The following contains major spoilers for the short story “I Know What You Need.”
Ever since Brian De Palma’s Carrie set fire to the silver screen, Stephen King has been one of the hottest names in cinematic horror. With hundreds of titles in his extensive catalog, there’s seemingly no end to the list of adaptable text. King’s stories exist in all iterations of film and TV, from big-budget blockbusters to intimate indie films, but you didn’t always need the backing of a major studio to take a crack at an adaptation. For many years, the Master of Horror sold the limited rights to a select list of short stories for the affordable price of $1.
Affectionately called Dollar Babies, this arrangement allowed burgeoning filmmakers to try their hand at adapting the work of Stephen King without blowing most of their budget on expensive licensing fees. One such director is Julia Marchese. The actress, director, writer, producer and film programmer, worked with the Dollar Baby Program to adapt “I Know What You Need” which she filmed entirely in Maine. An underappreciated short story in King’s Night Shift–the same collection that birthed Children of the Corn and The Boogeyman–this story follows a popular college student and her eerie relationship with a classmate who has an unsettling knack for knowing just what she needs.
Bloody Disgusting sat down with the fiery creator to talk about her very own Dollar Baby and the process of bringing the chilling story to life.
You adapted this film as a part of Stephen King’s Dollar Baby program. Can you tell me how the program works and what it was like securing the rights to the story?
The Dollar Baby program has been running for decades, and the deal is you get the rights to the story for $1.00 for 1 year. There is no limit on what you can do with the story, script wise – that’s completely up to you, but the contract restricts you so you can’t sell it or put it online and the film can be no longer than 45 minutes. But the contract also states that you have to send a copy of the film to Stephen King himself to watch, so you know going in that the endgame is that he will see it. So I pretty much made the movie to please myself and to please him. Many people who have seen the film say it feels like a combination of Stephen King and Julia Marchese, so that’s the best compliment I could ever receive.
What drew you to “I Know What You Need” and why was it important for you to tell this particular story?
I kind of fell for Edward (William Champion) as Elizabeth (Caroline Renee) does in the story – the description of him with his too big jacket, glasses, unkempt hair and mismatched socks, along with the fact that he came bearing strawberry ice cream, won me immediately. Obviously it’s a Stephen King story, so you know things are going to go wrong, but finding out how specifically it would go wrong was fascinating.
I have a thing for Cute Boy Killers – we talk about this on my podcast Horror Movie Survival Guide a lot. Think about Arnie Cunningham from Christine or Norman Bates from Psycho – when you meet them they seem lost but sweet and somehow mesmerizing. I feel like Edward falls into this category – there’s obviously something not right about him, but maybe it’s not so bad? (Note – it’s very bad!)
I found this story engrossing as well because I am obsessed with the concept of obsession. If you like someone and they are obsessed with you, you’re super into it and it’s great. But if you don’t like someone and they are obsessed with you, the very same actions become creepy. It’s really all in the eye of the beholder.
I think the theme of this story is just as relevant today as it was when Night Shift was published. Why did you choose to set the film in the 70s and did that present any challenges?
I set the film in 1976 because that’s when the story was first published in Cosmopolitan magazine, and because it’s my own personal aesthetic. Also, the story would absolutely fall apart if the internet existed and it was as easy as it is now to do your own personal search on someone’s past. Moving the movie into modern day would have forced me to alter the story considerably, and I wanted to keep it as close to the source material as possible.
It was pretty easy and fun to work with vintage/retro costuming and set decoration (a lot of things in the dorm room actually just came from my house). The only challenge we had with the time period was one day we were supposed to shoot an outdoor picnic scene and it had rained the night before so the ground was muddy. We wanted to move inside to find an empty classroom – but it had to be a 70’s classroom, so no computers, no projectors, no white boards or anything else modern. Luckily we found a lecture hall that had giant chalkboards, so it worked out fine!
I love the 70s vibe of the film including the soft camera focus. You also use a split screen technique during the musical montage that reminded me of Brian DePalma’s Carrie. Did you have any specific visual references in mind when developing the aesthetics of the film?
You hit the nail right on the head! My visual references were afterschool specials from the 1970’s and Brian De Palma! I’m thrilled you caught that! He is one of my favorite directors, particularly his work in the late 70’s and early 80’s. While Carrie was definitely a reference, I watched Phantom of the Paradise with my director of photography, Alex Simon, and also my editor, Rick Dominicus, and we broke that movie down visually. De Palma has so much fun with camerawork and editing, and who doesn’t love a split screen? It was a Constant Reader’s dream come true!
To be able to shoot this film in the EXACT locations from the short story, including the library and Stephen King’s dorm, was out of control amazing. We shot the film during the summer of 2021, when the university was mainly empty, and we all stayed in the dorms together, so it was a bit like summer camp. I had to hire my cast and crew via zoom, so I hadn’t met the majority of them in person before we started filming. I was a little nervous to throw 22 people who hadn’t met together for this production, some of them sharing dorm rooms, which could go very pear shaped, but everyone got along so splendidly and gelled together so quickly it was fantastic. We definitely became ka-tet, and everyone (myself included) seemed slightly amazed that it all came together as easily as it did. Everyone said the shoot felt dreamlike – we entered a world of Stephen King in the seventies for a week, closed off from the world. The fact that I got to sleep in King’s very dorm room during production was mind blowing. I know he wrote a lot during college – including one of my favorites, The Long Walk – so it’s possible he could have written it in that very room! A girl can dream!
I noticed quite a few Stephen King Easter eggs such as 1919 Deschain Court, Garraty Elementary, Dr. Kaspbrak, and Nozz-a-la. How did you approach incorporating them into the story?
Since I was making the film for myself, King, and Constant Readers like me I wanted to make sure that us hardcore King nerds would have a good time finding a lot of easter eggs. The first thing I wanted to do was to put Stokely’s peace sign from Hearts in Atlantis onto the back of Edward’s jacket. Edward really is described as wearing a fatigue jacket in I Know What You Need, but adding the sign from the other story (which also takes place at the University of Maine) was just a fun crossover that very few people would notice. And that’s with a lot of these – it’s okay if you don’t catch them, but fun if you do. One of the things I love most about King adaptations is when they are made by real lovers and readers of King, and the deep cut hints always delight me, so I wanted to do the same for mine! You’ll notice that the film starts with a shot of a bottle of Nozz-A-La Cola (shout out to Mike Baird for helping me design the label!) Tower Junkies will know that means the story is actually not taking place in Keystone Earth, but in one of the parallel worlds. All things serve the beam!
How did you approach developing Ed’s character and what kinds of conversations did you have with William Champion?
I gave Will movies to watch to prepare – Christine, Psycho, Fade to Black, Martin – to give him the sense of the nerdy outsider, cute boy killer vibe I was going for. Edward is a hard role to play – within the story he goes from super nerd to romantic lead to scary villain and I needed an actor who had that range. Will and I had a lot of fun talking about Edward’s backstory, how and why he committed all of the acts that he had done and what he was like when he was alone. Getting to dive super deep into the characters and story was so much fun for me. As you personally know, talking at length about Stephen King gives me immense pleasure!
I love the symbolism of the ice cream dripping all over Ed’s hands. He wants to control the uncontrollable, but just winds up making a big mess. Was this intentional or just me projecting?
That’s a cool way of looking at it! I just think Edward is an absolute mess, weirdo and fuck up. That’s what I find so fascinating about his character. He has incredible powers that could potentially give him the life of his dreams, but he keeps messing up and giving himself away – the menthol cigarette slip-up, telling Elizabeth he saw Alice in the summer when he didn’t – these are small mistakes that end up getting him caught. If he was a more organized, disciplined person everything would probably work for him, but he’s just naturally haphazard and mixed up. That interested me so much – this is what happens if you give someone huge powers who just doesn’t have the personality and mental capability for them.
Ed’s reaction after Elizabeth tells him she has a boyfriend is terrifying. What were you hoping to convey in this moment?
Thank you! That was a scene I fought hard for – movies in the 1970’s were much slower and not afraid to hold and give space within the scene, so I wanted to be sure to bring that feeling to the table. Will really gave you everything you needed to know about Edward on his face in his reaction shots, so I left them as is and purposely didn’t cut away. It’s really the moment where he realizes he’s made a mistake by overlooking Elizabeth’s boyfriend, and also comes to understand that he needs to kill him, but he also needs to play it cool and win Elizabeth back a bit by pulling out the secret nickname she likes from her head. All of that is in his face and I think it reads. Up until then you don’t really get a feel for what’s going on underneath for the character, and this is the first hint. Edward is a creepy character, no doubt, but I wanted to start him off more shy and dorky and non threatening, so there would be larger shifts for him within the movie. I think this is the first time the audience really sees that he is up to no good.
How do you view Elizabeth as a character and what direction did you give Caroline Renee?
Elizabeth needs to be sweet and naive enough to not be suspicious of Edward – a tall order, since pretty much ANY girl would be leery of him immediately. We talked about her character a lot, and I had her watch Christine, The Outsiders, and Grease for that feel of an ingénue who has hidden strength, but a naturally unsuspecting innocent nature that takes everyone at face value. Caroline was only 19 at the time of filming, and I think her youth and friendliness helps the audience accept her falling for Edward.
I’m fascinated by the relationship between Elizabeth and her roomate Alice (Giovanna Drummond). How did you approach their confrontation scene?
Giovanna is so incredible, and she really nails this scene – she has a tremendous amount of dialogue, but she’s a theater actor, so we had her run her big monologues all the way through from different angles and she killed it every time. Alice knows this is her only chance for saving her best friend and really has to get through to her hard about what a monster Edward is in one fell swoop. Hopefully the audience is on her side here. I think we have all had a friend who started dating someone that made you uneasy, but what if you found out that person really was hoodwinking your friend and maybe had a murderous, supernatural past? You’d give your argument 1000%, which I think she does here.
In the story Alice really does say “Maybe I happen to love you a little.” That sentence can be read however you like – I certainly love my best friends in a non-romantic way, but it’s possible Alice really IS in love with Elizabeth, and that changes her motivations entirely. Iit’s left up to the audience to decide. Either way you slice it, Alice is a good friend and Giovanna plays her perfectly.
The last scene with Ed is so terrifying, particularly the change in Champion’s voice. How did you approach showing the audience the real Ed?
Something else that will shock you about his voice – Will is from the UK and has an English accent! You would never know it! He naturally has a deep voice, so I asked him to pitch it way up throughout the film until Edward’s evilness is revealed at the end. The idea is that the Edward we see at the end – buff and deep voiced – is who he really is when he is alone, and that he has been wearing a costume and changing his voice to seem harmless and to charm Elizabeth this whole time. Another example of his chaotic nature – if Edward’s plan had worked, he would have been stuck in his nerd persona forever, a kind of prisoner in a character of his own devise, only pleasing Elizabeth and never being himself for the rest of his life. What was he thinking?
You made an interesting change to King’s text. Instead of “he forced you to love him,” Alice uses the word “pushed.” Was this a nod to Andy from Firestarter?
Aha! Good catch! Yes, Edward has Andy’s pushing powers from Firestarter, complete with nosebleeds. In the story, when Elizabeth finds Edward’s box in the closet it’s full of voodoo objects and a copy of the necronomicon. When I Know What You Need was written, in 1976, when the story was written, the necronomicon would have been an obscure Lovecraft reference, but today everyone associates it with The Evil Dead series, so I thought that would be confusing. Edward still needs tokens to have power over someone, but I think the pushing power is an excellent replacement, and keeps it within the King universe as well.
What do you make of Ed’s powers? What do you think it is that he’s able to do? Why does he choose to use his powers on Elizabeth?
As we learn in Firestarter, pushers can pretty much do anything, but at a cost – small brain hemorrhages every time you use the power. Edward fell in love with Elizabeth in elementary school and she has been his obsession ever since. I think he felt that if he could just make her fall in love with him, he would be happy. And as he says, everything he did was just to make HER happy. In his head his actions are completely justified, and getting her boyfriend Tony (Colin Fin) out of the way was better in the long run, since he could please her better than Tony could.
Really think about it, though. If you met someone who knew everything you wanted without you having to ask for it, wouldn’t you be sucked in? Watched every movie you wanted, brought you the food you were craving before you asked, knew exactly what you liked in bed, ALL of it. I think anyone would be hard pressed to turn away from that, and Edward knows it.
Is there any part of you that finds Ed sympathetic?
For sure. He has gigantic powers that could be used for anything, even drastically changing the world at large, but he chooses to use it to make one girl fall in love with him. There is something pathetically romantic about that.
Elizabeth says she could have loved him on her own. This is an addition to the original text. Why was it important to add this to the story?
In the story Edward gives Elizabeth a big speech at the end, and she turns away and says nothing. I wanted Elizabeth to be able to tell him how she feels as well. I tried to think about how I would react in her shoes. Besides the obvious repulsion of his true nature and revelation of his ability as a killer, she feels hurt that he would feel the need to push her and not give her a chance to control her feelings independently – he took that option away. It’s a smaller, deeper wound, but one I think is justified. She is shoved around a lot in this story – from Edward to Tony to Alice, who all tell her what to do, and this is the first time she really stands on her own and thinks about what SHE wants.
What was the premier like? Have you gotten any feedback from King?
The film premiered, fittingly, at the Maine International Film Festival, which was great! Good audiences and lots of questions. Some had a King connection to the story, or went to the University of Maine, or told me how excited they were that this story was directed by a female filmmaker, in an after school special style that is unusual for a Stephen King film. I think it’s important that this particular story is told from a woman’s point of view, so I am very glad I was given the opportunity. The film has been sent to King! Fingers crossed!
I also want to say thank you to everyone who has helped with the film. The movie was financed with two Indiegogo campaigns, one run by me and one run by The George A. Romero Foundation, so I need to give many thanks to everyone who donated to the film, I literally couldn’t have made it without them.
Also everyone at the University of Maine, who made filming there such a joy, and of course my cast and crew. Filmmaking is such a collaborative art, and I made that clear to everyone on set. I am always open to suggestions, and wanted everyone who worked on the movie to feel like they had the freedom to express their own personality and abilities in it as well. As a director I may be wrangling the shoot, but there were 20+ people on set as well and all of them are just as important to the production. So thankee to my very own filmmaking ka-tet.
The film has been received incredibly well, I have gotten such amazing feedback, and I am very grateful for that. It’s a hindrance that I can’t release the film online, but as with any artist, the hope is that someone will see the film and wants to work with me on my next project.