What are the Stephen King Dollar Baby films?
In 2015, I released my book, Dollar Deal: The Stephen King Dollar Baby Filmmakers (BUY IT HERE), and went on to host a pair of Dollar Baby Film Festivals (one in Houston and one in Seattle).
During the two conventions I held screenings at, I realized a lot of people may not know what a Stephen King Dollar Baby film is. As someone who lived in the world of the dollar babies since 1999, this surprised me.
So, what are Stephen King Dollar Baby films, and who are the Dollar Baby filmmakers that the program created?
This is the story of The Stephen King Dollar Babies.
How did Stephen King get his start?
In 1974, Stephen King published his first novel, Carrie. It wasn’t an instant success, though. The hardback release was decent, but it wasn’t until the paperback sold over one million copies in the first year of its release that King became a bestselling author.
However, it took a lot more than just that one book to make King a successful published author. Carrie was the fourth novel he wrote but the first to see the light of day.
Fortunately, King was already making income on the side before its publication and subsequent success. His first published work came when he was only eighteen. King wrote a serialized piece called I Was a Teenage Grave Robber for a fanzine. His first short story arrived in 1967, when King was only twenty-years-old, for a magazine called Startling Mystery Stories.
In 1968 and 1969, he published the short stories Cain Rose Up, Here There Be Tygers, Strawberry Spring, and Night Surf, all for a magazine called Ubris. Those four stories eventually became Dollar Baby films.
When did Stephen King start allowing Dollar Baby Films?
In 1976, King developed a program where he allowed young filmmakers to make a short film based on one of his short stories as long someone had not already optioned that particular story for a movie or TV show.
It was very generous at the time since King was still a fresh-faced writer himself, with only a handful of novels and stories under his belt.
The only place that prospective filmmakers could find these short stories at the time was in magazines like Ubris, Cavalier, Penthouse, and Cosmopolitan.
The first actual collection of Stephen King’s short stories arrived two years later with Night Shift. That collection contained only four original short stories. All of the rest were reprints from stories King sold to magazines through the years.
One of those short stories ended up setting the Dollar Baby film program on the path to mainstream popularity. That story was The Woman in the Room, the final tale in the collection.
The Woman in the Room told the story of a man who had to decide whether or not to euthanize his terminally ill mother or let her live on in pain. The director of this particular Dollar Baby was a young filmmaker named Frank Darabont.
Over the years, Darabont went on to become the most famous member of a group that has grown to at least 80 strong over the last four decades.
The downside to being a Dollar Baby filmmaker is that very few Stephen King fans have seen any of the films, and many are unaware they even exist.
What are Stephen King Dollar Baby Films?
The Dollar Baby films are what the title proclaims. Stephen King offers student filmmakers the chance to make a short film based on one of his short stories. He only charges the aspiring filmmakers one dollar.
Stories already made into feature-length films are not eligible. Children of the Corn is a good example. None of his novels are eligible.
To create a Dollar Baby film, a filmmaker first needs to receive permission from Stephen King himself.
When I received permission to make my Dollar Baby film over twenty years ago, the only way to request the rights was to send a query letter to his office in Bangor, Maine, and wait for the contracts to arrive in the mail. Now there is an opportunity to seek permission through his website with an actual list of films available.
Once a filmmaker receives the contracts and signs them, the filmmaker mails a check for one dollar to King. At that point, the person can legally make the short film.
When completed, the contract requires the filmmaker to send a copy of the finished movie to King for his viewing pleasure. The only way to screen the film otherwise is at film festivals or on a filmmaker’s professional product reel.
The filmmaker is not allowed to make a financial profit from the Dollar Baby film.
Where can Stephen King’s Dollar Baby Films be seen?
While some Stephen King fans might have heard of the Dollar Babies, very few of them have seen a legitimate Dollar Baby film.
Hardcore fans know that Frank Darabont, the director of King’s The Shawshank Redemption, started his career as a Dollar Baby filmmaker, but that might be the extent of their actual knowledge of the phenomenon.
Since its creation, there were only select cases where a large number of fans could legally see these films outside of festivals.
Three of those instances include Darabont’s The Woman in the Room and Jeff Schiro’s The Boogeyman — which received a special VHS release, packaged together — and Jay Holben’s Paranoid, which was allowed online for a short period.
Other than that, unless you caught one at a film festival, or attended one dedicated to Dollar Babies, they remain almost a mythical legend.
This is the tough part, but it is fair when you think about it. For one dollar, filmmakers can make a movie based on a Stephen King story and use it to further their careers. They do this by screening it at festivals or adding it to their product reel for future jobs.
However, that is it. You can’t put it on the Internet. If you see one, it breaks the filmmaker’s contract with Stephen King.
Are the Dollar Baby Films any good?
Don’t let the term “student filmmakers” fool you. These are some really good movies out there under the Stephen King dollar babies deal.
Not only am I a Dollar Baby filmmaker, as well as a massive fan of Stephen King and movies, but I have become a fan of the men and women who have made Dollar Babies.
These filmmakers know they may never have a chance to screen their movies for a broad audience, but they made their films because they love King’s works. They wanted to create something of their own based on the worlds that he created before them.
What is even better is that I have met many of these people (both online and in “real life”) and followed their careers since they created their films. Their stories never fail to inspire me.
I decided I wanted to tell their stories.
My book, Dollar Deal: The Stephen King Dollar Baby Filmmakers (BUY IT HERE), is not about Stephen King, although every chapter is full of love and admiration for the King of Horror.
The book is only slightly about the stories adapted from the movies. There are plenty of books about King’s writings, and there is no reason to add another that regurgitates the same information.
My book is about the Stephen King Dollar Baby filmmakers. These filmmakers took a King short story that they loved, put in the painstaking time and hard work to create their unique version, and used the experience to move into impressive careers in the entertainment industry.
Stephen King Dollar Baby Filmmakers moved on into successful careers as a successful film director, a TV showrunner, a published true crime author, a stage show performer, an actor, and much, much more.
While they owe a debt of gratitude to Stephen King, these filmmakers also prove that, if you want to achieve your dream, you can reach it through hard work and perseverance, and never giving up.
In his book, On Writing, King wrote that “the scariest moment is always just before you start.”
Every person who became a Dollar Baby Filmmaker had to get past that fear to make their Dollar Babies, and every one of them overcame those fears to create the careers that they only dreamed of before.
These are the Stephen King Dollar Baby filmmakers