Dec 16, 2020

By Benjamin Cavell
The iconic 42-year-old Stephen King novel was reimagined with feature-film-level effects.

In Making it Work, creatives and decision-makers from across ViacomCBS describe how they turned an idea into a reality. In this installment, we spoke to Benjamin Cavell, showrunner and executive producer, of the new CBS All Access limited event series The Stand, based on the 1978 Stephen King novel of the same name. The show is available to stream beginning December 17.

Doing right by Stephen King’s beloved source material was always in the front of my mind, and a consideration for the entire cast and crew. There was already a version of The Stand that aired on ABC in 1994, but the reason that it's so exciting to be able to do this now is that we're operating in a new medium.

The type of high-end limited series that we’re doing didn't exist until maybe the first season of True Detective. With feature-level budgets, we can attract stars who would never sign on to an ongoing TV series. [The Stand cast includes Whoopi Goldberg, James Marsden, Amber Heard, Alexander Skarsgård, Odessa Young, and other stars]. In some ways, this format is the only way to adapt this iconic 1,000+ page book with an enormous backdrop of the entire United States. I don't know how any other version of storytelling could do the book justice.

In early 2018, I was approached by Julie McNamara, EVP and head of programming, CBS All Access, who asked if I would be interested in adapting The Stand, Stephen King's 40-year-old masterpiece about a deadly pandemic and the struggles that follows for the soul of the world's that left, for a limited series. I know it sounds funny, given what's happened since 2018 and how eerily relevant the book feels to what we're all currently living through, but I thought it was eerily relevant then, simply because it seemed we were starting to take so many things for granted, like the structure of human civilization and human societies and the structure of American democracy.

The Stand asks its readers: “What would you do if you were given the chance to press the reset button on humanity?" It’s a story about how we rebuild. I thought we were making something eerily relevant for three years, and then of course it turned out to be more relevant than anyone could have imagined.

The show really comes to life thanks to recent advances in technology. It's dangerous to make big claims, but as a viewer of television, I've never seen anything like the stuff that our VFX supervisor Jake Braver has pulled off in this show. We have great, vivid visuals for the effects of the Captain Trips virus early on and with a number of bigger things that come later in the story.

The advantage I have over most people adapting Stephen King is the ability to ask him questions. He was quite involved in the show. He read every draft and signed off on every director we hired and every piece of casting. Owen King, his son, was in the writers’ room with us, too, and he's a producer on the show.

We had a safety net—there was always a member of the King family who at least theoretically could tell us if we were going too far afield. Not that either of them ever did. Everybody involved in the show felt a responsibility to this iconic book that's meant so much to so many people for so long. It means so much to all of us. Everybody in the show grew up with a different relationship to our source material, but a really close and reverent one. The head of our electrical department came up to me wanting to show me his signed first edition of The Stand. He had it in a plastic case so that it was protected. It's clearly one of his prized possessions. This is not something that happens on every show.

It was really inspiring to be on a set with 150 people who are all pulling in the same direction and so focused on bringing their A-game. I don't know why else you would want to be in this business. Isn't that the dream? Being with these incredibly talented people, everybody just feels so much responsibility to do their best work.

I am really excited to see what people make of our take on the book and the decisions we've made in the adaptation. I'm so proud of what we've done. That’s the place you want to get to with any piece of work. We've made the show that we set out to make. If anything, we exceeded our expectations of what it would be, and I know that I will always be proud of it.

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