'It' Screenwriter Gary Dauberman On Transforming A 1,000 Page Book Into A Movie [Interview]

At 1150 pages, Stephen King's It is a daunting prospect for adaptation. That's why the first attempt was a TV miniseries. For the feature film, It is split into at least two films, with the one opening this week focusing on "The Losers' Club" as children in 1989. The bullied outcasts of Derry, Maine face Pennywise the clown (Bill Skarsgard) and other nightmares manifested by a horrific force the kids only refer to as "It."

Screenwriter Gary Dauberman took on the adaptation, which King himself has approved. Dauberman had a hit this summer with Annabelle: Creation and wrote another entry in the ever-expanding The Conjuring universe, The Nun. But even with that much horror movie experience, adapting Stephen King's massive novel was still a massive undertaking. We kicked off our interview by talking about how you even get started with an undertaking like that.

I keep thinking I'm going to have some sort of Who's On First type argument telling people about this movie. "You need to go see It." "What should I go see." "It, you have to see It." "I know you're telling me to see it but what should I see?"

[Laughs] That's good.

Stephen King may have had that with the book too. So when you have 1150 pages of Stephen King, where do you start?

Page one. The decision to just focus on the kids was made before me. I think that was the right decision, so that helped narrow the field down a little bit, or the scope. Then it becomes, you just look at the through lines, you look at the themes you want to drill down on. Of course you need Georgie in the sewer, but it just became let's tell the story from the point of view of the Losers and see where that gets us. We couldn't deviate too much from that, so that also helped narrow the field down a little bit, that scope. Then it just became about I know the book pretty well. I read the book several times growing up, several times before I started. Then it became let me close the book, put it aside and just write and see what I'm missing and what I'm not, what people are missing when they read the script. Then Andy had tons of great ideas so it was incorporating those. It was just a constant dialogue with Andy, the producers but also with the book.

Were you going for a Stand By Me vibe but with the monsters of the other Stephen King stories?

That was important to me. The Body was the first Stephen King work I read. Stand By Me is still one of my favorite movies and that's one of my favorite stories so that's an element I wanted to preserve because it's there in the source material. Andy wanted to preserve it and really make that a part of it because I think those moments of levity provide a great contrast to those darker moments, or makes the darker moments feel all that much darker. That was something I cared deeply about.

Were you able to read the previous draft by Cary Fukunaga and Chase Palmer?

Yeah, and this wasn't a case of coming in and starting from scratch or whatever. They used the same source material as I did, so it was picking up kind of where they left off and making sure that Andy's vision was where it needed to be. Andy and I would sit in a room and just talk about what we want to happen and where we wanted to get this too. Then it was just about making that happen.

Is it hard to distinguish which draft comes from who when it's three writers adapting the same sourced material?

No, it's all kind of a collaborative effort. You're not really picking, going, "That's mine, that's there's" or "That's Andy's." It becomes its own thing, which is how it should be or else it'd feel very uneven.

There was talk early on about including the very controversial sex scene from the book. How far did that get?

For us, it got as far as a conversation going, "Okay, what's the intent of that scene? Is there some way we can accomplish that another way?" That was the conversation we had, but it wasn't something we zeroed in on or anything like that.

Was the kiss the substitute for it?

I think the journey is more of the substitute. The kiss is a nice moment of that journey but I think the whole journey exemplifies what was going on there. It's a coming of age story. I think that kiss certainly is part of that journey and part of that transition from going from kids to an adult.

Did adapting It make it less scary for you?

No, I just was more scared of what Stephen King would think. That was the new fear that presented itself adapting it.

But it didn't dispel any of the magic?

No. I read the book when I was 12. He's been such a constant in my life. That magic is still there.

Stephen King's It Trailer

What was different about 1989 in the movie from the '50s setting in the book?

There's different touchstones, different influences. If you just look at the pop culture, kids are scared of things in the '50s that they weren't necessarily scared of in the' 80s. But in the '50s they're scared of bullies, in the '80s they're scared of bullies, in present day they're scared of bullies. There are certain universal things that transcend whatever the decade is and just happen to be universal. I'm a kid of the '80s, Andy seemed to be. That choice was made before me but that was the right move, I think.

The bullies in the '80s say the F-word a lot, which maybe bullies still do today. Was that specific to the '80s or was it in the '50s too?

I don't remember distinctly in the book. I remember it was in the book because the present day was set in the '80s so you had all that with Adrian Mellon and that attack. I know it was prevalent just because I grew up in the '80s. I know it was all over the place unfortunately. It almost seemed inauthentic if you didn't include that, unfortunately.

I loved seeing the summer movies change on the marquee from Batman and Lethal Weapon 2 to Nightmare on Elm Street 5. What movie do you think was playing at the Derry theater in September?

[Laughs] Do you know?

Oh, I should've looked up what Warner Bros. or New Line movie came out September of 1989.

That's a good question. That is a really good question. I thought you were going to tell me. Now it's one more thing I'll have to Google today.

I should've come prepared.

Man, that was a great summer. I spent my summer at the movies for sure.

Was Eddie's gazebo line from the book?

The gazebos joke I think was made on the day. I wish I had written that line, but it is hilarious. I think that was on the day. I'm not sure if it was Andy. I'm not sure where it comes from but it's brilliant.

Did Finn Wolfhard improvise any of Richie's one liners?

Yeah. There's a lot of improvisation. The outtakes are a whole other movie, but he also stays true to the jokes I wrote. I think most of those are in there but he improv'd some brilliant lines, really funny stuff. All those kids are just exceptionally talented.

I suppose people who read the book know what Pennywise does to Georgie in the sewer. With that scene did you want to show the movie was going to go there with all the nightmares?

I think was the intent of the scene, one of the intents of the scene. Yeah, you want to know that this movie has teeth, pun intended I guess. Just like in the book, it sets the table for everything that follows. You want to get a sense of real danger and real fear.

Were you able to come up with any original nightmares that weren't from Stephen King?

Yeah, the painting, the lady in the painting was something Andy had a real fear of as a child. I think that's where that stems from. Mike's fear I think sort of borrowed a little bit from The Black Spot, that fear. We played around with them quite a bit I think.

Stephen King's It Trailer

Will the sequel be called That?

[Laughs] I don't know, man. We'll just focus on this one and see, but I'm going to use that joke too.

I'm still going with it. Have you started thinking of the script for Chapter Two?

No, I've been focused on this one and I think everybody's head [are] in this one until this one comes out, see what it does. Of course when you're writing the script, it's hard not to think about. You want to think about ways characters are going to go and all that stuff just to make it feel like there's going to be a story beyond this movie but that's as far as I've taken it.

Can you help thinking of what adult actors could play these characters grown up?

I don't do that. I'm terrible with that because I just cast Harrison Ford in everything.

27 years after 1989 makes it 2016 which makes it the election year. Was Trump It?

[Laughs] As someone said, yeah, he's a clown of a different kind, right? And also just as terrifying.

That means It won.

Well, we'll see. Come on, we're still fighting.

Could you imagine a chapter three that's 27 more years in the future?

No, not right now. I would think it would take away something of the defeat. You want to feel like the Losers have ultimately defeated It at the end of the book. That's how I always saw it. I think it would rob something of them, although it would be cool to cast that movie. Think of the people you'd cast.

Clint Eastwood.

Michael Douglas, think of that. That'd be awesome.

Stephen King's It Featurette

Even if It came after a different group of characters in 27 years, that would mean It hasn't been defeated.

Exactly, which I think steals the victory from our Losers.

Since you were able to establish The Nun as part of Annabelle: Creation, does that make The Nun not only a spin-off, but more connected to all the Annabelle and Conjuring movies?

Yeah, it's all part of the Conjuring universe. It's its own movie and I think it feels very distinct but they all help tell the overall mythology that James [Wan] has in his head about the Conjuring universe.

Are there different kinds of scares in The Nun than in Annabelle?

Yeah, I think so. Corin Hardy directed it. He's got his own sensibilities and he wanted to bring his own sense of style and flourish to it, and that he did. It's definitely got its own vibe and I don't know if you could do these types of scares in another one of these movies. They're very particular to The Nun.

Is it less about what's in the dark?

We're in a castle in Romania. You have this nun figure lurking around so yeah, it is about what's in the darkness, but much like Pennywise, you know it's the fucking Nun. I think it provides a nice counterpoint because it's not your traditional haunted house type of movie, which I love.

A castle in Romania automatically makes it a different vibe than the Warner Brothers sound stages.

Exactly. We drew a lot on the Hammer horror movies. so it's very moody and very atmospheric. It's graveyards with fog and lanterns, scenes lit by lanterns.

Does it connect the two Warren cases of Annabelle and The Nun?

I'll hold off on answering that, but it adds to the story. It's definitely connected, but it answers some questions. What questions those are, I'll wait until the movie comes out.

What else are you writing?

That's what I'm working on right now. The Nun's in post. Annabelle: Creation just came out. I got back from Romania at the end of June so July was just reminding my family I exist.

Are you cool with doing more horror?

I love horror. That's what's refreshing about working with James, Corin, David Sandberg and Andy. They're just true horror fans. It's not like they're using this as a stepping stone. Of course, they're all going to go on and do bigger things but they all still love the genre and they all still want to participate. That's something I want to do too. I love it. Bring it on.

Are you waiting on some of your other scripts to be produced?

There's been some, but Annabelle's my first credited movie. There are scripts out there that I wrote that haven't been produced yet. I wish they would.

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It, directed by Andy Muschietti, is in theaters this Friday.