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The documentary 'King on Screen' tells the story of Stephen King movies

The new documentary is the story of Stephen King films as told by the directors who made them, as director Daphné Baiwir explains. 

By Matthew Jackson
King On Screen (2022)

At this point, Stephen King is just as associated with horror movies as he is with horror novels. The legendary author, who turned 75 earlier this year, has written dozens of novels and countless short stories in a career that spans more than five decades, but he's also won legions of fans on the big and small screens, where his work has been adapted and filmed more than any other popular author of his era. 

King's screen history, dating back to Brian De Palma's 1976 adaptation of his debut novel Carrie, is a robust, often uneven, journey that encompasses his novels, short stories, original screenplays, TV miniseries, short films, and much more. It's so vast that more than a few documentaries and documentary segments have been devoted to the making of Stephen King movies, but none have ever taken quite the same approach as King on Screen. Directed by actor-turned-filmmaker and lifelong King fan Daphné Baiwir, the documentary is the inside story of how and why Stephen King's screen life has endured, as told by the directors who made his cinematic legacy possible. 

"I've seen a couple of documentaries about Stephen King in the past and I thought, 'That's a shame,' because, well, it's very interesting to talk about his personal life and what he did as an author, but I thought it could be very interesting to have a more cinematographical approach to actually talk about cinema," Baiwir told SYFY WIRE ahead of the film's world premiere at Austin's Fantastic Fest over the weekend. "And it was at that point that I thought it could be great to have the directors' point of view, and I started to reach out to directors, and they all said yes. So I thought, 'Great, let's do this.'"

King On Screen Filmmaker Daphne Baiwir Headshot

The result is a two-hour tour through some of the best and brightest moments in Stephen King's film history, told through the stories and the thematic analysis of filmmakers like Mick Garris (The Stand), Frank Darabont (The Shawshank Redemption) and more. It's the result of 30 hours of interviews conducted with King filmmakers new and old, as Baiwir dug deep into both the lesser-known history of each film adaptation (you will learn things about The Green Mile, for example, that you might never have heard before) and the thematic resonance of King as an American storyteller with a particularly cinematic approach. It's a particularly intimate portrait of a pop culture phenomenon, born out of Baiwir's efforts to both get the best possible interviews and then combine those interviews into a documentary that feels cohesive.

"That was hard work to manage, since there are a lot of things that were connected to each other," Baiwir said. "And I wanted to discuss some topics as well, especially, for example, the political aspect in King's work, and the women in the stories as well, and talking a little bit about Tabitha King's influence on his work. "It was something that we worked on for several months to pull it [together] correctly, to find the right story to tell. Especially when you are a fan, you know, you want to keep everything, but you have to choose."

Baiwir's been a King fan since the age of 10, when her father gave her a copy of The Shining to read while she tagged along to his job on the night shift at a local hotel. After this particularly appropriate reading experience, she devoured as much King as she could find, and revisited all of it for King On Screen. The film's framing sequence, which features both major cameos and Baiwir herself in a prominent role, contains Easter eggs to virtually every King story, including some that have never been adapted to film. 

"It gives the feeling [of] really [going] into Stephen King's universe, to really go there and discover who he is for people who don't know him, and I think I found a reference for each one of his works," Baiwir said. I had to do a lot of research to re-read every book, because I wanted to have something [for everything]. You watch it over and over and still find some little details."

Easter eggs aside, though, it's the filmmaker-focused interviews at the core of King On Screen which make the documentary special. While the film does not yet have a release date beyond the festival circuit, Baiwir hopes that the mixture of on-set stories and genuine insights from so many major figures in King's screen history will keep drawing viewers to her work. 

"As a film lover, I wanted really to go deep into the movies and to know a little bit of the behind-the-scenes," Baiwir said. "And at the same time, I wanted to tell a story that could be well connected."

King on Screen does not yet have a wide release date. 

Stream the recent Stephen King adaptation Firestarter on Peacock