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Credit: CBS All Access

How The Stand finally clawed its way out of Development Hell

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Jan 7, 2021, 9:05 PM EST (Updated)

The latest take on Stephen King’s The Stand wasn’t originally planned to be turned into another miniseries. 

In fact, if writer-director Josh Boone (The New Mutants, The Fault In Our Stars) had his way, horror fans would have already journeyed to theaters to see his big-budget take on the classic 1978 novel about two groups of warring survivors locked in a supernatural battle between good and evil after a deadly virus has wiped out most of humanity. So what happened? Development Hell, of course. 

For the last decade, Boone and other filmmakers looking to readapt one of King’s biggest properties weathered the usual Hollywood creative struggles in trying to give The Stand the big-budget treatment it deserves, and that its fans have wanted since ABC’s The Stand miniseries premiered in 1994. What is unusual, however, is how the intended project went from being a tentpole Hollywood feature — potentially starring Christian Bale — to being adapted into yet another limited TV series, this time for CBS All Access, and starring Westworld’s James Marsden and True Blood's Alexander Skarsgård. Here’s the story of how The Stand went full circle. 

Ever since writer-director Mick Garris’ 1994 The Stand went on to win six Emmy awards for ABC, Hollywood and fans have been eager to find new life for the IP. The author’s opus boils down to a classic conflict between good and evil, one that uses that simple conceit to tell a complicated story about how human beings are both arsonists and firemen. That the moral and ethical greatness they can achieve is only hindered by how often their lesser angels stand in the way of achieving it. This struggle manifests between 108-year-old prophet Mother Abigail (played by Whoopi Goldberg in the All Access show) and the demonic, all-timer villain Randal Flagg (Skarsgård). Warner Bros. and CBS Films secured the rights to the material and re-doubled their efforts to bring The Stand to movie theaters in 2010/2011, back when the studio selected Harry Potter director David Yates to helm the adaptation. 

In July 2011, Yates — hot off the success of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows for WB — was set to reteam with Harry Potter screenwriter Steve Kloves to turn the dense tome into a multi-film series (at least two films). Ultimately, Yates decided that going from Hogwarts to King’s post-apocalyptic wasteland was a bridge too far. 

“I was offered The Stand. I love The Stand,” Yates told Collider. “My issues, though, were about the adaptation. I wanted to work with Steve Kloves, Steve Kloves wanted to work with me, we were both committed to doing it, but in that time it took to let go of Potter — and to think about how we would tackle the adaptation — we both decided that it wasn’t for us, so we left it. We sort of withdrew basically.”

Yates went on to say that the biggest factors in his decision to leave the project were the tentpole demands that the studio put on it. Specifically that the book’s character-driven narrative did not lend itself to the big-budget, “event”-sized scope Warner Bros. needed to justify such a spend. 

“We felt this pressure to make these super tentpole movies with this material, and the things that you get in Potter — which are these extraordinary episodes of action — they didn’t exist in [the book]. And I was worried I wouldn’t be able to deliver the kind of movie that ultimately the studio was hoping to get from this material,” Yates said. “I could see making a miniseries from it — a really interesting, intricate, layered, enjoyable long-burn of a miniseries — but what was missing for me were the big movie moments in the material, the big set pieces.”

Yates left the project just as another favorite of the studio’s came into view: writer-director-actor Ben Affleck. 

Affleck was tapped for the project in 2011, fresh off the critical and financial success of his 2010 crime thriller for Warner Bros.,The Town. The studio was eager to secure Affleck's next project, furthering its (at the time) well-known reputation for being very loyal and friendly to talent. (This was before WarnerMedia announced that the studio’s 2021 film slate would premiere day-and-date on HBO MAX without consulting most of the creatives involved with that slate. A situation that’s continued to spiral.) From a business perspective, it made sense that WB wanted to make its “golden boy’s” next movie. But it was a move that made less sense to King. At the time, the author was reportedly reticent about seeing his mammoth novel adapted into one feature film. The movie would have been Affleck’s biggest and most challenging to date. But, somewhere prior to making the Oscar-winning Argo and being tapped to play Batman in Batman v Superman, Affleck quietly left The Stand and another director stepped in: Scott Cooper.  

Credit: CBS All Access

The Crazy Heart filmmaker — who had his then-follow-up on deck, 2013’s Out of the Furnace — was brought on to explore a plan to turn the 1,153-page book into one epic feature film. Warner Bros. also flirted with making The Stand a two-part movie series, like it would eventually do with its highly-successful 2017 IT adaptation (another of King’s beloved horror tomes). Cooper boarded the movie on the strength of the script by screenwriter Dave Kajganich (A Bigger Splash), who went from developing IT in 2010 to writing two different takes on The Stand. Kajganich’s first stab at the movie began as half of a two-part film that WB ultimately wanted reshaped into one singular movie. 

“When I signed on to that project, the plan was for it to be two scripts,” Kajganich told Script Magazine in a 2016 interview. “I outlined it that way, which took months, but once I'd finished the first draft of part one, WB came back and said they'd changed their minds and it needed to be done as a single film. So I had to go to the drawing board and start from zero again. About six months later, I had a one-film version of the project and, though no one will probably ever see it, I couldn't be prouder of it. The characters are all there, and the soul of the experience of reading it for the first time is there.”

Cooper was set to direct and rewrite Kajganich’s script, aiming to deliver a movie worthy of the A-List talent he and the studio wanted. Cooper envisioned Christian Bale, who he just directed in Out of the Furnace, for the role of Flagg. Cooper planned to make his Stand a very grounded, realistic adaptation — one that was R-rated and that would shoot at the sprawling locations familiar to fans of the book, especially Las Vegas.

"I prefer to shoot on location," Cooper revealed to MTV in 2013. "It imbues the entire production with a sense of place and authenticity that I strive for. It's critical to my process that I shoot not only where I've written the screenplay, but shooting the exact locations I wrote it for."

Cooper’s lack of wanting to shoot on sound stages would make it difficult for the studio not to stress over the movie’s cost, a movie execs reportedly wanted to be PG-13. Cooper insisted his version of The Stand would be R-rated, just like the book. Sure enough, the gulf between the filmmaker and his studio over that issue led to “creative differences” being the reason why — according to The Hollywood Reporter’s Borys Kit — both parties moved on from the project. 

Enter, finally, Josh Boone. 

Prior to the successful release of his 2014 adaptation of the YA novel The Fault In Our Stars, Boone was announced as the latest writer-director to tackle Flagg's trip to the big screen. And, unlike his predecessors, Boone would stay on the project for the duration. 

Chalk that up in part to Boone’s fandom for all things King. The filmmaker connected to King and The Stand when he was 12, when King’s books were banned from his household. The writer-director would tear the covers off Christian books and fasten them to King’s in order to conceal what he was reading. This worked until his mom found The Stand hidden under Boone’s bed. As punishment, she burned it in the fireplace. 

But Boone’s love for King did not go up in smoke with it. In fact, he ended up sparking a lifelong relationship with the author. King played himself in Boone’s feature-film debut, 2012’s Stuck In Love. Their relationship arguably helped Boone stay on the project over the years, as King approved of his involvement. 

In 2014, Boone teased his plans for the film — which were just as ambitious as the source material. Boone envisioned a “three-hour, R-rated” movie with an “amazing A-list cast” that delivered what fans wanted. By November 2014, Boone revealed on Kevin Smith’s Hollywood Babble-On podcast that his Stand was set to become a massive cinematic story now stretched across four films (!). “We are going to do four movies, and we’re going to do The Stand at the highest level you can do it at, with a cast that’s going to blow people’s minds,” Boone said. The plan was to go into production in the Spring of 2015. 

Unfortunately for Boone, the A-List cast he envisioned five years ago, one that would headline four films, did not pan out. Neither did his new plan for the adaptation in 2015, which took The Stand from four movies back down to one R-rated horror movie — a movie that would get supplemented with an eight-part miniseries on Showtime. (CBS Films and Showtime share the same parent company, Viacom).

Those plans would, sadly, also fizzle out. The project’s tumultuous development cycles put fans on an emotional roller coaster for years before going quiet until 2018, when it was announced that The Stand would return to its miniseries roots with Boone writing and directing. CBS All Access gave King and Boone the proper canvas (and budget) to tell their post-apocalyptic epic, with King coming onboard to write a new coda to the series. 

Credit: CBS All Access

While Boone’s promise of a big-name cast didn’t quite come to fruition, the talent he has assembled — Oscar-winner Goldberg, Marsden, and Skarsgård — are names notable enough to warrant the attention the streamer needs to compete with the pop-culture impact of Garris’ version. While early reviews have been mixed-to-positive, attention must be paid to the fact that this project exists at all. Few movies or series tend to survive a decade of development like this and come out on the other side having been made. 

But in an ironic twist, it is fitting that the making of The Stand proved to be just as daunting and arduous as the plight chronicled in the story that Boone, finally, gets to bring to life. 

The Stand is streaming now on CBS All Access.