With over 60 novels, somewhere around 50 film adaptations, and more than 200 short stories, Stephen King is a master contributor of the horror genre. You’d be hard-pressed to find others within the horror community who have achieved the excellence and notoriety he has. One thing that Stephen King has contributed to the horror and film community that goes widely unnoticed is his Dollar Baby Program. This program allows aspiring filmmakers to get their start by being allowed to use one of King’s short stories and turn it into a short film. Sweet, right?! The cherry on top is that these short stories only cost the filmmakers $1. You read that right, just $1! Four quarters are all it takes to get your film adaptation in the hands of arguably the greatest horror writer of all time.
A Novel Idea
The Dollar Baby Program was started around 1977 when King had started receiving letters from college students about his short stories and how they wanted to adapt them into films. He wanted to find a way to provide opportunity to those students, so he came up with the idea for the program. The Dollar Baby Program is a contract where King allows the aspiring filmmaker to adapt one of his short stories in their own way. The short film can be no longer than 45 minutes, and it may not be used commercially, meaning that the only person who is able to view it is King himself. It may not be distributed online or shown to anyone else without authorization from King. He retains the rights to the story, so he can decide to distribute it if he so wishes. The only ability to distribute the film is if part of a nonprofit film festival, through a school project, or no more than two minutes of total play time on a website where King owns the domain name. The contract also states that you have a year to make the film and after that year expires, nothing can be done with the film. This may seem like a lot of stipulations, but for an aspiring horror filmmaker, even being remotely attached to the Stephen King name is good for business and getting to be a Dollar Baby might be the big break that is needed.
So this begs the question, has anyone gotten their big break from the Dollar Baby Program? The first person to gain rights to a short story of King’s and produce a film was Jeffrey Schiro in 1982. Schiro used “The Boogeyman” to take his crack at a King short story, and it was given commercial rights to be distributed. His version of “The Boogeyman” and another Dollar Baby’s version of “The Woman In The Room” were put together as a collection in The Night Shift. which was released in 1994. He also went on to direct an episode of Tales From The Darkside. The next Dollar Baby was John Woodward, who adapted King’s The Disciples Of The Crow in 1983. From here, Woodward went on to direct the films Vice and Good Girl, Bad Girl.
The most notable Dollar Baby to come from this program is Frank Darabont. Darabont used the short story, “The Woman In The Room,” in 1983 to take his stab at King’s program, and he knocked it out of the park. Just like Schiro, his short was featured in The Night Shift, but that was just the start for him. After this, Darabont wrote the screenplay for Nightmare On Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors, The Blob, and The Fly II. These are notable films in themselves, but what came next was the turning point for Darabont’s career. King loved his work so much, that he granted him access to his novella, “Rita Hayworth and Shawshank Redemption,” and from that we now have the Oscar-nominated film The Shawshank Redemption. This is considered one of the best films adapted from King’s work, and it is still a favorite in film today, 28 years after its release. In 1999, Darabont also directed The Green Mile and in 2007 The Mist, which were both adapted from Stephen King novels. Taking a chance on the Dollar Baby Program paid off massive dividends for Darabont.
Spreading The Screams
Dollar Babies have popped up more recently since 2000. Before 2000, only 10 aspiring filmmakers have taken a crack at their adaptation of King’s shorts. Since 2000, the program has expanded to places like Russia, the UK, and Germany, and there have been 27 filmmakers involved. While still remaining relatively low-key, the Dollar Baby program is picking up some notoriety since the release of the book Stephen King: The Dollar Baby in 2021. This book takes a deep dive and features essays, interviews, and fan accounts of how the program impacted them and the film industry. The Dollar Baby Program is still very alive and well, and if you check out Stephen King’s website, you will see that there are currently 23 short stories that are up for grabs for just one whole dollar! King makes it very simple to request a contract for anyone who is feeling up for the task, as it’s just a short questionnaire to fill out to request the contract. After all, it’s just the Stephen King that will be watching your take on his short stories. “The Woman In The Room” is still available, if anyone thinks they can top Frank Darabont’s version.
This content was originally published here.