The Director’s Chair

Lights, camera, action! My part on a Stephen King film

Sue Wiygul Martin

It’s a month into the filming of the movie The Langoliers.

Today, we’re filming in the baggage claim area of the Bangor International Airport. I quietly encourage my Seeing Eye dog, Quoddy, to move forward to the place where the activity seems to be centered. The properties manager, the one who asked me to work on the movie, moves forward and greets me. “Let’s see,” he begins, “here, why don’t you sit in Stephen King’s director’s chair today. I’m pretty sure he won’t be on the set today.”

It’s a tall director’s chair, just like the ones I remember seeing, when I could see. Imagining that “Stephen King” was stenciled across the back of the chair, I settled Quoddy at my feet and settled myself in “the chair.”

“The Langoliers” is a novella contained in Stephen King’s book Four Past Midnight. You can read the plot summary from Wikipedia here:

Someone on the crew was acquainted with Jean, the director of services for blind children in Maine, and they had first approached her for help with props. Soon, however, they realized that what they really needed was some coaching for Kate Maberly. Kate played the role of Dinah Bellman in the movie, a young girl – perhaps eleven or twelve – who was blind,  traveling from Los Angeles to Boston for eye surgery. Jean referred them to me, and that’s how I ended up as part of the crew.

My husband, Jim, and I had read The Langoliers before, but it had been a long time. So, the first thing I did was order the book from the National Library Service. As I listened to the recording of the book, I tried to picture each scene in which Kate would appear. I carefully considered gestures, movements, and props that would make Kate shine.

Almost the entire movie was shot at Bangor International. The first afternoon I was on the set—well, it really wasn’t the set, it was just a large suite at the hotel across the street from the airport—everyone was getting acquainted, discussing wardrobe and props, rehearsing lines.

The first problem Kate had was the costume they had selected for her. It was a dorky pink dress with little bows around the buttons. In no time flat, she got that changed, ending up wearing stylish shorts and top. This pleased me no end. People who are blind are all too often characterized as dweebs with no sense of style.

I loaned Kate a tactile watch.

Kate, as Dinah, checks the watch about seven-and–a-half minutes into the film, when she wakes up from a nap shortly after most of the passengers on the plane have vanished.

When the pilot, Brian Engel, played by David Morse, opens the cockpit door right after landing the plane in Bangor everyone applauds.

By this time, Dinah had attached herself to a woman named Laurel, played by Patricia Wettig, and I told her to look to Laurel rather than towards the pilot, as everyone else was doing, and ask what was going on. They filmed the parts that took place on the plane in an L1011 parked in a hangar. I really wanted to see the plane but it was the one set on which I wasn’t allowed. When Jim and I watched the movie, and it came to that part, I crowed, “There! Look at that, they put that in because I suggested it!”I suggested that Dinah look at Laurel and ask what was going on!

Then there was the whole cane travel deal. In the movie, Dinah wears dark glasses. They weren’t just dark glasses. They were actually occluders, eye glasses without a prescription; instead, simple, opaque, black lenses) . Kate went along with this suggestion and agreed that it would make her role as a girl who is blind more convincing. That meant that she needed to learn enough about movement, sighted guide, and using a long cane to be convincing. More to the point, she needed to learn these things in order to be safe. I measured and then had my husband, Jim, who was an orientation and mobility specialist, cut a cane so that it was the correct length for Kate. Then we got to work. Kate doesn’t actually use a cane very much in the movie, but when “Entertainment Tonight” came to do a piece about the movie in August, they were intrigued that Kate had actually been wearing occluders. They asked her to demonstrate her cane skills, and I held my breath as she navigated to a staircase and employed textbook-perfect techniques to walk down the flight of stairs. I truly admired her courage!Credits for The Langoliers with my name circled.

The last time I saw Kate, she gave me a big hug and asked me a question. “Can I keep the watch?”

Hugging her back, I said, “You sure can.”

She turned and skipped gaily off to join the rest of the cast.



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3 Responses to The Director’s Chair

  1. Maurie Hill October 21, 2013 at 12:57 pm #

    That is so cool – can’t wait to see the movie when it comes out!

  2. smartin October 21, 2013 at 1:12 pm #

    LOL Maurie. It came out in May of 1995! You can easily find it on YouTube, the full movie, with, um, Swedish sub-titles. 🙂

  3. Leona McKenna October 21, 2013 at 3:32 pm #

    Sue, you never cease to amaze me … not just what you do but that you do so much “behind the scenes”. I will be certain to see this movie real soon!

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