Except for the five screenplays he has written--and one film he has directed--Stephen King remains detached from the film projects his books spawn. After he sells the screen rights, he lets them go.
"I've become progressively less interested in the movies that I sign off on as the years go by," he said. "Like 'Graveyard Shift,' I let it go. In that case, it's an exploitation film. That's OK. That movie belongs on the video shelf.
"I got spanked in People magazine for allowing 'Graveyard Shift' to be made, which is ridiculous. Ralph Singleton had never directed a film. John Esposito had never written a film. Now they both have a movie credit. They'll do better next time. This is why you do it. "
King scoffs at charges he signs away film rights simply for the money. The author, who has published 30 books in 15 years, recently signed a four-book contract with Viking Press worth $38 million. King's empire reportedly grosses more than $100 million a year.
"Look, there was a time I was out there knocking on doors, and there were some people who opened them for me," King said. "I'll never forget that. . . . To me that's where the pleasure and the power is, to say 'Yes, you can' rather than 'No, you can't.' What, do I need the money? Am I starving? Come on."
King's favorite movie adaptation of his work "by far" is "Misery," due largely to the humor in the face of terror injected by Goldman and Reiner. "Rob's never afraid to be funny, and neither am I," King said. "That's how you pay off the horror. You go into a movie like that and if you don't give them something to laugh at, they'll find something to laugh at."
Ultimately, however, even King doesn't know how to make King work on screen. The film he wrote and directed, the mechanized "Maximum Overdrive" about killer machines, was roundly laughed at. Last year's "Pet Sematary," written by King and directed by Mary Lambert, grossed more than any other King-based film ($57.4 million), but was too strong for some of the most steely horror stomachs.
"(David) Cronenberg did great with 'The Dead Zone' because he pulled back. Kubrick did a bad job with 'The Shining' because he pulled back. . . . Then Rob Reiner makes 'Misery,' where Kathy Bates will probably get nominated for an Oscar and they'll look at it in film courses for years.
"In each case, you ask, 'What is it that makes people come back for more?' and find that. I can't put my finger on it. If I could, I'd just bottle it instead of write novels."