There are a few screenwriters credited with bringing Stephen King’s IT to life, but Gary Dauberman is the main man (along with Cary Fukunaga and Chase Palmer), and he’s now giving us a glimpse into what it’s like to be a part of one of the most anticipated films in recent years.
IT is based on the bestselling novel from the 1980s, which was adapted into a miniseries television “event” in 1990. The show starred Tim Curry as the evil clown, Pennywise, cementing his place in horror iconography. Although the creepy kid-killer is what most people remember best about the whole IT thing, the story started with a lot of heart and, well, a story. That’s what Dauberman was most interested in capturing in his screenplay because to him, you can’t have the scares without the setup.
Dread Central: How does one even begin to take on such a huge challenge? I mean, the book looks like War and Peace when you see the sheer size of it. It’s over 1,000 pages, right?
Gary Dauberman: Yeah. It’s a lot of conversations with Andy [director Andrés Muschietti] and the producers, the studio. Obviously, we couldn’t do the whole story and do it justice if we did the kids through adults so we just focused on the kids, which helped. It does become a challenge because there’s not anything in there that you wouldn’t want to include in a movie. You get the reason why you put it in there and there’s such great iconic moments – so the challenge becomes – you have to choose between great and great to what works for our movie, what fits and you just go from there. So it was a challenge but an ongoing conversation. I grew up in the 80s and everyone had their own experience growing up in the 80s so they all threw out ideas and stuff, which was great.
DC: The characters are so layered in the book. Was there any limit to how you had to portray them in the film?
GD: Nothing offhand. I think we planted seeds of ideas and stuff and tried to communicate larger ideas using some small choices and stuff. I don’t think there was anything [off limits] – we looked at each character, broke them down, they’re so defined by their fears and all that stuff and looked at who they are as a person. Tried to personify that in some way in a particular scene. I don’t think there was anything like, ‘Oh, this part of this aspect of his personality we can’t cram in there somehow.’ I think the cast does a phenomenal job communicating all their character traits. It’s so great to have a cast like that, to be able to do that heavy lifting for you.
DC: When did you start getting interesting in horror?
GD: I remember I was in third grade home with pneumonia and I got brought Edgar Allan Poe’s “Book of Tales”, which so romanticized the idea of a writer; little did I know he died in the gutter, as an alcoholic and stuff. But it was this beautiful prose, and this beautiful poetry, that I just fell in love with. And then I was reading also RL Stine, Christopher Pike, Lois Duncan and that stuff that really turned me on to it. I just always loved the supernatural, and I don’t know if you guys remember the Time Life series that used to come once a month – so I got really wrapped up in that stuff. And then you kinda graduate to Stephen King. The first thing I read of his was “The Body.” And Stand By Me was a movie that really affected me, that story. And from there I just found all of this stuff and became a lifelong horror fan after that. And then movies of course, John Carpenter, and the 80s was a hell of a decade for horror. IT just loomed so large in my life it was just something I always wanted to do.
DC: Did you ever do a screenplay of the whole book?
GD: No. I did not. I think part one is important – obviously! I don’t want to take anything away from them as adults as they’re going through their own fears and dealing with their own issues and stuff. I didn’t do a rough draft and go ‘Oh, is there a way we can crunch this all down into one movie.’ It helped knowing, reading that part being familiar to what they grow into so you can make setups that maybe down the road they can pay off later.
DC: How old were you when you first read IT?
GD: I was twelve, I think. Which for me was the right moment to read it. And it was the longest book I’d ever read – it felt like an achievement – but I didn’t want it to end. Like I said, that was the first novel of his I read and was the spring board for everything else that followed.
DC: Any favorite characters?
GD: My favorite character, having written the script – and the book – I think my favorite character is Beverly – I think she’s the heart of the Losers – I love the dynamic between them, the coming of age part of the story and the dynamics between them are sort of my favourite part. When you read the book, it’s like Georgie at the sewer, it’s like this is iconic. Stuff like that. I think for me my favourite part is the dynamic of the Losers. As kids, I think we sort have all felt that at one time or another.
DC: Were you nervous, wondering what Stephen King would think of the movie?
GD: Yes! There’s huge pressure and a lot of anxiety and a lot of sleepless nights and I’m writing this and I’m looking at my bookshelves and there all just round my house and my wife’s from Maine and it’s like I can’t visit there again after seeing this fucked up. So I’m looking around my house and thinking when this thing’s over I am going to have to pull all these books down so I just don’t want to be reminded – like if he comes out and says he hates it I’m just going to have to sit there and fucking live with that for the rest of my life! But I found out, I was on a location scout from an upcoming movie The Nun and we were in the heart of Transylvania and we got a text from somebody and they told me he loved the movie. I could finally breathe again! Because really that comes down to is yes, I want my family to like it and yes, I want you guys to like it, but him, he was the most important to me. So yeah, the pressure was there, the pressure was real.
DC: What about the miniseries for TV? Did you watch it at the time?
GD: Yeah. The miniseries was an important touchstone in my life, but that was one thing we could really go balls to the walls with the scares and the language and the kids and all that stuff which just makes it feel a little more authentic. It was a two-parter, two nights, and I remember staying up each night and talking about it at school the next day. I get nostalgic for those times because it was like, I don’t know how many channels there were at the time, I mean I know there’s cable but it was still limited, so everybody watched it – you go to school the next day – everybody’s talking about it! And it’s still that thing that just lives on in your head for years and years to come. I think for me it was just exciting to watch horror on network TV at that time, it was such a rare thing.
DC: Do you have kids? If so, do you think kids were meaner in the 1980s or no?
GD: I have a seven-year-old. I don’t know if kids are any tamer, I think they’re fucking brutal (laughs). I will say, it feels like kids are a little bit more like, it’s not the jocks over here and the nerds over here – it doesn’t feel categorized like that – I could be completely wrong – but I remember that being in the 80s. These guys here over here are gonna to each their lunch in the band room and these guys are, and I’m gonna eat my lunch under a tree, by myself. You do remember that stuff. And by the way, this is set in the 80s and the book’s in the 50s, but it’s the same thing, with bullies … it doesn’t matter what decade you’re in, they still suck.
DC: Twenty-seven years after the miniseries – which is incidentally the same amount of time between Pennywise’s rampages – was there any worry that younger audiences would know about the story?
GD: It didn’t really concern us. So many people have read the book or at least familiar with it, that it wasn’t like, ‘Oh how are we going to capture an audience that hasn’t seen the book.’ The story is so well done and well executed that even people who haven’t read it or seen it I think are just going to be drawn in by the story that he wrote. I’m never gonna not recommend someone read the book, but I don’t think you need to read the book before to understand the movie at all. The movie’s a unique experience, the book’s a unique experience, I think everybody should experience both.
DC: This movie has a lot more comedy than people might expect.
GD: Well, it’s all about rhythm and timing in horror and comedy. So it was nice to finally write some jokes that can play but again, going back to the cast, they just work so well off each other, they find their own sense of timing and stuff. So while I can find the timing on the page, Andy’s got to find the right timing within in the scene. He did that beautifully. The actors within the scene are working on all that stuff, so it’s difficult, but a lot of fun to find that rhythm. And also I think that levity, those moments of levity just make the horror, and that’s what Stephen King does so well too in a lot of books, he has those moments of levity so when the darkness comes it’s even darker because you have those little moments of brightness.
DC: Is Bill Skarsgard how you imagined the clown when you were writing?
GD: Way better. So not close, but I mean that in the best way possible, just way better than I anticipated. Bill, I saw his audition, and he fucking nailed it. I was like “Oh. Done.” Of course my opinion meant nothing (laughs) but I was so happy Andy went with him. Andy showed it to me because he was very excited and then he sat down with me and talked about the character – this is far and away better than anything I anticipated. He’s great. I just love what he gave to that character.
DC: In this adaptation, the Niebolt House is really important. More than in the miniseries…
GD: That was something Andy and I talked about a lot. Andy really keyed on it early on. He’s like, that’s really the centre piece of our story and that’s sort of like when we were laying out the structure, looking a previous drafts and all that stuff, and looking at the direction we were going to take it… We’re gonna get to that and we’re going to build that out that’s going to launch us into the third act and become much more important integral to the story. We never sat down with the miniseries and go “What didn’t they do and what can we do here”. So we really didn’t compare and contrast. In fact I did not re-watch it for that reason. It looms so large in my head just because I saw it and it influenced me a great deal when I was a kid, but I didn’t go back and visit that just because I didn’t want to muddy the waters. I wanted to be true to that feeling.
DC: Did you get to see any of the filming?
GD: I did. I was there for pre-production. I won’t forget the moment of walking on to the set and the sewers were there and the cistern. I couldn’t comprehend the scale of the sets. It was like one of the hamster aquariums (wheels) or whatever, like that. But it was just so well done. But then I was on the location scout and all that stuff and see where they’re going to set up Neibolt House and Derry and all that stuff. It was an experience I won’t forget.
DC: Would you like to adapt more Stephen King for the screen?
GD: Oh man, yes! I don’t even know how to answer that because there’s a ton of them. Salem’s Lot I would love to do, – there’s so many in the process of being developed right now that I don’t want to take away or say something – but there’s endless amounts of his novels and short stories that are very ripe for adaptation.
Stephen King’s IT has been rated R for “violence/horror, bloody images, and for language.”
Jaeden Lieberher, Finn Wolfhard, Nicholas Hamilton, Jack Dylan Grazer, Wyatt Oleff, Chosen Jacobs, Jeremy Ray Taylor, and Sophia Lillis star with Bill Skarsgard, who portrays Pennywise. In addition, creature performer Javier Botet has signed on as The Leper, and Owen Teague plays Patrick Hocksetter, part of a group of bullies who torment The Losers’ Club.
IT hits theaters on September 8th. Andrés Muschietti directs.
The behind-the-scenes creative team includes director of photography Chung-Hoon Chung (Me and Earl and the Dying Girl), production designer Claude Paré (Rise of the Planet of the Apes), editor Jason Ballantine (The Great Gatsby), and costume designer Janie Bryant (“Mad Men”).
When children begin to disappear in the town of Derry, Maine, a group of young kids are faced with their biggest fears when they square off against an evil clown named Pennywise, whose history of murder and violence dates back for centuries.