Friday, July 26, 2013

An Exercise in "Stand"ing

When I first began this blog back in 2011, my intent was to write a long series of critical essays about Stephen King's books, movies, and stories.  At that time, I was in the midst of working my way through rereading all of King's books, in chronological order, so I figured I'd just start with where I was: Misery.

Much to my chagrin, it's now over two years later, and I haven't made a whole hell of a lot of progress.  To be exact, I've worked my way through a mere three additional novels in my great re-read project (The Tommyknockers, The Dark Half, and -- this year --the revised version of The Stand).  I've only blogged about two of those.

Which means that if I'm using my own goals as a metric, my blog has so far proven to be a dismal failure.  Luckily for me, I wouldn't actually say that.  Yeah, sure, it's up to snuff compared to where I want it to be; but I've also had fun writing it, and while there hasn't been as much of what I wanted to be there, there has been plenty of other stuff.  And I think a lot of it turned out reasonably well.

Still, there's a part of my brain that gets louder every day hollering at me to get off the shoulder and back onto the road, and make some friggin' progress.

Fail, indeed.  

2013 was going to be the year that fail vanished, but something has been keeping me from following through: a little thing called The Stand.  That's a whopper of a book, y'all.  Could I write about it at length?  Yes indeed.  And I planned to.  I had some ambitious plans for critiquing that book, mostly involving writing a detailed critical analysis of it.

Chapter by chapter.  One post per chapter.

In other words, writing a book about The Stand.

That's a simplification of my plans, but it's a satisfactory one.  It was a good idea I had, and I plan to return to it one of these days, but for now, it just isn't realistic, and rather than continue to feel defeated by the idea of spending a year working on it, I think the time has come to get back to making progress on some of my other ideas.  And so, for now, I bid fond farewell to "Bryant's Giant Stand Project of 2013."  We hardly knew ye.

But I thought it'd be a shame to just write nothing about the book, so I spent a few days trying to figure out which of the novel's many themes -- or which is its characters, maybe -- to focus on for a good, solid post.  And then, an idea hit me.  It's a weird idea, and I wouldn't be surprised if it made a few people roll their eyes.

The idea came to me a few weeks ago, while writing a review of the second episode of Under the Dome.  I thought that episode was terrible, and I'd only been mildly appreciative of the pilot episode, so at that point in time I was chalking the series up as a bust.  Since then, it's gotten a lot better, at least for my money, but after that second episode, I was railing a bit about how lousy a show it was, and complaining about how the changes made to the novel were counter-productive.

I literally woke up with the thought in my head that an interesting idea for how to deal with blogging about The Stand might be to write a screenplay for the first episode of a hypothetical television series based on the novel.  And as soon as the thought was there, I knew that that was what I had to do.

Well, I've been working on it off and on since then, and I'm going to just go ahead and post what I've got.  It isn't a complete episode; it represents maybe half an hour's worth of content.  But for better or for worse, it's a (partial) screenplay, and it accomplished my goal.

That goal?  To see what it was like to do it.  I just wanted to get a feel for what the process of adapting a novel to screenplay form might be like.  Now, I should mention right up front that I'm under no illusions that what is here would actually function as a (partial) pilot episode for a television series based on The Stand.  It's much too unpolished for that.

But I enjoyed writing it, and learned a few lessons from it, and thought it'd be fun to share.  So here it comes, in what I'm sure is going to end up being butchered-by-Blogger formatting.  After, I'll share some of my thoughts on some of the specifics.


THE STAND 1.01: “The Circle Opens”

based on the novel by Stephen King

teleplay by Bryant Burnette

TITLE CARD:  CALIFORNIA, June 13, 1980 – 2:17 AM
From the vantage point of a power-line, we are looking down upon a row of military-style barracks houses.  The night is clear, starry, silent.  With a sudden flurry of wings, a crow lands upon the power line and stands there for a few moments, preening.  It cocks its head, hearing something – the sound of a car, its engine revved and its tires squealing – slightly before we do.
Shot continues: the crow turns its head, and the camera turns with it. A 1966 Chevy Chevelle is screaming up the road toward the house.  We follow it for a few seconds, and it comes flying into the driveway of the house closest to us.  The crow follows it progress the entire way.
The driver – CHARLIE CAMPION, wearing Army fatigues – flings open the car’s door the second the car is stopped.  He leaps out of the vehicle, and runs toward the house, not bothering to close the car’s door, or turn off the engine.  The crow tracks his progress, and again cocks its head.
Charlie runs at near-sprint speed to the front door, throws it open, runs into the house.
The door to the room is flung open, making a loud bang against the wall.  Charlie goes immediately to the bed, and begins shaking SALLY CAMPION gently but firmly.
(mutters incoherently)
     Wake up, Sally.
Leeme lone...
(insistently; not sounding panicked, but determined)
     You gotta wake up, NOW!
(waking up, now)
     ...the FUCK, Charlie?!?
(smacks his hands away and sits up; sees how serious he looks)
     Charlie, what’s wrong?  Is there a fire?
(sees she is awake; goes quickly over to the closet and opens it; begins flinging clothes onto the bed)
Worse.  You gotta get dressed, Sally.  We need to get outta here.
(gets out of bed; we see she is pregnant, and probably not far from her due-date)
     What?!?  Why?!?
(Charlie has grabbed a suitcase, and is shoving clothes inside it; Sally grabs his arm and tries to get him to look at her)
For God’s sake, Charlie, will you slow down and tell me what the fuck is going on?
(pauses, with obvious frustration)
What’s going on is, if we don’t get the fuck away from here in the next ten minutes, we’re both dead.  Fucking DEAD, get me?
(Sally, horror dawning on her face, nods)
Get dressed, baby.  Do it FAST.
She grabs a pair of jeans and begins putting them on; pauses briefly when she sees Charlie tucking a pistol into the pack of his uniform; continues putting the jeans on, faster now.
The camera faces the car, and Charlie and Sally come running – Sally tenderly and slowly – toward it.  Charlie flings the suitcase into the backseat.  They get inside.  Charlie starts the car and backs out of the drive, fast.  Behind them, we can see that our friend Mr. Crow is still looking down at the scene; as the car turns and begins driving up the road, the crow takes wing and flies away.  The crow is not a focal point; he’s just a background detail for those paying close attention.
They’ll send soldiers after us, Charlie.  I don’t know why we’re running, but...
Not tonight, they won’t.  Ain’t gonna be a soul left to send; nobody else made it out.  Hell, I don’t know why I made it out.  Malfunction somewhere, I guess.
(he laughs a horrid, you-believe-this-shit laugh)
Jesus God Almighty...everything’s supposed to mag-lock if the clock goes red.  They got a computer that runs the whole place; fucker’s supposed to be fail-safe, but if it was I’d be dead as dogshit right now, like all the rest.  Shut up like a bug in a bottle, that’s where my ass’d be.
Charlie, what in the HELL happened?  I don’t know what you’re saying!
(panicked, himself...)
I DON’T KNOW!  Okay?  I don’t know what those eggheads do in there!  Disease research, is what Frank told me, so it’s probably that.  And who knows WHAT kind of shit THAT means!  There’s fail-safes in case the shit ever hits the fan.  
(he looks at Sally, who looks utterly confused; he laughs again, and says, as a way of explanation:)
If the clock goes red, the doors close.  ALL the doors, and they don’t ever open again.
(he looks at her again, his eyes pleading somehow)
The Army don’t design shit that way just for the hell of it, Sal; they do it to keep something inside.  So whatever they fucked up tonight, the Army thought it was a good idea to keep all the people in there with it.  That’s how much they want it to not get out.  Every last one of us in that tower was expendable as fruitflies.
But YOU got out...?  How?
One door failed.  I ain’t got the first fuckin’ clue why.  Musta been God lookin’ out for us.
(grabs at her hand; tears are starting in his eyes)
The Campions’ car is approaching a guardpost at the base entrance.  A soldier is already standing outside it, his palms held outward, indicating that Charlie needs to stop.  Charlie doesn’t have much of a choice; the gates are closed.  He brings the car to a halt and steps out.
(not fucking around, and putting a hand on the pistol at his side)
We’re Code Red, sir!  Get back in your vehicle IMMEDIATELY!
(walking crisply, trying to appear in command)
Open the gates, private!  That is a fucking ORDER!
Negative, sir!  We are CODE RED!
Private, my wife is in labor!  I have to get her off-base STAT!  Open the gates NOW!
Sir, we are Code Red!  I cannot...
(Sally has climbed gingerly out of the car, clutching her stomach; she begins screaming)
Ma’am, get back in the...
The second the soldier’s eyes are not on him anymore, Charlie whips his pistol out and opens fire.  The first shot takes the soldier in the shoulder; the second blows his brains out the back of his skull.  Let’s not be TOO gory here, but the scene should definitely have impact.  It certainly has an impact on Sally, who shrieks – for real, this time – and turns away from the horrible scene.
Charlie, meanwhile, darts over to the soldier, and grabs his gun.  He then goes into the guardpost, and fiddles with something we can’t see for a few seconds until the gates begin opening.
He goes over to Sally, puts his hands on her shoulders.  A light breeze blows her hair gently.
(firmly, but with kindness)
Get back in the car, Sal.  I’m sorry you had to do that, but it was him or us.  Wind’s blowing west; if we head east, I think we’ll be okay, but we need to move, and fast.
(barely able to speak)
(she coughs, perhaps clearing her throat of the taste of the bile that must have risen up her throat)
They get back in the car.
We focus on the face of the murdered soldier, with the road beyond the base clearly visible behind his ruined head.  The Campions’ car disappears up that road, and as it goes, our friend Mr. Crow lands on the ground behind the soldier.  It hops about for a moment, then hops onto the soldier’s face.  It cocks its head again, quizzically, then flies away on its unknown errands.
Charlie drives, intently intent on avoiding the panic that is swirling around inside him.  He wants to appear strong and in-control for his wife.
Sally looks at the soldier’s confiscated gun, which is on the seat between Charlie’s legs.  A desperate look washed over her face.
     Are we going to be okay?
(no answer from Charlie seems forthcoming)
(still no answer; she ducks her head, and puts her hands on her very pregnant belly; Charlie notices this, and reaches one of his hands over to put it over one of hers)
     Yeah, Sal; we’ll be fine.  We’ll all be fine.
- - - - -
Seagulls wheel in the sky, singing their songs.  Children play in the surf, hollering their cries of glee.  In Ogunquit, Maine, it is a devastatingly beautiful morning, and standing on the pier, looking down at the ocean and the children, is a devastatingly beautiful young woman, FRANNIE GOLDSMITH.  She is not dressed for beach-going; she wears a pair of jeans and flip-flops, and whatever sort of shirt would have seemed standard-issue casual-wear for ladies in 1980.
She watches the kiddies at play for a half a minute or so, reacting to whatever kiddie business they get up to.  She smiles down at it, with an air of melancholy we do not yet understand.
From the other end of the pier, a young man – JESS RIDER – approaches her.  She hears his shoes on the boards of the boardwalk, and looks over; sees who it is, smiles curtly, and then looks pointedly back down at the kids.
Jess walks up, stands silently beside her for a moment or two.
(in a tone that indicates he doesn’t know where he stands with Frannie at this particular moment) stood me up last night, Frannie.
(she looks over at him, but her face gives nothing away)
We were going to the movies, remember?  The new Kubrick?  At the Odeon?
Hull-O-o?  Earth to Frances?
Don’t call me “Frances,” Jess; you know I hate when you call me “Frances.”
(throws his hands up in a gesture of surrender that looks more like an attack)
And I hate it when beautiful women named Frannie leave me standing outside a movie theatre for an hour.  Where were you, Frannie?
I was with my thoughts, Jess.  What are you doing here?
I went by your house, and your dad said you’d gone to the beach.  What’s that mean, “with my thoughts”?
(turning now, giving Jess her full attention, which he is suddenly not sure he wants)
You went TO MY HOUSE?
(she speaks calmly, but in a tone that has zero bullshit)
You talked TO MY FATHER?
(in a so-sue-me tone)
Yes!  Okay?  Yes!  Lighten up!  I thought you might be sick or something!
(sounding hurt and sorta pathetic now)
It’s not like you to not show up, y’know?  I was worried.
     I just didn’t feel like a movie, is all.
Well, we didn’t HAVE to go to it.  We could’ve just...I dunno.  Ice cream, or...whatever.
(she’d obviously rather not be having this conversation)
I had things I needed to think about.  Still do.
She begins walking away.  Jess follows after her, clearly becoming angry.
Frannie!  Hey!  FRANNIE!  God damn it, Frannie, don’t just ignore me!
She has reached the beginning of the pier and is walking onto the sand of the beach, determined to avoid Jess.  Jess catches up to her, grabs at her arm from behind, tries to spin her around.  She jerks her arm out of his hand, but loses her footing, and spins out of balance.  She falls backward onto her butt, and brings a hand up to her mouth.
     Ow!  JESS!
(she glares at Jess, furious)
(aware he has goofed)
     Oh, shit, Fran, I’m sorry.  You okay?
NO, I’m not okay!  I bit hell out of my tongue.  Damn it, Jess...!
(she is getting to her feet now; she spits blood onto the sand, then kicks sand over the spit, angrily)
I’ve got a lot on my mind right now, and I DO NOT need you making it worse!
(clearly, now, genuinely hurt)
     Since when did I make things worse?
(looking at him, she can see she’s maybe gone a little too far)
Jess, I...look, I didn’t mean that.  Okay?  I’m sorry.  You don’t make things worse, you just...make things more complicated.
(this does not help)
Okay, look.  Do you still want to buy me some ice cream?  I’m pretty sure my tongue could use it right about now.  And not just because it’s bleeding.
(skeptical, aggrieved)
Yeah, I do; but if you’re gonna just insult me the whole time, maybe not so much, you know?
(grabs his arm, placatingly, but not terribly convincing)
I won’t insult you, Jess.  Just don’t call me “Frances” and don’t cut me off at one scoop.  Deal?
Frannie and Jess sit in a booth, Jess with a half-empty milkshake in front of him, Frannie with an enormous banana split – which hardly looks touched – in front of her.  Jess is watching, somewhat disgustedly, as Frannie – in an unsuccessful attempt to be ladylike – dabs at her wounded tongue with a napkin.
Frannie removes the napkin, and looks at the bright spot of blood on it.  She sniffs at it, resentfully.
(to the blood)
     Where were you when I needed you, you stupid spot?
(she takes a bit of her banana split, winces for a moment, but then makes a sound of determined contentment)
There is NOTHING ice cream can’t make better.  Even the cheap stuff.  And this isn’t the cheap stuff.
(takes another bite, a bit more voraciously this time)
(sensing that things are perhaps looking up, finally)
Only the best for milady.
You know, I still love to go to the Dairy Queen out on US 1, but I’ll take Deering banana splits any day of the week.
(she takes on a somewhat professorial tone)
Did you know, good sir, that Dairy Queen ice cream consists mostly of bubbles?
(Jess has nothing to say about this; Frannie takes his 
blankness and runs with it, becoming even more professorial)
It is the absoLUTE truth, I assure you.  Most people don’t know it, but I learned all about it in Business Theory last spring.  Those giant ice cream machines mostly manufacture bubbles and air, which is how the DQ can afford to sell their fine wares so cheaply.  But air or not, my father used to take there all the time when I was a kid, and I love it, bubbles and all.
(her brightness has departed as quickly as it arrived, and she is back to sounding less like a professor and more like a girl who just bit blood out of her tongue)
I love it, but it’s not real.  It’s just air, and it’ll...
(she makes a floating-away gesture with the hand not grasping a spoon full of banana split)
...just float right away on you.
Frannie begins crying all of a sudden.  Jess, alarmed, tries to grasp her free hand, but she wipes a tear away with it before he can reach it.  With her other she takes another bit of her ice cream, but she winces and puts the spoon down, probably for good.
Frannie, it was just a stupid movie.  It’s not the end of the world.
Banana Boat Supreme with Blood Sauce.  I can’t eat any more, Jess, will you throw it away?  It’s making me sick to even think about it.
(blinks at her for a second, then gets up and takes her banana split to a trashcan; he comes back, gets his milkshake, and takes it to the trashcan, too; he’s being overly dramatic, trying to make a point)
All gone.  Happy now?
Not happy.  Pregnant.  I’m pregnant, Jess.
(she looks up at him, expectantly; this is the make-or-break moment for Jess Rider)
(speaks slowly, quietly, and carefully, with obvious dismay)
What did you just say?
(a look of unsurprised disappointment comes over her face; Jess doesn’t know it, but he has just lost this girl, forever)
     Try to contain your enthusiasm, Jess; you’ll embarrass us.
     But...I mean, how did this happen, Frannie?
(adopts her professorial tone again, with an edge this time)
Well, Jess, if I understand it correctly, at some point – probably in April – you put your penis in my vagina, and ejaculated.  One of the millions of sperm swam up...
Jesus!  Fran, I only asked!  I thought you were on the pill!
Well, you SEE, Jess, I believe that what must have happened is that somebody at the jolly old Ovril factory must have fallen asleep at the controls when my batch of pills went by on the conveyor belt.  That’s option number one.  Option number two is, maybe they’re feeding you fellas something special in the UNH cafeterias that makes you sperm extra potent.  Option number three is, I forgot to take a pill and then forgot that I forgot.  I don’t KNOW what happened, okay?!?
Fine!  Jesus, Frannie, you don’t have to...
JESS so mad about it!  I mean, it’s not like I’m going to run out on you.  We’ll...I mean, we’ll do what we need to do, right?
Which is what, exactly?
Frannie, I don’t...I mean, what do YOU want to do?
(looking around, avoiding his gaze; she probably wishes she still had her ice cream, just so she’d have a spoon to focus on)
This is why I needed time to think, Jess.  I don’t KNOW what I want to do.
Well, what would you do if you could do anything?
Well, I...I mean, what IS there?
Jess, the options as I see them are as follows: one, we can get married and keep the baby; two, we can get married and give the baby up for adoption; three, we don’t get married and I keep the baby on my own; four...
...FOUR, we don’t get married and I give the baby up for adoption.  Five, I get an abortion.  Have I left anything out?
Can we not just talk about this?
What the hell are we doing right this very moment?  We’re doing it sooner than I wanted to do it, but we’re talking, unless I’m badly mistaken.  Am I badly mistaken, Jess?
(slams a fist onto the tabletop)
Frannie, goddammit...!
(a few other customers look around; Jess is abashed)
Don’t shout, Jess.
Well, what if I do?  You seem determined to aggravate me; it seems like me shouting would make your day.  Look, this situation isn’t my fault, okay?
It’s nobody’s fault, Jess.  You keep asking me what we’re going to do.  What do YOU want to do?  I’ve laid out the options; which one do you prefer?
(thinks for a second, then stiffens his spine a bit)
Let’s get married.
(looks sad, pleased, and determined all at once)
I don’t want to marry you, Jess.
(clearly on the verge of falling to the mat, victim of a knockout blow)
Why not?
I haven’t thought of the reasons why yet.  And I’m not about to be rushed into something just because you haven’t given me enough time to prepare.  I only found this out yesterday, Jess.  I haven’t had enough time.
You don’t love me, is that it?
I...Jess, I don’t know if I do or if I don’t.  I thought I did.  But a baby...a baby changes things.
But why?
You know my mother.  She can barely stand the thought of me dating before I get married, much less...what you thought we’d be doing last night after the movie.  What we did that caused...THIS.  She’s...not going to take this well.
Well, I don’t care what she thinks.  I love you, and that’s that.
You THINK you love me.
Oh, come the fuck off of it, Frannie.  I get it, now.  You’re so afraid to stand up to your crazy mother than you’re willing to just throw me out the fucking door.
That’s not tr...
It IS true, goddammit.  You’ve got no spine when it comes to her.  THAT’S why you were mad I came to your house today.  Not because I talked to your father, but because you were afraid your mother was home and heard me asking after you.
(Frannie looks as if he’s made an unfortunately valid point; Jess stands up)
Look, let’s get out of here.  You can go back to the beach, sort shit out as you see fit.  I’ll go back to Portland, since you don’t seem to want me here.  Make your mind up, and when you do, you give me a call.  But I’ll tell you this much: good men don’t just grow on trees, Frannie.  I’m a good man.  Good luck finding another one.
Jess Rider walks out of the frame, and Frannie watches him go for a moment.  She looks sad, defeated, determined.
- - - - -
A good-looking man in a cowboy hat – STU REDMAN – steps out of a car, and wanders over to a group of goood-ole-boys sitting in patio chairs, shootin’ the shit.  These good-ole-boys are BILL “HAP” HAPSCOMB, NORM BRUETT, TOMMY WANNAMAKER, HENRY CARMICHAEL, and VIC PALFREY.  They are deep in their bullshit, and mostly don’t notice Stu as he walks up and leans himself against the wall of the service station.  As he settles in, a title card appears overlaid: ARNETTE, TEXAS – JUNE 16, 1980 – 7:48 PM
Well, if it ain’t Mr. Motormouth himself.  Pull up a chair, Stuart.  Hap here’s a-fixin’ the national economy.  Ain’t that right, Hap?
Well, I’d fix the sumbitch as good as Carter’s a-fixin’ it, I ‘spect.  Howdy, Stu.
(Stu, living up to Norm’s nickname for him, just nods)
What I say is, they got to just say screw this “inflation” shit.  Screw this “national debt” shit.  Look.  They GOT the presses, and they got the PAPER.  They got to just put them fuckers to work!  Print off fifty million or so thousand-dollar bills, and hump ‘em right to Christ into circle-ation!
(to the group)
Fellers, that’s what droppin’ out from high-school’ll getcha, right there.
(to Hap)
That wouldn’t fix a got-damn thing, Hap.  They do that, it’d be just like Richmond at the end of the States War.  Ask me what a Confederate Dollar’s worth these days.  Go on, ask.
(taking the bait Hap won’t bite at)
What’s it worth, Vic?
Same’s it was worth then.  Not a damn thing.  Which is exactly what a buncha damn thousand-dollar bills with Jimmy fuckin’ Carter’s grinnin’-ass face’d be worth.  Not a damn thing.
(the group gets a good laugh out of this, Hap included)
I got some acquaintances don’t entirely agree with you ‘bout that, Vic.  And I owe all them sonsabitches money.  They’re gettin’ kinda antsy about it, too.
We are suddenly a bit up the road from the service station.  Dusk is approaching.  The camera focuses on the road, with a sign on one side of it welcoming any and all to Arnette, Texas.  In the distance, maybe a hundred yards away, we can see the Texaco station.  The Campions’ Chevelle pulls up to the sign, and stops there, idling.  We do not see inside the car, but unless we’ve read the book or comics or seen the miniseries, we probably don’t think much of anything is wrong.
The group is still chuckling over Hap’s misguided economic platform.  Even Stu, who has grabbed a beer and is taking a hearty swig, has a smile on his handsome face.  As he finishes his swig and the bottle lowers, he spies the Chevelle, idling in the distance.  He continues smiling, but his gaze becomes intent.
As the scene continues, we cut back and forth between Stu and the Chevelle, which has begun rolling in the direction of the station.  It is not going particularly fast, but is swerving quite badly, and seems generally like trouble.
I ain’t got no solutions, but I’ll tell you this much: if me and Stuart here don’t start gettin’ more than thirty hours a week at the factory, we’re gonna be right there with ya, Hap.  Thousand-dollar bills for all; I don’t give a shit if BILLY Carter’s face is on ‘em.  How was it today, Stu?  Any signs of a drastic upswing in demand for calca-lators?
(Stu is too busy looking up the road to do more than grunt)
Yeah, that’s ‘bout what I figgered.
Calculator industry’s gone to shit.  I don’t know why; as far as I can tell, every damn body is too damn dumb to do math without one.  Looks like they’d be flyin’ off the shelves.  My good friends at the bank must not need ‘em, though; I never hear any of that clickety-clackin’ in the background when they call me.  They got that shit ALL added up.
I don’t need one, neither.  I can do the math I need to do: zero customers equals zero dollars, and zero dollars equals calls from the bankers.
(looks up at Stu, as if surprised to hear him speak)
(points toward the Chevelle, which is only thirty or forty yards away now)
Better shut off y’pumps, Hap.  Quick.
(looks at the car, but doesn’t seem to put two and two together; he starts the process of trying to stand up)
What the hell...?
Stu moves quickly, goes inside the station, shuts the pumps off – just in time, too.  The Chevelle, going slow but not quite slow enough, runs into the pumps, wiping them out.  The men by now are all leaping from their chairs, hollering one cuss word or another.  None of them are near enough to the pumps to be in danger, although maybe some pieces of shrapnel could come flying their way.  Director’s discretion.
In any case, where there used to be an island of gas pumps, there now rests a Chevelle.
     Drunk sumbitch!
Holy shit!  If he’d a been doing sixty, this place’d be a mushroom cloud right about now.
(looking at Stu, who is back outside now, slightly less laconic than before)
Might still’ve been if not for Stu.  Boy, I believe you still got a little fullback left in you!
Norm, Henry, and Vic have approached the car, where the driver is slumped – at an angle, so we can’t see his face – between the window and the steering wheel.
     You alright, fella?  Hey?
Norm opens the door, and Charles Campion leans back, face up, not passed out but clearly in no state of coherence.  His neck is swollen and discolored; his face is slick with sweat, snot, and saliva.  We see the trio of good-old-boys react in horror to the stench that has been cooped up in the car with the Campions.  
They curse and moan and cough that cough you make when you’re trying to keep your last meal on the inside.
Hap, Tommy, and Stu have joined the three of them now, and Stu has looked into the back window, where he sees a woman lying there.  Sally Campion stares lifelessly up at him, through him, past him; she looks even worse than Charlie.
     God almighty, Stu.  She dead?
(he’s noticed that the woman was pregnant)
     Deadest person I ever saw.  Lord.  Him?
I don’t think so, but he don’t look like he’s got much left in him.  We better call an ambulance.
I called ‘em already.  They’re on the way.  Five minutes, they said.
     Lord, what a stink!
(starting to reach in and grab Charlie)
     Stu, help me get this feller out’n this car.
(gently stops Norm before he can touch the man inside)
Maybe we best wait for the ambulance, Norm.  Ain’t no tellin’ what this man’s got.  I ain’t never heard of somebody’s neck swelling up like that.
(suddenly begins stirring)
     Clock went red.
(he sneezes; the sound is like a shotgun blast, and it – combined with the spray of mucus – sends the men backing away in horror; this seems to jar something in his brain, and he looks around, then speaks in a state of seeming coherence)
     Where am I?
(everyone else hangs back, but Stu moves forward a bit)
     You’re in Arnette, sir.  Arnette, Texas.
(weakly begins trying to crane around to see into the back seat)
     Sally...?  Is Sally...?
(trying to keep the man’s eyes forward)
     She’s fine.  She’ll be just fine.
     You crashed my pumps, mister.
(Stu shoots him a “hush-now” look, and Hap shrugs nervously)
     They’re insured, so don’t worry about ‘em, I guess.
I’m sick.  So fucking sick.  We didn’t move fast enough, I guess.  Clock went red, and we ran, but we didn’t run fast enough.
(he suddenly sits up and climbs out of the car; the men all back off, although Stu and Hap and Norm seem a bit bolder than the rest; Charlie stands weakly, turns and looks into the back seat, begins whimpering; we begin to hear faint sounds of an ambulance’s siren)
     Oh, Sally.
(he slumps against the car, and then to the ground, weeping whatever tears are left in him to be wept)
     I been sick for two days, I should be dead, not Sally...
     What’s he got, Vic?
     Beats the fire out of me.
Must be something they ate.  Poison hamburger, or something.  It happens.
The ambulance has arrived.  PARAMEDIC #1, PARAMEDIC #2, and PARAMEDIC #3 get out.  #2 and #3 begin attending to Charlie.
     Food poisoning.  Yeah.  Could be.  I hope to hell it is.
Otherwise, it might be something contagious.  I seen cholera in Nogales in ’58.  It looked something like this.
     Hap, you’re lucky this place ain’t on fire.
Don’t I know it.  This fella’s in bad shape.  There’s a woman in the car who’s even worse.
You better verify it, but yeah; she’s dead.  Pregnant.  God a’mighty...
(opens the rear door and checks for a pulse on Sally)
One of you men call the State Trooper’s office and get them to send somebody to get her where she needs to go.  You’ll be wantin’ to file a report too, I expect, Hap.
#2 and #3 have loaded Charlie into the ambulance, so #1 gets in and they take off.  Stu walks into the road a bit, watching them go.  In the distance, the sun is disappearing over the horizon, and the world is threatening to turn black.


Well, that was fun, wasn't it?

As I mentioned earlier, I don't think this would actually be usable as a pilot.  It's not complete, obviously, but even as the first three acts of a pilot, I don't think it would work.  Not for the type of thing that would serve as a traditional series pilot, wherein most (usually all) of the main cast is introduced at some point.  
Here, of the main cast of characters, we only meet Fran and Stu.  I don't think that would ever fly for a pilot, but for the life of me, I could not figure out how to get more of the characters in without doing so in a rushed, ineffective manner.  Traditionally, we'd want to see Larry Underwood and Nick Andros, at least; and quite probably Randall Flagg and Mother Abagail, too.

I considered trying to squeeze Larry in, but realized right off the bat that it couldn't work.  Why?  Because without Larry's backstory, Larry's current story is meaningless.  Same goes for Nick.  And it's simply too early in the narrative for Mother Abagail and Randall Flagg.  (Although I suppose you can argue that he's here, in the form of a crow.)

With that in mind, I was back to my initial idea: for the pilot to serve as a means of linking Stu and Frannie, signalling that they were, in some way, tied together right from the beginning.  I'm not sure that idea comes across; that's easier to convey with editing than on the page.

Let's run through a few more random notes about certain things:

  • Almost from the very beginning, I found myself drawn to the idea of changing things.  For example, I hit on the idea that given how important Frannie's pregnancy is to the rest of the story, it might make thematic sense for Campion's wife to be merely pregnant, as opposed to the two of them already having a baby.  
  • Another example: in the novel, the person at the guardpost -- which is a less elaborate structure than the one I've hinted at here -- is already slumped over, presumably dead.  I couldn't entirely make sense of that.  I'm no biochemist, so I can't say for sure, but it seemed a bit false that the superflu would have hit THAT hard that fast.  If it did, why didn't Campion and Sally just keel over, dead?  In my mind, it worked better for Campion himself to be the sole spreader of the plague; the shit hits the fan inside the facility, and for reasons unknown, one man -- already infected, although he doesn't know it -- is able to get out.  The base goes on lockdown, presumably with the vast majority of the staff trapped inside the main facility.  There is only one guard left at the main entrance to the base, and in order to get past him, Campion is going to have to kill him.  Seems reasonable, right?
  • You will note frequent salty language.  In my mind, I'd be pitching this series to air on HBO, Showtime, Netflix, or some other network that permits curse words, bloody violence, and exposed swimsuit areas.  Is it necessary?  Nah.  We could make do without all that stuff, I guess.  But I like all of those things, so for my purposes, this is an R-rated teleplay.
  • I took as much dialogue straight from the novel as I felt worked, adapted the rest, and then made up some of my own.
  • I hate it when people write in dialect.  And yet, practically from the first bit of dialogue, I found myself doing it.  My defense here is that I heard the characters who do so speaking in a very specific dialect, and I then replicated it.  Will this make me more tolerant of professional writers who do it?  Probably not.  Hypocritical?  Yes.
  • Keen readers will notice that I'm using the uncut version of the novel, but that I've set the teleplay in the timeframe of the original cut.  That's why it's 1980 instead of 1990.  The reason for this is simple: I don't think dating the uncut version's story in 1990 works.  There are too many things that seem ever so slightly anachronistic.  In other words, it's very clear that King took a novel set in 1980 and then slapped a few Band-Aids that said "1990" over it.  So I've elected to set it in what feels, to me, like its natural setting.  Now, that said, I wouldn't be averse to changing the setting to be modern-day.  I'd be happy to have that talk, although keeping it in 1980 appeals to me, too.
  • One change I'd definitely make: Larry Underwood would be a young black man.  Why?  Well, frankly, there's got to be a black person in there who isn't Mother Abagail.  And preferably one of the main characters.  Could be Glen, I guess, or even Nick; but I like the idea of it being Larry, who -- in a 2013 context -- could be an up-and-coming hip-hop star.  The anti-PC among you might be rolling your eyes now, but what it boils down to for me is this: I'd be uncomfortable with the thought that God sent a new plague to wipe out most of mankind, and decided to mainly keep straight white people.  Call me PC if you want, but you'd best believe my version of The Stand is going to have a few blacks, a few gays, a few Hispanics, and at least one Asian.  I'm tempted to throw in a little person, a Native American, and a shemale, too.  In most of these cases, I'd be inventing new characters.  But making Larry black seems like the thing to do, because really, there's no reason he has to be white.
  • For the record: no, all the gay people, Hispanics, and Asians can't be confined to Las Vegas.  What a horrible suggestion!  (Although my version of the series would definitely want to follow some of Vegas's eventual residents from earlier on in the story.)
  • I had trouble with the Frannie/Jess scene, but I think it turned out okay.  It'd work if the casting was good and the director went with the right tone.  But I found myself getting dangerously close to doing two things I wanted to avoid: making Frannie come off as a bitch, and making Jess come off as an asshole.
  • Congratulations, you figured it out: it was The Shining they were going to go see!
  • I added the reference to Billy Carter.  I was happy with that one.

I stopped where I stopped for no better reason than that I couldn't figure out how to continue.  By that point, I knew definitively that what I had wasn't working.  It was adapting the novel, and with a relative amount of fidelity; but it wasn't really working as a series pilot.

In writing this post, I think I've concluded that for a series based on The Stand to work, it would have to be something rather different.  It wouldn't work on CBS, or maybe even on AMC.  It might work on HBO; it would definitely work on Netflix.

The first episode, I think, would need to focus on Campion as the main character.  It would need to be set primarily at the base, and my thought is that the way to go would be to try to fool people into thinking that the people we met during the course of the episode would be the main characters of the series.  (That assumed that they don't know the novel, and haven't seen the marketing for the series!)  The episode, then, would be about how Captain Trips happened; about how the plague got loose.

A major theme of the novel is that people end up being in the right/wrong place at the right/wrong time.  In The Stand, coincidences are mostly not coincidental; things don't "just happen."  Things are the will of God, or they are the will of the Dark Man.  With that thought in mind, I think an interesting take on the pilot episode would be to show how a series of random minor occurrences all add up to two major results: the breach in containment of the plague and Campion's escape from the facility.  The emphasis, I think, would be best placed on the idea that without whatever happens to allow Campion to get out, the plague would, in fact, have been contained.

In my version, the implication would be that God wanted Campion to get out.  I would want to hint at that, rather than state it outright (subtlety counts for a lot), but it would be there for those who chose to see it.

I don't entirely know how to end the episode, but it needs a massive hook at the end to lead people into the next episode.  Every great first episode has some sort of a great hook.  The best recent example I can think of is probably Game of Thrones, which ends with a little boy -- one of the main characters -- catching two people having sex and then being flung from a window to his presumed death.  Brother, if you don't want to watch the second episode after that, I don't know why you watch television.  There's also a great hook at the end of the first episode of Mad Men, and the entire first episode of Breaking Bad is nothing but a single sustained great hook.

Friday Night Lights has a terrific one; so does Veronica Mars.

Anyways, my point is, The Stand would need one, too, and I'm not entirely sure what it would be.

But hey, I'm not a paid screenwriter or television producer, so it is not incumbent upon me to figure these things out.

Nope, for blogging purposes, it's sufficient to just mention that the need is there.

There's probably more to be said about all of this, but I think I'll let that either happen or not happen in the comments.

As for The Stand, we're not done with it.  I'm going to review both the television miniseries and the comic-book adaptation in the coming weeks.  First, though, I owe some attention to You Only Blog Twice, which has patiently been waiting for me to review A View to a Kill for literally months now.  So, first that, and maybe The Living Daylights, too; then those other takes on The Stand.


  1. Very interesting! I like your adaptation/ suggestions.

    (And excellent news on the forthcoming Bond blogs...)

    "I'd be uncomfortable with the thought that God sent a new plague to wipe out most of mankind, and decided to mainly keep straight white people."

    ha - that is funny.

    For the record, making the cast more diverse is probably a good idea. I don't think anyone's essential characterization in the story seems race or sexuality based, so what's the harm? none. And it does address the lily-white hetero cast, etc. In retrospect, it's kind of funny that no one said to SK "Uhm... do you realize you're kind of implying that... uhh..."

    Now that we've brought that up, tho, my only real problem with The Stand is this literal-God business. Because let's face it: if the novel wants us to believe that God not only exists but exists in a sending-plague-to-mankind/ saving-the-chosen-people sense, it raises an awful lot of questions... (First and foremost, uhhhh where ya been, Buddy? And is this a one-time intervention? Why now? I could go on.) But I can hang with it. Same for the end of BSG, tho I think BSG handled this aspect in a much more compelling way.

    Actually, a side-by-side comparison of BSG and The Stand would be pretty cool, and it's only now just occurred to me how much they have in common.

    1. I've had some struggles with the literalness of the faith elements in the novel, but this last time I read it I felt like they worked pretty well. Mainly because this is the tattooed-biker-type God of the Old Testament rather than the stoned-hippy God of the New Testament. From a storytelling standpoint, I much prefer the God who will just straight choke you out if he wakes up feeling like doing so.

      I don't have a problem with the overwhelming whiteness of the novel, mainly because I understand where it comes from. Or at least, I think I do; I shouldn't presume to judge King one way or the other, I guess. Most of his books feature mostly white folks, and the natural assumption there is that since you write what you know -- and since King has said he grew up almost exclusively around white folks (until college, I believe) -- it makes sense that King's mind tends to be populated mostly by white people. That doesn't make him racist; it just makes him a guy who obsessively follows his muse wherever she leads.

      Anyone writing an adaptation in 2013 is well-served to take diversity into consideration, though. Even as a hypothetical producer, I wouldn't want it to seem like I was leaving anyone out. Does that mean I've got to have a Togalog-speaking person somewhere in the mix? Does it mean I've got to have a blind person in addition to Nick? I don't think so. It just means that some thought needs to be given.

      I'm okay with changing characters' racial makeup, because in most cases I don't think it matters at all. Their experiences matter, and that obviously ties into race; but that's it. Sexual orientation, for me, is different. So I'd be less inclined to make Larry gay. It doesn't matter to me that he be black or white. But I think his promiscuity and his urges are tied to his heterosexuality, and if you change the characters he interacts with romantically into men, it has severe repercussions elsewhere in the novel. He could be bi, I guess; but that doesn't seem right for him, either, in some way I can't quite define.

      My thinking is that I'd love to invent a pair of gay men. They'd be the only couple in the entire series who were a couple BEFORE the plague; in essence, it is -- literally -- a miracle that they both survived. The tension for them would be that one of them wants to go to Boulder, and the other wants to go to Vegas.

      Another idea I like: adding in an immigrant from -- I dunno -- Russia or Uganda or somewhere else profoundly non-English, who does not speak a word of English and therefore has nobody to talk to except maybe, in his/her dreams, for Mother Abagail. I kinda like that idea. (It's partially stolen from "Lost," but I'm okay with that!)

      I'm with you on the end of BSG. That's an interesting thought.

    2. It's a good point about sexual orientation. I was speaking more broadly, but I agree with what you say. That's a capital idea, as well, about the gay couple and I'd actually be really intrigued to see that in The Stand, particularly the wedge between them re: Vegas/ Boulder.

      I can understand how much of a bitch this must have been to put together - it's a great beginning, though, and if you ever continue, please give me a head's-up!

    3. It was indeed a bitch, and it didn't take long before I realized I was in hopelessly over my head. But that's cool; I did it mainly to find out what it would be like, and what I found was two things. One, that it is REALLY difficult and time-consuming. Two, that I have no doubt I could do it, given the time, energy, and freedom to do so.

      So if nothing else, I think it gave me a slightly different perspective on filmed adaptations of books.

    4. Now do one for IT!

    5. That'd be fun. Oh, how I'd love to see "It" as an HBO series...!

  2. Bryant,

    This is a terrific start to 'The Stand' as a cable series. Tonally, you've nailed it. Now that 'Under the Dome' is a ratings smash, and NetFlix is a viable place for such on-demand episodic programming, I say KEEP GOING. This is too good not to. As for the problem of shoehorning too many elements into the first episode … easy solution: 2-hour pilot.

    Since not even Ben Affleck seems to be able to crack this nut as a feature film trilogy, I say THIS is the way to go. Don't stop now. I want to meet Larry "You ain't no nice guy" Underwood (… who should remain white if only to maintain that aforementioned 'tone'), and Nick Andros, whose scenes could greatly be played without dialogue, music, or sound effects.

    This iron is HOT, Bryant. Keep striking it.

    1. Andy, that means a lot. Thanks so much!

      However, I have to admit that I just don't have the energy to keep going. Partially that's because I see too many ways in which it doesn't work on its own, and partially because I feel like in order to do a proper adaptation, I'd have to spend WAY more time on it. First step: I'd have to break the novel all the way down, create a complete chronology of when things happen (both in the "present" and via information about people's lives pre-plague), and figure out how to properly structure things. That'd be quite a task just in and of itself.

      That's a fantastic idea about Nick, and I have to admit, I had the same idea while rereading the book. It'd be cool for every scene from his POV to be played entirely silent. Except maybe we could hear dialogue -- or maybe see it via subtitles? -- when he was reading someone's lips. The tornado scene would be nerve-wracking that way, wouldn't it? I'm not sure how practical an idea it would be, but it has immediate appeal for me.

      So, yeah, I certainly have ideas, and if I thought writing it had any chance of success, I'd keep on writing. But it probably doesn't, so I feel like I probably need to get back to some of my self-imposed goals for my various blogs.

      That said, if Ben Affleck happens to read this and wants to hire me to crack the story for him -- either as a series or as a trilogy of features -- my ass is most definitely available.

  3. Wow, now all of the above was definitely unexpected when I clicked this site.

    Quite frankly all I can say is the following:

    I'm sure The Stand could work as a four season tv series (four parts to King's novel or more like three but same idea), the only thing is I think the pilot would have to be two hours to introduce all the characters and maybe it would end with Campion at the gas station as a cliffhanger.

    I liked the opening, the only thing I felt was missing was a much better use of the song "Don't Fear the Reaper". Riffing on Garris's opening for a bit. In my mind the song would be played at first over various shots of the Campions' car tooling through desert country, then a night shot of it on a crowded freeway where we pull back from the car until it's just one among many and we lose it. The rest of the credit sequence could be a series of Sky-Eye shots looking down on various cities and towns, the sense should be that of saying goodbye while "Reaper" plays on soundtrack.

    I did have this one image in my mind involving the crow. It would start with the car driving down a desert interstate at maybe dusk or something and it passes the crow, which is revealed idling by side of the road.

    Then we'd be inside the car with Campion, who's not as bad as Arnette yet but he's under the weather and coughing. He looks in the rearview mirror at something, then we'd see a POV shot of what Campion sees:

    A man standing in the road who looks vaguely like Johnny Cash, black dungarees and cowboy boots, black button shirt and black overcoat that almost looks like a robe. Though he's far off we can tell he's grinning.

    That image just seemed to cool to me.

    Not much more to add than that, except to say I know for a fact the ending would have to be enlarged more than changed. It could still end with a bang, but there has to be an earned buildup toward it. That's why I still like the idea of working the Running Man game into things. Who knows, maybe Running Man takes place in the same world as The Stand.

    I agree that the setting should be the end of the seventies/start of the eighties, because while at it's heart about spirituality, it's also a novel about the sixties and is sort an imaginative take on the ultimate fallout from that decade, for proof see Magistrale's Landscapes of Fear.

    To be concluded


    1. All I have left to say is I think it would be a great idea to write a book length commentary on the Stand. I don't think you should give up on that idea so easily.

      If you need help, here are two links that may act as jump starters.

      One is a book of essays edited by Tony Magistrale called The Casebook on The Stand:

      The other is another book of essays by Paul Elmer More, and it contains one titled "The origins of Hawthorne and Poe that I think gives a real good idea of the background of King's fiction almost thirty years before he was born (you have to search for it a bit as it's internet archive, however it's not difficult. Just drag to page marker until it reads 50 and you're there):

      I really do think that Stand criticism book of yours is a good idea Might want to at least give it a think.


    2. "Don't Fear (the Reaper)" is one of the only things in the miniseries that I genuinely like. That was a great opening. I remember sitting in front of the television in 1994, absolutely spellbound by that sequence. I don't think it's held up, but it's a nice memory.

      I felt much the same about the "Don't Dream It's Over" sequence, mostly because I've always loved that song.

      I'd be hesitant to introduce Flagg that early. Doing so makes it seem as if he's responsible for the plague getting loose, and I think that's ... not the direction I would want to go. Frankly, having the crow in the beginning here is probably more than I'd really want to do. But I couldn't resist!

      My problem with the climax to the book is that it doesn't feel like that's what the story has been building toward. Thematically, it works. The idea is that evil destroys itself (via Trashcan Man hauling in a nuke, but also via that ball of energy Flagg shoots out, which does not disperse but grows until it either becomes or simply resembles a hand reaching down), and I think that's a perfectly valid philosophical statement. I don't know that it makes for a satisfying climax to a 1000-page novel of good vs. evil.

      But, then, I don't know what does work in that capacity. It needs some sort of equivalent of Gollum capturing the ring only to fall into the pit with it. I think that's what King was going for with Trashcan Man and the nuke, so maybe the solution is to beef up Trashy's role somehow, and to then just tweak things a bit so that the scene also pays off Larry's story (something I would argue it patently does not do currently).

      The solution MIGHT be for Larry to not be one of the people in that scene.

      I dunno. Fun to think about, but not worth spending too much time on. After all, who am I to be rewriting Stephen King? Just some doofus with a laptop.

    3. For the record, by the way, I definitely haven't given up on the idea of writing a book about "The Stand." Unless I kick the bucket sooner than I expect, that WILL happen. It's just unlikely to happen any time soon; that's a big project, and it's worth doing right, and I don't have the time to do it currently. Got to work a real job, and all that.

      Someday, though; someday.