Stephen King and Steven Spielberg’s Failed Project Led to a 2002 Miniseries

Movies


The Big Picture

  • Stephen King and Steven Spielberg pitched ghost stories to each other, but conflicting visions led to the project being shelved.
  • Writing the miniseries Rose Red helped King recover from a near-fatal accident and regain joy in his work.
  • Despite failed attempts, King and Spielberg have collaborated on other projects, leaving fans hopeful for a future collaboration.


Stephen King and Steven Spielberg are two of the most recognizable names in entertainment history. Since their respective debuts in the 1970s, the superstar author and filmmaker have each contributed invaluably to pop culture, making the possibility of a creative collaboration between them a thrilling prospect for readers and moviegoers alike. But after five decades of churning out best-selling books and blockbuster films, King and Spielberg have yet to team up despite coming close numerous times. Perhaps the closest they came was in the mid-90s when the powerhouse talents worked on developing an original screenplay about supernatural activity. While the collaboration ultimately didn’t pan out, audiences can only speculate as to what could’ve been had King and Spielberg gotten the project off the ground. For his part, however, King would rework his proposed screenplay into a 2002 miniseries.

Rose Red

A college professor and a team of psychics investigate an old abandoned house. Hoping to explain some of the mysterious deaths on the property, the psychics stay in the mansion, but unleash a terrifying force that threatens to destroy all.

Release Date
January 27, 2002

Rating
PG-13

Seasons
1


Stephen King and Steven Spielberg Pitched Ghost Stories to Each Other

In 1996, Stephen King and Steven Spielberg each had a hankering to craft a ghost story for the ages. As King remembers, Spielberg “called me up and said, ‘I want to make the scariest ghost story ever made.'” Despite returning the favor and pitching the filmmaker a ghost story of his own involving California’s infamous Winchester Mystery House, the author conceded that Spielberg’s pitch was more enticing and the two men began a back-and-forth exchange of ideas. Reportedly taking inspiration from Shirley Jackson‘s 1959 novel The Haunting of Hill House and its 1963 film adaptation The Haunting, a horror classic adored by King and Spielberg, they went to work developing a story about an ensemble of characters encountering sinister ghostly forces. After hashing out their ideas, however, it became clear that they had conflicting visions for the project.

“It went back and forth between us,” King remembers of his collaboration with Spielberg. “It became a kind of struggle for the soul of this movie.” According to the author, Spielberg’s approach to the story and characters was more along the lines of an adventure thriller steeped in a supernatural context, which King likened to the filmmaker’s Indiana Jones films. In contrast, King hoped to approach the material with more of a pure emphasis on the horror genre. “Steven wanted these people to be heroic,” says King. “I just wanted them to be terrified.” Ultimately, the two men couldn’t find a way to align their differing visions for the project and decided to shelve it, though they would each pursue their creative aspirations through other endeavors. Spielberg would go on to executive produce 1999’s The Haunting, a second adaptation of Shirley Jackson’s novel that fell flat with critics, while King eventually set out to rework his ideas into what would become 2002’s four-hour miniseries Rose Red. But putting pen to paper would be a lengthy and difficult task for the legendary writer after he nearly lost his life.

Writing ‘Rose Red’ Helped Stephen King Recover From Devastating Injuries

In the Spring of 1999, the ball was moving forward on Rose Red with ABC jumping on board to back Stephen King’s vision. However, development of the miniseries came to a screeching halt in June. As King walked alongside a road in his native Maine, he was hit by a van and nearly killed after driver Bryan Smith lost control of the vehicle. According to The Guardian, King sustained numerous brutal injuries, including “a shattered hip and pelvis, broken ribs, punctured lung and fractured thigh-bone.” As it wasn’t initially known if he would even survive, Rose Red was set aside as King embarked on a months-long recovery. Ironically, it was when he eventually returned to writing that he regained some semblance of joy and personal fulfillment. After completing his memoir On Writing, he dove back into Rose Red.

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“I was using the work as dope,” King acknowledged. “Because it worked better than anything they were giving me to kill the pain.” According to the LA Times, he initially managed to write for only 45 minutes per day, but the sense of accomplishment that the limited amount of work provided was instrumental in getting him back into a consistent routine of creative productivity. Having obtained the screenplay he’d developed with Steven Spielberg, King decided to turn his haunted mansion story into a miniseries, citing the narrative benefits of the format’s length over that of a feature film. Approximately two and a half years after his nearly fatal accident, King’s Rose Red debuted on ABC.

What Is Stephen King’s ‘Rose Red’ About?

Premiering on January 27, 2002, Rose Red was Stephen King’s fourth penned miniseries after 1991’s Golden Years, 1997’s The Shining, and 1999’s Storm of the Century. Led by Dr. Joyce Reardon (Nancy Travis), the miniseries focuses on an ensemble of psychics who visit the titular and supposedly haunted mansion that’s been the site of numerous deaths and disappearances since its construction in 1907. Conducting research into the mansion’s suspected paranormal activity, Reardon and her colleagues encounter a horde of strange and horrific occurrences throughout their stay at Rose Red. From architectural oddities to unsettling sights, several team members fatally fall prey to the sinister forces residing within the labyrinth of a mansion. With a six-hour runtime over three episodes, Rose Red was met with a mixed reaction from critics and viewers, but the miniseries ultimately fulfilled King’s creative aspirations after years of development.

A History of Stephen King and Steven Spielberg’s Collaborations

Director Steven Spielberg
Image via Axelle/Bauer-Griffin/Getty Images

While Rose Red was born out of a failed partnership between Stephen King and Steven Spielberg, it wasn’t the first time they’d attempted to combine creative forces, and it wouldn’t be the last. In the early 1980s, the duo nearly teamed up on another haunted house thrill ride with Poltergeist. “I wanted him to help me out with the script and sort of write it with me,” Spielberg said of King. According to Entertainment Weekly, the collaboration fell through due to a breakdown in communication. Following Poltergeist was Spielberg’s desire to translate King’s 1984 novel, The Talisman, to the big screen. At 944 pages, the novel proved an unwieldy adaptation to tackle in the four decades since Spielberg bought it, but the filmmaker hasn’t completely given up on making it as a film or miniseries. “It’s something that I’ve wanted to see come to theaters for the last 35 years,” he said in 2018.

Despite their planned collaborations that never panned out, King and Spielberg finally crossed creative paths with a TV adaptation of the author’s sprawling 2009 novel Under the Dome, on which Spielberg served as an executive producer. Premiering on CBS in 2013, the series ran for 39 episodes over three seasons and received mixed to positive reviews. In the decade since Under the Dome, however, audiences have yet to see a film, series, or miniseries involving two of entertainment’s most legendary storytellers. But with King and Spielberg showing no signs of slowing down, devoted fans have reason to be cautiously optimistic about a future collaboration. In the meantime, Stranger Things will have to tide us over.

Rose Red is available to stream on Hulu in the U.S.

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