Dollar Baby: Why Stephen King Sells the Rights to His Work to Up-and-Coming Filmmakers for Just $1

If you’ve got 100 pennies in your pocket, you might be able to adapt a Stephen King short story, too.
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Stephen King’s more than 60 novels, in addition to his numerous short stories and novellas, have been providing filmmakers with inspiration for decades. From iconic horror movie masterpieces like Carrie (1976) and The Shining (1980) to tearjerkers like Stand by Me (1986) and The Green Mile (1999), King’s work has led to some of the most memorable blockbusters of recent decades. Have a newfound fear of clowns after watching It (2017)? You can thank the author for that, too. But big-name producers aren’t the only ones with the chance to tackle a Stephen King adaptation. Film students can take advantage of what King calls his “Dollar Baby” deal to make an adaptation of his work for only $1.

The Dollar Baby contract entails purchasing the rights to adapt one of more than 20 of King’s short stories for a dollar⁠—with some stipulations. The film cannot be more than 45 minutes long and cannot be distributed to anyone without King’s consent, unless it is for a nonprofit film festival or a school project. The rights are good for only a year, meaning the film has to be completed in that time, and when it’s done it has to be sent to the author himself (no pressure!). Additionally, you cannot have more than one Dollar Baby at a time.

But why sell the rights for a dollar at all? King is so famous that even his short stories could be sold for much more⁠—a fact his accountant knows all too well. In his introduction to the 1996 publication The Shawshank Redemption: The Shooting Script, King described his desire to make adapting his stories accessible to creatives despite the lack of profit he would see from it: 

“Around 1977 or so, when I started having some popular success, I saw a way to give back a little of the joy the movies had given me. Over the objections of my accountant, who saw all sorts of possible legal problems, I established a policy which still holds today. I will grant any student filmmaker the right to make a movie out of any short story I have written (not the novels, that would be ridiculous), so long as the film rights are still mine to assign … I have made the dollar deal, as I call it, over my accountant’s moans and head-clutching protests.”

These Dollar Baby deals are a way for rising filmmakers to practice their craft and cheaply access solid material to adapt. Plus, King himself—who is a noted film buff—gets to enjoy adaptations of his shorter works that may not be as suited to a feature film. Adapting a King work also looks pretty good on a budding filmmaker’s portfolio. Three-time Oscar nominee Frank Darabont is the most notable Dollar Baby; in 1980, he was granted permission to adapt “The Woman in the Room.” Though it took him three years to complete the film, King was impressed with the final result. In the decades since, Darabont has gone on to adapt The Shawshank Redemption (1994), The Green Mile (1999), and The Mist (2007).

“If you want to be one of my dollar babies, send us your info,” King writes on his website. So for all the novice filmmakers and horror buffs out there: What are you waiting for?