'IT Chapter Two' Screenwriter Gary Dauberman on Adapting the Fan Favorite (SPOILERS!)
September 9, 2019
Screenwriter Gary Dauberman has made his living in horror.
He is not only responsible for The Conjuring Universe spin-offs Annabelle and The Nun, but for penning 2017’s megahit It, based on Stephen King’s nightmare-inducing novel. The paperback version of King’s 1986 book about children haunted by a creature who sometimes takes the form of a deranged, dancing clown runs 1,153 pages. For a screenwriter hired to adapt the book into a feature film, the length itself is daunting; not to mention the number of central characters who must undergo complete arcs, the internal nature of each character’s transformation, the odd, unearthly origin story of Pennywise, and, well, so much more.
Dauberman, taking a reprieve from the sweltering sun in his trailer during the Los Angeles press day for the film, explained how he tackled the beast that is It.
“The decision had already been made to do two movies, to split them up between younger kids and adults. But, it was never a sure thing I’d be working on the sequel,” he said.
“You try not to think about the possibility of the second movie. You just want to make the first one as good as it can be. I never want to get too far ahead of myself.”
Okay, so he knows there will (likely) be two films, one dealing with the kids’ first encounter with otherworldly Pennywise and a second that shows them as adults coming back to their hometown of Derry to face the monster again. Now what?
“I start quite literally at the beginning,” Dauberman said.
“I have a process where I beat out the scenes of the book. I have a long document where I write down everything that happens so I’m familiarized with the sequence of events. Then, I look for places I can combine scenes. You become an editor and try to condense everything down into what will be a two-hour-and-something-minute movie.”
But IT Chapter Two comes in at nearly three hours long. For fans of the book or the first installment, this might be an exciting prospect — more King for your buck. But for the average moviegoer, who may be looking for a fast-paced flick with no bathroom breaks needed, it might be a deterrent. According to Dauberman, the filmmakers never blinked an eye at the film’s runtime.
“Sure, we could do a two-hour version of this story, but I don’t think anybody would understand it or care about the characters. We weren’t looking at the runtime, we were looking at the story. We needed the real estate to tell the story in a way that makes it feel complete,” he said, referencing other successful films like Avengers: Endgame with similarly long runtimes.
“If the movie feels long and it’s only 100 minutes, then it’s too long. But I think people will be thoroughly entertained.”
In looking at scenes to cut from the book, one historically controversial scene — in it, the boys of the Losers’ Club have sex with the only female member, Beverly — was never going to see the light of day. Why?
Dauberman throws his hands up at the question.
“There was no way we were going to put that onscreen,” he said.
“Some argue whether or not it even needs to be included in the novel, but I understand what [King] is going for.”
Dauberman explained that the moment is meant to be a bonding experience for the adolescent Losers. It’s a way to show their transition from children into adults. But, as the screenwriter said, there are plenty of other ways to get the essence of the scene across without disrupting such a massive ethical and moral boundary.
“Bill kissing Beverly at the end ... The blood oath, the kids holding hands at the end of the movie, that tells the same story,” Dauberman said, noting that including the scene was “never a conversation. I've talked about it more with you than [the filmmakers] ever talked about it.”
Another element of the book that needed some reworking were the scares. The scares in Chapter Two are hugely heightened, and, as Dauberman explained, while some of them are taken from the book, many are invented.
“I asked, ‘What’s going to be the most visual or scary thing we can get?’ We had to change it up from the book a bit. I wanted to capitalize on the potential of Bill Skarsgård as Pennywise, push him as much as we could. I knew we could go to very dark places. With the first one we set such a high bar, we are trying to one up it as much as we could.”
With all the variations from the original work, there are likely Stephen King fans who have varying opinions on how their beloved book was adapted. But Dauberman isn’t interested in listening to the fan chatter.
“I don't have a Twitter account. I don't have a Facebook, I don't have any social media. I have to trust my inner compass about these things,” he said.
“I keep my head down and I just do the work.”That being said, Dauberman himself is a huge fan of the source material and feels like because of this, it’s safe in his hands.
“I try not to get involved in anything that I'm not a fan of. With the book it’s like, ‘What do I want to see? What do I want this movie to be?’ That’s what I write, because I'm the first person who's going to watch this thing. I'm the first person to read the script. That's what I try to steer the ship towards.”
Now with an entire franchise of Annabelle films, the It movies, and many other films already produced or in the works, Dauberman acknowledges that early on, he never saw screenwriting as a real career path.
“I never had a great ambition to work in movies because it just wasn't something that people did. I’m from outside Philadelphia and it never seemed like a possibility,” he said.
“But I just always wanted to be a writer. Always. As I got older, I didn't want to live with ‘what if,’ so I moved to LA when I was in my early 20s and waited tables, and then I would write at night. Eventually I wrote a spec that people seemed to like, and that got me representation. And then I just said yes to a lot of things and just wanted to keep writing. Work begets work. And that’s how my career started.”
But like it is for many writers, the road to success was paved with anxiety and uncertainty.
“Writing comes with its own set of anxieties. It's not an easy job. There's a lot more to it than just sitting down at the keyboard. I tell people to get out to live life a little bit too,” he said.
“But to be able to pay the bills writing, I feel overjoyed that I can do that. I feel very lucky.”
IT Chapter Two hits theaters Sept. 6.
Written by: Anna KlassenAnna Klassen is a screenwriter and journalist living in Los Angeles. She can be found on twitter and Instagram at @annajklassen.