The Dollar Baby
(also sometimes referred to as the Dollar Deal
) is a term coined by best-selling author Stephen King
in reference to a select group of students and aspiring filmmakers or theatre producers for whom he has granted permission to adapt one of his short stories for the sole consideration of one dollar ($1). The term is used interchangeably to refer to the film or play itself, or the maker (for example, "The Sun Dog
" was made as a Dollar Baby, or writer/director Frank Darabont
was a Dollar Baby). The production budgets range from a few hundred dollars to over $60,000 (Umney's Last Case
) and the film formats range from home video to professional 35 mm film
As King explained in his introduction to the published shooting script
for Frank Darabont
's The Shawshank Redemption
(based on his Different Seasons
novella Rita Hayworth and Shawshank Redemption
), "Around 1977 or so, when I started having some popular success, I saw a way to give back a little of the joy the movies had given me.
- "'77 was the year young filmmakers - college students, for the most part - started writing me about the stories I'd published (first in Night Shift, later in Skeleton Crew), wanting to make short films out of them. Over the objections of my accountant, who saw all sorts of possible legal problems, I established a policy which still holds today. I will grant any student filmmaker the right to make a movie out of any short story I have written (not the novels, that would be ridiculous), so long as the film rights are still mine to assign. I ask them to sign a paper promising that no resulting film will be exhibited commercially without approval, and that they send me a videotape of the finished work. For this one-time right I ask a dollar. I have made the dollar-deal, as I call it, over my accountant's moans and head-clutching protests sixteen or seventeen times as of this writing ."
Once the film was made and King received his copy he explains, "...I'd look at the films ... then put them up on a shelf I had marked 'Dollar Babies'."
Then-20-year old Frank Darabont's Dollar Baby adaptation of "The Woman in the Room" was eventually released in 1986 on VHS by Granite Entertainment Group Interglobal Home Video as part of the Stephen King's Night Shift Collection along with New York University film student Jeff Schiro's adaptation of "The Boogyman." Darabont went on to direct three feature film adaptations of Stephen King's work, The Shawshank Redemption and The Green Mile, both nominated for multiple Academy Awards, including Best Picture, as well as "The Mist."
One of the first to bring the Dollar Deal to the public eye was author Stephen J. Spignesi in his exhaustive volume The Stephen King Encyclopedia where in he writes about two student short adaptations: The Last Rung on the Ladder (1987) by James Cole and Dan Thron and The Lawnmower Man (1987) by Jim Gonis.
There is a distinction to be made wherein a Dollar Baby is a film that has received special permission from Stephen King and the filmmaker has an exclusive contract with the author. Some films listed below may simply have been unauthorized short adaptations without the official sanction from King, in which case they would not officially be Dollar Babies and should be removed from this list. Every attempt has been made to confirm the authenticity of all the titles below, but many still remain in question.
As Dollar Babies were not intended to be seen by the public beyond film festivals and school presentations, and not commercially sold or openly traded prior to the advent of the Internet, many of them have eluded the King fan community. In 1996, when King first publicly discussed the Dollar Deal policy, he mentioned "sixteen or seventeen" such Dollar Babies. It is difficult, if not impossible, to account for them all without access to King's designated Dollar Baby shelf. Although Frank Darabont
originally requested to make his adaptation of "The Woman in the Room" in 1980, it took him three years to complete the film. The known Dollar Babies between 1977 and 1996 are:
New Dollar Babies (2000—)
In 2000 Dollar Babies came back into the public eye when Los Angeles based filmmaker Jay Holben
made an adaptation of "Paranoid: A Chant," a 100-line poem that appears in Skeleton Crew
was the first Dollar Baby to be released with King's permission for a limited time on the Internet in 2002. Again with King's permission, the film was then the first Dollar Baby released on a commercial DVD, in a package with Total Movie Magazine
, a short-lived offshoot of the immensely popular UK publication Total Film
. King fans clamored to download the eight-minute film, and then clamored for more.
In September 2004, fellow Dollar Baby James Renner ("All That You Love Will Be Carried Away") put together the first public film festival presentation of Dollar Babies. The festival was held in the D. P. Corbett Business Theater at the University of Maine, Orono, Stephen King's own Alma Mater (1966-1970) where he wrote for The Maine Campus newspaper. Renner followed the festival with a second incarnation in September of 2005 at the same location. http://www.dollarbabyfilmfestival.com
On the Internet, the largest public collection of the Dollar Babies has been put together by Bernd Lautenslager in the Netherlands. Many of the films listed above were available for download at a site called "Stephen King Short Movies", but at the request of Stephen King's representatives, the films are no longer available for download. To date, the only short specifically granted permission to play for a limited time on the Internet was Paranoid.
In 2008 Australian based writer Mathew Dollimore has started pre-production of a "dollar baby" version of the "The man who loved flowers" from the night shift collection. Another Australian, director Wade K. Savage, is in the process of adapting "Survivor Type" from the collection Skeleton Crew.
It is a common misconception that the filmmakers of the Dollar Babies have optioned or obtained the legal rights to the stories the films are based on. In fact, author King retains all rights and merely grants the exclusive permission to the filmmaker to make a non-commercial adaptation. As in the case of The Woman in the Room
and The Boogyman,
Granite Entertainment Group Interglobal Home Video negotiated and purchased the rights to commercially release both shorts on video in 1986. The non-public details of these agreements are well beyond the original $1 for Dollar Baby permission. Both of these films were originally announced for home video distribution by Gerard Ravels' Native Son International, but after Frank Darabont discovered that Ravels did not secure proper rights to the stories, the release was scrapped. As part of the agreement with Stephen King, all Dollar Baby films must include the specific phrase "© Stephen King. Used by Permission. All Rights Reserved."
This rather unorthodox arrangement is the reason the films cannot be commercially released nor can the filmmakers garner any profit from the works, and accounts for adaptions of the same source material by multiple filmmakers. For example, "All That You Love Will Be Carried Away" was adapted six times by James Renner, Anthony Kaneaster, Scott Albanese, Chi Laughlin & Natalie Mooallem (as All That You Love), and Brian Berkowitz (as The Secret Transit Codes of America's Highways).
King's phrase "so long as the film rights are still mine to assign..." actually has two meanings. This refers to King retaining rights to the original material in order to sell them to a legitimate buyer in the future and also to material that has not been previously sold (i.e.: material that King still holds all the rights). If another company or individual has purchased the film rights to one of King's stories, he no longer has legal authority to grant permission to a Dollar Baby as the rights are now held by the buyer.
Some of the Dollar Baby filmmakers have mistakenly assumed that Stephen King's explicit permission to make and showcase the adapted filmwork automatically qualifies the film for a possessory credit (e.g. "Stephen King's Silver Bullet
" as opposed to just "Silver Bullet
"). In actuality, this is a specified legal usage of the author's name and King does not grant permission for Dollar Baby filmmakers to use his name in this manner. The possessory title is only used on projects in which King has a direct and considerable involvement.
Previously, this title was applied more liberally until it was abused with the release of Brett Leonard's The Lawnmower Man. The film, which bears little to no resemblance to King's short story, was originally released as Stephen King's The Lawnmower Man, but the possessory title was removed following a lawsuit filed by King against the filmmakers. A federal court ruled in King's favor and, a Second Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that King's name should be removed from the title.
Journalists and Internet fans often mistakenly apply the possessory credit to Dollar Baby films beyond the control of the filmmakers. Stephen King's Gotham Cafe, in which Stephen King has a cameo, is the only Dollar Baby to have been granted this prestigious possessory title.
As Stephen King himself comments, "Many of these adaptations weren't so great, but a few showed at least a smattering of talent. ... in many cases one viewing was all a person could bear..." As many, if not the majority, of the Dollar Baby films are made by student or tyro filmmakers, the quality is often sub-standard, although there are a few notable exceptions. King offered praise to "...a fairly impressive eighteen minute version of 'The Sun Dog'". Darabont's The Woman in the Room
, in addition to being photographed by the renowned cinematographer Juan Ruiz Anchia (Glengarry Glen Ross
), made the semi-finalist list for Academy Award
consideration in 1983. King is also quoted as saying that "The Woman in the Room
" is "clearly the best of the short films made from my stuff."
Paranoid is among the most critically acclaimed Dollar Babies. Rolling Stone magazine's David Wild said of the film "Rarely has paranoia been so much fun... Jay Holben has created a stunning and artful rendering of madness, turning a poem by Stephen King into a vivid and compelling nightmare vision.
Of the twenty Dollar Babies listed on the Internet Movie Database (IMDb), the top rated films with more than 40 votes are Autopsy Room Four, Stephen King's Gotham Cafe, Paranoid, The Woman in the Room, Night Surf, and Strawberry Spring (noted August, 2006).
The definitive list
This list includes all known Dollar Baby films, the directors, format, length and production budget when available. Where possible, links are provided to the films' official websites.
- The Sun Dog (unknown date and filmmaker) (animation)
- The Boogyman (1982) by Jeff Schiro (16 mm 29 minutes $20,000)
- Disciples of the Crow (1983) by John Woodward (30 minutes)
- The Woman in the Room (1983) by Frank Darabont (35 mm 32 minutes $35,000)
- Srajenie (The Battle) (1986) by Mikhail Titov (animation 10 minutes RUR 5,000)
- Last Rung on the Ladder (1987) by James Cole and Dan Thron (Super8 mm 12 minutes $1,500)
- The Lawnmower Man (1987) by James Gonis (16 mm 12 minutes $5,000)
- Here There Be Tygers (1988) by Guy Maddin (never produced)
- Llamadas (Sorry, Right Number) (1999) by Daniel Yañez (8 minutes)
- Paranoid (2000) by Jay Holben (35 mm 8 minutes $3,000)
- Night Surf (2001) by Peter Sullivan (DV 30 minutes $2,000)
- Strawberry Spring (2001) by Doveed Linder (35 mm 8 minutes)
- Rainy Season (2002) by Nick Wauters (24p HD 15 minutes $10,000)
- Autopsy Room Four (2003) by Stephen Zakman (22 minutes)
- Here There Be Tygers (2003) by James Cochrane (DV 12 minutes $100)
- The Man in the Black Suit (2003) by Nicholas Mariani (20 minutes)
- All That You Love Will Be Carried Away (2004) by James Renner (26 minutes)
- All That You Love (2004) by Scott Albanese (35 mm 15 minutes $23,000)
- The Gunslinger (Roland Meets the Dweller) (2004) by Robert David Cochrane (DV 4 minutes)
- Luckey Quarter (2004) by Robert David Cochrane (35 mm 11 minutes $10,000)
- The Secret Transit Codes of America's Highways (2004) by Brian Berkowitz (15 minutes $1,500)
- The Boogeyman (Play) (2005) by Graham Rees (60 minutes)
- All That You Love Will Be Carried Away (2005) by Anthony Kaneaster
- El Sueño de Harvey (Harvey's Dream) (2005) Rodolfo Weisskirch (Mini DV 35 minutes $350)
- Stephen King's Gotham Cafe (2005) Jack Sawyers (15 minutes $10,000)
- Harvey's Dream (2005) Andy Cambria (35 mm 10 minutes)
- Home Delivery: Servicio a Domicilio (2005) by Elio Quiroga (animation 11 minutes €190,000)
- I Know What You Need (2005) by Shawn S. Lealos (Mini DV 40 minutes $1,500)
- La Femme Dans la Chambre (The Woman in the Room) (2005) by Damien Maric (Mini DV 13 minutes €10,000)
- The Road Virus Heads North (2005) by Dave Brock (21 minutes $10,000)
- Sorry, Right Number (2005) by Brian Berkowitz (19 minutes $30,000)
- Suffer the Little Children (2005) by Bernardo Villela (DV )
- All That You Love Will Be Carried Away (2005) by Mark Montalto
- The Walking Ghost (The Gunslinger) (2006) by Sarah Sterchele (12 minutes 16mm)
- Umney's Last Case (2006) by Rodney Altman (35 mm/16 mm 18 minutes $60,000)
- Le croque mitaine(The Boogeyman) (2006) by Giuliano Dinocca
- Tyger (2006) by Leyla Everaers (16mm 10 minutes €3,000)
- I am the Doorway (2006) by Giuliano Dinocca
- Popsy (2006) by Brian Haynes
- The Man Who Loved Flowers (2003-2006) by Justin Zimmerman, in pre-production. Zimmerman also gained the limited commercial feature rights for one year ('05-'06), and produced five scripts based on the story, the dollar baby rights are still maintained
- The Sun Dog (200?) by Lawrence D. Cohen (IMAX 65 mm/70 mm) (never produced)
- Last Rung on the Ladder (?) by Lucas Knight (30 minutes $60,000) (unconfirmed)
- Nona (2007) by Stephen H. Smith & Anthony Bushman (45 minutes $ unknown)
- Night Surf (2007) by Samuel Vary (DV 10 minutes)
- All That You Love (2007) by Natalie Mooallem (DV 15 minutes $)
- Night Surf (2007) by Stephen William Parkhurst (DV, 18 minutes)
- Paul's Dream (Harvey's Dream)(2007) by Ben Lawrence (11,23 minutes)
- All That You Love Will Be Carried Away (2008) by Chi Laughlin (HDV, 10 minutes $180)
- I've Got to Get Away (200?) Kamran Syd (filming)
- The Jaunt (2008) by Todd Gorman - Currently in post-production
- Cain Rose Up (2008) by Jeven Dovey - Currently in Development
- Cain Rose Up (2009) by Robert Kreh - Currently in Development
- LT's Theory of Pets by Brad C. Hodson; Currently in Pre-production
- Everything's Eventual by Brad Hall (2008/2009) - Pre-Production
- In the Deathroom by Luke Cheney (2008) Pre-Production
- "The man who loved flowers" by Mathew Dollimore (2008) Pre-Production
- "The Man Who Would Not Shake Hands" (2008) by Ian Klink - Currently in post-production
- Suffer the Little Children (2008) Treven Cannon/720p on DVC Pro/approximately 15 minutes/$2,000-$3,000/in post-production
- Survivor Type (2009) by Wade K. Savage - Currently in Pre-Production
- "My Pretty Pony" (2009) by Mikhail Tank - Currently in Development
Natalie Mooallem, "All That You Love" (shot on HD)
- "Stephen King at the Movies" Horsting, Jessie Signet Press / Starlog Press 1986 pp. 94-95
- "Creepshows the Illustrated Stephen King Movie Guide" Jones, Stephen Titan Books 2001 pp. 132-135
- "The Essential Stephen King" Spignesi, Stephen J. Career Press / New Page Books 2001
- "Why Kitty Absolutely Had to Die, or How I Made A Movie of a Stephen King Short Story for a Buck" Cole, James appearing in "The Lost Works of Stephen King: A Guide to Unpublished Manuscripts, Story Fragments, Alternative Vesions and Oddities" Spignesi, Stephen J. Birch Lane Press 1998 pp. 346-350
- "Stephen King's poetry comes to the red screen" Hollyer, Mary-Beth Rue Morgue Magazine 'Dreadlines' #21 May/June 2001 pp. 26 Marrs Media Inc.
- "Who's Watching Me" Holben, Jay American Cinematographer Magazine 'Short Takes' vol 82 no 11 November 2001 pp. 111-112
- The Internet Movie Database (IMDb)
- Stephen King Short Movies
- Liljas Library, extensive fan site (see interviews with James Cole, Jim Gonis and Jay Holben)