With It Chapter Two, screenwriter Gary Dauberman returns to finish the job than he and director/co-writer Andy Muschietti started in 2017, when they adapted one half of Stephen King’s 1,100-page novel for the screen.
After telling in It: Chapter One the simultaneously terrifying and sweet-natured story of the Losers Club, seven kids who faced down a malevolent, shape-shifting monster in the town of Derry in the summer of 1989, Dauberman and Muschietti have now followed up with the rest of King’s tale.
Here the Losers Club are now adults, each achieving a certain amount of success in their lives, but still haunted in some ways by the past — even if all but one of them have forgotten the events of 1989. When It reawakens in Derry, once again using the visage of Pennywise the Dancing Clown (Bill Skarsgard) to create the fear and hate it feasts upon, the Losers must return and try to destroy It once and for all.
In between both chapters of It, Dauberman has continued to go from success to success himself, making his directorial debut with the creepy Annabelle Comes Home earlier in the summer and acting as executive producer on DC Universe’s short-lived but highly acclaimed Swamp Thing series.
A longtime Stephen King reader, he is currently working on the script for a new theatrical version of King’s classic vampire novel, ‘Salem’s Lot, with James Wan producing. We spoke about that, bringing the second half of It to life, and more when we sat with him at a press day for It Chapter Two in Los Angeles, but began with his genuine fan enthusiasm for comics, including not just DC but Marvel.
Gary Dauberman: What was the biggest surprise at (Disney expo) D23?
I’m so jealous of Moon Knight because he’s like one of my favorite Marvel characters for sure. At Comic-Con this year I got a sweet limited edition Moon Knight figure.
Well hey man, go take a meeting.
(Laughs) I’m guessing if they’re announcing it they’re already have their showrunner and stuff.
Aside from Moon Knight, if you could write a superhero movie for Marvel, what would you pitch?
I don’t know man. Fuck. What would it be? I do love Moon Knight. Ghost Rider. I fuckin’ love Daredevil but they did that on Netflix. It’s hard, I’m trying to think of ones they haven’t done yet. There’s quite a few.
Would you lean horror?
Not necessarily. Man, there’s just a lot. There’s a lot of stuff. I still read comics. “What do you have?” is the question I would ask. “Who do you need me to work on, because I will do it.” There is so much great stuff over there. I think that would be how I would approach the conversation. That makes me sound like a whore or something (laughs), but they have so much great stuff and I’m such a huge fan of comic books that just being able to play around in that universe, Marvel or DC, is just fantastic. I mean, we did it with Swamp Thing on TV. That’s one of the things that I’m always asking people if they work for Marvel or DC. I’m always like, give me some gossip. What’s happening? I need to know.
Right. On to the matter at hand. Aside from the clear concept that It Chapter Two would focus on the Losers as adults, were there ideas already in motion for the second picture while you were doing the first one?
We had this conversation, just because it’s hard not to talk about the kids without talking about how they are as adults. I think the conversation we had for Chapter One was how can we tell this story and make it feel complete but also, if we get the opportunity to make a second one, it doesn’t feel complete enough where it’s like, why are we going? Fortunately this is built into the DNA of the story that 27 years later It comes back. You wanted to feel like they got away with it at the end of the first one. They did vanquish that evil.
Then we certainly had the book as a template of how to use those things. I think one of the more challenging things we talked about was once they get back into Derry and we show that they don’t remember, how can we visually tell that? That they remember. In the book it starts out with them as adults and it kind of weaves in and out of between youth and being an adult. It was like, how can we do that if we just have them as adults in the second one, which is when we arrived at the decision of bringing the kids back for the second one as devices to tell that story and also them recapturing their youth, remembering the trauma they went through in Derry.
Was there a lot of playing around with how many flashbacks to use?
Yeah. That was a dance of because you don’t want to take away from the adults. We’ve seen the kids’ story in the first one so it’s like how can we just get into it so they can relive some of these memories that we didn’t see in the first one but really make sure the focus is on them as adults. That’s a lot of editing. First couple drafts you throw everything there at the page and then it’s where do we have to pull back? That was just an ongoing conversation throughout the process.
Similarly, in terms of what to use and what not to use, did you go back and forth about how metaphysical to go with the origins of It, the macroverse, the “real” deadlights and those elements?
Yeah, one of the major conversations we had going forward was how to tackle that. We felt like we knew what the first act was going to be. We meet the characters, realize they don’t remember anything, they’ve got to get to Derry, they all come back. Kind of know what the second act is going to be — them trying to remember. In the book, it’s very metaphysical, which would be tough to take literally and put on the screen. So it was like how can we get to the intent of what King was going for but tell it in a cinematic way that everybody’s going to understand. That goes to the Ritual of Chud, which was different in the movie than it is in the book, and talking about the steps of what it is to achieve that.
We wanted to really be true to the spirit of the third act of the book, while realizing that we need to take some creative license with how we achieve that.
The actors have said that there was quite a bit of improv on the set. When you went to see dailies or rough cuts, were you surprised at how they maybe went off book in a few spots?
No. It’s just nature of the process. Having gone through it on so many other movies, I understand that and it’s one of my favorite parts of the process, being surprised. You live with stuff for so long and then you watch it and it does feel new in that regard. When you have this cast, you’re hoping that they make it better. Not that I think what I do is terrible but you hire these people because you want them to elevate what is there on the page. Just having directed Annabelle Comes Home, that was also my favorite part of that too, the improv. Stuff inspires you on the day. The set looks different or someone says something that sparks something. I’m never shocked when that happens because I imagine it’s fun for them too.
Were you writing the script as it was being cast and did that influence you?
I wrote up to like a month out from production so everyone was in place. It got to be where I was writing with them in mind but starting out, I don’t cast my movie, because I find I’ll spend too much time doing that than I do actually writing. But yeah, that is an interesting change that once the thing gets cast because now you’ve seen them and you’re familiar with their roles and things they’ve done in the past and all that. It’s exciting.
What is easy to adapt about Stephen King and conversely what is hard?
I think the joy is that the source material is so good. You can always go back to it. There’s a lot of books out there that people adapt that the concept’s good but the book’s not. With King, especially It, ‘Salem’s Lot, these are books that are so fucking good that it’s kind of an embarrassment of riches. Conversely though that also makes it very difficult to adapt because there is so much good stuff so it’s like, what can you leave out? There are things you have to lose and you hope that you don’t cut away so much that the story loses what makes it special. With beloved novels like ‘Salem’s Lot or this one, It, I want to make sure I’m making the movie I want to see as a fan. I’m just trying to capture what I want to see as a fan first and foremost as opposed to what’s easy to do production wise or whatever.
Was ‘Salem’s Lot your first King book?
No, it was Different Seasons, “The Body.” My first exposure to ‘Salem’s Lot was actually the ’79 miniseries when I was a kid. Danny Glick tapping out on the window — being able to write Georgie at the sewer and then being able to write Danny Glick at the window is just like fucking amazing to me. And then the dad throwing himself on the fucking coffin…it’s funny because I was actually working on that this morning and it’s fucking disturbing. Being able to write those scenes is awesome.
‘Salem’s Lot is also a big book, but a different structure. It’s more linear, it doesn’t go back and forth in time, and it starts out with this big canvas, all these townspeople, and then slowly boils down to this core group. Are you trying to retain that and trying to capture that feel? Obviously you can’t have 100 different townspeople on screen.
No but I’m fucking trying (laughs). I want to give life to this town before we suck it dry. I want to give ‘Salem’s Lot the canvas and make sure you see little bits of life because it really is about the town starting to thin out. I’m trying to be as true to the book as I can. You go into this, you got to take some swings, you got to take a couple chances because again it’s a movie. But I’m trying to be true as much as I can.
Are you trying to keep as many of the main characters intact as you can? The miniseries combined a few of them.
Yeah. I mean much like I did with the miniseries of It, me watching it as a kid left such an impression on me that I have not gone back to revisit it because I have been burned by that before. Not saying it won’t live up but I just haven’t done it. I want to use the book as the source material. I don’t want to muddy the waters with anybody else’s interpretation of the story.
Before we wrap up, we’re seeing some longer horror movies out there like It Chapter Two and Midsommar described as “epic” horror. Do you feel like this is a great time to tell these big canvas stories in this field?
I guess it depends on the story. I guess if the story is deserving of the two hour plus thing then yeah by all means tell it. I also love the 90 minute format. Annabelle Comes Home was 90 some odd minutes. It takes place in the course of one night. But I’m so excited that when you have a bigger story to tell you have the time to tell it. So if it doesn’t feel like you’re watching a long movie then it becomes arbitrary to me what the runtime is, if that makes sense. It’s more about what the movie feels like as opposed to what it actually is.
It Chapter Two is out in theaters this Friday (September 6).
Don Kaye is a Los Angeles-based entertainment journalist and associate editor of Den of Geek. Other current and past outlets include Syfy, United Stations Radio Networks, Fandango, MSN, RollingStone.com and many more. Read more of his work here. Follow him on Twitter @donkaye