A few months ago, with the anticipation for the new adaptation of Stephen Kings classic horror novel growing by the day, I was among a small group of journalists who paid a visit to the It edit bay, where the filmmakers were hard at work completing the September 8th release.
Director Andrs Andy Muschietti and producer Barbara Muschietti the brother-sister duo who previously collaborated on Mama showed us several scenes from the film, and discussed their approach to bringing Kings novel to the big screen.
The scenes we were shown were from fairly early on, beginning with one in which young friends Bill Denbrough (Jaeden Lieberher), Richie Tozier (Finn Wolfhard), Stanley Uris (Wyatt Oleff) and Eddie Kaspbrak (Jack Dylan Grazer) investigate an opening in the Derry, Maine area known as the Barrens that leads them into the sewers and make a discovery connected to one of the many missing (and presumed dead) kids in the area, which includes Bills own brother, Georgie.
The kids are interrupted by the arrival of classmate Ben (Jeremy Ray Taylor), who is desperately running from the vicious older teen Henry Bowers (Nicholas Hamilton) and his gang. Bill and the others help Ben hide, while Henrys cohort Patrick (Nicholas Hamilton) gets turned around in the sewers pursuing them only to begin to see some very dark and ominous things in front of him, including the appearance of ghoulish, dead-looking children and then a terrifying clown who runs at Patrick and seemingly tears him apart.
More was shown to us from soon after in the film, as the boys befriend Beverly Marsh (Sophia Lillis) -- the final member of the so-called Losers Club, Mike Hanlon (Chosen Jacobs), has yet to join at this point -- and share an underwear-clad swim in a lake, where both Ben and Bill seem to be especially infatuated with Beverly.
Even as the group bond and have fun over the summer, their discussion keeps going back to the dark occurrences in their town, Bens collection of news clippings from the area, and the fact that in Derry, its very, very dangerous to be a kid
After showing us the footage, Andres and Barbara spoke about their take on Pennywise the Clown (and creepy clowns in general), the hugely positive reaction to the trailer, getting the stamp of approval from Stephen King himself and more
The King is Pleased!
While Stephen King was not involved in the making of It at all, he was shown an early cut of the film and proceeded to give his endorsement.
Said Andy, of King's reaction, It was awesome. Its his work and its sort of a test. Youre always waiting for him to say something. One week before they showed it to him I started getting a little concerned. And it just happened. Barbara added that King, after seeing the film, wrote an email to Andy which was very beautiful, with Andres noting, He was very moved. It was awesome.
The film tweaks aspects of the storyline, beyond moving the story from the 1950s to the 1980s, including the forms that It uses to terrify the children which in the novel, with its 1950s setting, were classic movie monsters. Remarked Barbara, That was one of the things that King said in his email to Andy, that he loved the licenses that were taken.
The (Very) Scary Clown
Its main form is, of course, Pennywise the Clown, here played by Bill Skarsgard (Hemlock Grove). When it came to getting to depict Pennywise, and a scary clown in general, Andy said, Its great. This tradition of the scary clown -- its like were bearers of the torch. I heard several things from clown unions. [Laughs] They dont like us to surface! But it was already there. The creepy clown is so embedded in popular culture way before Stephen King.
Pennywise struck a chord with many kids who saw the 1990 miniseries (featuring Tim Curry as Pennywise) at a young age, becoming their main embodiment of a scary clown and Andres added, I hope we can do it again in this one. But historically, the middle ages, and the Grimm Tales and jesters, theyre always grotesque. Theres nothing graceful about a clown. Theyre caricatures and theyre grotesque caricatures. I dont think we ruined much of clown culture. Its always been that.
As for their version of Pennywise wearing far older clothing than Tim Currys version, going back centuries, Andy said, Its been a journey with our costume designer. I wanted him to feel ancient and I wanted to change the image of Pennywise as a 1950s circus clown and expand the feeling of that perception of that creature and making it more ancient and more layered. It comes with several things but also with the costume. Its linked to the descriptions of the book. Its silvery and has orange pom poms and stuff. Its a balance between a more layered aesthetic and the original description.
In the scene we were shown with Patrick in the sewers, Pennywise himself is only glimpsed briefly, but overall, Andy promised that when it came to their depiction of the character, You wont miss Pennywise. Theres enough appearances of Pennywise. The way he operates is hes your worst fear to scare you and make you release the juices that hell eat and enjoy the flesh because the flesh is seasoned by your fear. I would say theres an incarnation of fear and a different incarnation of terror for each of the losers. I wont tell you when Pennywise shows up in the shape of the clown but its related to the moments where hes ready to eat you. Hes scared you to death already and now hes ready to eat you, or when the group of losers is all together.
The Right Kids
It stars seven kid actors and Andy said casting them and working with them was, A great process. Its not easy because you want the best and you have preconceived images that match the characters and stuff but the process was great. We got to meet very, very talented actors. And the great thing that Im really grateful about is we finally found actors that share the DNA with their characters. Its really impressive.
Said Barbara, We ended up with great actors but when we were shooting they were between twelve and fifteen and were incredibly smart kids to be able to take on the complexity of those characters. All of them, individually you could sit down and have the smartest, deepest conversation about sadness and courage and what they were going through. They were truly an amazing bunch of kids. Added Andres, It helped that their parents were smart and not narrow minded and open to discussion about things and subjects that are normally tricky."
Derry's Dark History
The book It not only included the story of the Losers Club as both kids and adults (the adult portion is being saved for a second film, which will be set in the present), but also many events from Derrys past, showing times when It struck and caused horrific events to occur.
Addressing those elements and if they impact the film, Andy explained, They call them the interludes. Everything that Mike has investigated during the hiatus [between Its appearances]. The events are brought up and mentioned and all those tragedies that happen every 27 years are addressed. They fuel the kids investigation when theyre trying to figure out whats going on. Theres some level of faithfulness to what those events are. Of course the years have been changed and tweaked in order to favor a story that takes places in the present time and the 1980s.
He added, Some are mentioned straight and some are hinted. Everything that the story needs is there. Thats one of the frustrations when youre adapting a 1200 page book so full of details and general richness and character and story. You cant translate everything that is there. But two hours is enough to address the major emotional event of the story and as many details as you can.
It is firmly an R-rated film, though the subject manner with so many kids in peril or even outright killed was still a tricky one as far as deciding what the line was. Explained Andy, We can get away with a lot in the context of the movie. Were not dialing down certain events. So far, people dont walk out of the movie. Theyre in for the ride and that violence only helped fuel the fear of the monster so far.
Noted Barbara, It was meant as an R-rated movie from the beginning. From the first talk we had with New Line, its impossible -- although they tried, which is amazing -- to do a film about the death of kids in a violent way and try to PG-13 it. Youre going to end up with nothing. We were very lucky.
Still, Andy said, There is a balance in addressing. We didnt have to dial back things that I envisioned. And I think that people will be thankful of that aspect of the book being transported to the movie. You wont find the scene where one of the kids back is broken and hes drowning in a toilet because that Scenes like that are where you go over, I think. And theres something in the visual translation of that that is way too much, I think.
As Barbara put it, Thats your own confines. Thats you saying If I show this, were taking this to a place we shouldnt be.
Added Andy, I know where the line is and if for some reason youve lost the tracking, because youre in the midst of shooting and stuff, thats what you have editing for. Lets see a little less of that. Less is more.
One Hell of a Trailer
To say the first It trailer got a massive reaction is an understatement. Upon release, the trailer was immediately viewed and shared again and again, and surprised almost everyone by breaking the record for any trailers views in 24 hours, with 197 million people watching it in that single day alone. Any question that people were excited for a new take on It was quickly pushed aside, and the film is now expected to open extremely well.
Regarding how huge the trailer was, Andy remarked, Nobody was expecting such a high number! That wasnt what we were even thinking. I didnt even know there was a ranking or care about that. And two hours into that day, the numbers were insane. It was like 20 million.
While Barbara said they felt a little bit of increased pressure as far as delivering a film to satisfy fans, given how big the trailer was, she stressed, What is great is that theres always been great support from Warners and New Line and now theres even more. Thats very exciting.
She added, The good thing about it is theres much more in the movie than the trailer shows. So its already like theres a notion that the movie will satisfy much more angles than just the scary movie that they show in the trailer. And from an emotional standpoint of the viewer, and the emotional connection -- its very scary, but emotional too. Theres a little bit of everything.
You can follow Eric Goldman on Twitter at @TheEricGoldmanand at Facebook.com/TheEricGoldman.
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Reviewed and Recommended by Erik Baquero