With the release of IT just around the corner, Shannon had the chance to be part of a round table interview where she got to speak with producers David Katzenberg and Seth Grahame-Smith about how they became attached to this project over 6 years ago.
Question: How did you guys become attached to this project?
David Katzenberg: Well it’s almost been 7 years now…
Seth Grahame-Smith: I know it’s been over 6 years.
DK: Dan Lin and Roy Lee, who had the rights to the film, called us in because they thought we would be interested and we were absolutely interested. We are massive Stephen King fans and massive IT fans. We were attracted and in love right away.
SGS: It’s been daunting at times (laughs).
DK: Super easy along the way (laughs).
Question: Did you always know you wanted to focus the first film on the kids aspect of the story?
DK: That was something that almost happened immediately, it came about very early on.
SGS: They had tried a draft before we came on that would flash back and forth while trying to tell the whole story in one movie. For anyone that has read the book and knows the mini-series, there is just too much material. You would either make a four and a half hour long movie that no one was going to enjoy or you were going to cut so much out that it would end up being a shadow of what the book was. It became evident that we could try to flash back and forth in two different movies but it kind of feels like the mini-series already did that. You are left with the question of how do you give these characters their due and how do you really dive into these moments. Telling the kids story first and the adults story second was a shape that came right away and that’s what we pursued and hopefully we will get to do that again.
Question: Was the casting of the kids in any way reflective of who you wanted the adult actors to be later on?
DK: No, because the kids really evolved while making this film. They are best friends on and off screen. You can check on any of their Instagrams and you’ll see they are together all the time. They literally had the best summer of their lives making this film and it shows. We didn’t know quite what the relationship was going to be on screen and it evolved in terms of their dialogue, improv, and ad libs.
SGS: The casting was a pretty arduous process, we auditioned thousands of kids. The ones you see in the movie, they had something that immediately jumped out about them. Whether it was the unique look that they have, their composure, the poise they had from being so young; or whether, in the case of Jack Dylan Grazer, how fast they could talk and how much they loved to talk. There was something that really fit their character and really stood out. Then we started doing chemistry reads with all the kids. To David’s point, we have gotten so lucky with this movie is so many different ways. We caught very lucky breaks in terms of the way the scheduling came out 27 years after the mini-series, so it looks like we are geniuses and we planned that (laughs). Then two years ago, all of a sudden clowns and clown scares starting showing up and it had nothing to do with us. Then we cast the kid from “Stranger Things” before “Stranger Things” came out.
Question: How did you go about landing Andy Muschietti as the director?
SGS: Landing the director was probably the biggest break of all. It’s no secret that Cary Fukunaga was going to direct but due to creative differences, which honestly, those were truly creative differences, he dropped off. Cary and co-writer Chase Palmer wrote an exceptional script that Gary Dauberman finished. We owe a lot of the success of the script to Cary. We met with a ton of directors after Cary dropped off and the thing that really grabbed us about Andy [Muschietti] right away was he came to us and talked about the kids and the book, whereas others were talking about the clown and the scares. Andy told us how living in Argentina he read a translation of Stephen King’s “It” at 13 and felt like it was his life and how much he related to those kids.
We had always said, especially because we divided the film into kids and adults, if the kids don’t work, the movie doesn’t work. The movie we have referenced the most these past 6 years has been Stand By Me. That was t he feeling we wanted to capture, in terms of a Stephen King adaptation, having that heart and cinematality, where the children feel real, the friendships feel real, that was the most important thing to us. You can craft great scares, you can craft great visuals, but if you don’t have that feeling of emotions to hang onto the movie won’t work. Andy came in preaching that and on top of that he’s an incredible conceptualist, an incredible fine artist, and he can draw incredible renditions of Pennywise. Andy was the guy, and he brought along his sister, Barbara Muschietti as well. In the end, we were the adult Loser’s Club.
DK: We had the best summer of our lives.
SGS: The four of us were the adult losers and the kids were the actual Loser’s Club. Everyday of the shoot, Andy would come in and you could tell he was all about the kid’s stories. To David’s point, these kids, another lucky break, fell in love with each other. These kids, these losers, to this day are best friends. They bonded in a way that I’ve never seen. They spent every waking minute together on and off set, pulling pranks, going on little field trips, texting each other, laughing. 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 resonates with people? It has spawned a mini-series and now your movie that people are so excited to see. There are many, many Stephen King books that people adore but there’s something about “It”.
DK: I think everyone can relate to it, it’s a coming-of-age story that feels nostalgic for older generations but younger kids are still going through it too. Everyone knows the feeling of being alone and of being scared of something and having the bond of friendship to help you get through it. I think clowns inherently are fascinating to people. Whether we are scared of them or whether we love them. Look at Halloween year to year, it still continues to be costumes and parties surrounding clowns. Clowns play a part in our lives day to day and they will forever.
SGS: In terms of the book, the book is about so many different things. There’s so much going on, 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 that old story where you can’t go home again, and it’s also, like so many of Stephen King’s stories, it’s about the unspeakable evil that dwells beneath the surface of a small New England town.
When the trailer came out and broke all those records, we were caught off guard. We were hopeful it would resonate, but we had no idea it was going to be that resonate. I think, to me, it comes back to it doesn’t feel like anything else out there right now. It just cuts 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. It has at its center this very iconic villain, probably Stephen King’s most famous villain, if we are comparing. I think that just let it cut through and people were caught off guard and were like, “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 it’s “Oh, this is a scary ‘Stranger Things'”. To adults, they go “Oh my God, it’s the summer of ’89 and that looks like me when I was riding my bike.”
Question: Because the movie is so detailed and there is so much more going on than just the scares do you think there is any Oscar talk?
SGS: No, no. Right now we are taking it one step at a time. Right now we are so nervous about reviews. Obviously that would be incredible, but right now, honestly, that has not entered my mind… well, now it has (laughs).
We are proud of the movie and we all worked hard on the movie. Nobody worked harder than Andy, but we all worked hard and we all put in a lot of sweat equity. 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. We can name favorite Stephen King adaptations – 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”, if the movie is well-received “check”, if we are fortunate enough to do well at the box office “check”. I’m not thinking of anything beyond that right now.
Question: The movie is coming out on the heels of what everyone in the business is considering to be the most calamitous summer in human memory. I read something everyday about box offices saying everything will be fine once IT opens on September 8th. How much pressure is that on you?
SGS: If I’m being honest, it does affect you and you’re like “Oh, great.” I just want to be well received, that’s the important thing.
DK: We’ve spent so much time getting the script right and the film right and for us having it well received is probably the most important thing, other than getting the stamp of approval from King.
Question: Did you screen the film for Stephen King?
SGS: We screened it for him.
DK: He got a rough cut.
Question: Was it up in Maine?
SGS: I think he was in Florida and we set up a screening for him.
Question: Did he call you about it?
SGS: He didn’t call, he wrote Andy a really nice email and then wrote something on his website about the producers getting it right and how it exceeded his wildest expectations and then tweeted something as well. That to me was the high water mark.
Question: If things do go well, is there a timeline or any sort of frame of work in place for the next film? Do you have a script?
DK: We’ve obviously spent a lot of time thinking about it, because it’s broken into two movies, but we haven’t been told to go off and make the second one. Until we get the “go” we are just patiently waiting.
Question: Was there any consideration, in terms of the box office numbers, to make the film PG-13 so that it would give you a larger audience?
SGS: Never, never. I have to give New Line all the credit, they never flinched. They said this story needs to be unflinching, you need to go there, in terms of those moments, and that’s what was going to make it stand out against everything that’s come before it. A Rated-R film staring 13-year-old kids is not an easy proposition for a studio, so I gotta give them credit, they went all in.
Question: That was something I was really excited to see. 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: There are things in the book that kids do that we were never going to do. We were just never going to do those things. I think it comes down to what serves the story. Obviously there is a sort of air of sexuality in a positive and in a negative that is pervasive throughout a lot of Stephen King’s books and very much so in this movie. That had to be treated very carefully and very tastefully. I think Andy did treat it very carefully and very tastefully. What we didn’t want was for it to be gratuitous and we didn’t want to be shocking for the sake of being shocking. We only wanted to push things a to a certain point and that’s how we made those decisions.
Question: Last but not least, what scares you both?
SGS: Oscar talk (laughs).
DK: I’m a new father, I have a 3 month old, and now I have this little baby at home and it scares the shit out of me (laughs).
IT will be released in theaters nationwide on September 8.