2017 is proving itself to be very much the year of Stephen King adaptations. And now, literally just weeks in the wake of the box office smash hit IT, the celebrated author’s work is all set to shock audiences once again – this time on Netflix – with the adaptation of “Gerald’s Game.” The psychological chiller, helmed by Mike Flanagan (Oculus, Ouija: Origin of Evil, Hush), sends an unhappily married couple’s idyllic weekend vacation in a remote cabin in the woods spiralling straight to Hell when the wife finds herself alone, handcuffed to her bed, and forced to face her demons and repressed memories in order to stay alive.
With the film all set to release on Netflix this Friday, September 29th, SCREAM sat down with Director/Co-writer Mike Flanagan and Producer Trevor Macy (The Strangers, Oculus) to discover exactly what urged them on for so many years to adapt the one Stephen King novel they felt was categorically unfilmable…
SCREAM: The idea of filming Gerald’s Game has been a project of yours since way back when, Mike. You even used to carry a copy of the book around with you in your bag just in case opportunity came knocking when you least expected. Yet, at the same time, you’ve always considered it to be one of those books that just couldn’t be adapted into a film.
Mike Flanagan: The challenge of it was definitely irresistible, but what I really couldn’t let go of was the connection that I felt with the protagonist and feeling completely thrown into her psyche. I thought the book was one of Stephen King’s best novels and just an incredible journey into someone’s mind. To try to make that cinematic was really, really hard but totally irresistible for me.
With a book like this, it must have been an ordeal deciding which aspects would work best cinematically given that most of the book finds the protagonist handcuffed to a bed?
MF: Being such a big Stephen King fan, I’m very familiar with what happens when adaptations go south so I was determined that, if I was ever going to get a chance to adapt King, I didn’t want to be in that pile. I wanted to make sure that we honoured the source material. In this case, it was really, really hard. It took me years to come up with a strategy for making a movie that I thought was cinematic and that I thought would hold people’s interest.
Talking of King, how did the project came to fruition because I understand the ball started rolling once he saw, and loved, a previous film of yours, Oculus?
MF: That’s right. He saw Oculus on his own and really, really liked it and that was enough for him to allow us to adapt his novel. But it took years after we’d written the script to be able to find a partner that was willing to make the movie that we wanted to make. But Stephen stood by us and was always very supportive of the project which, as a fan, was really amazing for me.
Having spoken to various people involved in two recent King adaptations, It and “The Mist”, everyone agreed on how respectful King was. Christian Torpe told us how he basically said to him, “As long as you don’t do anything ordinary, then you have my blessing to just fire away.” How was your experience by comparison?
MF: Stephen was pretty hands on when it came to script approval and cast approval. But he can also be very hard on adaptations. Everyone is familiar with his feelings about Kubrick and The Shining. He certainly does want the filmmaker to make it their own and he is very good at stepping back to allow for that, but that doesn’t mean he’s going to like it so that was something that was terribly intimidating for us.
As I said, he approved the script and was very involved in the casting process and then he left us alone to make the movie but then he was the first person to see it once we’d finished, which was absolutely terrifying for me. We sent him the cut and I didn’t sleep that night. Thankfully, he really loved the film which, for me, was a success as that was our audience. That was the hurdle we always had to keep in sight so I was really gratified that he liked it.
I believe he sent you his approval via email and that is now framed and hanging on the wall in your house. His exact words were that it was, “Hypnotic, horrifying and terrific.”
MF: Absolutely. It was one of the biggest fan boy moments of my life. I printed it out and framed it and it’s still hanging in my living room.
With Andy Muschietti’s It having released literally just weeks ago, do you feel an additional amount of pressure in terms of having to live up to another King adaptation, particularly with it having smashed every horror record that existed in the history books?
MF: When we set out to make our movie, we didn’t know that we’d be releasing it at the same time as all these other Stephen King adaptations, but I think that our audience and the audience for It share a lot of qualities, but they’re different audiences and we’re a very different movie. I’m energised by what It did at the box office but I think our movie stands on its own and is being released under a whole different model; but the success of It just makes me happy to be making horror movies.
I actually went to see It on opening weekend and that was the first Stephen King book I ever read. I thought they did an amazing job capturing the characters who I love so much from the novel. And it’s a huge improvement, of course, over the mini-series in the ‘90s; a series which scarred me as a child. But what I think is so exciting is that audiences are latching onto character-driven horror and that is what I’ve always strived to make so I’m very excited that It is blowing up the box office right now.
Obviously, the character who carries most of the weight in Gerald’s Game is Jessie (Carla Gugino). You’ve said that casting that particular character was a really tough process because it required an actress brave enough to take on such a demanding role.
MF: When we first went out to cast for the movie, Carla wasn’t available but we got very lucky and she became available and I think she owns this part. I’m very biased, but I think it’s the performance of her career. She really carries the movie on her shoulders; as does Bruce Greenwood. The movie lives and dies on the two of them and they elevated all of us.
As the film covers some particularly stern subject matter, I imagine both you and the cast did some extensive research so as to tackle the subject with as much delicacy and respect as possible?
MF: Absolutely. And Carla does an enormous amount of preparation, so we had very in-depth conversations and rehearsals with Carla and Bruce before we went into production. It was critical for all of us that we handled this kind of material with the nuance and respect that it demanded. That takes a very brave actor and Carla was exactly that for us.
Trevor Macy: We can’t not mention Henry Thomas here. I mean, Henry has an eleven-year-old daughter and this was very difficult material for him. This was a very gutsy film to make.
MF: I remember telling him when he arrived in Alabama to shoot that I was sorry to ruin three decades of goodwill that he’d built up with audiences but he’s a remarkable and brave actor. Even though he’s not on screen for very long, I think he makes an enormous impact.
You’ve clearly built up a fantastic relationship with Netflix and they’ve green lit a 10-episode-straight-to-series order for an adaptation of Shirley Jackson’s “The Haunting of Hill House.” What can you share with us about that?
MF: We sold this series to Netflix after we finished shooting Gerald’s Game and I couldn’t be more excited about it. It’s one of the most fulfilling creative experiences I’ve ever had. I also really love working with reliable actors and Carla Gugino, Henry Thomas and Kate Siegel are among the best I’ve ever worked with so I’m thrilled for a chance to work with them again. I also really love the opportunity to tell a much longer story and to be able to explore longer story arcs over a period of time. I’ve wanted to get into television for years and I’m really thrilled that this is my way in because I get to play in such a different kind of playground here.
Trevor, with you involved as a Producer for The Strangers sequel, how is that coming along as we can’t wait to see the finished product?
TM: I’m actually going to be seeing a cut of the movie very soon and I’m very optimistic. For reasons completely unrelated to the audience, the sequel was tied up for a very long time but I think it’s a popular movie among the genre crowd and I think there’s a lot of curiosity about what’s going on with the sequel so it’s a sequel I think will be welcome and that hopefully connects with audiences…
Gerald’s Game premieres on Netflix this September 29th.
Words: Howard Gorman