretty big character in The Gunslinger, but we never actually spend any time where he came from, aside from some backstory he gives Roland. There are a couple reasons for this, of course. The movies probably feel the need to streamline a story that, to be honest, can often feel like it's spinning its wheels.

A filmed adaptation is always someone else's interpretation of any given work, and so changes are bound to be made, but from what is on display here we're getting a mashup of several books at once, rather than a strict chronological adaptation.That is probably in the film's favor, actually, as the first book is not only the briefest, but it also has the slimmest and most disposable story, acting more as interesting prologue to establish the epic world of the series.

Rik, I know you've not finished the books, but what did you think of this trailer? Has it given you the desire to jump back into the novels?

Rik: The trailer doesn't particularly make me want to immerse myself in the books again based on anything I see here, but that does not mean that I wasn't already planning to do on my own already (even apart from my participation in this blog). The Dark Tower books are sort of a sore spot in my Stephen King record. I really found myself fascinated with the first two – The Gunslinger and The Drawing of the Three – and a lot of that could be chalked up to my relative youth at the time. I like the melding of different genres, and the spaghetti western mood that King evoked was something that I was far more "into" in those days than now. (I feel like it has been overplayed by this point in our culture.)

Midway through reading the third book, The Waste Lands, my focus was diverted by many things, chiefly the nauseating drama of my first marriage that was destroying my will to live. But another factor was that I was burning out mightily on the Stephen King train at the time. Around the same time that I was reading that third book, I was also hit by King's 1993 novel, Gerald's Game. I hated it, and so did some of my friends. I hated it so much that I pretty much stopped reading King for a few years (except for the occasional dip into something like The Green Mile, which I also did not like all that much). Gerald's Game made me put down The Waste Lands (I was a little delayed on reading it even then) and when my wife took her copy away following her divorce, I didn't have the book lying around for me to pick up once again. That spelled the end of my interest in The Dark Tower series for a good many years, at least until we started doing this blog, which I joined eagerly with the express purpose to reengage with King on an especially literary level (I still watched the movie and film adaptations the whole time) after such a long absence.

Getting to the subject at hand, earlier today, I was discussing The Dark Tower trailer on Facebook with my oldest high school pal, Tony. Both Tony and I were huge fans of King since our teenage years, and we have shared a thousand discussions about the man and his works during our friendship. Tony had some doubts about where The Dark Tower film adaptation was supposed to fall in the series timeline, or if it was even really connected to the series. He wrote, "Because I'm certainly in the camp of most Constant Readers, who thought 'This movie isn't the novels?'"

It is a sentiment that many share anytime a film is adapted from a beloved book or even a TV series that is reinvented for the big screen. It has always been a tricky thing to gain an audience's trust in a book adaptation. As much as films like Gone with the Wind and The Wizard of Oz are adored the world over, there is still some stickler out there that things the films are travesties because they just didn't capture the world of the book. As an Oz fan of longstanding myself – who has read all of Baum's original stories and a great many produced by Ruth Plumly Thompson and John R. Neill afterwards – while I will say that the underrated Disney movie adaptation from the '80s, Return to Oz, truly captured the actual look and adventure of the books more precisely (seriously, O'Neill could have storyboarded the entire thing), the musical version of The Wizard of Oz is so gloriously wonderful that it takes someone with a heart three sizes too small to appreciate it. And yet, what if it came out in 1939 and everyone said, "Oh, it's just too different from the book! Dorothy is way too old and has boobs! Where's the Witch of the North? Why didn't the Tin Man chop himself into pieces? Where is the Queen of the Field Mice? Why is it all a dream? What the hell is going on with all the singing? Blah blah blah..."

That's how the internet would have sounded in 1939 had it existed. The world didn't have the immediacy of social media then to render a film, show, song, or piece of art to mush in mere minutes like we do now. Honestly, it's amazing anything makes money at all these days, because half the world wants to tear something down as the other half tries to prop it up at the same time. Everyone just has to get their comments in on everything within seconds of seeing them. This allows no time at all for reflection and working through the angles when they are confronted with something that perhaps doesn't fit their idea of what something should be. They don't allow for artists to interpret, to transform, or to give their impression of something.

Now, I try to hold back a bit on forming a full impression of a film before I go to see it. I do have an active dislike for trailers that seem to tell the entire story of a film in three minutes. One trailer that at least appears to do this that set me off recently was The Space Between Us. I would start to cringe in my seat every single time that trailer would show up before a movie over the last few months. I am not going to say the film itself is dog-meat (though it likely could be), because I have not actually seen the film. Since two of my strongly felt personal mottos for film-watching are "Any movie, any time" and "I will see any movie ONCE," it is important that I tread lightly in regards to my reaction to a film from simply seeing what are only highlights. My reaction to The Space Between Us relied on a stupidly conceived and completely rote attempt at a movie trailer... NOT THE FILM ITSELF.

As to The Dark Tower, reading the comments on the YouTube page and Facebook and Twitter is a largely frustrating affair for someone of my mindset because nearly the vast majority are made up of knee-jerk reactions, from fans or otherwise. Only a handful of people seem to be willing to accept that we are simply seeing a merely 3-minute trailer for the film, that has been edited and arranged to deliver a specific impact to an audience, and that in no way have you actually seen the finished work. "This movie sucks!" "I love this movie so much!" "Why did they have to change everything so much!" All opinions I have encountered this morning, and all of them make it sound like these people have actually seen the entire film. Which they haven't. This is why we can't have nice things, people...

On the plus side, there have been a handful of fanboy and fangirl comments (sorry, fanperson just doesn't sound right) that I have seen that did respond in a more measured, considerate tone, along the lines of my Constant Reader pal Tony. As I mentioned, he has some qualms about the whole affair, but will be sure to not miss the film when it comes out, and is more than ready to form his actual opinion after he sees the movie. He will go in knowing that his opinion will certainly be affected by his love for the books, and for the author, though he is open to seeing just how The Dark Tower movie will fit into the series overall. 

Luckily for me, I am in the camp of Once Constant Reader Who Became a Nearly Cold Turkey Non-Reader Mostly Because of Gerald's Game But Is Now Turning Back Into a Constant Reader (Eventually) Because He Co-Writes a Stephen King Blog. Except for a remnant of knowledge involving the plot of those 2½ books in the series I tackled, my head mostly has traces of the mood of King's writing. I have retained very little of the setting of the novels, or how the world appeared. Certainly, I plan to hit the series again before the movie comes out, though – since King himself has hinted that this is not a straight adaptation of any of the books (and the trailer bears that out) but rather a story that takes place after the entire book series. Others have described it as being both a sequel and an adaptation at the same time.

Me, I don't care. I am going to see the film whether I start reading the series again or not. If I have any real misgivings from the trailer, it is that it looks like such an amalgamation of every sci-fi/action film of the past 20-some years that I am afraid of just simply being bored by everything that happens in it. I cannot see the poster and trailer images of lurching, overwhelming, upside-down skyscrapers without naturally flashing first on Inception, and then jumping to last year's Dr. Strange, which also gave me serious Inception recall. (Though Inception itself made me flash on Total Recall at points, so everything works in a chain for me.) All of Roland's bullet stuff and mind stuff and action stuff whips up The Matrix in my head, and I can't let go of it. There is nothing wrong with being inspired by other successful films; Hollywood has always been based around doing precisely what others have found rakes in the money. Studios are first and foremost about doing business, not making art. In fact, they might only be about doing business and not art at all. I think my main fear in having The Dark Tower trailer bring to my mind other films so instantly is that it could make casual viewers believe that they have seen this all before (and that can be said of most films in some or even many ways). There is a possibility of boring the audience from seeing the film.

What are your thoughts, Aaron, on how this film might fit into the series? King has really only hinted at that suggestion of the movie version following the book series. Do you think a film should ever be considered part of a literary world, or should it be a separate piece and be held accountable on those terms only?

Aaron: Before I answer your questions, I want to reply directly to a couple of your thoughts up above. I believe we are in perfect sync with how we view movies and their marketing; that we may hold opinions only on what we have seen. I'm more than happy to say a movie looks like a piece of crap, but if I haven't actually seen it I will refrain from saying it actually is a piece of crap. My goal here with these shorter pieces isn't to pass judgment on a film I haven't seen yet, but to engage in the much more palatable pastime of talking with a friend about our excitement (or relative lack thereof, in some cases) about upcoming films. Conversely, I feel like I should leaven my natural fanboy enthusiasm with some actual critical reasoning behind why I feel the way I do about something that hasn't even come out yet. Like you, I find the initial knee-jerk reactions found on the YouTube page to be utterly infuriating, and it's a level of discourse I will not allow myself to sink to.

I was not bothered at all by the moments in the trailer that gave me flashbacks to The Matrix (or, more specifically, the Matrix-inspired Equilibrium came to mind), simply because that is part and parcel of the universe Stephen King created with The Dark Tower series. As unique as it is to describe, it's all been assembled from bits and pieces of other things that Stephen King loves. A little bit of Narnia, a little bit of Sergio Leone, a lot of Tolkien, and eventually some stuff from Star Wars, Marvel Comics, and Harry Potter, of all places. The world of The Dark Tower has always been a mix of intriguingly offbeat and shamelessly derivative. Keeping that ethos going for the film version makes sense to me.

You ask me how I feel about the placement of this film as a possible sequel to the novel, and how I feel about the merging of film and literary worlds, I'll have to play it safe and reiterate that I reserve judgment until the movie finally comes out. I will say that the idea –teased by Stephen King in the image below, which will make sense to those who have finished the series – that this movie takes place after the events of the novels is the single most exciting thing about this project to me. When I saw the image, when I digested what it implied, I suddenly became interested in a project I had more or less felt ambivalent about. It's such an audacious idea, such a simple and clever way to preemptively cut off arguments from fans about the changes to the source material while also retelling the same story for viewers new to the tale, that I must applaud whoever came up with it.

As I keep saying, I am generally a fan of making changes to a story as you adapt it to a new medium. Stephen King wrote the books; they are the story from his very specific point of view. The movie is adapted by several people, the writers and directors, with their own very specific points of view. That is obviously going to change the flavor of things, as everybody will find something unique out of their favorite stories, and I am fine with people following the thread of that and sharing what the work means to them. In this case, I am not only open to the idea, I am downright salivating for it. 

There have been announcements to the effect that a television series will be released which fills in the backstory of this world, some of the moments the film won't have time for, but at this point we don't know how many films are planned for this series. The trailer seems to be jumping ahead into the series quite a bit, but doesn't have an glimpses of Eddie Dean or Odetta Walker, two characters as integral to this story as anyone we have seen so far. Of course, the trailer can only show so much, but I highly doubt the entire story will be told in one film. So the question now, since you say you'll eventually dive back in to the series, is which books will we have to cover to discuss just this one movie?

Rik: Ooooh, first things first... my concern wasn't with whether you or I found some elements derivative of other works; I was questioning whether the inclusion of such elements might turn off a certain percentage of viewers because they so often appear in other films, especially of late. This is why I was discussing the nature of movie trailers in general. I was worried that the very sameness of the trailer after so many even fleetingly similar films might hurt the film's box office. 

I know that from my own angle, every time that I hear those annoying rumbling brass sounds that Hans Zimmer unleashed upon the world in Inception (which have now become the only sound anyone wants to use in a modern movie trailer), it immediately puts me on the defensive against the movie. The coming attractions before a film used to be a pleasure to dive into as you were settling into your seat; now it is rare that I don't have the stirrings of a migraine already before the film proper has begun. This is especially true if the film you are seeing that evening is an action or sci-fi or superhero flick, because you will get like-minded trailers that all have that sound. (Horror films and their trailers have their own modern set of endlessly repeated skronky, shrieking sounds that drive me nuts today.) And it is no surprise that the trailer for The Dark Tower also uses the Zimmer Sound Effect to great extent. (Seriously, trailer producers seem to have about three moves left anymore, and it is driving me nuts. At least the poster business seems to finally be getting away from the "two big heads" trend.)

Something you raise, and this just may be because I have not read into the series that far, or have forgotten a lot of details of ones I read, but you mention how the trailer seems to be jumping ahead into the series quite a bit. Since this film, by various accounts, might be a sequel, might be from a separate world altogether and have nothing to do with the series in actuality, and might be an adaptation of the entire series at the same time, isn't this statement at least partially rather presumptuous? We may be talking about a different world here. What if Eddie and Odetta don't exist in the timeline of this particular telling? (Their names do not appear on the official cast credits, that is certain, but it doesn't mean they wouldn't show up in the series.) Just something that struck me when you stated it earlier.

I seriously doubt that I will get to even one of two of the books in this series before the film version is released, so your question on that may be moot. We may be diving into the film on its own, especially if I already need to reread It before September and possibly The Mist again before the new Spike series. I still need to hit 11/22/63 and possibly Mr. Mercedes. For some out there, they would jump at the chance to read all of this, and would probably knock them out in a fortnight. That's not me. I seriously have trouble reading fiction at all anymore; I am pretty much hardcore non-fiction these days, mostly science, history, and cinema books. Even with my non-fiction jones, I just do not give myself any time in the day for reading anyway, not even at bedtime. My life right now is watch, watch, watch, write, write, write, watch, watch, watch, write, write write... and if even one thing enters into that rhythm, it throws me off for days sometimes. Yeah, I could call a moratorium on film for a week or two to delve into a King book or three, but that takes real commitment, along with breaking my cinema addiction. If I finally get a regular job, I will have even less time, though it is likely I would use my breaks to read through stuff. And the possible bus/train trips to get to and from work if I don't have a ride that day. 

"Waaaaahhhh!!!," you are thinking... #firstworldproblems is what you should post about this terrible dilemma of mine. Yeah, I know... my problems are self-created and self-controlled. I am just being whiny for whiny's sake. I just need to pick up a Stephen King book again and burn through it. And then the next book. And the next book, ad nauseam... You see? Just thinking about it makes me want to dive into a pile of DVDs and never come out again. Why am I co-writing a blog partially about books again?

Aaron: You love it and you know it. And you're doing this for the same reason I am: to reconnect with an important part of your childhood that you've drifted away from, with the goal of recapturing some of that youthful excitement while also revisiting everything with a new perspective and critical eye. If I may be so bold as to presume why you do anything, that is.

The original novel in this series, The Gunslinger, came out in 1982, while the final (at the time) book came out in 2012. That's a thirty year span, with the longest gap between books being six years. Stephen King admits that those gaps caused some minor continuity errors (place names changed between books, characters shifted, and the order of some past events got mixed up), and he used Robin Furth (author of The Dark Tower: A Concordance books) to help keep a lot of those details straight. Given the chance, he's said, he would like to go back and straighten all of those details out, and to smooth out the overall pace of the story. It's a shame he hasn't found the time yet, as reading those versions would be a much more enticing proposition. As it is, I'm excited for the movie, but less so for reading all seven novels in the original series over again, especially since I've read the first couple three times already, and the third book twice. 

I guess you could say I'm in the same boat as you are, suddenly questioning my decision to cover Stephen King's dual 'ographies (film- and biblio-). But of course, with that trepidation comes a certain anticipation at seeing how everything strikes me this time around, and of course in discussing all of this with you. That, I suppose you could say, is why I've committed to this blog.

[Note: The Dark Tower, directed by Nikolaj Arcel, will be released to theatres on July 28th.]

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

We Who WILL Watch: The Mist (2017)

Aaron: Well, the roll-out of exciting Stephen King news continues, with the release earlier this week of a full trailer for Spike's serialized adaptation of King's 1980 novella, The Mist, and it looks like there might be a bit to talk about in there.

For years The Mist topped the list of most wanted King adaptations, the one title that would pop up again and again when I had conversations with people about Stephen King movies. It seemed like such an obvious choice that it's a little bizarre to think that 27 years passed between the novella's publication date and the eventual Frank Darabont adaptation. Perhaps Hollywood just needed to get wise to what the rest of King's constant readers had known for years, that The Mist is a gut-punch of a story with a multitude of monsters fans would love to see on screen, and great potential for filmed interpretations. And now here we are, a mere decade later, with a new version of The Mist heading to our televisions.

Take a look at the full trailer below, then keep scrolling to read our initial thoughts...

Right off the bat, I can admit that my enthusiasm for this project is not nearly as high as some of the other upcoming projects. The idea of doing The Mist as a television series is actually a pretty great one, because the novella is open-ended enough to allow for not only continuation, but a wide variety of stories set within its world. The trailer seems to suggest a few major changes to the novella, most notably the idea that the mist seems to have a malevolent presence beyond just the monsters that hide in it. In fact, looking at the trailer more closely, are we sure there even will be monsters in it? Everything we see implies that the only monsters are human. There's a quick shot that at first looks like a monster bursting through a car's windshield, but look carefully and you'll see it's actually a moose someone crashes into while driving. I'm not opposed to anything I see in the trailer, but I also see nothing in it that really excites me in the way the It trailer did. I also have nothing by which to judge the behind-the-camera talent, as the show was developed by Christian Thorpe, who seems to have had a healthy career in Danish television, but whose work I have not heard of previously.

The show seems to have an interesting look, the cool grey-blue of the mist and the warmer yellow tones of what could either be flashbacks or merely just interior shots. The series seems to be changing a lot, and inventing a lot of new characters, which is a necessity when adapting such a short story into an ongoing series. I know some people are going to be upset by the changes, that's just the nature of these things. Myself, I'm a fan of diverging from the source material. If a movie or TV show is too faithful, I start to wonder what the point of it was, because I could always just read the book again if I wanted the exact same story. 

Rik: And yet, we often gripe if an adaptation adds too many new characters and ignores the original ones, or veers away too, too far from the source material, or (and this seems to be the worst offender for many people) doesn't include their very favorite scenes or dialogue in the final product (even if those "very favorite scenes or dialogue" were extraneous to the actual plot of the story or were throwaway lines meant to fill space). Damned if you do, damned if you don't. 

I agree with you that I don't mind veering from the original, but the approach has to feel organic to me, like it could have been included in the original product if the author had seen fit to turn that direction with the characters. Just creating new characters and locations for the sake of creating new characters and locations makes me wonder why they purchased the rights to such a property in the first place. Why not just create an entire new story (apart from the obvious marketing possibilities of using a name brand like Stephen King)?

I am going to say that I am as excited for the new series for The Mist as I am the new It adaptation or the upcoming Castle Rock series. That is, it is still too early to tell much of anything from a mere trailer that isn't roughly the length of the one for that stupid looking movie about the lonely teen boy who lives on Mars coming back to Earth to get busy with a girl (though in a completely wholesome way, of course). You know, the sort of trailer that lays out the entire story to you in strictly chronological fashion, with every beat of the script hit along the way. Here, with The Mist trailer, we don't get that, thankfully, as it is but a taste of what potentially lies within the show. As a result, I am going to withhold judgment on the characters that may be in the new series (honestly, I last read the novella over 25 years ago, and don't really remember anyone in it either, just the mist itself). 

I am also going to not comment on the look of things either, because scenes in trailers are often shown in altered or (more often) incomplete form from the finished product, whether due to effects shots or post-production not being completed, or cut scenes or scrapped footage being added to flesh out the trailer a bit, or filters being overlaid on the product as well. Trailers are often the very worst way to judge a finished film or series because of all these factors. 

The main question for any trailer is this: Did it pique my interest in the property, even a tad? Yes, a tad. I really enjoyed the Darabont version of the story (reminding you yet again that I had not read the story recently even then), and for all I didn't remember about the original work, it really didn't matter because the film was constantly engaging, frightening, and thrilling by turns. That is really what you want from such a film, whether it is adapted from a popular novella or not, and I got that result. Does it look like I will get it from The Mist series? Too soon to tell. I would rather get a couple of episodes into the series, and then maybe we should have a discussion about where we think it will take us from that point. 

Until then, It... Castle Rock... The Mist... even The Dark Tower adaptation... I am eagerly awaiting them all equally, but they will each have to do some heavy lifting to win me over ultimately.

Aaron: I think we're in general agreement about this: intrigued but withholding judgment until we actually get to see the show. I will reiterate that I'm less excited for this than I am the other upcoming projects. Castle Rock is exciting for its mystery and J.J. Abrams pedigree; the show at this point could be anything, and it comes from someone with a proven track record in this arena. It is exciting because, not to jump ahead too far, the source novel is one of my all-time favorites. The Dark Tower is interesting because it seemed like such an impossibility for so long that I'm curious to see how they'll tackle the sprawling series of novels (and, if you have read the books and have read any news about the movies, some really exciting and intriguing changes have already been teased). The Dark Tower series eventually ties in to almost everything Stephen King has written, and one of the aspects I'm wondering about is how they'll handle that. With the various novels of Stephen King licensed to various competing studios, will The Dark Tower films be allowed to cross over into the world of The Stand (which is pretty integral to the plot for awhile)? The Mist, on the other hand, just doesn't inspire the same curiosity. Perhaps it's Stephen King overload in 2017 (perish the thought!), perhaps it's the fact that some of the changes in the trailer (the implication that the mist itself is sentient) don't fill me with wonder, or perhaps it's just that the movie is so recent and was itself such a solid adaptation. 

But let's not kid ourselves here, I will no doubt be watching this once the series premieres on Spike on June 22nd. Or, to be honest, once it makes its way to Hulu or some other streaming service.

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

We Who WILL Watch: It (2017)

Aaron: Despite the lack of visible activity on this blog (we're working on it, we swear!), 2017 continues to promise a veritable smörgåsbord of high quality Stephen King adaptations. On the television front, we not only have the mysterious Castle Rock project for Hulu (previously discussed on this very site) but we can also look forward to Mr. Mercedes, a series based on the first book in a trilogy following retired police detective Bill Hodges, and a television adaptation of The Mist, previously brought to the big screen (and fairly successfully at that) by Frank Darabont. Yet the big news still belongs to the big screen, as two of Stephen King's most high profile titles and most long awaited adaptations are nearing their release dates in theatres: The Dark Tower, and It. And, uhm, something called C.U.J.O.: Canine Unit Joint Operations, which is a title I don't even want to begin to parse at this time.

It was previously filmed in 1990 as an ABC mini-series that not surprisingly lost a lot of the depth and history of the novel, while The Dark Tower has long been considered a fan's pipe dream: something that no studio in their right mind would ever greenlight in a way that would adequately convey seven books (along with several novellas and spinoff novels) into a feature film, or series of films. The Dark Tower has been in some form of production for a few years now, with Ron Howard moving the ball forward with an ambitious plan to release a series of tentpole feature films with a television series to fill in the gaps between theatrical releases. I think everyone pretty quickly assumed that would never happen, and I know for myself I immediately assumed the project would fade back into development hell. And yet here it is 2017, and The Dark Tower is now in post-production, featuring a pretty exciting looking cast and a fairly eye-catching poster:

Today's big news, probably already known by people visiting this site, is the release of a teaser trailer for It. This is news that was actually announced yesterday, with a short "teaser for the teaser," because that's how advertising for a movie works on the internet these days. The teaser doesn't offer much, but it is full of all the classic It signifiers: the sewer, the talk of clowns, "we all float down here".

Promptly this morning the full trailer was released to the world, and it's full of everything you could possibly want from an It trailer: 

It's hard to imagine many people being disappointed by what's on display here, as it looks to be a supremely faithful, and supremely creepy, adaptation. I understand many fans were upset about the updating of events for the movie, changing the two settings from the 1950s and 1980s to the '80s and present day, but for several reasons that doesn't bother me. I know '80s nostalgia is all the rage these days (as it has been for, seemingly, three decades), and it could seem like cheap nostalgia, but that's pretty much the same argument that could have been made about the '50s when the novel first came out. Beyond that, it allows the segments following the characters as adults to take place firmly in the recognizable present.

Rik: I will say that I was not aware previously that there are supposedly going to be two separate films – one focusing on the kids experience in the '80s and the other based on their adult selves dealing in the present day – but watching the trailer, I noticed how it was all kids, all the time. Made me wonder where the adults were, and the notion that maybe they were doing two films crossed my mind. Their omission from the trailer does not automatically mean that the adult versions of the children are not in the film itself, and it is also likely that the producers were just attempting to cash in on the current success of Stranger Things. But also likely is the fact that the grown-up versions of the kids will mostly be played by some recognizable name talent, to help put butts in seats beyond the King crowd, and so if it were nothing but a self-contained, single story film, anything more than a brief glimpse of the second half of the book would have the trailer speed-flashing through a series of worried adult faces somewhere deep in its running time.

The problem is that I am having trouble finding a more current article than summer 2016 (Variety) and a couple of also not current mentions on the Wikipedia pages for both the film and the book that the two-film production is still a thing. To be fair, I have not dug really deep into my normal research style, because the truth is that I have a lot of bigger fish to fry right now (which is part of the problem of why this website has not updated as frequently as we would wish, including the last couple parts of the ALL CARRIE coverage we promised back in October).

One other thing... about that poster for The Dark Tower... all I can think about when seeing it is... Inception. But then again, that is what I was thinking when I first saw the trailer for Doctor Strange.

Aaron: I also flashed on Inception when I saw that poster, but what quickly replaced my initial feeling of familiarity was enjoyment at how the negative space in the poster makes an image of the Tower itself. That, and if you look closely you can see a tiny Matthew McConaughey walking upside down. 

I was also unaware of the two film plan, though I think I, too, read something about it awhile back. I tend to not read a lot of press materials these days, or read casting announcements or interviews detailing plots. Not that I'm worried about spoilers, I just prefer to discover these things as I watch the film, and then go back later to find out the behind the scenes details if I'm still interested. What I did find most amusing about the time frame is that Finn Wolfhard (who played Mike in Stranger Things and will play the young Richie Tozier in It) is apparently having trouble escaping the '80s.

One more note, because we really should save this for when we actually cover the book and movie, is my initial thoughts on Pennywise. Pennywise isn't actually shown very much in this trailer, beyond a couple quick glimpses, a white glove with claws coming out, and that jump-scare shot at the end, but here's a full image of what he's going to look like:

It took me awhile to come around on the costume, and I'm still not entirely sold on it. I'm also still not sold on Bill Skarsgård as Pennywise, who I primarily know from his work on Hemlock Grove. That may not be the best work to judge his abilities on, though, as I imagine it would have been impossible for even the greatest actors to make that show compelling. But this trailer has gone a long way towards allaying my fears about the tone of this film, so I'm willing to go with it and say that I am solidly optimistic about this film.

Rik: I must say, having avoided Hemlock Grove on your advice (which doesn't mean I will necessarily avoid it in the future if I am bored, and other friends take note... Aaron is one of the few people in the world from whom I take movie or television recommendations. At least, seriously...), I have looked into Mr. Skarsgård's fairly short filmography and found that I am severely lacking in having seen anything he has ever done. This is something I cannot say of either his father Stellan or his brothers Alexander and Gustaf, though I can say it of his other brothers Sam and Valter. (But not of his brother Darrell or his other brother Darrell...) As a result, I have nothing on which to base an opinion of him, though as you mentioned, he is barely seen in the trailer.

As to the costume, I rather like it. It has an older European circus aesthetic to it, and may be a good choice since our country is littered with fake (and potentially real) evil clowns dressed in what has become acceptable as de rigueur in American clown cosplay. Pennywise is fine and all (and the only reason I even like Pennywise from the merely decent to only OK mini-series is the fact that Tim Curry played him), but what I am more interested in anyway – being a non-human monster guy – is what the spider will look like. Give me a call when that is revealed...

I will say that this trailer has me excited about the finished product. I am not the biggest fan of the book, mostly owing to the creepy and tone-deaf child orgy scene (my opinion, but it is what took me out of the book for the remainder of the story, though I did finish it). As a result, I was only slightly excited to see the mini-series. I remember that I almost missed out on recording it at the time of its airing but one of my friends reminded me of it the hour before it aired. And as I mentioned in the last paragraph, my opinion of the TV version runs pretty lukewarm except for a couple of excellent performances in it. I am looking forward to giving the book another shot, this time with even more mature eyes and brain, and think it is pretty swell they are (potentially) breaking the film up into two parts to give the story and characters room to breathe and grow.

Aaron: I have plenty to say in response to your revelations within those last two paragraphs, but I think they'll have to wait for now. What I will point out is that Entertainment Weekly ran an interview with Janie Bryant, the designer of the new costume, and she goes into great detail about her intentions in designing the new look. You can click here for the link, but be warned that the EW website is a huge mess. One takeaway I enjoyed was the idea that a lot of choices in the profile of the costume are to suggest the shape of an insect's cephalothorax. I do have to admit that some of my uncertainty about the look comes from how... bizarre and wrong it all feels. Our collective thoughts on the two It films will certainly be shared later this year when the film hits theatres; we wouldn't want to get ahead of ourselves. And yet all these announcements have us pretty excited for at least one aspect of 2017. We hope you'll stick with us as we bring this site back up to speed and join us on all the creepy good times ahead.

[One final note: It, directed by Andrés Muschietti (who previously helmed the Guillermo Del Toro-produced Mama in 2013) will arrive in American theatres on September 8th.]