The cast and crew of “The Stand,” premiering on CBS All Access December 17, know that people will compare their adaptation of Stephen King’s classic novel to what’s going on today. It’s hard not to, what with King’s tome telling the story of an apocalyptic disease that wipes out most of the human populace. But creator Benjamin Cavell was up to the challenge.
“We all felt the weight and responsibility to do right by this iconic source material,” Cavell said during a recent TCA panel. “I’ve never regarded ‘The Stand’ as a book about a pandemic.”
For Cavell — who entered the project three years ago, well before the word “Covid” was on anyone’s lips — it’s more about the elemental struggles between good and evil.
“King has been very up front about the fact that this was his attempt to do ‘Lord of the Rings’ in America,” he said.
The writing team had to do a lot of updating, considering the book is 42 years old, but everyone was determined to retain the soul of the book. Still, they could never plan for its adopted timeliness.
“I won’t say it wasn’t surreal for all of us,” Cavell said when talking about finishing principle photography right as stay-at-home orders came down. “Our last day of shooting in Vancouver was March 11. […] The only difference between our fictional world and our current world […] is that our fictional world didn’t get hit with Covid, it got hit with Captain Trip’s instead.”
With a plot focused on universal themes and desires, Cavell didn’t want to be black and white about the characters or groups of people.
“It was very important […] that [Randall] Flagg be portrayed as a viable alternative. That we never make him seem evil, with a capital E,” Cavell aid about the series’ central antagonist played by Alexander Skarsgard. Cavell wanted to make the appeal of his character understandable.
“The Stand” was last adapted for television back in 1994, and Cavell said there will be plenty of Easter eggs for fans of the book and the original limited series, but he wanted to touch on elements from King’s extended version of the novel.
“We also have some original material by Stephen King,” says Cavell. “He wrote a coda that is our ninth episode.”
Said coda was something King had been thinking of for 30 years that gives a particular character more agency. King, who signed off on every draft and vetted every change, was certainly open to modernizing characters and giving them more to work with.
“Stephen King is obviously an artist and a storyteller. […] For this to be done righteously, he couldn’t micromanage this — and didn’t want to,” Cavell said. “We were well-aware that we had the opportunity to do things that they weren’t able to do in the original miniseries.”
A major element was updating the disease known as Captain Trip’s and showing it to be utterly terrifying.
“Some of it is rendering the tubenecks [which] are such an iconic part of the book,” Cavell said. “As with everything, we really tried to ground it all in a really visceral, deeply felt, believable reality.”
The team worked hard with a combination of prosthetics and VFX to create the horror and match the descriptions in the book.
“The Stand” premieres December 17 on CBS All Access.