WILMINGTON — When Mike Roberts applied for the production rights to Stephen King’s “The Doctor’s Case,” a Sherlock Holmes story, he didn’t expect to get a contract back, three days later, with King’s signature on the dotted line.
“Honestly, it was a blind shot in the dark,” Roberts said.
Stephen King’s Dollar Baby program is a deal King offers to aspiring filmmakers to adapt his short stories that have not yet been made or auctioned off – for $1. Filmmakers are guaranteed King’s eyes on their final product.
“It took two weeks to settle in,” Roberts said. “You’re doing a Stephen King, but on top of that, it’s Sherlock Holmes. It’s a double bonus.”
King has the final say over whether the film will hit the commercial market. For Roberts, even if King disapproves, it’s about more than the dollar.
“It’s worth more on my resume than any amount of cash I could make,” he said. “I wouldn’t need to make a dollar because that is money well spent.”
Until now, Roberts has kept the project, which he regards will be the pinnacle of his career in film, tight-lipped.
“I’ve dropped a hint here and there,” he said. “One day I changed my profile picture to a picture of Sherlock Holmes for the day.”
The return of Wilmywood?
“Firestarter,” a King original filmed in Wilmington in the early 1980s, ignited a trend of big-production filmmakers capturing the varied landscapes and talent the Cape Fear region had to offer.
“Had it not been for ‘Firestarter,’ we would not have a film industry here,” Robert said.
King’s works have trailblazed the local industry. Productions King penned later filmed in Wilmington include “Maximum Overdrive,” “Under the Dome” and “Firestarter,” to name a few.
“Here’s a very prominent writer, that loves to shoot in the same town that I live in,” Roberts said.
It’s only fitting that a King story could bring big film production back to the Port City that has nearly been extinguished in recent years after the General Assembly replaced tax incentives with a grant program.
“Once our film incentives were taken away, it pretty much paved the way for Atlanta to take away everything that had been built here for the last 20 years,” Roberts said.
Following the fallout that led top-notch filmmakers to head south, Roberts hopes his Sherlock Holmes gig will lure big names back into town.
“Once we can get it up and going, it may have a great impact on making people at least think outside the box. There are other ways to do film here,” he said. “If the productions aren’t coming here, then bring them here.”
No script, Sherlock
“Vaughan,” a sitcom Roberts created and filmed in Wilmington, is wrapping up post-production. Picked up by major streaming networks including Hulu, Roku, iTunes, Vudu, Amazon Prime, PlayStation Network and Microsoft, “Vaughan” has occupied Robert’s energy this year.
Given 12 months to translate King’s work to a motion picture, Roberts has until September 2018 to put his spin on the twisted tale.
“Once I adapt the screenplay everything is going to start moving pretty fast,” he said.
With a background as a celebrity manager, Roberts maintains professional, working relationships with big-name talent.
“I’ve had a couple of people in mind that I feel would be fantastic people for Sherlock Holmes,” he said.
Casting a believable actor to manifest the 1800s-era detective will be a vital feat.
“(I’m) dealing with the most popular detective in the history of literature,” he said. “Historically speaking, it’s a pretty high standard.”
Unsure of funding, Roberts believes securing a letter of intent from a recognizable actor could entice investors to back the project.
“I would like to have name actors,” he said.
Roberts plans to enlist as much local talent as he can.
“The rest would be locally cast,” he said. “I definitely want to put that fresh talent that wouldn’t have that opportunity otherwise on that camera and in front of Stephen King.”
Landing a Sherlock Holmes project is a personal and professional blend of ambitions coming to fruition.
“My dad, before he passed away, was probably the biggest Sherlock Holmes fan on the planet,” he said. “We’ve been handed an opportunity, let’s make the most of it. There is no downside.”
Johanna Ferebee can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or @j__ferebee on Twitter