He is the man behind The Doctor’s Case Dollar Baby Film.
SKSM: Could you start with telling me a bit about yourself? Who are you and what do you do?
James Douglas: Sure. My name is James Douglas, and I am currently employed as Manager of Visitor Experiences and Public Relations at Barkerville Historic Town & Park (the largest heritage site in Western North America). I originally received acting training at the University of Victoria and the American Academy of Dramatic Arts in New York. As a performer I have appeared in stage plays across North America, taken principal roles in a number of independent films and shorts, as well as written and performed for a variety of Canadian sketch comedy troupes.
In 2000 I was awarded a Bachelor of Arts degree in English Literature from the University of Victoria, and in 2004 completed one year of graduate coursework at the university’s Theatre department before embarking on an internship with renowned avant-garde theatre director Charles Marowitz during his historic production of Vaclav Havel’s Pokoŭsení [English: Temptation] at the National Theatre of the Czech Republic.
In 2005 I traveled to the Netherlands to write, produce, and direct documentary short film about the enduring post-WWII friendship between the Canadian and Dutch peoples, called The Tulip & the Maple Leaf. I was the on-air host of Shaw TV’s BC150 Years series of documentary shorts in 2008, and from 2010-12 co-produced a broadcast television documentary about British Columbia’s past and current gold rushes called Wilds to Riches. The film was nominated for a 2014 Leo Award for Best Documentary Screenplay, and for my role as co-producer I received the Cariboo Chilcotin Coast Tourism Association’s “Best Marketing Initiative” award.
Over the past two decades I have produced or co-produced a number of noteworthy theatre projects, and my onstage directing credits include The Saints of British Rock, The Bride of Barkerville, Lady Overlander, The Great Love of Queen Victoria, The Sinister Secret of Hatley Castle, Fangs for the Memories, and Das Love Boot. I’ve also worked as dramaturge on critically-lauded productions of Andrew Hamilton’s Kaliban, Sally Clark’s Wanted, and Anne Carson’s contemporary translation of Sophocles’ Electra.
Most recently I wrote the screenplay for, produced, and directed a Dollar Baby film adaptation of The Doctor’s Case, based on the short story by Stephen King (but I think you already knew that).
SKSM: Could you tell our readers the status of The Doctor’s Case or some updates?
James Douglas: I am happy to report that we’ve entered the final two weeks of post-production on The Doctor’s Case. VFX and colour-correction are almost finished, and our sound design and surround mix will be complete next week. We’ve made a couple of work-in-progress submissions to some prominent film festivals already, and once the film is complete we will submit to a series of international festivals that will hopefully allow as many people as possible a chance to see the movie throughout 2018. We will also send a 4K print of the film to Stephen King in mid-November of this year (2017) on the one year anniversary of me receiving permission to adapt The Doctor’s Case.
SKSM: How come you picked The Doctor’s Case to develop into a movie? What is it in the story that you like so much?
James Douglas: I’ve always loved Stephen King, Sherlock Holmes, and movies. I mean really loved them. And at exactly the same moment less than 12 months ago these three lifelong obsessions serendipitously smashed together and presented themselves as an opportunity to make something very cool. I could have selected any number of Stephen King short stories from the list of available Dollar Babies, and would have been happy to do so, but it was The Doctor’s Case that led me to apply in the first place, so once I discovered it was an eligible story, there was no way I was going to let my first foray into narrative filmmaking be anything else. The story’s 19th-century setting is perfect for my current surroundings and professional experience, Sherlock Holmes is the closest thing to a Victorian superhero I could hope for (I like superhero movies, too) and the skill with which King blends his own “everyman” narrative voice with Arthur Conan Doyle’s sophisticate style has been pleasantly haunting me since I first read Nightmares & Dreamscapes during my senior year of high school. I love the multiple twists and turns the story provides, as well as the truly charming way it plays with the relationships between Holmes, Watson and Inspector Lestrade.
SKSM: You have played roles in a number of independent movies and shorts. You have wrote screenplays and you have been a theatre producer. Is this your debut as a director?
James Douglas: Yes, this is my debut as a narrative feature director. I did write and direct a 20-minute documentary short called The Tulip & the Maple Leaf back in 2005, but at 65-minutes The Doctor’s Case is my first stab (pun intended) at a longer and more complex work of fiction.
SKSM: I’ve seen the trailer and I can say is looks very promising. Your Dollar Baby film is one of the most expected by the audience. Is this a responsibility, an honor or both of them?
James Douglas: Wow. Thank you. I am very pleased to hear you liked our teaser trailer, and feel very honoured (and maybe a little nervous) to hear that there is already an expectant audience for The Doctor’s Case. To be honest, I didn’t really know about the latter until you mentioned it (we’ve been focusing pretty hard on simply getting the film made) but it’s exciting to realize that people are interested in what we’ve been up to and are looking forward to watching the film. I do feel a responsibility to our audience – many of whom will be lovers of Stephen King, Sherlock Holmes, and/or movies in general – and while I suppose I can’t expect everyone to like everything we’ve done, I believe there is enough in The Doctor’s Case to surprise and delight casual observers and diehard fans alike.
SKSM: You have an incredible cast and crew involved in this project. How did you convince them to play in The Doctor’s Case?
James Douglas: I don’t want this to sound silly or overly simplistic, but to be perfectly honest: I asked. I should probably mention that 90% of the cast and crew were people that I already knew, either through work on previous projects or simply as friends. I have been blessed with the opportunity to get to know a lot of truly amazing and dedicated professionals throughout my life, and when this crazy, incredible Dollar Baby project presented itself it wasn’t difficult to convince the right ones to climb aboard.
That said there has also been a ton of serendipity at play (you’ll notice I use that word a lot: serendipity). A month after I’d first heard about the Dollar Babies I brought my old friend Michael Coleman (who plays Happy the dwarf on ABC’s Once Upon a Time) to Prince George as a guest of Northern FanCon, a successful fan expo produced by my business partner in Barker Street Cinema, Norm Coyne. While at FanCon I pitched Michael my fledgling idea for The Doctor’s Case, and asked if he’d be willing to play Watson. He was, and agreed to co-produce on the spot. We didn’t talk about it again for months, but when once I finally secured permission to adapt the story Michael cleared his schedule for our proposed shooting dates and the rest of the cast fell into place rather quickly.
I had met Denise Crosby (Pet Sematary, Star Trek: TNG) in 2013, in Barkerville of all places! We’d exchanged a few emails in the following years, but when I discovered shortly after submitting to the Dollar Babies program that she and my mother share the same November birthday I felt compelled to contact her about The Doctor’s Case. There were a few scenes I wanted to write into the story involving a conversation between an 87-year old Doctor Watson and some as-yet-unnamed person that would act as a framing device for the main story taking place 50 years earlier and aid the overall narrative structure of the film. I thought Denise would bring a lot to those scenes, and asked if she would allow me to write an original character (now called Captain Norton) specifically for her. Denise is a very generous person by nature, and was immediately supportive of the idea.
Once Denise was on board I knew I had to find someone of equal caliber to play opposite her as the older Watson, and through a friend of a friend wound up speaking with William B. Davis’s agent. To my absolute delight Mr. Davis (The X-Files, The Dead Zone, Stephen King’s IT) was impressed enough with the first draft of our script to agree to come shoot with us in the spring.
The rest of the cast is made up of people I have worked with before, and in some cases continue to work with on a daily basis in Barkerville, and although they are perhaps not as well known as the three I previously mentioned, I couldn’t have asked for a more talented and enthusiastic group to support me through my first full-blown film project. There isn’t a false note among them, in my opinion, and casting The Doctor’s Case was an opportunity to cherry pick from an orchard of multi-faceted artists. Actors doubled as designers, producers, animal handlers, and dolly drips… and seemed equally as comfortable in a variety of roles, despite some of them having never stepped foot on a film set before.
It was the rest of the crew, of course, that made this transition possible. For every onset newbie we had, there was someone else teeming with experience and willing to share knowledge. From my co-director Len Pearl (Historical Film Studios) and supervising producer Pat Curling (Wilds to Riches), to our music supervisor Ken ‘Hiwatt’ Marshall (who is currently on tour with Depeche Mode) and sound designer Jennifer Lewis (a 35-year veteran of the Vancouver film and video game industries) we’ve been gifted a chance to work alongside established industry folks with a passion for cinematic storytelling who just happen to be as excited about a Sherlock Holmes project written by Stephen King as the rest of us are. We couldn’t have been more fortunate.
SKSM: How did you find out that King sold the movie rights to some of his stories for just $1? Was it just a wild guess or did you know it before you sent him the check?
James Douglas: I had never even heard of the Dollar Babies program until April of 2016, nearly two years after I first started thinking that adapting The Doctor’s Case would be an exciting (and seemingly impossible) thing to try to do. I’d first read the short story back in the ‘90s, and because it so expertly blended my twin loves of Stephen King and Sherlock Holmes the tale stuck with me for a long time. After years of working in Barkerville (a restored 19th-century gold rush town) I thought it would be fun to attempt a film adaptation of The Doctor’s Case. I ultimately decided against it at the time because I couldn’t figure out how to make the film work without the author’s express permission to adapt his work.
Serendipity stuck with me, however, and in April of 2016 a chance conversation with another old friend alerted me to the Dollar Babies program. Although I was too cautious to apply immediately, things had changed somewhat by the following November. While uploading some promotional video I shot in Barkerville one afternoon with my colleague (and full-time Barkerville actor) JP Winslow, I started to think that I had found the right fellow to play Sherlock in my fantasy version of The Doctor’s Case. I decided to try and turn fantasy into reality by applying to the Dollar Babies program that very day. I submitted my idea, received word that it would take four to eight weeks for a response, and resolved to wait a month or two before seriously considering what would happen if King’s team agreed to let me move forward. You can imagine my surprise, then, when I received a confirmation email only three days later.
SKSM: How does it feel that all the King fans out there can’t see your movie? Do you think that will change in the future? Maybe an internet/dvd release would be possible?
James Douglas: While it’s too bad that more people won’t be able to see The Doctor’s Case right away (or, perhaps ever) it is completely understandable. Stephen King has been extremely generous with his work by simply allowing films like The Doctor’s Case to get made, but that charity has to have limits. The idea behind the Dollar Babies program is to provide emerging filmmakers an opportunity to work with some fabulous source material, and hopefully learn enough along the way to create something that everyone involved – including Mr. King – can be proud of. We shouldn’t expect the right to widely distribute the resulting film, however, if doing so would negatively impact the author’s ability to profit from granting the exclusive license of its source material to someone else. If The Doctor’s Case is good enough to prompt discussion of further distribution, then of course we would be happy to have that discussion. As a first-time filmmaker, my sincere desire is to make a great movie that lots of people get a chance to see. If, however, we are simply allowed to show it at festivals and some not-for-profit public screenings, and use it as something to show privately as a means of perhaps securing support for some other project, then I am perfectly happy with that. Diehard fans will find a way to get to a screening, I hope… and knowing that Stephen King will likely watch the first film I ever made is a pretty good feeling all on its own.
SKSM: Where will the premiere be? Do you plan to screen the movie at a particular festival?
James Douglas: We’ve made a “Hail Mary” submission to the 2018 Sundance Film Festival, for consideration in the International Feature competition (almost everyone involved with The Doctor’s Case is Canadian). It’s a long shot, we know, but we are also very proud of what we’ve managed to accomplish on an extremely limited budget, and figure we might as well shoot for the stars. If we do get selected for Sundance, then our world premiere will be in Utah in January of 2018. Once way or the other, we plan to submit to a slew of other festivals over the next year or so, and will hopefully be able to host complimentary screenings of our own in several locations throughout North America.
SKSM: Are you a Stephen King fan? If so, which are your favorite works and adaptations?
James Douglas: I am a huge Stephen King fan. I haven’t read everything he’s ever written, but I’ve read a lot of it, and am always hungry for more. I love the horror genre in general, but there is something about the way King writes – regardless of genre – that I find incredibly compelling. I would choose to read a Stephen King book over almost any other book in my collection (and I have an English Lit degree!). That probably says as much about me as it does the quality of King’s writing, but I wouldn’t have it any other way. King’s non-fiction writing about writing is also some of the best instruction on the creative process I have ever encountered, and his candid conversation with the “constant reader” has been a source of storytelling inspiration to me over the years.
My favourite novels are IT, The Stand, The Shining, Salem’s Lot, Lisey’s Story, and The Eyes of the Dragon (not a complete list, and not necessarily in that order). As much as I love the novels though (and I do love the novels) I believe King’s short stories are where his superpowers show no bounds.
SKSM: Do you have any plans for making more movies based on Stephen King’s stories? If you could pick -at least- one story to shoot, which one would it be and why?
James Douglas: Although it would be presumptuous of me to have concrete plans to make more Stephen King movies, I would jump at the chance to do so. I could probably be happy for the rest of my life making nothing but Stephen King movies. Seriously. If I had to pick just one, and the budget was sufficient to do it properly, then I would have to say my dream project would be an adaptation of his 1987 novel, The Eyes of the Dragon.
SKSM: What are you working on nowadays?
James Douglas: We’re still working through post-production on The Doctor’s Case, so other than a few live stage shows I’ve presented in Victoria, BC this month and my daily work at Barkerville, I’ve been pretty focused on that. There are a couple of other projects bubbling away in the background, and once we’ve completed The Doctor’s Case I look forward to some development time on those. One of the projects is a proposed reboot of a classic but long-forgotten science fiction television series that deserves the kind of reimagining Battlestar Galactica enjoyed several years ago, and I would love to be part of the team that brings it back to the small screen. I hope I can tell you more about it some other time.
SKSM: What is one thing people would be surprised to know about you?
James Douglas: I have a tattoo of Obi-Wan Kenobi’s lightsaber on my right forearm, with an invisible blade that “ignites” under black light thanks to UV reflecting ink. The blade travels up my arm, through a second tattoo of Darth Vader’s helmet on my right shoulder, and Vader’s skull glows through his mask. I am a total geek.
SKSM: What advice would you give to those people who want to be filmmakers?
James Douglas: Don’t panic. Learn from everyone. Don’t be afraid to admit when you don’t know something, and don’t feel ashamed to ask advice from someone who does.
SKSM: Thanks for taking the time to answer my questions. Is there anything you want to say to your fans?
James Douglas: If there are indeed fans of my work out there, then thank you. Thank you for taking the time to have a look at what we’re doing, and for supporting our efforts. I hope I will have lots of opportunities to hold your interest. And I really hope you get to see The Doctor’s Case.
SKSM: Would you like to add something?
James Douglas: I just want to say what a pleasure it’s been to meet you. I’ve enjoyed getting to know so many people through this Dollar Babies process, and the world of Stephen King fandom that has opened up to me over the past year has been welcoming and intensely interesting. I feel very honoured to be interviewed about The Doctor’s Case, and look forward to reading about and seeing as many fellow Dollar Babies as I can in the years to come.