Doctor Sleep
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Credit: Warner Bros. Pictures

How Doctor Sleep threaded the needle for approval from Stephen King, the Kubrick estate

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Jun 13, 2019

Earlier today, Warner Bros. shook the first teaser trailer for Mike Flanagan's Doctor Sleep awake. Not only is the film based on the 2013 novel by Stephen King, it's also a sequel to The Shining, featuring a grown-up version of Danny Torrance (played by Ewan McGregor), who is still reeling from the mental trauma of the Overlook Hotel.

Back in October, Flanagan (creator of The Haunting of Hill House for Netflix), who is both writing and directing here, confirmed his movie would pay homage to Stanley Kubrick's The Shining; an adaptation that King is well-known for disliking. Even so, the production sought approval from both sides of the divide before moving forward.

“First and foremost the movie is kind of its own thing and has been embraced by the Kubrick Estate and by King, kind of as such but in a very real sense, we're standing on the shoulders of literary and cinematic giants,” said Flanagan's producing partner, Trevor Macy, during a screening of the teaser footage in Los Angeles that SYFY WIRE attended.

“Which has been, you know, no pressure whatsoever,” joked Flanagan — a “Stephen King fanatic” going back to his childhood, and a “student of cinema” who “idolized" Kubrick.

Of course, in 1980 Kubrick turned King’s book into a cinematic masterpiece, albeit one very different from its source material, so much so that the author hasn’t been shy about criticizing it, and even defiantly writing Doctor Sleep as though “this exists completely outside of the Kubrick universe,” continued Flanagan. “And so, the first conversation we had to have … other than that we as fans of King and apostles of The Shining, really needed to try to bring those worlds back together again, we had to go to King and explain how.”

Like how to deal with characters alive in one medium and dead in another, and how to get “into the vision” of the Overlook that Kubrick created. Which, judging from the trailer, they achieved remarkably well, as only one of those iconic and recognizable Shining shots is actually from Kubrick's film. “The shot of the bloody elevators, everything else is us, everything else is our recreation,” Flanagan said.

But yeah, if you’re splicing your words with Stephen King’s and your frames with Stanley Kubrick's, it’s big time pressure.

“This project has had for me the two most nerve-wracking moments of my entire career. The first was sending the first draft of the script to Stephen King. And that was utterly terrifying, but he thankfully really loved it. And the second was at the end, very recently, of this post-production process when the film was sent to Stephen to watch and also to the Kubrick Estate,” said Flanagan.

“Both went very well. And that was always the hope going in was that if there was some universe in which Stephen King and the Stanley Kubrick Estate could both love this movie, that is the dream. Threading that needle has been the source of every ulcer we’ve had for the last two years.”

Doctor Sleep

Credit: Warner Bros. Pictures

Macy quickly notes that both parties were extremely helpful and supportive along the way — including a look at Kubrick’s original annotated plans for the Overlook. “So there was a lot of pressure, we really needed them to like it.”

“His nickname as a child was Doc, and that was all from Bugs Bunny cartoons in The Shining,” said Flanagan. So the patients under Dan’s care still call him Doc, giving “a whole new context to that nickname.”

At the end of the day, however, Doctor Sleep is a more faithful translation of King's book than it is a follow-up to Kubrick's cinematic take on The Shining.

“I went back to the book first and the big conversation that we had to have was about whether or not we could still do a faithful adaptation of the novel as King had laid it out while inhabiting the universe that Kubrick had created,” the director added. “And that was a conversation we had to have with Stephen King to kick the whole thing off, and if that conversation hadn't gone the way it went, we wouldn't have done the film.”

Co-starring the likes of Rebecca Ferguson, Bruce Greenwood, Carl Lumbly, Alex Essoe, and Kyliegh Curran, Doctor Sleep awakens in theaters everywhere Nov. 8.


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