July 29, 2020

There's a 'Shining' Prequel You'll Never Get to See

What happened before The Shining

There's probably a graph somewhere but it's hard to imagine and author more adapted than Stephen King. His ideas have spawned movies, TV series, limited series, and franchises. And each one seems tailor-made for expansion. We saw how Doctor Sleep built off The Shining and created a future for Danny where he was controlling the spirits, but what happened before he and his family came to the Overlook hotel? 

But not all King works come to the screen. A prequel to Stanley Kubrick’s take on The Shining penned by producer Glen Mazzara (The Walking Dead, Damien) never made it into the world. Bloody Disgusting sat down with Mazzara and went through what the movie was about and what might have been. 

So what would his show have looked like? 

Mazzara told Bloody Disgusting, “It was an open assignment at Warner Brothers. There was a producer called Mythology Entertainment [owned and founded by Jamie Vanderbilt and Bradley Fischer]. [Vanderbilt is] an established screenwriter and director, and [Fischer is] a producer who’d done Shutter Island and Black Swan. He recently did the remake of Suspiria. Very talented guy, talented producer. I just went in as an open assignment. What had happened was, when Stephen King wrote The Shining, he wrote a prologue called ‘Before the Play’. He wasn’t the Stephen King yet. I think The Shining was his third novel, so his editor actually told him ’The book’s too long, we need to cut this.’ The only time [the prologue] was published, it was I believe in TV Guide, when they did the Shining TV series."

"The Shining is now forty years old. To do a big period piece horror movie based on it is a risk."

Mazzara continued, “So they gave me a copy of that prologue, and there are little vignettes from every decade leading up to Jack Torrance’s arrival. And I think many of the other writers who came in to pitch on this assignment wanted to tell the backstory of the Grady twins. So they were clustering around that, but I backed it out and said ‘Well, we actually have the opening vignette about Bob T. Watson, the man who built the Overlook.’ And I thought, ‘This is interesting.’ Basically, I thought of it as There Will Be Blood: The Horror Movie. Let’s set it up as a robber baron, who has the arrogance and the privilege to build this monument to himself, and yet it turns into his family’s grave, and a grave for all who follow." 

'The Shining'
'The Shining'

Eventually, director Mark Romanek (One Hour Photo) signed onto the picture. But what would the movie look like? Would it be Kubrickian or have its own flare? And what about the screenplay? 

Mazzara expanded on those worries, saying, “I felt that I wanted to honor King’s canon. There was never any talk that this needed to set up [Kubrick’s film]. We didn’t have that discussion. I really felt that this is King’s world, but you can’t think of The Shining without Kubrick’s contribution. I did have a conversation with Stephen King regarding this. He famously does not enjoy the film. We spoke about it at length, and every point that he raises – he’s right, okay? That there’s not a lot of character development for the Jack Nicholson character. That he doesn’t find the film scary. He says he just finds it slow, with scary music. He feels that it builds to this big ending, and then a guy just runs outside and ends up freezing, and there’s no ending. There’s no ending, you’re just left hanging. But Mark and I spoke about this. ‘Yes, Stephen King is a national treasure, but he’s not understanding the impact that the film has had on generations. There’s something about that film.’ Storywise, King is correct. The story in the film does not really hold together from a writerly point of view. It holds together from a directing point of view. So I felt I needed to acknowledge Kubrick’s presence. I was very, very aware of the tone that he was creating in that film. I wrote that script with Kubrick in mind, but tried to honor King’s canon, King’s dialogue, the way he develops characters. I was very mindful when I was writing this screenplay … to show shots in which the audience is inhabiting the hotel with the camera, but not the characters. You sort of start wandering the hotel yourself. It creates a sense of unease. That comes from Kubrick. I did not find that in King’s material, I found that in Kubrick.”

Stanley Kubrick on the set of 'The Shining'
Stanley Kubrick on the set of 'The Shining'

So what happened to this movie? 

Mazzara credits Mike Flanagan’s Shining sequel, Doctor Sleep, for the death of his project.  

He said, “Warner Brothers wasn’t going to commit to making both.”

That makes sense, although a Shining expanded universe is a ton of fun. 

Mazzara wanted to get the rights to his work to try to set it up himself, but J.J. Abrams is making his own Shining prequel for HBO Max. “I don’t know if they know my script exists. Whatever they’re making, as far as I know, has nothing to do with my script,” he clarifies.

“I felt that I wanted to honor King’s canon...I really felt that this is King’s world, but you can’t think of The Shining without Kubrick’s contribution."

Is there any wisdom we can glean from this process? 

Mazzara talks about the ups and downs of Hollywood development, “[Projects like this] have risks. They aren’t slam dunks. The Shining is now forty years old. To do a big period piece horror movie based on it is a risk. That’s a risk. I loved working [on it], but one of the things that I tend to do in my career is, I end up taking the hard road. I don’t make things easy on myself. Think about it, I told you that every other writer was talking about the backstory for the Grady twins, and I got the assignment because I was the one writer who went the other way. Well, it ended up not paying out. I’m proud of the work in the script, but it’s a risk as a writer. Sometimes I wonder if I’d be better off kinda throwing it down the middle a little bit. But then, I don’t want to see something that’s thrown down the middle. It’s something I wrestle with in my career. Ultimately, I’m disappointed that I wasn’t able to deliver something to the fans, or to Mr. King, but I’m proud of the work I’ve done.”

'Doctor Sleep'
'Doctor Sleep'Credit: WB

This is destined to be one of those lost projects that goes down into Hollywood history as a "what if," but in our Sliding Doors universe, we will get to see a J.J. Abrams version soon enough. 

What are your thoughts on the project? 

Let us know in the comments.      

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2 Comments

Though I sort of understand why so many writers would take that approach, I find it kind of annoying that the story of the Grady twins was what they focused on. It's low-hanging fruit that would never be as good on screen as you imagine it from the source material. They did the same thing with 'Solo' (i.e. go through all the fan favorite stories), and the result was underwhelming.

July 31, 2020 at 7:17AM

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David Harter
Writer/Director/Editor/Actor
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Why wasn't there 10 inches of dust all on the ground and the walls of the overlook hotel in Dr. Sleep? You would think after a hotel sitting abandoned for 38 years you would find at least 5 inches of dust every where, and you would have barely been able to see the color details in the gold room, or in room 237.

August 2, 2020 at 4:15AM

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