“Stephen King is as much Maine as blueberries and lobsters,” says Topsham-based film producer Leigh Doran, who, alongside writer-director and Brunswick resident David Jester, is preparing to film an adaptation of King’s enduringly terrifying short story “One for the Road.”
The filmmaking duo, who partner up to run the Maine-based Whisky Wolf Media, have taken advantage of one of the Maine horror author and philanthropist’s more eccentric charitable endeavors. King’s side-hustle, called The Dollar Baby Program, sees the Bangor literary lion offer up a selection of his voluminous short story back catalogue for filmmakers to adapt. The cost to filmmakers – one crisp dollar bill.
Of course, movies cost more than a buck, and Doran and Jester have gone the crowdfunding route to raise the admirably specific budget of $37,081 they’ve calculated for their film, set to shoot in Maine after the New Year.
But, for veteran filmmakers Doran and Jester, the chance to adapt “One for the Road” (from King’s seminal 1978 short story anthology “Night Shift”) is a unique opportunity to pay tribute to an author they’ve admired for a long time.
“We’ve both had an obsession with and love for King’s work,” said Jester. “It’s exciting to get to put your own creative view on a story that meant so much to you.” Added Doran, “He’s one of the greatest storytellers of our generation, and it’s thrilling to put your own work out there, to reimagine them with your own spin.”
For the uninitiated, “One for the Road” depicts a “from-away” family man who, after his car breaks down in a blizzard outside the Maine town of Salem’s Lot, leaves his wife and child in the car’s fading warmth and seeks help from two crusty old men drinking away the storm in an isolated local watering hole. Not to spoil anything from a 40-year-old story, but the name of the town should clue you in on just why the poor guy’s quest runs into some genuinely terrifying problems.
“I’ve always loved the idea,” said Jester, perhaps a little ghoulishly. “Being a stranger in a place and trying to get help while these two locals know something that he doesn’t. The story is about how the men try to convince this outsider of something they know is real, and to convince him not to return to his family.”
Comparing the story’s snowbound setting to such horror classics as John Carpenter’s movie “The Thing,” Jester touts the power of pressure in isolation in creating intense movie magic. “I love when weather is an element,” said Jester. “There’s a force working against them that they can’t control.”
Sadly, for low-budget indie filmmakers, whipping up a howling Maine blizzard on command is a little out of their price range.
“Of course, we can’t control the weather either,” Jester said, laughing, with Doran noting that the film’s proposed budget won’t go for an expensive snow machine, but will go toward feeding the cast and crew, taking care of essentials and, ideally, constructing the film’s bar set inside a Maine grange hall with a particularly evocative wall mural already in place. “We’ve scouted the Mariaville Grange, which has this amazing WPA mural from an itinerant artist on the back wall. We’ve got our fingers crossed, as that would just be a perfect element.”
Such on-your-feet thinking is an independent filmmaker’s greatest asset, with Jester asserting that – blizzards being so darned unreliable, even in Maine – he’s tweaked the misfortune of his unfortunate traveler (to be played by Maine actor Cody Alexander Curtis). “He has a blow-out on Christmas Eve, causing him to walk to this one bar in the dark,” Jester said of his script adjustment. “If I were rich, I’d create a blizzard.” (And, hey, maybe Jester, Doran and crew will get lucky.)
For Doran and Jester, themselves Maine transplants (from Vermont and Long Island, respectively), King’s work has long called them here. (Which is sort of spooky, if you think about it.) Explaining her attraction to the Maine icon’s inimitable style, Doran said, “King’s stories begin in such believable, convincing, normal lives and towns. We live in Stephen King’s world every day. And then, suddenly, the normal world changes, and the paranoia you usually keep at bay comes out.”
Added Jester, “King pulls back the curtain and shows it – he doesn’t leave a character out of the town. You can always recognize these characters, this panoply of them. We’ve all seen them, all met them.” Noting King’s willingness to embrace Maine’s often ignored darker side, Jester, bringing up the fact that of Maine’s history with the KKK (as referenced in his novel “IT”), said, “King incorporates elements of Maine that are dirty, dark – but all part of the fabric of where we are.”
To that end, Jester and Doran (and your humble author) urge potential viewers to “One for the Road’s” fundraising page on the site IndieGoGo. For one thing, donations there will help ensure that we get the filmmakers’ unique take on one of Stephen King’s most legendarily eerie tales. For another, the Dollar Baby rules stipulate that – in exchange for the dirt-cheap film rights – “One for the Road” can never be uploaded to YouTube, and can’t be shown publicly for profit. They can submit it to film festivals, but to be sure you can actually ever see the film, Doran notes that donors all receive a private link to watch it when it comes out.
Apart from those lucky few, however, the only person who’ll for-sure see this independent, Maine-made adaptation will be King himself, since the Dollar Baby rules also mandate that the author receive a DVD copy of the finished film (along with his dollar). Said Doran of the decades-long program, “It’s a real two-way street. Filmmakers might have reverence for King’s stories, but King also has a reverence for film and loves his work being adapted for the screen.”
As Doran further notes, since the Dollar Babies have been produced since the late 70s (with “The Shawshank Redemption” and “The Green Mile” director Frank Darabont being the most famous participant), “Only King knows how many are really out there.” Sounds like the set-up for a particularly spooky Stephen King story, really.
Dennis Perkins is a freelance writer who lives in Auburn with his wife and cat.