Stephen King vs Stanley Kubrick: How “The Shining” went from book to movie

It’s safe to say that if it weren’t for the adaptations, Stephen King would not be the icon that he is today. Love him or hate him, he had made an incredible career out of writing fiction that could be translated to on-screen success. Even if you have never read a Stephen King book, you know his stories: It, Misery… and The Shining. 

Perhaps one of his most personal works, The Shining was an adaptation he might not have been prepared to leave to another artist’s hands. If you let someone else adapt your work, they might make it better… and therefore, the story itself might change ownership. 

This is the story about the adaptation of The Shining, and King’s struggle to reaffirm what was originally his creation, a haunting struggle that has lasted nearly 40 years. 

The Shining was the first book that Stephen King wrote where he was considered financially stable.  On top of his earnings from his previous novels Carrie and Salem’s Lot he also received a multi-book deal from publisher, Doubleday. With pressure off of his shoulders, King decided to take a trip to Boulder, Colorado in 1974 to take on a short residency. 

It was there, during the off season, Stephen King and his family, spent one night at the Stanley Hotel. King had been working on a story called Darkshine — about a boy with psychic abilities in an amusement park, but he preferred a setting that was more isolating and the hotel served as the inspiration. The King family found themselves as the only guests in the 142-room colonial hotel. 

King had a dream that night about his son running through the corridor, screaming, being chased by a fire-hose. He woke up, lit a cigarette, looked out the window at the Rockies and by the time the cigarette was done, the book was in his mind. 

The first draft of The Shining took four months to write and was published on January 28, 1977. 

The Shining was Stephen King’s confession. As a young father, he felt a lot of anger towards his children. Like his character, Jack Torrance, an alcoholic who had recently broken his son’s arm, Stephen King was feeling a lot of guilt for his own poor parenting during those early years as a father and a struggling writer. He poured all of it into The Shining. As he puts it, he was “getting it out of his system.” 

At its roots, Stephen King’s The Shining was about a family disintegrating — his worst fear — however, what Stanley Kubrick had in mind was a bit different. 

Hungover and shaving, King received a call from Stanley Kubrick, one morning, saying that he wanted to adapt The Shining. Immediately, Kubrick started rambling about his philosophy about ghosts and how every ghost story is an optimistic story. 

At this point, Kubrick had nearly 3 decades of experience in the industry and many of his finest films were linked with a literary work rather through adaptation or written concurrently. Lolita released in 1962 was based on the novel by Vladimir Nabakov, Dr. Stranglelove in 1964 was based on a book called “Red Alert” by Peter George, 2001: A Space Odyssey was released in 1968 which was followed by a novel by Arthur C Clark, A Clockwork Orange released in 1971 was based on the novel by Anthony Burgess, and Barry Lyndon released in 1975 was based on the novel by William Makepeace Thackeray. 

It was easy to see how King was flattered to have Kubrick approach him, wanting to adapt his latest work.   

Kubrick had developed a fascination with ESP and paranormal activities, and when he received the manuscript for The Shining from John Calley, an executive at Warner Bros, he was excited to find that the story had a great balance of psychological and the supernatural. He wanted the audience to ask: are supernatural things even happening or is Jack Torrance just crazy? 

Kubrick preferred adapting a story as opposed to writing an original piece because he used the feeling he got when reading a story for the first time as a yardstick for his decision making as he directed the movie.  

During this time, Kubrick wasn’t particularly interested in making a horror movie. Many thought that he would be as he was known to hop around different genres. It was rather there were two stories on his mind. One was Stephen King’s The Shining and the other was Diane Johnson’s The Shadow Knows. Kubrick was a particular artist, he ended up choosing to do The Shining, but he hired Johnson to write the script for it — rather than pursuing The Shadow Knows, even though she had never written a script before. 

Stephen King, on the other hand, had written a script for the movie — but allegedly Kubrick never even read it. After reading the initial manuscript for The Shining — and even though he appreciated the story — he found King’s writing to be “weak”

Kubrick called up Johnson and proposed a meeting, as he had been known to do with other writers, and in that meeting he offered her the job of writing the screenplay for The Shining. So she did. In about eleven weeks working with Stanley Kubrick, Diane Johnson wrote the script.

The movie’s initial release was on May 23, 1980 and it received mixed reviews. The common criticism was that the film was too slow moving for a horror and many found that the characters were hard to relate to. Despite the slow start, The Shining, which cost $19 million to make, ended up earning a profit with a domestic gross of over $44 million. 

Yet, The Shining is one of the few Kubrick films that failed to earn a single nomination for the Oscars or the Golden Globes. 

Still the toughest critic was perhaps the author of the source material himself. At first, King gave a fair critique of the movie, famously saying that “There’s a lot to like about it. But it’s a great big beautiful Cadillac with no motor inside, you can sit in it and you can enjoy the smell of the leather upholstery – the only thing you can’t do is drive it anywhere. So I would do every thing different. The real problem is that Kubrick set out to make a horror picture with no apparent understanding of the genre. Everything about it screams that from beginning to end, from plot decision to the final scene – which has been used before on the Twilight Zone”

Kubrick didn’t care too much for what King said. He had his reasons for the changes he made, feeling that King had spent too much time focusing on the character’s background — or as he would put it overcompensating. 

For King, the character arch was the most important factor of his story. It was his personal tale, after all and Kubrick dismissed all of that. In the film, King felt that the Jack Torrance character was one note — he was always crazy. 

But perhaps the most critical change that Kubrick made to the story was the ending. First, he omitted all the toperaries that came to life in the novel, saying that due to the special effects of the era, it simply wouldn’t do and would have most likely come across as hokey. The second change was how Jack Torrance died. Spoiler Alert. 

In the novel, it was the explosion of an aging boiler that caused the death of the main character — while, in the movie, Jack freezes to death outside. 

King said it best, “The book is hot, and the movie is cold; the book ends in fire, and the movie in ice.”

Finally, the last shot of the movie was a of a framed picture years ago: a celebration at the Overlook hotel. At the center, we see Jack Torrance, smiling. This sparked the theory that Jack was a reincarnation of an employee at the Overlook and he was destined and doomed to be trapped in the hotel forever. This was the Twilight Zone moment that King referenced in his criticism.

While it might have seemed like Kubrick had ultimately disrespected King’s original work, one can actually see many moments in the movie where he was loyal to the source material. The famous ballroom scene, where Jack sits in the bar, desperate for a drink, and then encounters a phantom barkeeper named Lloyd is perhaps the most loyal to the novel. 

And for me, rarely can a novel make my skin crawl, but remembering how I felt when reading the sequence with Danny Torrance leading up to that bathtub scene. Then seeing it come to life so effectively on screen is perhaps the moment that linked both novel and film. Two very different experiences, one chilling visceral effect. 

Even though Kubrick’s The Shining didn’t get the recognition it deserved upon its released, overtime it gained critical acclaim and many even deem it to be his finest work. 

While King and Kubrick continued on with their careers. The Shining entered the height of its pop-culture relevancy: from the highly quoted “Heeere’s Johnny!” to the word REDRUM scribbled on walls to the iconic scene of the twin girls in the hallway. All visuals that Kubrick immortalized. King’s ownership of The Shining had faded.   

Nearly two decades passed. 

After gaining some momentum in television with the four-part mini-series of, what I considered his masterpiece, The Stand, Stephen King jumped on the opportunity to reclaim one of his most precious work, The Shining. 

Essentially, he wanted to fix everything that Kubrick did wrong. The script for the 3-part series was written exclusively by King, and he wanted to stay as far removed from Kubrick’s creation as possible. At times, he even rewrote scenes which Kubrick had used from the original novel — such as the famous ballroom scene. Anything that can be done to separate King from Kubrick, King did. 

On April 27, 1997, The Shining mini-series was released to tepid response. While some critics found it to be a creepy suspense in the drawn out 6-hour experience, many more found it inferior to Kubrick’s adaptation. 

Yes, King had more attention focused on alcoholism, the struggle with work/life balance, and the interpersonal relationships of a family, but it lacked the eeriness that Kubrick was able to incorporate with aesthetics, best shown by the wide hallways that seemed to both be endless and suffocating. All that represented the haunting of the hotel. This was lost  in King’s version, where he had chosen to use the spark for his original inspiration: The Stanley Hotel as the design. 

Simply put, placed side-by-side, Kubrick’s version was deemed scarier. And when it came to a horror story, that was the key criteria. King sought redemption and had lost. 

On March 7, 1999, Stanley Kubrick died in his sleep from a heart attack at his home in Childwickbury Manor, United Kingdom. A few months later, On June 19, 1999, Stephen King was the victim of a life threatening car accident while walking on the shoulder of a road in Lovell Maine. Stephen King survived, but the feud between the two artists was over. 

However, the story of The Shining was not. 

During a promotional tour for Stephen King’s novel Under the Dome in 2009, King brought up a concept for a sequel, a story which will follow an adult Danny Torrance as he navigates the world with his paranormal powers and his haunting past. King made a poll on his official website asking his fans which story they would want to read next: The sequel to The Shining? Or another instalment in his Dark Tower series? 

The poll lasted one month and in the end, The Shining sequel, which will be titled Doctor Sleep, beat out The Wind through the Keyhole, the Dark Tower prequel, by a mere 49 votes. On September 24, 2013, Doctor Sleep was published. 

In 2014, Warner Bros Pictures acquired the rights to the Doctor Sleep adaptation. It took over 3 years to secure the budget, and only when the studio saw success with the remake of the Stephen King classic, It in 2017, that they got the green light to move forward with Doctor Sleep. 

Mike Flanagan, creator of The Haunting of Hill House on Netflix, signed on to direct the sequel that — as he stated would have a three-way connection between Stephen King’s The Shining, Stanley Kubrick’s adaptation, and Stephen King’s Doctor Sleep. Doctor Sleep was a story written completely removed from what Kubrick had created, so one of the earliest conversations that Flanagan had with King was getting his blessing to combine the worlds. 

Perhaps a true test of King’s character was accepting that Kubrick’s film had become the undisputed representation of The Shining. It’s what the world recognized. The conversation between Flanagan and King went well, and King gave his encouragement. The movie is an adaptation of King’s work, but it will exist in the same cinematic universe as Kubrick’s film

Doctor Sleep is expected to be released on November 8, 2019, starring Ewan McGregor in the role as Dan Torrance.  

And with that, there is finally peace on The Shining front. 

What is your favourite version of The Shining? And Is there a movie-based on a book that you are curious about how it got made? Let me know in the comments below.

If you enjoyed this article, please consider signing up for my mailing list. You won’t receive emails from me often, but when you do, it’ll include only work that I’m most proud of.

Writing in My 20s vs Writing in My 30s

I used to write a lot when I was younger. I used to stay up all night and hammer out three to four chapters. When I had a week off from school, I would dedicate a few days to do nothing but write. I participated in the 3-Day Novel Writing Contest three times — and even self-published one of them, The Past In Between,  just for kicks. I knew the well of my imagination and inspiration was never going to run dry. However, something else did… 

It wasn’t my motivation that got depleted, it was my time. Regardless of how successful you get as a 20-year-old, eventually, as the number increases, you will find that the free time in your day to do what you want will decrease. By the time I reached my 30s, my free time to work on my own projects were sparse. 

Now, I don’t want to make a rant about how busy I am, because being busy is lacking priority. If you don’t have time to do something, it is simply because it isn’t a priority. Working on my short stories or my novel isn’t a priority anymore. I have a full-time job, I have friends that I wanted to see, I have a dog I want to take on walks when the weather is nice, and I have a wife that I’d like to spend the prime of my day with. 

Those days that I used to block off simply to write are few and far in between. There are zero days in the year where I can just write. Even when I don’t have any plans scheduled with, I will still need to walk the dog, cook food, and maybe do some chores in preparation for the upcoming week. 

Yet, I haven’t stopped writing. 

Writing is still a large part of my life. It is a critical part of my identity. I still try to fit it in whenever I can, but it is hard to do. You know the saying, “The hardest part is starting.” And it is absolutely true when you are writing. Sitting down and getting to work is the hardest part. I believe it only gets harder when you don’t have an empty schedule to commit to it. 

Expectation: How I Like To Write

In my ideal world, I would have a day fully committed to writing. I would wake up with a fresh cup of coffee and hunker down and immerse myself into my work — deep work, as author Cal Newport would refer to it. I yearn to get into the flow where my writing is essentially pouring out of me like hot water from a kettle. 

I enjoy having the little distractions and blocks in between. I enjoy allowing myself to mill around the apartment for a moment thinking of the direction to guide my characters in.

I would usually have a movie playing in the background, something I have seen a million times before, just to keep me company. Pulp Fiction is a good one. Honestly, anything by Tarantino will do because it’s long… and it works to track how long I’ve been writing. 

This was how I wrote in my 20s. It was something I looked forward to like a vacation. But now… when I do take a vacation, writing is not what I want to do. Writing is fun, but writing is also work. When I have to prepare for a week at the office, I don’t necessarily want to put myself through a fifteen-hour write-a-thon. 

Reality: How I Write Now

Today, I write the same way I do a lot of other things. I squeeze it into my schedule. There are a few days in a month where I can commit myself fully to creative writing, but they are often hijacked. I’m not sacred with those days — although I should be. 

I write whenever I can, fifteen minutes before I head off to work in the morning, thirty minutes during my lunch break, or ten minutes as my dinner finishes cooking in the oven. Any spare time I have, I add it to my projects. It’s my way of making the most out of the little time that I have.

I find these little sprints incredibly hard, but with everything going on, if I don’t have them, I might not be a writer at all. So I sprint. 

I used to be a writer who needs a few minutes to warm up. This can mean sitting at the desk and getting into the right mind frame or it can mean rereading some of my previous writing, which is necessary if I’m working on a longer project. When I only have fifteen minutes blocked off to write that doesn’t leave me a lot of time to get into the groove. I need to start writing. There is no time to hum and haw about where to begin. I simply need to begin. 

Arguably in four scattered fifteen-minute writing sessions, I will probably get more words down on a page than in a 1-hour session, simply because of the urgency, I placed on myself. This had led me to the hypothesis that perhaps writing a first draft should best be done in a series of spurts, rather than one long marathon. This is an experiment I am curious to perform. 

There May Never Be An Ideal Time to Write

What I’ve discovered through these past few years as my time has been segmented and divided between all the people love and responsibilities and obligations I have is that there will never be a perfect amount of time to write. Just like how there won’t be a perfect amount of time to work out or practice an instrument. If you want to do something, you will need to fit it into your schedule. It doesn’t mean you can’t do all the other things in your life, it simply means that when you notice an empty slot in your day — which believe me, if you look, you will find it — take advantage of it. Make the most out of it. Don’t sit there and think about doing it. 

Remember, starting is the hardest part. So whenever you think that there is time to write, start. It’s that simple. Open up your project file, scroll down to the spot where you left off, and continue. Do this every time you have a break in your day and eventually, you will chip away at a project that you were waiting for a perfect time to work on. 

There is no perfect time. There are no better or worst time. There is only time.

Need ideas for your next writing project, check out this article on how I deal with too many ideas

How “Life of Pi” Went From Book to Movie

While Pi Patel might have spent 227 days trapped on a lifeboat with a Bengal tiger, executive Elizabeth Gabler and producer, Gil Netter spent 11 years bringing the impossible story from page to screen

Life of Pi was published on September 11, 2001, perhaps the worst day to have a book launch. Nevertheless, it sold over 10 million copies and won author Yann Martel, the prestigious Man Booker Prize. It was a huge success. 

Yet, it was deemed an impossible movie to make — and the 11 years in between publishing and the release of the movie directed by Ang Lee is a story about the complexity of adaptation. 

Life of Pi is arguably my favorite book. I remember reading it as a teenager and feeling like I had a choice in what to think. Not often a case for a high school student. I remember my teacher asking me: which story did you think was real? The one with the animals, I responded. 

I loved that book, because it wasn’t tarnished by a movie. My imagination wasn’t skewed. It would not have been my favorite book, if I saw the movie first. Yet, it might have became my favorite movie. This is the first in a series about adaptations: the story of how a book becomes a movie. It’s not about which is better, it’s about how such a feat is even possible.  

In 1990, Yann Martel read a review by John Updike for a Portuguese book that has recently been translated into English. This book was called Max and the Cats by Moacyr Scliar. It was a negative review and Martel never read that book. Still the premise stayed with him: a boy trapped on a boat with a man-eating jaguar. 

Reeling from the disappointing reception of his first two published books, Martel in the midst of quitting a work in progress about Portugal, travelled to India for inspiration. This was 1996 — five years before Life of Pi was published. It was during this trip that it all came together. 

By 2002, Yann Martel had become a household name. Winning one of the biggest prizes in literature will do that. In addition, Life of Pi spent 61 weeks on New York Times BestSeller. While Martel received criticism for not acknowledging Scliar, eventually all that faded, when he stated it could not be plagiarism of any form, if he had never read Scliar’s book. When put side-by-side, most critics failed to see many similarities between the two: structurally and thematically. 

In the same year, at the height of Life of Pi’s popularity, 20th Century Fox Pictures Executive, Elizabeth Gabler was on maternity leave, where she saw the novel everywhere. All the other studios had passed on Life of Pi, so when producer, Gil Netter called her and pitched the project — she recognized the complexity of the story: it takes place predominantly on the Pacific Ocean, it’s highly spiritual, it’s not a superhero sequel and it’s not easily summed up. These were all concerns.

Still, Gabler saw a lot of potential in the story, so she made the deal for the film rights with Yann Martel a little over a year after the novel hit the shelves. 

When an author options their story to a production company, it is not always clear how much they will make. They may make a deal for as little to nothing with a promise of a percentage of the budget of the film (if it ever gets funding), or they may get an upfront payment for film rights all at once, perhaps $500,000. It’s hard to predict how much exactly Martel made from optioning the rights for Life of Pi, but one may wonder if the lengthy duration it took to make the film and the trouble it will soon have with the budget work for or against him monetarily. 

In February of 2003, Gabler had officially acquired the rights to Life of Pi and pre-production began. Screenwriter, Dean Georgaris, known for Manchurian Candidate, Triston and Isolde, and Laura Croft Tomb Raider: The Cradle of Life, was hired to write the script. 

M. Night Shyamalan — yes, M. Night — was first to partner with the project as the director in 2004. He had just finished with his movie The Village and Life of Pi was tempting, after all, Shyamalan grew up in the very city, the character Pi did, Pondicherry. However, he would back out of the project worried that the twist ending in Life of Pi would be affected if he was to direct it. People will be anticipating the twist the moment it began. That would hurt the story, and so, Shyamalan would sacrifice himself and begin work on his next movie, Lady In the Water. 

The project went in and out of limbo at this point. As of March of 2005, Alfonso Cuaron was rumored to have signed on to direct it — but stepped down to work on Children of Men. 

In October of the same year, Jean-Pierre Jeunet, director of Amelie was hired by 20th Century Fox to take on the job. Jeunette jumped on the opportunity — after backing out of Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix not long before — and began working on the screenplay with his partner from Amelie, Guillaume Laurant. Things were working great, Jeunet had a script that the studio liked, he built miniatures of the lifeboat, and even started location scouting in India.    

Then a major problem materialized: the budget. For an Indian boy in open waters with a lion, the project would cost an excess of $85 million. According to Investopedia, the average cost of a major studio movie in 2007 was $65 million. So the mission was to get the budget to $60 million, however, that simply wasn’t going to happen for Jeunet. In frustration, the heads of Fox told him to produce the movie himself. 

For 2 years, Jeunet had been working on Life of Pi. Suddenly the movie was at a standstill as the producers sought new solutions. Then time ran out for him. Jeunet did not want to spend the rest of his life working on Life of Pi and four months later he had a script for a new project, MicMacs. Life of Pi was once again without a director. 

At this time, Life of Pi was getting a reputation as being an unfilmable movie. It was getting riskier and riskier for 20th Century Fox. With no marketable star and every money-sucking challenge imaginable for a filmmaker, the adaptation of Yann Martel’s Man Booker Prize winner seemed impossible. 

In early 2009, almost eight years after the novel was published, the fourth director for this film was hired, academy award winner, Ang Lee, best known for his diverse resume including Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon, Brokeback Mountain, and Hulk. 

Screenwriter, David Magee, known for Finding Neverland, was personally hired by Lee to write the screenplay, working closely together. Writers, if you ever feel like giving up on a project, remember everything Life of Pi went through… In three and a half years of working on the movie, Magee and Lee wrote 170 drafts of the script

Life of Pi was a story that is told primarily from the mind of the character. Pi alone on a lifeboat with a tiger. How can they translate it to the screen? Lee and Magee dove deep into the project: speaking with those who have survived at sea, visiting holy locations in India, and even setting out in a boat during harsh weather themselves to gain the personal experience. 

Once again, it felt as though the movie was back on track. Yet, there was still the issue of the marketable lead. Finding a young Indian boy to play the role of Pi — a huge responsibility — was challenging and lengthy. It required a worldwide search with Lee auditioning 3000 actors. In the end, he found Suraj Sharma and placed him in a setting as daunting as a lifeboat with a tiger, his first impossible Hollywood movie. 

Lacking a familiar name on the bill continued to be a concern for the studio, at least for the North American audience. At a time, Tobey Maguire, the original Spiderman himself, was cast as the author interviewing a much older Pi Patel, but Lee later felt that having a recognizable face would be more of a distraction than a benefit — much like having M. Night direct the movie.

On top of that, there was another worry for the studio. Yes, the same concern that troubled them a few years ago: budget.  

In 2010, Jim Gianopulos and Tom Rothman, two chairmen of 20th Century Fox called Elizabeth Gabler letting her know that they were going to withdraw from the project — ending funding completely. Life of Pi the movie was on life support about to have its plug pulled. The proposed budget was simply too big of a risk for the studio. 

Gabler called Ang Lee to deliver the bad news. Fox is off of the project and Lee was free to shop the film to another studio, a mammoth task to say the least — which may stall the film for another decade. Gabler was as disappointed as Lee. There was nothing else like it. Yes, it wasn’t the conventional movie with heartthrobs and superheroes, but that was what made it worth fighting for. 

To her surprise and admiration, Lee did not give up. Before the call ended, he told her he will make his way to LA to discuss the matter in-person. With him, he had Suraj Sharma’s audition tape and a pre-visualization scene of the shipwreck, the pivotal moment in the story that left the character Pi stranded at sea. In addition to those two selling points, Lee was willing to accommodate with the expenses. Gabler was impressed and she bought it to Gianopulos and Rothman. Together, they cut $25 million from the proposed budget. This was helped by filming many portions of the movie in Taiwan. 

In 2012, Life of Pi was released to rave reviews, earning the film 11 Academy Award nominations, including a nomination for screenwriter, David Magee for best-adapted screenplay and producer, Gil Netter for Best Picture, along with Ang Lee and David Womack. The film ended up winning 4 Oscars, including one for Ang Lee as best director. Not only was it well received by the critics, to the delight of the studio, the movie turned out to be a commercial success, grossing over $500 million worldwide, with a final budget of $120 million. 

Ang Lee claims it was the hardest movie he had ever made, taking him nearly four years. 

Not every adaptation will be deemed impossible or receive critical acclaim and be a commercial success. Yet, every adaptation will have their own unique story. Is there a movie based on a book that you are curious about how it got made? Let me know in the comments below. 

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