In the coming weeks, Western Carolina University senior Mike Hill may go out after dark to drive up and down the interstates. He’ll be looking at rest areas, hoping to find a brightly lit one with a deserted parking lot that lies next to a black stretch of highway. If the place looks creepy, like something out of a Stephen King story, even better. Because it could be.
With only one semester left until he graduates and plenty to do for his WCU courses, Hill also is working on an independent project outside of class that he hopes will help open doors to a professional career. Through a wellknown program for young filmmakers, he is making a short film based on one of King’s stories. The master of macabre himself has granted permission for Hill to make an adaptation of “Rest Stop.”
“Over the summer, I was spending a lot of time reading King’s books and stories and found out about this program and it sounded like a good learning experience,” said Hill, a film and television production major at WCU. He submitted a proposal online and it was accepted. Within two weeks, he had signed a contract with King’s representatives and mailed in the required $1 fee that gives the program its name, “Dollar Baby.”
More than 100 “Dollar Baby” films have been produced since King started the program 36 years ago. Frank Darabont made the first one when he was a college student. Darabont went on to become the critically acclaimed director of “Shawshank Redemption” and “The Green Mile.”
King once explained that he sees the “Dollar Baby” program as a good way to encourage aspiring young students who want to try their hand at filmmaking. He asks for a copy of all the completed works and is said to view every one. He keeps them on a bookshelf at his home in Bangor, Maine. The student filmmakers are required to follow several rules, including showing the films only at non-commercial festivals. They can’t make money from them or make them available online.
“Rest Stop,” a story in the collection “Just After Sunset,” is about a mystery author driving alone at night on an interstate highway. He stops at a rest area where he overhears a woman being assaulted in the ladies room and has to decide whether or not to take action. “It’s a story about domestic violence,” said Hill, “but even more than that, it’s the story of a person who stops something evil that’s happening but in that process behaves in a way that is also evil.”
Hill grew up in rural Fort Mill, S.C., where his father, Mike, is a retired teacher and his mother, Cheryl, works as a writer and editor. He started reading King’s books as a boy and watched the horror movie classic, “The Shining,” when he was only about eight years old. “I liked the movie then and have enjoyed King’s work ever since, even when it’s terrifying,” he said.
At WCU, Hill has produced television shows and co-authored a student-produced film that premiered at the Controlled Chaos Film Festival on campus last year. He also was selected as a writing fellow at the Writing and Learning Commons, where he helps other students develop their writing skills.