Gary Dauberman is someone who seems to have his fingerprints all over the horror genre lately, as he not only wrote and directed Annabelle Comes Home, but he was also the creative force behind the Swamp Thing series, and he’s also penned the script for IT Chapter Two, which hits theaters in just a few hours. At the recent press day for the sequel, Dauberman discussed how he approached writing for the Adult Losers Club, distilling aspects of Stephen King’s gargantuan novel, tapping into the heart of why these characters mean so much to fans everywhere, and more.
Look for IT Chapter Two in theaters tonight!
Moderator: So Gary, I think we have to begin by acknowledging somebody who's not here and very rarely travels to this part of the world, Stephen King. He wrote this book and published in 1986, and it's a thousand pages long. You split it up into two movies, but where does he fall among your influences? You've written a lot of horror stories. So, when did you start reading Stephen King?
Gary Dauberman: You know what? He's up there, which is such a cliché, but he's really on that Mount Rushmore of horror. It was Christopher Pike, it was R. L. Stine, it was Lois Duncan, and then it was Stephen King, for me in terms of what I was reading. And I think King was for a lot of people a rite of passage in your youth, when you pick up that first “adult” book.
And when I was growing up in the ’80s, he was everywhere. He was putting out a book every year. So, I was 10 when I first read him, and it felt like I was doing something I shouldn't. But it was around the time, I think, that Stand by Me came out and all that. So yeah, I picked up Different Seasons. It was in my dad's closet and I read “The Body,” and it really was one of those things that just changed my life because I had not seen writing like that before. It was adult, but I could still understand it. It was accessible, but was dealing with very adult themes and all that. But I understood it and it was love at first sight.
Moderator: When adapting the adult side of the story, it would've been easy to focus on all the creepy, scary parts. But I feel like the film really strives to capture the sense of friendship and the heart from the novel, It. How important was that in terms of making it more than just a horror movie?
Gary Dauberman: I think that's where I came at it first before the scares, before how to make this scary, was when we're around the same age as the adults in the book, I think we all deal with your friends circle getting smaller and smaller as you grow up. I think it's easy to become isolated, and I think we set this up in the movie. I think while they all have their community and stuff, there's still something missing. Childhood can be a traumatic experience and it's these people that you go through these things with, you might lose touch, but for some reason I have found that the people you were close to then, if you don't see them for another 30 years, it's really like picking up a conversation right where you left, in a lot of ways.
What was the hardest thing to adapt for part two of this story?
Gary Dauberman: The hardest thing is really managing and making sure every character gets their due. There are seven of them and you want to make sure no one really gets the short shrift, and that was really important because there is only so much real estate, so that was a balancing act and it was really challenging.
Moderator: Without giving it away for the people who will be reading this, but there is a surreal quality to the conclusion of the story of It. That seems like something that would be hard to adapt. How did you approach putting that into the script?
Gary Dauberman: Well, that was, again, having the conversations with the studio and Andy [Muschietti] and Barbara [Muschietti], because there's a huge metaphysical presence in that adult book and I think that has to do with King talking about how our fears get more and more complex as we get older and as we age. That's why these themes in the book, the adult side, and the stuff that we're dealing with as we get older, becomes just more and more complex and hard to understand.
So, yeah, it was, "How do we take these big, big ideas that necessarily aren't as cinematic as a clown, and distill it down into something that's going to look fantastic and horrifying on the screen?" But fortunately we had Andy Muschietti to help out with that, because he loves the surreal, so he had a lot of great ideas coming into that scene and how we should approach it.
Moderator: Did you talk to Stephen King at all?
Gary Dauberman: No. I know Stephen had reached out to Andy, I think over email just telling him, “Here are some things in the book you might want to include,” and it was a lot of the stuff we wanted to include as well. But, no I didn't. I have a lot of unsent emails to him, but I never wanted to bother him with, "Hey, you know, I need an idea." But recently I did have contact with him, just in terms of, “Thanks so much for being who you are,” and all that. But not in terms of the creative stuff. He's got enough going on. He doesn't need me to pester him.
Moderator: One of the things I really liked about IT Chapter Two was the expansion of the Mike and Richie characters, because of the depth that they were given. What led to those decisions?
Gary Dauberman: Mike was that one I thought a lot about, that guy who just stayed behind to mind the lighthouse, the guy who has to live with the trauma, where everyone else has the liberty of forgetting what happened. I thought a lot about what that must do on someone's psyche. That was something I really dug into and thought it was really, really interesting. I saw him as the frame of the story. Mike’s the one that calls them back, he's the one that explains everything, and he's the one who remembers, so now he's going to get them to remember.
And with Richie, that came out of just conversations back from when we were writing and working on the first one. We were just having these ongoing conversations about where we would go in Chapter Two, and so we always knew where we were going with these characters.
Moderator: Was there a unique challenge to developing these characters that emerge so strongly in the first movie as kids, and doing something that felt consistent with them as children with the great adult cast that you've assembled for the sequel?
Gary Dauberman: Yes, there was a challenge. I'm trying to think of what that separation was, where I would go, "Well, they wouldn't do this as a kid, but they would do this as an adult." I don't know. I think we're all kids trapped inside these adult bodies. I know I look in the mirror, and I'm like, "F--k!" So I didn't approach them as different characters because they are the same character. I also had the advantage going in knowing that Andy was going to assemble a great cast and they were going to bring a ton into it and they were going to have great chemistry together. And I think one of the reasons Chapter One worked so well is because of the chemistry of those kids. And I knew that was going to be a challenge—how do we find an adult cast that's going to have that chemistry? But I knew Andy really has an eye for that stuff. So when he assembled the cast, it did a lot of that heavy lifting for me.
In case you missed it, visit our online hub to catch up on all of our IT Chapter Two coverage, including Heather Wixson's review!