Bringing Gerald’s Game to life and the challenges of filmmaking: a discussion with Mike Flanagan

Of the mountains of terrors that have come from Stephen King’s catalog, Gerald’s Game had been widely regarded as the book least likely to receive a film adaptation.  Not because it isn’t worthy of a silver-screen or television series project, but because there is so much that goes on in the book that was considered impossible to properly show in a film – mainly the fact that the almost the entire book is told within the confines of a single bedroom.  It’s a challenge most filmmakers would grimace at, but not Mike Flanagan.  From Absentia to Oculus to Hush to Ouija: Origin of Evil, Flanagan is no stranger to uphill battles and he’s always enjoyed the trip to the peak.

Anyone who has read the book can see why it would be such a difficult source material to adapt into a screenplay.  Carla Gugino said it was one of the most difficult shoots she’s ever done.

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Gugino plays Jessie Burlingame

“It was a challenge for everyone involved, but I don’t think anyone had it as hard as Carla.  This movie asks a lot of her.  When you take an actor, and remove their mobility, it eliminates one of their biggest

tools.  Carla spends the majority of the film handcuffed to a bed.  First, there’s the physical discomfort of the restraint (it was actually very painful, I tried it myself and couldn’t last more than a few minutes in the cuffs).  But beyond that, there’s this level of exposure and vulnerability, both physically and emotionally.  I don’t know if I’ve ever seen a situation that was this demanding on an actor.  Her performance is astonishing, and was hard-earned.”


Flanagan, one of the brightest stars on the indie horror scene, is no stranger to difficult film sets.  For as much credit as Carla wholeheartedly deserves for what promises to be an amazing performance, Flanagan deserves just as much credit for creating an environment that actors feel they can be that vulnerable and open in without it affecting their performance.

Flanagan, who has long professed this project to be a true labor of love for him personally, has seemingly done the unimaginable.  He’s not only adapted the story to film, but the rights were picked up by Netflix.

“We don’t know yet when it’ll premiere, but I can’t wait for people to see it.  It’s been a passion project of mine since I was 19 years old, so I’ve basically wanted to make this movie for half my life.” Flanagan went on, “And you’re right, for a long time I thought it was unfilmmable.  I don’t know if I’ve ever been as proud of a movie as I am of this one.  In a lot of ways, my previous work has all been building up to this.”

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Bruce Greenwood plays Gerald in Flanagan’s adaptation


Not only is Flanagan proud of what this film has become, but the King of Terror himself has chimed in through social media.  “Horrifying, hypnotic, terrific” is how Mr. King summed it up. “It’s gonna freak you out”.  Awesome praise from the father of the source material.  In fact, King has had Flanagan’s ear for a while on this.

“We have been in touch – he’s been involved from the start, especially when it came to approvals and casting and such.  We’ve also been in touch since he saw the movie.  I was beyond excited that he responded to the film the way he did.  It was probably the biggest fan-boy moment of my life.” Flanagan said.

Having been raised on Mr. King’s canon myself, I chimed in with how difficult it seems to be to adapt King’s work.  Flanagan acknowledged the challenges and certainly seems up for the job anytime he’s asked to.

“As a lifelong King fan, I know how it feels to see an adaptation go south, and I was determined from the start that the film should honor his amazing novel.  Adapting King is a difficult and fragile thing – we’ve all seen what happens when it goes wrong.  As a Constant Reader, I never wanted Gerald’s Game to be in that pile.  I wanted him to love the film, and I was elated when he did.”

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Flanagan has been directing films since 2000, and he’s had his fair share of triumphs and frustrations.  I first got to know Mike thanks to his phenomenal 2011 film, Absentia.  I’ve been following him ever since, thus I was around while he wallowed in one of the most frustrating games of film release limbo I have ever seen.  Last year’s Before I Wake has the star power (Thomas Jane, Kate Bosworth and Jacob Tremblay) and a story that certainly can win over an audience, not to mention stunning visuals throughout.  Yet Relativity Media managed to bump the film back at least four times while the studio was haunted with serious financial issues.  The film is finally seeing the light of day, slowly but surely, as it can be found on Blu-Ray in Canada and Netflix overseas.  It’s still nowhere to be found in America.

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“That’s been a heartbreaking experience.  The movie is seeing the light of day, in a sense, but not in the US.  That movie has always been very special to me – we wrote it before Oculus went into production, and we actually shot it in 2013.  It was my favorite of our scripts for a long time.” Flanagan hasn’t shied away from making sure his thoughts and frustrations on the film’s handling have been well-known, either.

“It was such an emotional story, and I loved the way it straddled the line between horror and fairy tale. I’ve always thought of it as a supernatural fable, a bed-time story for grownups.  At one time, it looked like it would be released wide just a few months after Oculus, which would have been amazing.  Relativity’s handling of the film, and their bankruptcy, has been so destructive to the movie.  It’s been absolutely heartbreaking to watch this mess continue over the last few years.”

biw2With all that nerve-racking irritation, you’d think Flanagan would have cooled off on the project, right? Wrong.  Mike is just as passionate about it today as he was when the whole debacle started and it’s especially aggravating to hear that it looked like, at one time, Oculus would be the perfect spring-board for this film to keep Flanagan’s work haunting theaters across the nation.

“It was a pretty brutal shoot – it was my second “real” movie, and certainly the most ambitious when it came to visual effects.  Kate and Thomas were terrific and everyone was so excited about this unusual project.  We all thought it was on the fast-track to follow Oculus into the multiplexes, and the excitement was palpable.  As the years have gone on, it’s been somewhat demoralizing.  The movie hasn’t changed a frame, though.  In fact, the film still has a closing credit that says “Introducing Jacob Tremblay.”  It was true at the time, but clearly no longer – after Room, he’s one of the most recognized and respected child actors in the business.  The film has been so stuck in stasis, we can’t even crack it open to change that title card.  If anything, that shows people that the film hasn’t been shelved because of endless tinkering – it’s essentially been cryogenically frozen since we delivered it in 2014.”

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You wouldn’t be the first person to wonder if you can simply find Before I Wake online somewhere, to which I’d highly recommend ponying up the money to buy the Canadian Blu Ray or simply waiting it out like the rest of us.  Flanagan is a staunch opponent of piracy, like any self-respecting filmmaker should be, and he isn’t afraid to call folks out for stealing his work.

“I think piracy is absolutely lethal to the business.  Fewer things make me as angry as watching people gleefully steal a movie.  There’s the economic impact, sure, but the thing that pisses me off the most is what it costs creatively.  I often say that Hollywood is a creative democracy – every ticket we buy is a vote for certain kinds of content.  It matters which films we decide to support.  Piracy screws up the vote count.  Films that take creative risks are very, very difficult to get financed and distributed.  It was a huge deal that Relativity committed a wide release on Before I Wake, because it’s so hard to classify and doesn’t fit into an easy genre box.  Even if we’re able to pull the film out of Relativity’s bankruptcy mess, the availability of it online is a serious obstacle to a wide release now.”

On Facebook a few months back, I posted about how I wish Flanagan well in his battle with Relativity and an acquaintance of mine commented on the post that he’d seen the movie and thought it was really good.  Positive review or not, the fella clearly got his hands on a bootleg copy and Mike had no problem thanking said acquaintance for so proudly stealing his work.

“In general, I’m frustrated that a lot of people still engage in piracy without feeling like they’re doing anything wrong.  If you’re watching a movie illegally, you’re hurting that film, period.  And you’re hurting chances that other films like it will be made, or seen.”

So while we all wait for Before I Wake to finally get the release it so rightfully deserves, we can anxiously await Gerald’s Game, which promises to be one hell of a fun adaptation of a novel that most thought couldn’t be done.  Mike Flanagan continues to accept the challenges.

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5 thoughts on “Bringing Gerald’s Game to life and the challenges of filmmaking: a discussion with Mike Flanagan

  1. Great article! As a long time Constant Reader of King’s works, I’m now looking forward to seeing Gerald’s Game.
    p.s. You may want to edit “proponent” to “opponent”.

  2. So happy it will be on Netflix! I am deaf, and the theatre is very frustrating to me, plus way too expensive.
    Even if it debuted on PPV, at theatre price, I would be right on it.

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