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Big Picture: UVic grad making film based on Stephen King story

James Douglas still can’t believe he’s making a movie based on a Stephen King story — with the prolific author’s blessing, no less.
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Writer-director James Douglas will be back in Victoria in spring to shoot The Doctor's Case, a Sherlock Holmes mystery with a twist based on a short story by Stephen King.

James Douglas still can’t believe he’s making a movie based on a Stephen King story — with the prolific author’s blessing, no less.

What makes the University of Victoria theatre grad’s dream project even sweeter is that it’s based on a story featuring characters created by another of his literary heroes — Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.

When the Wells, B.C.-based actor, writer and director returns this spring to shoot The Doctor’s Case, a Sherlock Holmes mystery with a twist, he’ll be indulging his passion for Victorian history.

“I fell in love with those stories, and the intricate way Sherlock Holmes’s mind works,” said Douglas, whose Holmes fixation began when he was 14.

“My mother was a fan of PBS, and they’d always be playing the Jeremy Brett version of The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes, especially around pledge-drive time.”

Douglas, who says he’s seen Young Sherlock Holmes 30 times, later became obsessed with horror novelist King after a friend gave him a copy of King’s 1986 novel It.

It was after discovering The Doctor’s Case, a King short story republished in his Nightmares & Dreamscapes collection, that Douglas became inspired.

“I was driving between Wells and Quesnel and Barkerville listening to these stories,” said Douglas, the historic gold-rush town’s manager of visitor experiences and public relations.

Douglas, in Victoria for this week’s B.C. Tourism Industry conference, was particularly intrigued by British actor Tim Curry’s reading of The Doctor’s Case in an audiobooks version of Nightmares & Dreamscapes.

In the murder mystery, Watson, the legendary sleuth’s loyal companion, uses his own deductive powers to solve a crime.

The story is recalled by Watson in his 90s, and flips between Victorian-era England and 1940, during the Blitz — a framing device Douglas says was inspired by his father, military historian Tom Douglas.

Douglas said he began to think about how cool it would be to shoot at historic locations in Barkerville and Victoria, where he’ll be featuring Craigdarroch Castle and Emily Carr House.

His fantasy inched closer to reality last April after a friend told him about the Dollar Babies initiative.

The program, administered by King since 1977, gives students and fledgling filmmakers an opportunity to apply to make a film based on one of his unlicensed short stories.

The successful applicant pays King a $1 royalty fee, on the condition the film cannot be shown commercially.

The filmmaker can screen it at film festivals and launch a fundraising campaign. Douglas is doing his through the crowd-sourcing platform Kickstarter, with a goal of raising $40,000 by March 1.

To his astonishment, Douglas got the go-ahead on Nov. 14, just two days after he made his short pitch online.

Three of his cast members have a creative connection to King.

Denise Crosby (Ray Donovan, Star Trek: The Next Generation), whom Douglas got to know at Northern FanCon, a fan convention in northern B.C., starred in Pet Sematary.

“Then I had this serendipitous moment where Facebook reminded me it was her birthday, which is also my mom’s birthday,” said Douglas, recalling how he reached out to her online to offer her a pivotal role.

His cousin Joanna Douglas (Being Erica), who plays Tabitha, a young woman named after King’s wife and shortened to Tabby, also has a King connection.

She appears in 11-22-63, the Hulu mini-series based on King’s sci-fi novel.

Then there’s actor Ebenezer Bleasdale, who played a young ruffian in It.

Douglas cast his old friend Michael Coleman (Once Upon a Time) as Watson. The Vancouver-based actor is also donating resources through SchoolCreative, his film and video-game production facility.

Casting J.P. Winslow, one of Barkerville’s most popular period actors, as Holmes was a no-brainer, Douglas adds.

“I’ve seen him in a Victorian suit more than another kind of dress, because it’s Barkerville,” he said. “So we have automatic authenticity.”

The Doctor’s Case will also feature actors from Victoria’s theatre community, including Monica Ogden, David Radford, Christina Patterson and Ian Case.

Douglas, who has appeared in dozens of stage and screen productions across North America, credits Case with giving him first professional acting job — in Theatre Inconnu’s The Merchant of Venice in 1993.

Another old theatre pal, Craigdarroch Castle’s operations manager Kate Humble, helped secure the historic museum as a principal location.

It’s doubling as Hull House, where a curmudgeonly shipping magnate ends up dead shortly after announcing to his family that he’s leaving his fortune to a home for cats.

Interiors will also be filmed at Emily Carr House, masquerading as a drawing room for Sherlock Holmes’s Baker Street home.

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