Okay, this is cool. Really cool. Wow, I am pumped! . . . sorry, I'm calming down now. I feel like Richie Tozier.
I had the opportunity to interview two of the key movers and shakers in the recent dollar baby, "The Last Rung of the Ladder." This project was filmed by New England School Of Communications. It was directed by Lucas Stewart and produced by Mike Magilnick. Both of them agreed to an interview. We discussed a lot -- how the film was made, the timeline and how they went about getting permission for a dollar baby. Their passion for this project and New England School of Communication shines through.
Talks Stephen King: Hello! I am so excited to get to do this interview. Give me a little background about you guys.
Mike Magilnick: I'm from the southern part of Connecticut and growing up Stephen King was a very house hold name. My mother is a long time fan of his longer works and I started to read some of the shorter ones when I was old enough. I watched the Film adaptation of Stephen King's "IT" when I was young and have been in love with the genre since.
I really decided that I wanted to make films at that point. I was so scared of the sewer and clowns after that but I wanted to know why. Now knowing how it was made, how the effects are created, how the sound design and cinematography amplified the writing, I can look back and better understand what that did to my viewing of the piece.
Talks Stephen King: What lead you to New England School Of Communications?
Mike Magilnick: I was mostly drawn to the school because of the student teacher relation. When I first went for a tour I was shown a camera, which you don't get in most facilities until the upper classes or after an extensive amount of training. All around it seemed like a great place to learn. And time and time again it has proven to be not just a place that you get an education, but your really afforded the opportunity to soak up as much as you can handle and get so many opportunities and experiences.
The Last Rung on the Ladder was the first of hopefully many Pieces of this caliber to be produced from the students at NESCom.
Lucas Stewart: I was born and raised in Durham, ME, which you probably already know is the same town that Stephen King grew up in. Of course that made him a bit of a local celebrity, so his name was something I recognized from a young age.
As far as being a fan is concerned, I'll admit I don't own any of his novels, but from what I have read and seen in film adaptations has lead me to say that I am a fan. Stanley Kubrick's adaptation of The Shining is one of my top favorite films.
While attending Brunswick High School I started messing around with cameras and in my senior year took an intro to film class. By week two I had made my decision and started looking into film schools. I knew right off the bat that NESCom wasn't a film school, but figured I could start there and work my way into a film program if it was still what I wanted to do. In my freshman year I met Mike and Cory and, as they say, the rest is history.
Talks Stephen King: Why did you choose The Last Rung On The Ladder?
Mike Magilnick: One of the teachers at NESCom, Frank Welch, had actually initiated the Dollar Baby contract when he was himself in school. After gathering some dust he revived the idea of making it into a screenplay when Cory Landroche, Lucas Stewart, and myself came to the school end expressed an interest in exploring the world of digital film making. He approached us about possibly doing this and we immediately jumped onto it.
Lucas Stewart: Mike has pretty much said it all, but there was one other factor. The Last Rung On the Ladder was also attractive to us because it could be told simply, and by that I mean we wouldn't need to create fake monsters or use a large amount of special effects.
Our education in film making is more focused on proper story telling, camera work, and lighting, than things like special effects and fake elements.
Talks Stephen King: That's awesome, because King has always said his stories are driven more by characters than monsters or plot. I certainly think that is true of The Last Rung On The Ladder. What did you look for when casting the film?
Mike Magilnick: I wasn't involved with the casting process of the film so Lucas may be a better answer for this.
Lucas Stewart: Well, we certainly wanted to find actors an actresses who fit the parts, but we were limited to the group of 60 or so people who showed up to our casting call.
I would have to say the most time was put into finding the right kids for the parts. Lillian Ashby (Kitty) was one of our first to audition and she blew us away with her ability to take direction and mold her presence on camera to what the character called for.
Dawson Tucker (Larry) came to us through one of the instructors at NESCom. He had acted in a few commercials and we tracked him down to see if he was interested. The minute I saw him paired up with Lillian, I knew we had the perfect fit.
Talks Stephen King: Sometimes shorter projects are actually more difficult! Was this a difficult movie to translate to film? What are some hurdles you’ve had to clear to make this happen?
Mike Magilnick: I feel as though the most difficult aspect to this was while writing up the screenplay and then editing the film we wanted to try to stay as true to the original work as possible. Once we had made the decision of what we were using, adding, and changing we had the hurdle of making it happen.
This was our first attempt at something this large and getting all the pieces in order to film proved to be a bit more difficult than the smaller films we have been involved with.
Lucas Stewart: Honestly we had never worked on anything with location scouts, hired actors, an actual sound team, etc.. We jumped in feet first and I would say that our biggest hurdle was keeping tensions and emotions out of the production. None of us had worked in these position before on this scale, so when it came time to make big decisions we had to make them quick and try to put the benefit of the film before everything else.
Talks Stephen King: Michael, give us an idea what the role of a producer is.
Mike Magilnick: The role of a producer is quite simple while being immensely complicated.
The producer is responsible for assembling the crew to make the picture. Lining up the auditions for the roles in the cast. Determining the schedule for what and where we will be shooting. Everything from the budget, permits, locations, actors, crew, transportation, etc... You name it and it was the producers responsibility at some point throughout the production.
Talks Stephen King: Now, did you each fill the roles in this project you hope to carry on in the future? Is directing in the cards for you, Lucas?
Lucas Stewart: I loved directing but I hated it just as much. I would say that its a job I would take if offered, but I'm not striving to be the next Kubrick or Spielberg.
Talks Stephen King: And Michael, do you hope to continue producing?
Mike Magilnick: I really enjoyed producing the film and the experience has definitely been influential into what I think of my future. This was my first experience producing something of this scale, whereas I had edited and Gaffed things of this nature previously, so I had really stepped out of my comfort zone and I am so glad I did. As far as what roles I'll carry in the future though only time can tell.
Talks Stephen King: I know King really likes his work to be filmed in Maine. Somehow Canada keeps getting the role of Maine! You shot on location in Maine, is that correct? What locations did you use?
Mike Magilnick: We filmed the entire thing on Location, nothing on a sound stage. Our primary location is Larry's hotel room. We filmed that at Hollywood Slots Hotel and Raceway in Bangor, ME. The other location we used several times in the film were various parts of a private property that we were lucky enough to be able to film at in Monmouth ME.
We had one scene that was filmed in East Hartford CT and the rest of the film was all shot in and around Bangor ME with the support of several local businesses.
Talks Stephen King: Has Stephen King seen the film? Any feedback?
Mike Magilnick: We have heard a rumor that he has. We are actually in the process of contacting him to validate that and to hopefully get some of his opinions of the final outcome of our adaptation. If rumorsare true though he did indeed enjoy it and some of our touches to the story as well.
Lucas Stewart: We had an unexpected connection to King, and were able to get the film in front of him to watch at his leisure. His review wasn't an official one, so I don't think we able to talk specifics, but he did seem to enjoy it and was impressed with our work.
Talks Stephen King: Give us an idea of how the process worked.
Mike Magilnick: I would love to answer this but for some reason I can't. There are so so many aspects of the filming that I could touch on. And I didn't have enough involvement in the other things to really give information on them.
Lucas Stewart: Well, I'll try to give you a timeline of the project. In the spring of 2010 Frank Welch approached us with the idea, but it was just a hint at the project. He had previously owned the rights to an adaptation and would just need to contact King's lawyers to make sure it was still valid. This was a Dollar Baby, so it wasn't a difficult process. When we returned to school the next fall he gave us the green light and we started preproducing the film.
The first step was getting the story to our screen play writer, Godfrey Taylor. After a few months and a few revisions we had a script and started casting.
In January of 2011 we held our open casting call at the Gracie Theater on Husson University Campus and by the end of January we had narrowed down our cast. After a month of location scouting an story boarding we had our first shoot at HollyWood Slots in March of 2011.
By April we had come to a close on our primary schooting schedule and would resume shooting in the fall for a few pick up shots. Over that summer Mike sat down with the film and began editing. He sent Cory, Joe Giordano, Frank Welch and I multiple versions and we would write back with revisions and comments. By late September of 2011 we were down to our last few edits and sent it off to be cut for sound.
On November 17th and 18th we had our first previews to an audience of roughly 150 local viewers.
Talks Stephen King: Lucas, what part of the movie are you most excited about? Any particular scene really pop for you?
Lucas Stewart: I would have to say that the rooftop scene towards the end of the film is some of our best work. Everything about that shoot was perfect, the location, the day, the crew and of course our wonderful cast, it just all went so smoothly, and when you see the film I think you'll agree.
Talks Stephen King: Of course, everyone has to be asked: What is your favorite Stephen King novel Oh, wait! You guys are making movies. What’s your favorite Stephen King movie? And when discussing Stephen King movies, it’s always fair to also ask: What do you think is the worst King movie out there? (My vote on that always goes to Sleepwalkers! Followed closely by The Langoliers miniseries)
Mike Magilnick: I would have to say that my favorite Stephen King Movie would have to be "IT". As I mentioned it was so influential to me and still love to watch it.
Lucas Stewart: The Shining, all the way. Kubrick is a genius and his adaptation in my opinion was perfect. And i'm going to have to agree that the Langoliers miniseries was, well, "terrifying". Not in a good way.
Talks Stephen King: Lucas, any advice for prospective directors?
Lucas Stewart: Yeah, run. Haha, in all seriousness though, I would have to say that it pays to know your script. And I mean know it, know every word of every line in every scene. When you know it that well it makes it easier to have the movie in your head, and when you have the movie already in your head, you can easily work with your director of photography to make the movie how you see it. And with that said, make sure you and your DOP are on the same brainwave. I was extremely happy to have Cory Landroche as my DOP, he's brilliant behind a camera and he and I saw the story extremely similarly.
Talks Stephen King: Now that you’ve had a shot at filming a short story, are there any King novel’s you’d take on if given a giant budget?
Mike Magilnick: I know that It's very recent and I haven't had a chance to read it though all the way yet, 11/22/63 seems to be a story I would love to take on. The images in my head as I read it are so clear I want to see them on a screen.
Lucas Stewart: I could see a remake of the Shining being a possibility, haha. If given the right budget I would gladly take on any story by Stephen King. I greatly admire his attention to character development, and would enjoy making any one of his stories.
Talks Stephen King: How can King fans get a chance to see The land Rung On The Ladder?
Mike Magilnick: This is actually something we are trying to figure outcurrently. We can not post the film online so as of right now it will be viewable at film festivals. We are compiling a list of film festivals that we would like to submit it to in 2012 for 2012 and 2013 viewings.
Lucas Stewart: If I could afford it I would send out a copy to every single person who wanted one, but frankly I don"t have that many blank DVD's. Like Mike said, we're working on figuring that out, but I'm sure we could work out sending a copy or two your way.
Talks Stephen King: Thank you both so much!
A big thanks to Cory Landroche for making this possible.