Sometimes it pays to play by the rules. Other times, it pays to push against them.
Saratoga filmmaker Spencer Sherry intended to do the former but ended up doing the latter with his latest endeavor; adapting a chilling short story by Stephen King titled “The Monkey.”
During the pandemic, Sherry wrote a film script for it with plans to submit it to King’s Dollar Baby program, in which the author grants students and aspiring filmmakers permission (for $1) to adapt select short stories of his. The catch is that they cannot profit off of their film adaptations. Several famous directors and filmmakers, like Frank Darabont (“The Shawshank Redemption,” “The Green Mile”) got their start through the program.
“I heard about this program a couple of years ago from a friend who did it, and I was under the impression that any of his short stories were available,” Sherry said.
It turns out that “The Monkey” wasn’t part of the program, though Sherry didn’t find that out until after he’d written the script. At first, he decided to shelve it, but he returned to the script this year and decided to see if anything could be done with it.
“I love my idea for this, I love the story. I’m a huge Stephen King fan, which is how I got into this,” Sherry said.
He reached out to King’s agent and pitched his adaptation of the story.
“[I] asked for an actual commercial option first,” Sherry said. That was quickly denied.
“So I said, ‘Okay, ‘I know I’m not supposed to ask and it says right on the website not to ask, but could I extend the Dollar Baby contract?’ … I just want to do this because I love the story.”
The following day, the contract landed in his inbox, along with a note from King’s assistant commenting on how unusual it was for King to grant these rights for a story outside of the usual stories available for the Dollar Baby program.
According to Sherry, Darabont once had the rights to the story, but let them expire and this will be the first film adaptation of “The Monkey.”
The up-and-coming filmmaker isn’t taking the opportunity for granted. Sherry, an Oneonta native who attended SUNY Albany, worked in the industry in New York City for about a year before moving to Saratoga in 2017. He’s worked as a production assistant on films like “Set It Up” with Zoey Deutch, Glen Powell, Taye Diggs, Lucy Liu and Pete Davidson.
“The Monkey,” which was published as part of King’s book “Skeleton Crew,” marks the first time Sherry has adapted an author’s story. He was interested in it because of the duality of the story.
“I love stories, especially sci-fi or horror that really blend grounded drama with whatever the supernatural element is, and that’s why I’ve always liked Stephen King,” Sherry said.
King’s story follows a young father, Hal, whose two children find a cymbal-clapping, wind-up monkey that haunted him as a kid. Whenever the money’s cymbals clang, someone close to him dies.
In Sherry’s adaptation, the storyline has moved forward a bit; the two children (Dennis and Pete) are adults and Pete is about to have his first child. As he’s dealing with all the anxieties that come with that, there are also flashbacks to the horrors of the monkey seen in King’s story.
“It’s a unique opportunity to be able to make this story my own and part of it’s almost like a sequel where I’m kind of showing where these characters have ended up 20, 30 years after the original story, and so it’s interesting trying to balance King’s work and the themes in his story,” Sherry said.
To create the film, he’s teamed up with Colonie filmmaker Joe Gietl, who recently released “A Void,” and will produce “The Monkey.”
Their goal is to keep the adaptation as locally focused as possible, enlisting the help of local companies, local actors, artists, etc.
“This is also something I really want to do with the people in the Capital Region and with peers and industry professionals that are in this area. I like a lot of people’s work in this area and I want to make this experience as collaborative and engaging as possible,” Sherry said.
“My goal is to support and work with passionate filmmakers who have unique perspectives and stories to tell,” Gietl said. “Working with Spencer on this project fits that bill to a T. There’s a burgeoning youth movement of driven local filmmakers that we’re excited and proud to be a part of and our goal is to continue to support, promote and ultimately bring that community closer together with this film.”
They launched an Indiegogo campaign to raise funds for the film on Halloween and have raised more than $13,000 of their $35,000 goal. The campaign is slated to run through Jan. 6.
If all goes according to plan, filming will start in May. In the meantime, Sherry will be scouting for locations and reaching out to others in the local film community to collaborate with. Eventually, when the production is complete, he’ll be able to screen it at select film festivals and theaters. He’ll also send a copy of it off to King, who reportedly watches the films that arise from each Dollar Baby contract.
“This is just an amazing opportunity that could kick off [my] career,” Sherry said.
For more on the project, visit indiegogo.com.