Not too long ago, journalists Eric Vespe (formerly of Ain’t It Cool News, among others) and Scott Wampler (formerly of birth.movies.death, among others), got together to discuss an idea that would evolve into “a Stephen King podcast for Stephen King obsessives.” The Kingcast invites guests from the entertainment industry to discuss the King novel or short story of their choosing, along with the film or television adaptation of that work.
Over the past few months, The Kingcast has hosted a variety of guests, including Mike Flanagan (Doctor Sleep) discussing 1408, Elijah Wood discussing Misery, Karyn Kusama discussing Carrie, and Damien Echols (who was wrongly convicted and jailed for murder largely due to his interest in heavy metal and horror) discussing the Dark Tower series.
Recently, the co-creators and hosts were kind enough to answer a few questions for Cemetery Dance.
(Interview conducted by Blu Gilliand)
CEMETERY DANCE: Let’s start with origin stories: tell us about your first experience with the work of Stephen King.
SCOTT WAMPLER: When I was growing up, King’s books were always kicking around my house because my mother was a Constant Reader; I vividly remember hardcover copies of IT and Misery sitting in the living room. I think that’s probably what initially piqued my interest, but then my folks went on vacation to Hawaii and left my mother’s parents in charge, and I somehow convinced my grandmother to read Eyes of the Dragon out loud to me at bed every night. That event is probably ground zero for my King appreciation.
ERIC VESPE: My mom was a big reader of Stephen King, so I grew up with King books around the house. I do remember the art on the hardcover of The Stand fascinating me, but I couldn’t imagine anybody being able to read a book that big.
I was a movie kid before I became a bookworm. I have a very early memory of my mom, who let me watch just about anything, being wishy-washy on letting me watch Stand By Me because of the swearing. I don’t know why she cared about that but was fine with me watching The Fly or Aliens or Terminator, but I do remember she relented and I fell in love with the movie.
Cujo was my first King book. I was in sixth grade and I took the paperback with me to school, hidden in my pencil box which happened to be just the perfect size to conceal the book. I figured if I’d seen the movie I could read the book and know what was going on even if I didn’t understand all the words.
I became obsessed after that and decided I’d read every book King ever published and made it my mission to do so all the way through middle school and high school. As you can probably tell, I was super popular.
Are you King collectors? Do you have any prized books or memorabilia that are King-related?
EV: Oh yeah. Thanks to my obsession with The Dark Tower I found out about the Grant editions. I was able to snag one of the signed/numbered Little Sisters of Eluria/Gunslinger books, which looks mighty nice. The rarest King book I have, though, is an ARC of the final Dark Tower book that UK publisher Hodder & Stoughton sent out. They only sent 100 and I was lucky enough to be on the receiving end of one. I’m told it’s one of the rarest King editions ever made, even if it isn’t super fancy.
I also did pick up that Cemetery Dance IT anniversary release in that nice slipcover. Missed out on that Carrie one, though.
Also, I have a limited print of Roland on the beach from The Gunslinger that Michael Whelan sold via his store many moons ago, and when I interviewed King I sheepishly asked if he’d sign it for me and he was more than happy to do so, inscribing it with “Long days and pleasant nights.” I have it framed and on the wall where I can always see it. It’s one of my most prized possessions.
SW: I’m not the collector Vespe is (I very much regret not finding a way to hold onto all those hardcovers in my childhood home), but seeing all the photos our listeners have shared of their own collections has got me toying with the idea of trying to track a few of ’em down. One item I do have that’s particularly special to me is one of the SDCC editions of Charlie the Choo-Choo, “signed” by Beryl Evans. These were passed out during a very low-key signing at Comic-Con the year The Dark Tower came out, and I think there are less than 100 of ’em in the world. My good friend Meredith Borders waited in line on my behalf to snag one of these for me, and I’d never part with it.
Have you ever met King? If so, how did it go?
SW: I have! A few years ago Sony flew a number of film blogger types up to Maine for a day-long King celebration which culminated in a sit-down with King himself prior to a screening of The Dark Tower. I found him to be just as warm, down to Earth, and friendly as I’d always heard he was. They gave us maybe 20 minutes to ask him whatever we wanted, and my first question was, “In terms of life accomplishments, where do you rank ‘Getting blocked by Donald Trump on Twitter?'” He laughed and said, “Very low. In baseball terms that’s sorta like striking out the pitcher.” Didn’t miss a beat. Sharp guy, that Stephen King.
EV: Yes, in 2007 I was offered a sit down with King in conjunction with his appearance at the New York Comic-Con to promote the Dark Tower Marvel comic. I lived in Austin (still do) and wasn’t making much money writing about movies on Ain’t It Cool News, and the website wasn’t willing to pay my way to New York for the interview. The plane ticket was expensive and the hotel was even pricier.
I remember I questioned whether or not I could afford to do it and my best friend damn near literally shook some sense into me. He knew how big of a King fan I was and told me I’d regret it for the rest of my life if I passed up the chance to interview him. He was right, so I put my meager money into the plane ticket and went to the Con.
He didn’t do a lot of interviews. My memory is I was one of four he agreed to. It was surreal to say the least. King’s words, voice and image have been a part of my life since before I can remember and there he was in the flesh and he was nerdy as hell! He was wearing a Shaun of the Dead t-shirt (which he said he wore as a kind of shield to let the Con attendees know he was one of them). The interview lasted maybe 15-20 minutes and all the Marvel comics guys, including Editor-In-Chief Joe Quesada, were watching me conduct it.
King was very laid back and it was a dream to talk with him, especially about the Dark Tower.
You’ve both been in the entertainment industry for a while. Have you worked on other projects together before now?
SW: We had not, but we’d been aware of one another for a while— went to a few of the same junkets, ran into each other at various screenings in Austin, that sort of thing. Vespe and I both had a reputation within the blogging community of being big Stephen King nerds, so we were on each other’s radar but working for different sites. Pleased to say that it’s been a helluva lot of fun to join forces with him on this.
How did The Kingcast come about? Who came up with the idea initially, and how long did you work on the concept before starting production?
EV: I was working the freelance game after being laid off from full time writing about movies and pop culture and finding myself pretty unfulfilled. It’s tough to be at the mercy of random editors at various publications, even if all the ones I’ve ever worked for have been nothing but professional and nice.
I knew I wanted to start something where I didn’t answer to anyone else, and I’d been trying to find an angle to get into podcasting for a while. I figured there were two things I was qualified to talk about in-depth. Film was one. I’ve been writing about movies (past, present and future) since I was 16 years old and I think I’ve got a pretty good handle on cinema history. But there are about a trillion White Dudes Talking About Movies podcasts out there.
The other thing I felt I had enough knowledge to form a podcast around was the work of Stephen King. Why not cover both the written word and the film adaptations? Lord knows there are plenty of King movies.
I knew if I did this thing I’d need a co-host so it wouldn’t just be me rambling my way through it and the first person I thought about was Scott. We’ve both got a love for King and we both have a similar sense of humor, but Scott is way quicker on the draw with funny shit than I am and I knew that’d be a crucial thing to make the podcast work.
It quickly became apparent that starting a Stephen King podcast wasn’t the most original idea in the world. There are so many! But I knew we had an interesting angle in that we wanted to have a celebrity guest on each episode talking specifically about one title they had a personal connection to. That was unique and over our time covering the movie business we made enough friends and contacts that we knew we could pull some interesting names.
I had never started a podcast before, so there was a huge learning curve. We recorded two whole trial run episodes to experiment with set-up, equipment, banter, etc. Those will never see the light of day. Trust me, we’re doing everyone a favor there.
I’d say from the first time I met with Scott at one of my favorite restaurants (Chuy’s Tex-Mex, if you’re curious) and asked him to join me on this crazy adventure to when we actually launched the show was almost a year.
For those who haven’t listened to it yet, explain the format of the podcast so they’ll know what they’re missing.
EV: Every episode of The Kingcast has a special guest who chooses a King title they want to talk about. We try to stick to King stories that have been adapted in some form so we can keep the discussion from just being a book club format. There’s nothing wrong with that, of course, but to us it’s way more interesting to talk about the written work and how it was adapted into a different medium.
Our guests usually come loaded for bear. There’s no such thing as a casual King reader. Either you don’t care one way or the other or you’re gonzo in love with his work. So, even if we’re discussing some of the not-so-successful films or books (lookin’ at you, Tommyknockers) we still start from a place of love and respect.
Plus, it’s just fun to hear comedians and filmmakers and actors geek out about King stuff.
What’s the book/movie you’re most looking forward to tackling on the show?
SW: I’m always happy to discuss whichever adaptation our guests come to the table with. For me it’s not so much about which book/movie I’m looking forward to, so much as finding out who we can rope into sitting down for an episode with us. My guest wishlist is very long.
EV: It was “The Body”/Stand By Me, but we just did an episode on that one. IT is one of my all-time favorite books and I’m very excited to line up the right guest to dive into that one.
What’s the one you dread the most?
EV: Honestly, it’s been fun revisiting even the lesser titles. We had a run of Dreamcatcher, Tommyknockers and The Langoliers recently and that was rough, but even so I enjoyed refreshing my memory and putting them into a different context. The only ones I really dread are the titles that carry a lot of weight with them. The Stand makes me nervous because I love that book very much. There’s so much to talk about and so many people have spoken so smartly about it I’d be worried we wouldn’t do the title justice, if that makes any sense.
SW: Not dreading any, per se, but I will say that I’ll be stunned if anyone ever chooses Apt Pupil.
Is there a King book that you consider unfilmable? Is that even something we can consider after what Mike Flanagan did with Gerald’s Game?
SW: Before Gerald’s Game, yeah—I absolutely would’ve told you that book was unfilmable. Then Flanagan knocks it out of the park; for my money, he actually improved upon the source material with that one. Then he announced he was making Doctor Sleep, a book I’m not terribly fond of and which I couldn’t imagine anyone in their right mind turning into a film, if only because of the substantial shadow cast by Kubrick’s The Shining. Then Flanagan knocked that one out of the park. As far as I’m concerned, Mike Flanagan is single-handedly responsible for murdering the concept of an “unfilmable book.” Some of ’em might be riskier than others, but if the filmmaker’s talented and they have the right approach? Sky’s the limit. By the way, I’m very hyped to see what Flanagan does with Revival.
EV: Nothing is impossible. Even King’s worst books have an interesting hook or character or set piece you could hang a film around. I’m not quite sure I’d want to see a movie based on “The Library Policeman,” though…
What have you learned as King fans in the process of doing this? Has anything a guest brought up surprised you, or made you look at a work in a different light?
SW: One takeaway is how important those old-school, painted covers were for an entire generation of King fans. Again and again we’ve had guests tell us that what got them curious about King in the first place was seeing the cover of IT, or Cujo, or Misery. If I’d given it any thought before we began this show, I probably would’ve told you that’d be the case, but to hear it over and over again from our fellow King fans is really neat. Bring back painted covers and the iconic Stephen King font, says I.
EV: Scott’s right. It’s crazy how similar most of our King origin stories are. Everybody seems to have read King at too young of an age, hooked in by either a movie they were familiar with or the crazy cover art. Some of our best episodes have been the more personal reads of King’s work. Karyn Kusama’s appreciation of the feminism on display in Carrie, or a recent episode we recorded with a guest who felt a deep connection to ‘Salem’s Lot as a young, closeted kid because of how “The Other” is represented there.
All of us have similar connections to King’s work. Men, women, gay, straight and every shade in-between have felt like King has spoken directly to our experiences and there’s something incredibly delightful about that.
As you do your research for episodes of the podcast, have your opinions of any of the books or movies changed radically from the first time you read or watched them? If so, why do you think that is?
EV: I don’t know about any drastic changes, but what has been very interesting is putting King’s work into context. We’ve covered a lot of his very early work so far and revisiting The Running Man and Carrie and ‘Salem’s Lot and The Shining has been fascinating because I’ve seen his voice become more solid and confident, growing into the authorial voice I most associate with him with the novels I first fell in love with.
SW: There’s been a few episodes where my memory of the film or TV adaptation did not jibe with my present-day opinion of those same adaptations. Thinner was one that really surprised me, for instance; I recall kinda digging that one back when I originally saw it, but on rewatch I could barely make it all the way through. Flip-side’s also true, though: our recent revisit of Maximum Overdrive was maybe the most I’ve ever appreciated that movie, and speaking about it on the show at length sorta tweaked my overall opinion of it.
As for why this happens, well: I know for certain I’m not the same person now that I was five years ago, or five years before that, and so on. Tastes change, attitudes change. Our barometer for quality changes (and mine certainly has, just in the course of writing about movies for a living).
I started reading King in the early ’80s, and I’m sometimes amazed at how much his work from that time still resonates today. What do you think it is about his work that speaks across generations?
SW: I think King is an incredibly human writer, and that, at the end of the day, he’s also got a sideshow barker’s spirit, and loves grossing people out or scaring folks. He could be solely the later and probably still be a pretty successful writer, but his empathy and humanity are what really make his stories and characters sing. That sort of thing’s universal, and crosses generational lines.
EV: King brings horror into a recognizable world. Even when he goes flat out bonkers, like the Dark Tower books, he still grounds it all with fully fleshed-out characters that feel as real as anyone you’d meet in your life. When you give a shit about the people in danger then suddenly the horror is actually scary and not just silly pulp stuff you roll your eyes at.
King has a way of reflecting the stuff everybody everywhere is scared of.
If you could get Stephen King on the podcast as a guest, what book/movie would you want to discuss with him?
SW: We talk about this all the time (a common game is “Which adaptation do you think King would choose?”), and it is our ultimate intention to get him on the show. There are titles I’d hope he’d pick over others, but honestly—Stephen King is a living god to us. If he dropped us a line and said, “I’ll do the show but on the strict condition that we only talk about reality television,” I would start watching 90 Day Fiancé immediately.
EV: Scott’s right. I’d be over the moon to have him on the show to talk about literally anything. The smartass in me thinks it’d be hilarious if we got King on the show and we talked about Dean Koontz’s The Watchers or something. I think he’d find that funny and that’d make a hell of an April 1st show, wouldn’t it?
Silver Bullet/Cycle of the Werewolf would be fascinating because he wrote that adaptation and, as our guest Michael Dougherty pointed out in his episode, he pretty much got to flesh out the very short story into something more than what it started life as, which was a “novelette” built to support a Bernie Wrightson-illustrated calendar.
If you were speaking to King right now—and who knows, maybe you are—what would you say to him to convince him to be a guest on The Kingcast?
EV: I’d probably send him the Dark Tower episode we did with Damien Echols, who was wrongfully imprisoned for almost 20 years and spent much of that time in solitary with only King’s books to keep him company. At the end of the day the show exists to celebrate King’s work and hopefully he sees just how important his stuff has been to people. His books, short stories, novellas and the movies/TV shows adapted from them have helped many of us through a lot of tough times.
Plus I can offer him a crisp dollar bill and I don’t even want the rights to make a short film from one of his stories!
Dead Air is a semi-regular Cemetery Dance column spotlighting podcasts and YouTube channels of interest to fans of horror.