The long wait is nearly over, as we’re now just a few days away from the release of IT, the latest adaptation of Stephen King’s wildly popular novel which has influenced so many of us and given generations of readers nightmares since it was first published in 1986.
During a recent press day for IT, Daily Dead had the opportunity to speak with screenwriter Gary Dauberman about his involvement with Andy Muschietti’s take on King’s classic story of a group of kids who must band together to fight the evil force that has long tormented their sleepy town of Derry, Maine. During the interview, Dauberman discussed his approach to focusing on the pre-teen version of the Losers’ Club for the first film, the pressure and anxieties he faced while working on the screenplay, wanting to live up to King’s expectations, and more.
Look for IT everywhere in theaters this weekend, courtesy of Warner Bros. and New Line Cinema.
How big of a challenge was it coming into IT and realizing there was a lot of material that you were going to have to distill in order to make it work for this script?
Gary Dauberman: Yeah, there were a lot of conversations with Andy, the producers, and 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 in just doing that because there’s not anything in there that you wouldn’t want to include in a movie. You get the reason why Stephen put it in there, and there are some great iconic moments, so the challenge becomes choosing between great moments and great moments that work for our movie.
I think that in this film, we planted seeds of ideas and stuff and tried to communicate larger ideas using some smaller choices. We looked at each character, broke them down, and because they’re so defined by their fears and all that stuff, we also looked at who they are as a person and tried to personify that in some way in a particular scene. The cast does a phenomenal job communicating all their character traits, and it’s so great to have a cast that is able to do that heavy lifting for you.
Had you always wanted to write a horror script?
Gary Dauberman: I remember I was in third grade, home with pneumonia, and the first horror thing I read was Edgar Allan Poe’s Book of Tales, which so romanticised the idea of a writer. Little did I know that he died in the gutter, as an alcoholic and everything. But it was this beautiful prose, and this beautiful poetry, that I just fell in love with. And then I was reading also R. L. Stine, Christopher Pike, Lois Duncan, and that stuff that really turned me on to it. I just always loved the supernatural.
And then I graduated to Stephen King. The first thing I read of his was The Body, and Stand By Me was a movie that really affected me. I love that story. From there, I just found all of this stuff and became a lifelong horror fan after that. Then, there were all these movies, from guys like John Carpenter, and so the ’80s was a hell of a decade for horror. It just loomed so large in my life and it was just something I always wanted to do.
How much pressure was on you as you were adapting this book? How early did it dawn on you that not only did you have to live up to fan expectations, but that this was something that Stephen King himself would also be keeping tabs on?
Gary Dauberman: Oh, yeah, there was a huge amount of pressure, and a lot of anxiety and a lot of sleepless nights, too. I remember writing this and I was looking at my bookshelves and Stephen King is just all around my house. My wife’s from Maine, too, and so it was like, “I can’t visit there again if I f**k this up [laughs].” I just didn’t want to be reminded that if Stephen comes out and says he hates this, I’m just going to have to sit there and fu**ing live with that for the rest of my life.
But I was on a location scout for an upcoming movie, The Nun, and we were in the heart of Transylvania when I got a text from somebody who told me that Stephen saw the movie and he loved the movie. That’s when I knew that I could finally breathe again. Because, really, it comes down to this: yes, I want my family to like it and yes, I want you guys to like it, but Stephen, he was the most important to me. So yeah, the pressure was there, and the pressure was real.
The horror elements to IT work incredibly well, but it was nice to see that the heart and humor of the script worked just as well. Can you discuss trying to find something of a balance between the tones?
Gary Dauberman: 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 were able to find their own sense of timing. So while I can find the timing on the page, Andy’s got to find the right timing within the scene, and he did that beautifully. Also, those moments of levity just make the horror that much stronger, and that’s what Stephen King does so well, too, in a lot of his books. He has those moments of levity, so when the darkness comes, it’s even darker because you have those little moments of brightness before them.
I’m sure you imagined how Pennywise would be as you were writing the script, but how do you feel about Bill [Skarsgård]’s performance in relation to your initial ideas about this character?
Gary Dauberman: It’s way better. So not close to what I had imagined, but I mean that in the best way possible. It was just way better than I anticipated and when I saw Bill’s audition, he fu**ing nailed it. I was like, “Oh. Done.” Of course, my opinion meant nothing [laughs], but I was so happy Andy went with him. He’s great. I just love what he gave to that character.
I loved the fact that you made the Neibolt House a main fixture to this first film, because it was something I really missed from the miniseries. Was that always something in the back of your mind when you first approached this project, that you knew you had to bring Neibolt back into the mix?
Gary Dauberman: That was something Andy and I talked about a lot. Andy really keyed in on it early on. He knew that it really was the centerpiece of our story, and when we were laying out the structure, looking at previous drafts and all that stuff, looking at the direction we were going to take it, we knew we needed to build that out because it was going to launch us into the third act and become much more important and integral to the story. We never sat down with the miniseries, though, and said, “What didn’t they do and what can we do here?” We really didn’t compare and contrast at all, and in fact, I purposefully did not watch it during this whole process for that very reason.