I've mentioned here on occasion in the past that, back during my wayward days as a film publicist, I worked in 1988 on the movie Pet Sematary, which based on Stephen King's novel. We filmed in Maine, based in the town of Ellsworth, and did most of our filming on Hancock Point, where the central Creed House existed.
On my days off, I drove around the state, which I quite liked, and wrote the story here of heading over to Campobello Island, which is now an International Park where Franklin Roosevelt lived, and was the basis of the classic play and movie, Sunrise at Campobello.
My time on the film also gave rise to one of my favorite stories. I told it once here in a different context, but it bears repeating.
My brother John just hated anything popular. Avoided it whenever he could. And it's that basic reality which is who lead to the story. Actually, to be more accurate, it lead to probably my favorite story. Of any story I’ve ever told.
His wife loved reading books by Stephen King. She’d ask John to read them, but no way in the world would he read a novel by Stephen King. Even if he had the time in the middle of his medical practice, Stephen King wasn’t just a popular novelist – he was probably THE most popular current novelist in the world. Stephen King would not be read.
But she didn’t let up. And finally, John – the good husband – gave in. Okay, one Stephen King book. He readFirestarter. And he loved it so much that he finished the book in two days. Probably hating every moment that he liked it so much.
Well, as fate would have it, not long after that, in the days when I was doing publicity on movies, I was hired to work on the film, Pet Sematary, based on the novel by…Stephen King.
The movie was filmed in the state of Maine, very close to where Stephen King lived. So, needless-to-say, he would visit the movie set. We would talk on occasion, about baseball, the movie, writing. And then, one day, I said I had a funny story for him, that I thought he would appreciate.
I told him about my brother. I said he hated anything popular. I explained how my sister-in-law couldn’t get my brother to read his books, specifically because they were popular. I went into great detail about who John was, and why the last thing on earth he wanted to do was read a popular Stephen King novel.
And then I explained that John finally broke down, read Firestarter, and finished it in two days. Because he absolutely loved it.
Now, you must understand, this is the Best Possible Reaction that any writer can ever have. It’s one thing to be praised by fans – but it’s something else entirely to have someone who is so deeply predisposed to hate your books that he’s fought off reading them for years finally read one and love it so much that it’s devoured.
Stephen thought for a moment after being told all this, trying to figure what to say. It was clear he felt wonderful by John’s reaction – which is pretty impressive, considering all the acclaim that Stephen King has had in his renowned career.
And then he leaned over, looked at me and said – “Tell your brother, I apologize. I don’t set out to write popular books. It’s just that people buy them.”
Not long after, I was back home visiting. And I told John this story. His face lit up. One of the biggest smiles I’ve ever seen him make. “Stephen King said that about me???!” he asked. Yes – Stephen King said that about you.
He laughed out loud, and said, with much pleasure, and an acknowledgement of his own inexplicable reaction to popularity – “You know, he’s probably right.” And he kept smiling.
So, that's what I mostly think about when it comes to the filming of Pet Sematary, though I think about more, since it was such a good time. That, Campobello Island, driving down to Old Orchard Beach to watch minor league baseball, visiting Kennebunkport before I knew that Bushes lived there, engorging on the state's prized wild blueberry's, hiking through Acadia National Park and Baxter State Park (which I knew about through L.L. Bean's Baxter State Parka Parka), spending so much time in the distant and magical town of Freeport virtually made up of factory outlet stores, almost camping out in L.L. Bean's mothership main headquarters, the Disneyland of camping stores that's open 24 hours, 365 days a year, and much more.
A few years ago -- I don't remember how long, maybe five? -- I got an email from a young man John Campopiano who had an odd request. In his spare time, he and his producing partner Justin White wanted to pursue a labor of love about their favorite movie. As born-and-bred Mainers, they wanted to do a documentary in their spare time about the making of Pet Sematary. He knew from the credits that I'd been the unit publicist and wondered if there was any advise or help I could offer. It struck me as an unlikely project. To start with, they weren't filmmakers. Then there was the challenge that the movie had been made 20 years ago. And while it did okay at the box-office it wasn't a particularly big hit. Though the sci-fi market and fandom is intensely loyal. But John struck me as a very nice young man, so I offered whatever small assistance I could.
He wrote back from time to time, with other questions, and with bits of material that they'd assembled. I periodically told him some stories, passed along copies of a few photos I'd taken, gave some suggestions on who to track down people connected with the film and how best to approach them, offered some access to filmmaker friends for advice, and things like that. During this period of several years, he and Justin kept diligently pursuing their pipe dream, yet little-by-little kept making tiny steps of progress.
Well, to cut out all the interim steps, we'll get to the end. They actually completed the movie, found a distributor and it's now been released. So, huge hats off to them, for relentlessly following up on what they so passionately wanted to do. And accomplishing it. It's an impressive achievement, against significant odds and hurdles.
For any other fans of Pet Semary, if you're interested in seeing their documentary, you get get it here, for $39.99.
Robert J. Elisberg is a political commentator, screenwriter, novelist, tech writer and also some other things that I just tend to keep forgetting.
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