And for our second interview to properly coincide with the second door shown in the film – we’re christening this article: “Scary”. And with the six years it took for these producers to bring this project to fruition – perhaps “scary” is appropriate!
Again – since this was a round-table discussion with several journalists (including yours truly) – the conversation will show questions from myself and my esteemed colleagues as simply “QUESTIONS”.
Open that “Scary” door, and take a step inside…
QUESTION: How did you guys become attached to this project?
DAVID KATZENBERG: It’s almost seven years now.
SETH GRAHAME-SMITH: It’s over six. I know it’s over six.
DK: It’s between six and seven. Dan Lin and Roy Lee, who had the rights to the material, called us in, thought we’d be interested. And we were absolutely interested. And we’re massive King fans and massive IT fans. We were attracted and in love, right away.
SGS: And daunted.
QUESTION: The idea of just focusing the first movie on the kids aspect of the story… When did that come about?
SGS: Very early on. They had tried to do a draft before we came on, to flash back and forth and try to tell the whole movie in one movie. For anyone who has read the book, or knows the mini-series, there’s just too much material. You’ll either make a 4 ½ hour movie that no one’s gonna enjoy, or you’re gonna cut so much out, that it’s gonna be a shadow of what the book is. That was pretty early on, that it became evident. Well, you can try to flash back and forth and make two different movies, but that kinda feels like the mini-series already did that. So how do you give these characters their due? How do you really dive into these moments? And telling the kid’s story first and the adult’s story second, was a shape that just came right away. And that’s what we pursued. We’ll see whether or not we get to do it again.
QUESTION: With the casting of the kids… Did you think of the adult actors that would be playing them later?
DK: We didn’t. Especially because the kids really evolved while making this film. They were best friends on and off screen. And they literally are best friends to this day. Check on any of their Instagrams – they’re together all the time. They literally had the best summer of their lives making this film. And it shows. It was very hard – we didn’t quite know what their relationship was going to be on screen. It evolved in terms of the dialogue and their improv and ad-libs and everything.
SGS: The casting was a pretty arduous process. Thousands of kids, obviously. And I will say, the ones you see in the movie – almost to a person, to a kid – there was something that immediately jumped out. Whether is was the unique look they had or whether is was the composure or poise they had for being so young. Whether – in the case of Jack Grazer – how fast they could talk, and how much they loved to talk. Something that really just fit their character and something that stood out. And then we started doing chemistry reads with all the kids.
To David’s point – we’ve gotten so lucky on this movie in so many different ways. We caught very lucky breaks in terms of the way the scheduling came out. We’re 27 years after the mini-series so it looks like we’re geniuses and we planned it.
DK: We are. [laughs]
SGS: Two years ago, all of a sudden clowns and clown scares started showing up in the zeitgeist again… had nothing to do with us. And then we cast the kid [Finn Wolfhard] from Stranger Things before Stranger Things came out. Wow, aren’t we geniuses? [laughs]
QUESTION: And what about landing this director?
SGS: Landing this director was probably the biggest break of all. When Andy [Muschietti – director of IT] came in… Obviously, there’s no secret that Cary Fukunaga [co-writer of IT] was going to direct the movie and then there were the creative differences. Honestly, those were truly creative differences. Cary and Chase [Palmer – co-writer of IT] wrote an exceptional script that Gary Dauberman finished. And we owe a lot of the success of the script to Cary.
But when we met with a ton of directors after Cary dropped out, the thing that really grabbed us about Andy right away, was he came in… People were coming in and talking about the clown and talking about the scares, and that’s important. Andy came in and started talking about the kids and he came in and started talking about the book. And being a 13 year old in Argentina, reading a translation of Stephen King’s IT. And he was 13 and how it felt like it was his life and how he related to these kids.
RELATED ARTICLE: “IT” INTERVIEW ONE OF THREE — CO-WRITER GARY DAUBERMAN
We’d always said – especially because we divided the movies into kids and then adults… You know, if the kids don’t work, the movie doesn’t work. And the movie we referenced the most in the last 6 years has been Stand by Me. That’s the feeling we wanted to capture, in terms of a Stephen King adaptation. That has heart, that has sentimentality, but also has true children that feel real – friendships that feel real. That was the most important thing to us. Because you can craft great scares, you can craft great visuals. Emotionally, if you don’t have that to the hang the movie on it’s not gonna work. And Andy came in preaching that.
And then on top of that, he’s an incredible conceptualist. He’s an incredible fine artist, who can draw incredible Pennywise’s, and conceptualize scares. He was the guy. He came with his sister Barbara [Muschietti – producer of IT] and that was it. And Barbara and Andy —
DK: We had the summer of our lives.
SGS: We were the adult losers club, the four of us were the adult losers and the kids were the losers. Again – every day of the shoot, Andy would come in and you could tell that it was all about the kids.
And to David’s point, these kids… Another lucky break that we caught is, they fell in love with each other. These kids, these losers – to this day, they’re best friends. They bonded in a way, that I’ve never seen anything like it. They spent every waking minute together, on set and off set – pulling pranks, going on field trips, texting each other, laughing. And you feel that when you watch the movie. You feel as if these kids have been friends for most of their lives. And that’s just incredibly fortunate.
QUESTION: What do you think it is about this book in general? That it’s resonated and it spawned a mini-series and got your movie. And people are so excited to see it? There are many, many Stephen King books which people adore, but there is something about IT.
DK: I think everyone can relate to it. It’s a coming of age story that – it feels nostalgic for older generations. The younger kids are still going through it too. And everyone knows the feeling of being alone and being scared of something – and having the bond of friendship to help you get through it.
As well as clowns. I think clowns inherently are… people are fascinated with them. Whether they’re scared of them or whether they love them. At Halloween, there continues to be costumes and parties. And clowns play a part in our lives, day to day. And they will forever.
SGS: In terms of the book, it’s about so many different things. So much going on in the book, whether it’s the awakening of one’s sexuality, or the facing of one’s fears as a kid and how that shapes the person you become or don’t become as an adult. It’s about regret. It’s about – it’s that old story, “You can’t go home again”. It’s also like many Stephen King things: It’s about the unspeakable evil which dwells just under the surface of a small New England town.
But I think that – two things. When the trailer came out and broke all of those records, we were caught off guard. We were hopeful that it would resonate. We had no idea that it would be that resonant. To me, it comes back to… it doesn’t feel like anything else that’s out there right now. It just cut through. It doesn’t feel derivative of something. It doesn’t feel quite like a horror movie. It doesn’t feel quite like a coming of age movie. And it has at its center: this very iconic, still-in-the-culture villain. Probably Stephen King’s most famous villain, if we’re comparing. I think that it cut through and people were caught off guard: “What is this movie?” For kids who don’t know that the book was written in 1985 and that there was a mini-series. To them, “Oh, it’s a scarier Stranger Things“. And to adults, they go: “Oh my God, the summer of ‘89! That looks like me when I was riding my bike.”
QUESTION: You’re talking about the expectations on the trailer, and you just got updated that you’re expecting a $60 million opening weekend.
DK: We are extremely excited, but we keep our expectations tame.
QUESTION: Because the movie is so detailed and there’s so much more going on than just scares. Is there any Oscar talk?
SGS: No, we can’t even start to… I can’t… Look, right now, we’re taking this one step at a time. Right now, we’re so nervous about reviews.
DK: That’s the first Oscar talk I’ve heard.
QUESTION: I’m saying you’ve got Best Picture and Bill for Best Supporting Actor.
SGS: Well, I mean… Look… Let’s… Obviously that would be incredible. But right now, honestly, that has not entered my thoughts.
QUESTION: Well now it has.
SGS: [laughs] Okay, now it has. Look, we’re proud of the movie. We all worked hard on the movie. Nobody worked harder than Andy. But we all worked hard, and we all put a lot of sweat equity into this. And David and I have been on this for the last 6 years, really wanting to get this right – really wanting to make something that would feel timeless. Name your favorite Stephen King adaptation: Misery, Stand by Me, Carrie. We want to join that conversation. That was the goal. We wanted to be a great Stephen King adaptation, first and foremost. We got the approval of the man himself. That was like – check.
DK: That was our bigger relief.
SGS: If the movie is well received – check. If we’re fortunate enough to do well at the box office – check. I’m not thinking about anything beyond that right now… until you said it! [Oscar-talk]
QUESTION: Because the movie’s coming out on the heels of what everyone in the business is considering the most calamitous summer in human memory – every box office report I read, “Everything’s gonna be fine and turn around once IT opens on Sept 8th!” How much pressure is that on you guys?
SGS: If I’m being honest, it does affect you. And you’re like, “oh great”. I don’t know. To me, I just want to be well received. That’s the most important thing.
DK: We spent so much time getting the script right and the film right. For us, having it well received, it’s probably the most important – other than getting a stamp of approval from King.
QUESTION: Did you screen it for him?
SGS: We screened it for him.
DK: He got a rough cut.
SGS: We set up a screening for him. He wrote Andy a really nice email. And then wrote something on his website, about: “the producers got it right, exceeded my wildest expectations”. And then Tweeted something as well. That to me was the high water mark.
QUESTION: If things do go well for this, is there a timeline/framework in place for the next one? Do you have a script?
DK: Not right now. We’ve obviously spent a lot of time thinking about it because it’s broken into two movies. We haven’t been told to go off and make the second one. Until we get the go, we’re patiently waiting.
QUESTION: Was there any consideration, in terms of box office numbers – to make it PG-13, which would get you a bigger audience?
SGS: Never. I gotta give New Line all the credit. They never flinched. They said that this story needs to be an unflinching… you need to go there in terms of those moments. That’s what’s gonna make it stand out against everything that’s come before it. And a rated R movie staring 13 year old kids is not an easy proposition for a studio. I gotta give ’em credit – they went all in.
QUESTION: And that was something I was really excited to see… that you were giving kids the credit, that they’re brave enough to do those things and face those things. How did you know how far to push it?
SGS: Famously, there are things in the book that kids do, that we were never gonna do. It comes down to what serves the story. Obviously, there is a sort of air of sexuality in a positive and a negative that is pervasive throughout a lot of Stephen King and very much so in this movie. That has to be treated very carefully – tastefully. And I think Andy did treat it very carefully, very tastefully. What we didn’t want to be was be gratuitous. And we didn’t want to be shocking for the sake of being shocking. We only wanted to push things that served the story. And that’s how we made those decisions.
QUESTION: What actually scares you guys?
SGS: Oscar talk.
[laughter all around]
And there you have it, folks – directly from the mouths of the IT producers. Not so “Scary”, right? Unless you’re the producers themselves and now you’re thinking about the Oscars. Hmmm…
A fun bit of trivia: Grahame-Smith and Katzenberg are currently at work on Beetlejuice 2 and Gremlins 3! So stay tuned!
With one more door to open in our series of IT interviews (the “Very Scary” one) – we’ve imparting all that we’ve learned from these folks behind the scenes.
But who could be left to chat with? How about IT director Andy Muschietti and Pennywise himself, actor (and potential Oscar nominee) Bill Skarsgard! In just a few days, you’ll be able to read all about it!
And not far from that, our actual review of the film itself will be posted right here on Horror Freak News!
IT opens in theatres nationwide on September 8th!
[Note: It was I who introduced the topic of Oscar contention – so producers Smith and Katzenberg can send any bills for additional pre-film release stress-therapy directly to me.]