BANGOR, Maine — “The Last Rung on the Ladder” may very well be a giant first step for a select few students at Bangor’s New England School of Communications and a small group of yet-to-be-determined actors.
The lesser-known short story by Stephen King published in 1978 as part of the “Night Shift” collection was adapted into a 12-minute film in 1987, but NESCom video production curriculum coordinator Frank Welch has held film adaptation rights to it since 1997.
“A friend of mine and I tried doing it, but we just couldn’t get it together, fundingwise,” said Welch, who has been with NESCom for 3½ years. “Last April or March, I’d been talking to my students, who are very talented, and with the really good digital equipment we have here now, I thought it was a good time to do it.”
Welch, who is the film’s executive producer, checked with King’s legal representatives, told them it would be a nonprofit student production and had his nonexclusive adaptation rights extended.
“We can’t use it as a vehicle for Stephen King promoting NESCom, and we have no intention of selling it,” Welch said. “But we have a handful of really talented kids here now, and because his name is on it, it’ll give them attention, give them a big leg up, and likely help them find work.”
The film’s producer is Philadelphia native Joe Giordano, 21, a producer and assistant at Bangor TV station WLBZ 2. Fellow NESCom student Lucas Stewart, a Durham native and also 21, is the director.
“We have an open casting call for our characters Saturday, and then we’re going to try to get this done in three or four months,” said Giordano, who has six years of video production experience. “The biggest problem is we want it to look like summer, so we’ll have to wait on the weather a bit.”
The casting call — for males ages 10-16 and mid-30s to late 40s, and females ages 10-15 and late 20s to mid-40s — will be at Husson University’s Gracie theater at One College Circle from 1 to 6 p.m. Saturday
“We have a great crew of 10 hand-picked people, we have a budget where NESCom is fronting us what we need, we have a great screenplay written by Godfrey Taylor, and we’re ready to go,” said Stewart. “Once we get actors matched up with our characters, it’ll feel more like we’re doing it, so that’s why this weekend is so big for us.”
King’s short story, which is about 16 pages and not a horror tale, is about a man who finds out his estranged sister, whose life he once saved, has committed suicide.
“It’s a touching story about the consequences of losing touch with family,” said Stewart. “I know after reading it, I called my brother.”
None of the production crew or cast members is being paid.
“The pay is getting your name out there and generating notice or acclaim from the filmmaking industry and the public,” said Stewart.
Giordano and Stewart intend to enter the film in as many festivals in New England and beyond as they can.
“Ideally, the payoff for this would be getting it into some kind of film festival like Sundance. This isn’t something that’s just going to be screened locally here in Bangor,” Giordano said. “This is something we fully intend to launch outside Maine.”
Giordano, who was involved in producing a documentary about Bangor’s American Folk Festival last summer, says shooting for the film, which likely will run about 30 minutes, should start in March and could premiere at The Gracie as early as mid-May.
This is the first project like this for Giordano, Stewart and the rest of the crew.
“We have a head-turner here with Stephen King’s name on it,” he said. “So if we do this right and do it well, this is something we can really put on the map, not just for ourselves but for the school and the people who will participate in it.”