Adapting Stephen King's Beachworld
It's a daunting thing adapting a story by your favorite author. You want to make them proud (in this case the Master of Horror himself) and do right by the material by sticking to the spirit of the story while figuring out the best way to take it from the page to the screen.
This post about my process and choices adapting Beachworld. This is by no means the right way or the only way. This was my way for this one project and the next project might be totally different. I haven't gotten that far yet (but if you are reading this and interested in hiring me to adapt a story/article/book/twitter thread, I'd love to chat!).
The first thing I did was reread the story from beginning to end, without trying to think too much into logistics or story structure, or freak about about the long road ahead. I started paying more attention to who the characters were, the iconic imagery that stood out in my head, the things that I wanted to keep. Turns out it was all of it. I mean, who was I kidding it was Stephen freaking King's material I was working with! My initial thought was staying as true to the source material as possible. That being said, I ALSO wanted to figure out a way to put my own spin on it. My personal take on Beachworld to offer to the Stephen King universe. I didn't know what it was going to be but I figured I'd figure it out along the way.
I started breaking down the story using a large roll of butcher block paper and post-it notes and for each "scene" I'd see in the story I'd throw it up on my story map. I counted the number of times the sun rose and set in the story and organized everything over 4 days.
One thing that immediately stood out was that all the characters in the original story were men. I fully embrace on screen representation so I knew some of the characters were going to be women. There was nothing in the story requiring them to be men. Once I made that decision and changed Shapiro to a woman, I knew how I was going to make the story my own. It all just clicked after that.
In the original Beachworld, the planet is sentient and literally tries to keep keep everyone on its surface via a giant hand of sand stopping their hurried departure. I don't know much about VFX but I knew that kind of effect sounded expensive, so I kept that ending in mind as a possibility but branched off in a cheaper direction with an idea that only popped it my head after making Shapiro's character into a woman.
Shapiro and Rand would be two halves of a whole, an unstable mental state cracked in two with Shapiro representing the rational Ego and Rand filling in for the impulsive Id.
After about 4 months of noodling on how to bring my touch to the material, I had finally hit it and everything fell into place with the ending.
The story took place on the planet of sand dunes but a good chunk also took place inside a crash landed space ship, the passage of time shown by the growing amounts of sand sneaking into the interior and taking over the space. Now that a draft of the script was written, my producer Brian Campeau and I could start figuring out a ball park budget. Turns out, building a space ship interior from scratch is not cheap. Go figure. We would, after all, need to have a giant blown out hole on the side because of the engine explosion that causes it to crash land in the first place and the sand to get in. We spoke to a few places and learned building this interior would cost about half of our budget. Half!
Inspiration Images for spaceship interior build/production design
Because of our budget constraints, back to the script I went in order to figure out how to remove the spaceship interiors and still make the story work. Having to make this cut was actually a blessing in disguise imo. Instead of the story taking place over 4 days with creeping sand and sunrises and sunsets, the ship would be all but incinerated upon landing, leaving Shapiro and her alter-ego stranded on the dunes out in the open, allowing us to take full advantage of the production value and beauty of our natural location.
You can read the full original draft to see how different the film turned out.
The story went from taking place over four days to taking place over one, simplifying things. There was no changing sand levels, no goldfish, no holograms, no blown out hole in the side of the ship. This allowed me to really dial in on the characters and allow the dunes to speak for themself onscreen. As I read the story, I'd pull lines to add to the script because I loved the language that King had built for these characters and this world and I wanted to keep as much as possible. Some lines I lifted straight out of the story and some I molded to fold into the dialogue of the film. The great thing about adapting anything is that you can use as little or as much as you like from the original source material!
The end result of our adaptation was born purely because we didn't have the money to make what was on the page. We did find a way to make what was in our heads however. Once we knew our budgetary box, it forced us to be creative in order to stay within those bounds. I could then argue that money is both a blessing and curse. If I had been handed a $100k check at the outset, Beachworld would have been a very different film. I'm really proud of how the adaptation took shape and how the story turned out. While putting my personal stamp on the material, I believe I stayed true to the spirit of the story: that the planet did in fact have a psychotic effect on Shapiro (like it would to anyone on it's surface for prolonged periods of time) and used her to achieve it's goal: trapping it's visitors there forever like a interstellar Venus flytrap.
I learned through this process that I LOVE adapting things. I love finding little-known books that I'd love to adapt into films, and I've written feature scripts based on true life stories, adapting years of history into 100ish pages of dramatic storytelling. Beachworld was my first foray into adaptations and I never want to stop.