My Dollar Baby Experience by Julia Marchese
It’s strange that Stephen King’s Dollar Baby program is finished, and to realize that my film is one of the last. It’s a program that has done so much good, and has helped so many filmmakers for so many decades.
I’ve been a King fan since I was 11, and have since gone through and read everything he has written (including highlighting and note marking any Dark Tower references!). I’m a Constant Reader to the core, and – as you can tell – a Tower Junkie as well.
I first wrote to King’s people back in 2019, naively asking about adapting my favorite short story of his “I Know What You Need”, from Night Shift. I wasn’t clear on how to get the rights to a story that was “off list” – King only had a short set of stories available to be adapted through the Dollar Baby program, and “I Know What You Need” was not on that list.
Mercifully, they gave me the contract and I now had one year to make the film. As anyone who works in film will tell you, getting a (45 minute!) film fully finished from conception to filming in a year is a tricky task. Because of the pandemic, my contract was extended for a year, so I actually had more time than most, and needed every second of it.
I contacted the University of Maine, where the story takes place, and where Stephen King himself attended, and they agreed to let me film on campus during the summer of 2021, when the students would be gone. We were able to shoot in the actual dorm that King lived in as well!
Because I was shooting on the East Coast, I needed to cast and crew up with folks who were on that side of the country. I scoured the internet, sending out cold emails to people I had found that might be able to crew various positions, and also sent out emails to universities asking them to forward it on to their drama department, which most did. I was lucky to find 22 amazing souls to work on the film – and I met almost every one solely online before ever meeting in person.
The pre-production was the hardest. Being alone, scared and quarantined while trying to get a film ready is not something I would recommend. And I was very nervous to be staying in the dorm for a week with everyone working on the movie – what if we didn’t gel or someone didn’t do their work properly, or something random went wrong?
I needn’t have worried. Shooting went fantastically, with the most dedicated cast and crew who went out of their way to put their best work on screen (and behind the scenes). I couldn’t speak more highly of my filmmaking ka-tet.
Living in the 1970’s for a week, sleeping in Stephen King’s actual dorm room, and shooting in the library he mentions, the campus he mentions, was like an incredible dream come true, actually living in one of his stories. It was so fulfilling to see the visions in my head come to life on set, in front of my eyes.
After filming came editing, which is always long and involved, but also a complete delight to really see the story come together – with visuals, colors, music, filters. Panavision had generously loaned us a camera and a 70’s lens package, so I really worked hard with my DP & editor to make the film look as genuinely 70’s as possible – as if it was actually from that era, not a re-creation. Be willing to have a slower pace, and a different look. And the music pulls everything together and really gives the emotion to the scene.
The contract limits the film to 45 minutes, and mine hits the mark exactly. 45 minutes is long for a short film, but I knew I would only get the chance to make this film once, and I wanted to make as faithful an adaptation as I could. And because the contract requires you to send a copy to King himself to watch, I wanted to make a film that I was happy with, and that would hopefully please him as well.
The film has currently won many awards, and continues its film festival run. The reviews have been overwhelmingly positive, and I am so very grateful that the Constant Readers have loved it – and enjoyed the multitude of Easter Eggs hidden for their delight.
I am so incredibly grateful to have gotten the opportunity to adapt this story that is so special to me before the program ended, and to show the world how I see his work through my eyes. The fact that several people have told me the film is exactly as if you took Julia Marchese and mixed me with Stephen King, and I can’t think of a higher compliment.
All hail the King!
Julia Marchese – February 5, 2024