Stephen King had high hopes for Stanley Kubrick’s take on The Shining, but “was deeply disappointed in the end result.” For one, he felt that many scenes fell flat. Two, he hated the fact that Jack Torrance was a madman from the start. In the book, Jack gradually descends into insanity. He’s a man whose soul has snapped and crumbled under the pressures of life. Yet Kubrick portrayed him as an evil psychopath from the get-go.
King wasn’t the only one struggling with Kubrick. Actress Shelley Duvall, who played the agonized, trembling, constantly screaming wife Wendy, was apparently miserable during filming. She lived in a constant state of anxiety, with Kubrick forcing her to do the same take repeatedly until she had no more tears left in her system.
Now there’s no denying Stanely Kubrick’s ingenuity or the fact that The Shining is one of the most beloved horror films to date.
That being said, the behind-the-scenes story of its making is pretty crazy. Almost as crazy as Jack Torrance.
Kubrick Never Read Stephen King’s Screenplay
Stephen King wrote a whole draft of a screenplay for the film. And as the author and creator of The Shining, he felt that it was crucial for Kubrick to go through it. As it turns out, Kubrick didn’t agree with him. He didn’t even think it was worth a glance.
He described Stephen King’s writing as “weak” and preferred to write the screenplay with author Diane Johnson because he was a huge fan of her novel The Shadow Knows. It took them eleven weeks to write the script (which was tweaked a million times during filming).
Take 1, Take 2, Take 3 Ad Infinitum…
Stanley Kubrick was known for his perfectionism, and almost every person who worked with him on The Shining can attest to that. He took at least ten takes of literally every scene, exhausting both the actors and the camera crew.
The scene where Dick Hallorann and Danny are in the kitchen discussing Danny’s special gifts took around 88 takes, and the up-close shot of actor Scatman Crothers took a whopping 148! It may possibly be the most takes done for a close-up in the history of close-ups.
The Movie Took Five Long Years to Make
Stanley Kubrick was known for taking his time on set. He didn’t like to rush things and certainly didn’t mind forcing his actors to do the same scene over 100 times. In short, making the film with Kubrick was always a lengthy ordeal. And in the case of The Shining, it was a five-year endeavor.
“There is a wonderful suggestive timeliness that the structure of making a movie imposes on your life,” the director once explained; “I’m doing exactly the same as I was doing when I was 18 and making my first movie. It frees you from any other sense of time.”
Production Caused Delays for Some Other Major Movies
With a million takes being done every day and an ever-changing script, The Shining went way off schedule and cost the studio more than they expected it to. Apart from the costly price, the obvious delays in schedule created a mess for other major works waiting to be filmed.
Three projects got stuck waiting for Kubrick to wrap up and clear the stages: Warren Beatty’s historical masterpiece Reds, Irvin Kershner’s Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back, and Steven Spielberg’s Raiders of the Lost Ark. Kubrick, frankly, couldn’t have cared less. To him, perfecting The Shining came before everything else.
Kubrick’s Assistant Spent Months Typing “All Work and No Play Makes Jack a Dull Boy”
The copy + paste function in modern computers has made our lives so much easier. But that’s a lazy luxury that wasn’t available at the time The Shining was being filmed. So, what about the dizzying “All Work and No Play Makes Jack a Dull Boy” essay?
Apart from being a waste of ink and causing harm to the environment, it took months to type on hundreds of sheets of paper. Kubrick’s assistant, Jack Torrance, is the one who had to sit through hours of typing the same thing over and over again. All so Shelley Duvall could destroy them in one brief scene.
Fun Fact: The sentence changes meaning in foreign translations. The German version is: “Don’t put off till tomorrow what you can do today.” In Spanish it’s: “Although one will rise early, it won’t dawn sooner.” In Italian it reads: “He who wakes up early meets a golden day.”
Stanley Kubrick Thought the Hedge Maze Was Too Simple Until He Got Lost in It
Kubrick’s love of puzzles and mazes really shone in The Shining. Remember the impossible hedge maze where little Danny outsmarts and outruns his malicious dad? Kubrick wanted to go all out with this dizzying labyrinth, even calling it out for being “too easy” at first.
That’s when his crew challenged him to try and cross the maze himself. The proud director agreed, marched into the perplexing labyrinth, and regretted it a while later after he couldn’t find his way out.
Fun fact about the maze: Not only did Kubrick get lost in it, but so did the poor camera crew who repeatedly lost themselves between takes.
Jack Nicholson Barely Got Any Sleep
Jack Nicholson mastered his role as a madman. He sported an insane glare and a conniving grin all through the film. And while hair and makeup added their touch of genius to his character, it was Nicholson who really brought it all to life. Or, more specifically, his lack of sleep.
During filming, Nicholson was staying at a place far from the set. So after long shooting days, he would crash and snore on the car rides driving him back home. And in the mornings, he would nap on the way to the set. That’s a tough way to live for several months in a row, but, looking back, it’s safe to say that it helped him get into character.
Shelley Duvall Nearly Lost Her Mind
As mentioned before, Stanley Kubrick was a fussy director who had to have everything just so. His uptight character created so much tension on set that no wonder he had rocky relationships with most of the cast. His most tumultuous one was with actress Shelley Duvall who played Wendy, Jack Nicholson’s on-screen wife.
Duvall was struggling with the emotional content of the script, and Kubrick was far from sympathetic. Quite the contrary. He kept her isolated, removed some of her lines unexpectedly, and made her cry over and over and over again until the scene came out just the way he wanted it to.
“After a while, your body rebels. It says: ‘Stop doing this to me. I don’t want to cry every day,’” Duvall explained.
Slim Pickens Was Offered a Role, but He Didn’t Want to Work With Kubrick Again
The role of the Overlook’s head chef, Dick Hallorann, almost went to Slim Pickens, who had already worked with Stanely Kubrick before on a different film – Dr. Strangelove. Kubrick wanted Pickens to join him in The Shining (even though it was a strange choice considering that Dick Halloran is Black in King’s book).
Pickens turned down the part because he was slightly traumatized from working with Kubrick in the past. The strenuous workdays on the set Dr. Strangelove took their toll on him and he wasn’t willing to go through all that again. The part then went to Scatman Crothers.
The Shining’s Set Burst Into Flames
Toward the end of filming, a fire broke out and burned down a couple of sets. According to one photographer: “It was a huge fire in there one night, massive fire, we never really discovered what caused that fire and it burned down two soundstages and threatened a third at Elstree Studios. It was an eleven-alarm fire call, it was huge.”
There’s a famous picture of Stanley Kubrick standing in the middle of the wreckage, laughing at the mess surrounding him. He was probably laughing at how coincidental the whole thing was. Stephen King’s novel ends in much the same way – with the Overlook Hotel in flames.
Kubrick Ordered 900 Tons of Salt
900 tons of salt for just one little scene. But what a scene it was! Remember the final shot of Jack chasing his little boy down through a snowy, foggy hedge maze? To create that sullen, wintery vibe, Kubrick drenched the set in piles and piles of salt.
“For the winter scene a huge amount of artificial snow was added using formaldehyde-based foam, which hardens when in contact with air,” executive producer Jan Harlan explained, “and was then covered with salt in order to obtain a realistic crystal effect.”
The “Heeere’s Johnnny” Line Was Improvised
Pieces of wood fly in the air as a maniacal Jack Torrance demolishes the bathroom door with an ax. His terrified wife is on the other side of the door, trembling and grasping a kitchen knife and screaming her lungs out. It’s one of the more memorable scenes in the film, and not only because of the suspense but because of one little line:
“Heeere’s Johnnny” Jack teases his wife as he peeks his head through the broken door. The insanity in his eyes and the eerie cheerfulness in his voice makes the scene all the more frightening. Interestingly, the line wasn’t part of the script. Jack Nicholson improvised the catchphrase on the spot.
Nicholson Wrote One of the Film’s Scenes
Not only did Jack Nicholson improvise iconic catchphrases, but he also wrote an entire scene. Apparently, the actor felt he could relate to his character, Jack Torrance. Not in the sense of wanting to wipe out his whole family, but more that he understood what it was like to try and juggle life as both a family man and a writer.
“That’s what I was like when I got my divorce,” Jack Nicholson told The New York Times; “I was under the pressure of being a family man with a daughter, and one day I accepted a job to act in a movie in the daytime, and I was writing a movie at night, and I’m back in my little corner, and my beloved wife Sandra walked in on what was, unbeknownst to her, this maniac, and I told Stanley about it, and we wrote it into the scene.”
The Overlook’s Eerie Design
Filled with hallways that seem to stretch on for eternity and carpeted with unsettling, garish hexagons, the Overlook Hotel is one disturbing piece of architecture. The creepy design was inspired by several hotels across America, including The Ahwahnee in Yosemite National Park, which inspired the Overlook’s cavernous lobby and blood-red elevators.
As for the book, Stephen King got his inspiration for the Outlook after visiting a reportedly haunted Colorado hotel called The Stanley. “I dreamt of my three-year-old son running through the hotel’s corridors, looking back over his shoulder, eyes wide, screaming,” King recalled.
The Overlook Hotel’s Design Doesn’t Make Sense
Fans have brought up several interesting points when it comes to the Overlook Hotel’s interior design. They insist that things just don’t add up. For one, Ullman’s office has a window, but the room itself is surrounding by more rooms, making the window impossible.
This is true for nearly all the windows in the film. Moreover, there’s a hallway in one of the lounges that appears out of nowhere. As it turns out, all these bizarre glitches were pre-meditated. The film’s executive produce, Jan Harlan, has stated: “The interiors don’t make sense. Those huge corridors and ballrooms couldn’t fit inside. In fact, nothing makes sense.”
Stephen King Didn’t Think Jack Nicholson Was the Right Guy
There’s so much Stephen King hated about the film. One of them being the casting of Jack Nicholson. Shocking right? For fans of the film, Jack Nicholson IS The Shining. There’s no The Shining without him. His evil smirk paired with those crazy eyes is what made the film so incredibly chilling.
But not according to King. “Jack Nicholson, though a fine actor, was all wrong for the part,” he noted. “His last big role had been in One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, and between that and the manic grin, the audience automatically identified him as a loony from the first scene.” In the book, Jack Torrance’s descent into madness is a gradual progress. Jack wasn’t supposed to be nuts from the get-go.
Danny Lloyd Had No Idea He Was Shooting a Horror Movie
To protect young Danny Lloyd, who was only five years old at the time of shooting, Stanley Kubrick told him they were filming a drama — a sad, dramatic story of a crumbling family. That was surely better than a murderous dad looking to assassinate his wife and son.
The child actor was so sheltered that he didn’t even see the movie until he was 16. “I just personally don’t find it scary because I saw it behind the scenes,” Lloyd later stated, “I know it might be kind of ironic, but I like funny films and documentaries.”
The Idea for Tony’s Voice and Danny Flexing His Finger Came From Danny Lloyd
Finding the perfect Danny Torrance was imperative. The Shining’s casting director carried out an extensive search to find the right young child star to play him. He had to be vulnerable yet strong-willed, curious yet not too naïve, childish yet sophisticated.
Out of all the candidates that auditioned for the part, one little boy caught everyone’s attention – Danny Lloyd. He stood out due to the way he interacted with Tony, the imaginary friend. It was actually Danny’s idea to have Tony speak a different voice and flex his index finger.
It Was Danny Lloyd’s One and Only Time on the Silver Screen
The Shining introduced a promising new child star: Dan Lloyd. He was only five years old at the time of filming, and his performance was believable, moving, and impressive. Everyone assumed he would grow up taking Hollywood by storm. Unfortunately, that wasn’t the case.
He landed a role in a TV movie a few years later, but other than that, nothing. “We kept trying for several years… until I was in high school, and I stopped at about 14 with almost no success,” Lloyd explained. He did manage to land a cameo in Doctor Sleep, the 2019 sequel of The Shining.
The Girls Weren’t Supposed to Be Twins
Remember the hair-raising hallway scene? The one where Danny spots two little girls in matching dresses glaring at him from the end of the room? Some viewers were confused about it and for good reason.
At the start of the film, the man who hires Jack says something about how the guy who came before him lived there with his two daughters, aged eight and ten. But then, when Danny spots the dead girls, he sees that they’re, in fact, twins. Turns out, Stanley Kubrick felt that twins would add a bit more spookiness to the scene, so he went with identical sisters instead.
Danny’s Big Wheel Ride Was Innovative
The Steadicam, a camera stabilizer that revolutionized cinematography, was first introduced in 1975, and Stanley Kubrick, a self-professed tech-geek, was one of its early adopters. He went so far as to hire the Steadicam’s creator, Garrett Brown, to work with him on the film.
The Steadicam helped to bring many gripping scenes to life, including Danny’s Big Wheel ride. The cameramen had to flip the Steadicam upside down, lift it three inches off the floor and ride after the little boy in a specially designed wheelchair. The shooting angle gave off an unsettling, hunt-like vibe, and the sound of the wheels on the hardwood floor made it even creepier.
The Cameramen Hung From the Edge of a Roof
Nowadays, getting an aerial shot is considered easy peasy lemon squeezy. All you need is a drone or a remote-controlled camera mount system, and you’re good to go. But back in the ‘70s, getting a bird’s-eye view wasn’t as convenient. So, how did Kubrick manage to give his viewers the bewildering perspective of the hedge maze from high up above?
The crew created a movable replica of the maze’s middle section and brought it near a tall building. Hanging off the edge of the roof, the cameramen snapped the mazy shot and then edited it into the rest of the film’s material that was filmed from the ground.
The Only Shot That Was Captured in Just Two Takes
So, while Stanley Kubrick’s perfectionism made him obsess and redo nearly every shot, there were still a few moments that took only a take or two to capture. One example is the scene where Wendy wakes Jack up from his nightmare and calms him as they both kneel on the floor.
There’s no specific reason why Kubrick didn’t dwell on that scene for too long. Probably because both actors nailed it on the first shot. Having to wake up Jack Nicholson from a nightmare time and time again would likely result in an unnatural scene.
Stanley Kubrick Needed a Win
Stanley Kubrick had one of the greatest minds in the film industry. Many of his works, including 2001: A Space Odyssey and Dr. Strangelove have been gushed over, praised, celebrated, and glorified. Yet even he suffered a dry period at one point in his career. It was the late ‘70s, and Kubrick needed a win.
After his movie Barry Lyndon turned out to be a total flop, Kubrick decided it was time for a radical shift in genre. He ventured out into the horror scene, and searching for something that would rock people’s worlds, he came across Stephen King’s The Shining.
A story about a madman who murders his whole family? Kubrick thought to himself, Bingo!
The Film Has Inspired Plenty of Conspiracy Theories
There’s nothing like a horror movie to spark creative conspiracists. So many people have shared their own takes on the meaning of The Shining’s ending and the hidden meanings installed throughout the film.
One such theory is that Stanley Kubrick helped NASA fake the moon landing, and The Shining is his dramatic confession. Another theory says that the movie is actually about the genocide of Native Americans. And some people believe that The Shining is actually a reference to the Holocaust.
Stanley Kubrick Didn’t Believe in Hell
A common story Stephen King shares with his fans at book readings is the time when Stanley Kubrick called him at 7 a.m. to ask him what his thoughts were about ghosts. “I think stories of the supernatural are fundamentally optimistic, don’t you? If there are ghosts then that means we survive death,” Kubrick told him.
King responded back by asking Kubrick what his thoughts were on Hell and how that realm fit in with his optimistic outlook on the supernatural. The director’s response was sweet and short – “I don’t believe in Hell,” he stated. Well, for a guy who didn’t believe in Hell, he sure knew how to create some hellish ambience.
Stanley’s Family Joined Him on Set
Stanley’s wife Christiane and daughter Vivian both took part in creating the design and music for the film. Vivian took her job in the film one step further by shooting an on-set documentary about the movie titled The Making of the Shining.
The 30-minute documentary is an intimate look into the mind of Stanley Kubrick and an informative examination of his directing styles. It includes everything from how he treated the actors to which angle he chose for which scene; his daughter’s short film captures it all.
It Was Supposed to Be Room 217, Not 237
In King’s novel, the eerie events are set in room 217, not room 237. But the hotel used for the film’s exterior shots, Oregon’s Timberline Lodge, asked to swap the numbers. The hotel’s management was afraid that the movie would forever taint room 217, so they asked to switch it to a non-existent room number instead.
Looks like the swap didn’t do much. The hotel’s site reads: “Curiously and somewhat ironically, room #217 is requested more often than any other room at Timberline.” Looks like people remember the number from the novel and are curious to see what spirits might be haunting it.
Hidden Playgirl Messages
Kubrick is known for being a particularly pedantic director. So, rest assured that little artifacts like magazines and pictures on the wall were purposely chosen. For example, the scene where Jack Torrance is reading a Playgirl in the Overlook’s lobby as he waits for his job interview likely has a hidden meaning to it.
There’s an article in that specific issue of the magazine talking about incest, so many believe that Kubrick was trying to imply that Danny might have suffered sexual abuse from his father. The magazine clearly belonged to Jack, because, come on, what kind of hotel has Playgirl magazines laying around in the lobby?
The Most Difficult Role She’s Had to Play
Kubrick’s relationship with Nicholson was great. They shared similar views regarding the making of the film and were often seen hanging out together during breaks. Kubrick’s relationship with Shelley Duvall, however, was less solid.
“From May until October, I was really in and out of ill health because the stress of the role was so great,” she admitted; “Stanley pushed me and prodded me further than I’ve ever been pushed before. It’s the most difficult role I’ve ever had to play.”
Fun (or not so fun) fact: The scene where Wendy swings a bat at Jack took 127 takes. No wonder Duvall felt like she was going mad.
The Shining Was Supposed to End Differently
It’s not that rare for a movie’s ending to change at the last minute. The script is often rewritten and tweaked according to the director’s demands. But Kubrick didn’t change the ending early on, before releasing it to cinemas as a normal director would. Kubrick changed it after it had already played in theaters for several days.
The original ending went something like this: Jack collapses in the snow. He dies. Then Ullman pays a visit to Wendy in the hospital, telling her that everything she said had happened in the hotel was just a figment of her imagination. No evidence of anything strange or dangerous whatsoever.
The Shining Brought Kubrick Back From the Dead
Kubrick’s 1975 drama Barry Lyndon was a commercial flop. Film critic Tim Robey revealed that it was far from the commercial success Warner Bros. was hoping for. Kubrick ended up losing a couple of millions as a result. The film cost $11 million but earned only $9.5 in the U.S.
Thankfully, The Shining told a completely different story. The movie had a budget of $19 million and ended up earning $47 million in the U.S. alone. It became one of the top ten highest-grossing movies of 1980. And one of the more memorable films of the decade.
Stanley Kubrick Was Long Interested in Trying His Hand at Horror
In the early ‘70s, Stanley Kubrick considered directing the gory, horrific, vomit-shooting Exorcist. He ended up declining the offer because he wasn’t allowed to serve as producer of the film. “I only like to develop my own stuff,” he explained.
Still, Kubrick wasn’t willing to give up on the genre just yet and told a close friend of his that he longed “to make the world’s scariest movie, involving a series of episodes that would play upon the nightmare fears of the audience.” It’s fair to say that he’s created a nightmare inducing thriller.
Pixar Films Reference The Shining Here and There
Director Lee Unkrich is slightly obsessed with the film. And the famous animator isn’t afraid to show it! “I’ve been collecting stuff from The Shining over the years,” he told Vulture. You can spot different references to the shining in several Pixar films.
Like in the movie Toy Story 3, Sid’s carpet is extremely similar to the one found in the Overlook Hotel. Not only that, but one of the garbage truck’s license plate reads “RM 237”! Incredible right? And also, Trixie’s online chat is with a dinosaur toy that uses the chat name “Velocistar237.”
Dan Torrance, All Grown Up in the 2019 Sequel
“When I was a kid, there was a place, a dark place. They closed it down and let it rot. But the things that lived there, they come back,” – that’s how Doctor Sleep’s trailer begins. Released in 2019, The Shining’s sequel tells the story of Danny Torrance, all grown-up and still traumatized by what happened to his family at the Overlook Hotel.
Surprisingly, reviews of the film weren’t half bad. Sequels are a dangerous leap to take, but in this case, it worked out quite well. “I still don’t know if The Shining needed a second act, but Doctor Sleep presents one that’s fresh and unsettling enough to justify its existence,” Variety wrote.
King Hated The Shining but Loved Mike Flanagan’s Doctor Sleep
While speaking to Esquire, Stephen King happily gloated: “All I can say is, Mike took my material, he created a terrific story, people who have seen this movie flip for it, and I flipped for it, too.” A far cry from Kubrick’s “cold film,” Flanagan’s creation invested in building up the characters and remained loyal to the book.
King said that he read Flanagan’s script, word by word, to ensure his fans wouldn’t be disappointed. He concluded: “Everything that I ever disliked about the Kubrick version of The Shining is redeemed for me here.”
Despite the Beef, Stanley Kubrick Loved King’s Book
Warner Bros. executive John Calley sent King’s novel to Kubrick, asking him to make a movie out of it. After the first few pages, Kubrick admitted that he immediately took a liking to it. “The Shining I found very compulsive reading, and I thought the plot, ideas, and structure were much more imaginative than anything I’ve ever read in the genre,” he said.
It was the first Stephen King novel he read, and he was excited to make a movie of it. Despite rejecting King’s screenplay, Kubrick said that the author was great at plot construction. The reason for his rejection was that he believed King wasn’t too great at writing. The plot and the ideas were there, but the writing itself wasn’t too captivating.