Gary Dauberman on Writing ‘It Chapter Two’ And Whether The Two Movies May Become One
A lot of sequels try to label themselves as “Part 2” in an attempt to make a cash grab look like an organic extension of a story that was planned all along. (I’m not going to name any names, but one example rhymes with The Scmast Schmexorcism.) It Chapter Two is different. It really is the second half of an epic story, first told by Stephen King in his 1100-page 1986 novel. The first half was featured in It, which became a surprising smash when it opened in the fall of 2017. To date, it is the most financially successful horror movie of all time.
While It Chapter Two concludes the tale of the Losers Club from Derry, Maine — as the kids from the first movie return as adults to again confront the ancient monster that preys on children in their hometown — it was not made simultaneously with the first film. Instead, after the first it became a blockbuster, director Andy Muschietti and screenwriter Gary Dauberman (who co-wrote the first movie with Chase Palmer and Cary Fukunaga) returned to craft the second film. That made me curious whether they revised any of their early plans for the back half of this two-part saga in light of It’s enormous popularity.
“No. The success of the first one did not change our creative — at least for me,” Dauberman, whose other recent screenplays include Annabelle and The Nun, told me over the phone. “That’s a dangerous road to go down sometimes.” Instead, Dauberman explained that they “stuck with what the game plan was from the very beginning and ran with it.” Their approach is already paying dividends; the film grossed $185 million worldwide last weekend, the second biggest opening ever for a horror film (behind only ... It).
When I spoke with Dauberman last week we talked about writing the Losers Club as both children and adults (played by a cast that includes Jessica Chastain, James McAvoy, and a particularly good Bill Hader), whether becoming a director (of 2019’s Annabelle Comes Home) has affected his writing, and if he wants to see the rumored mega-cut that would combine the two It films into one — and how he would cut them together if it was up to him.
What was the timeline here like for you as the writer? Were the two films written at the same time? Did you write the first and then the second after the first came out?
I worked on It up until about a month from production, and then went to work on Annabelle Comes Home. I like to tackle one thing at a time.
So with this film, you have a lot of people who will have seen the first It. But then you might have people who don’t remember It very well, or maybe they just saw the miniseries — or maybe didn’t even see the first movie at all but they heard it was great so they’re interested in this movie. Did you think about balancing the needs of those different potential audiences at all?
I don’t know what this says about me but I didn’t consider it. I wanted to tell the adult side of the Losers. I never thought “Oh I need to have some sort of primer who haven’t seen the first one.”
That said, I think this movie stands alone in a lot of ways. I think you can get the gist of what happened in the first movie by watching this movie. While it still feels like one half of a whole it feels like a complete movie in and of itself — just like the first movie feels that way too. So I think’s very accessible in that regard, but I didn’t think of it as you did, breaking down the audience into different groups, and trying to cater to each one. I just wanted to write the story the best way I could write the story, and hopefully that will speak to the audience as well.
Even with two movies, It is such a massive book there are things that get cut out. And I’m sure there are things you cut out because you didn‘t think they would work in a film or you didn’t particularly love them. Were there any things you really loved from the book that you never figured out how to squeeze in?
I’ve been getting this question, so I’ve been thinking about it. People usually ask “Is there a specific scene...?” and that always throws me off.
I think the answer to this question, for me, is that with King even the most minor characters seem to be the star of their own movies in a lot of ways. He can give you a description of what their day-to-day life is like. In a movie, you don’t have the luxury of branching off and spending time with secondary characters. You wish you could spend a little more time in Derry, see what more of the townspeople are like and what they’ve done. It’s just kind of an impossibility when you’re telling this kind of a story.
I really loved the character of Richie played by Bill Hader as an adult. I thought he was the most interesting part of Chapter Two. And a lot of his arc in the film isn’t taken from King’s book. Who gets credit for that, you or director Andy Muschietti? Can you talk about why you guys chose to make those changes to Richie the way you did?
Thank you very much. I think it was something that, if you read it, the relationship [between Richie and Eddie] is a certain way in the book. You can come to that conclusion, but it was just something that Andy felt very strongly about, and I felt very strongly about. Just watching Eddie and Richie’s relationship in the first movie, and exploring that in our conversations as we talked about Chapter Two. It just felt very organic and natural. There were never arguments back and forth. It was just, “How can we tell this story in an economical way?”
Andy really told it beautifully, and James [Ransone, as the adult Eddie] and Bill played it so well. It didn’t feel like a revelatory idea for us — or at least for me.
And tell me what you thought when you heard Bill Hader was going to play that part? I expected him to be good, but he really blew me away with how good he is in the movie.
Oh my god. It’s just ridiculous for me to try to write jokes for Bill Hader.
There’s that desire to just leave his dialogue blank and have Bill fill it in. But you go “Here’s a joke,” and with someone like that, you know he’s going to make it so much better. And he did, 100,000 times. It was really exciting from the get-go that he was on board. He’s just a really rare and special talent that guy.
How challenging was it to write these characters at two different points in their lives? They’re played by different people, and the Losers have changed so much in the interim in some ways. But they still have to connect to those younger versions, who are also in the film in flashbacks.
I guess I don’t see them as different. I see them more as extensions of their former selves, as we all are. Richie is who he was as a kid. He’s telling jokes, he’s got anxiety. Eddie, the same way. Ben’s isolated, he’s an outsider. To me, it didn’t feel like I was writing different characters. I’m about the same age as the Losers, or thereabouts, and how much my past affects my present — and it does in a big way. So I was writing from that place. And of course you have the book as a guideline too.
You recently moved into directing; did that change you as a writer in any way?
It really hasn’t. At least I don’t think so. It might be more of a question for someone who reads my writing on a regular basis. It doesn’t change my process in any way. I still approach it as a writer first. Maybe I’m thinking a little more visually. When I started writing It, I wasn’t yet directing, so for this it definitely didn’t affect me.
In terms of writing visually, how detailed are the horror setpieces in the screenplay? Do they get very specific or are they left more for the director or the visual effects supervisor to really flesh out?
I try to paint the picture as much as I can, but a lot of times it feels like an impressionistic painting, or a highlight reel of a scene. You pick out the points you really want the reader to get and understand then let them fill it out in their mind.
Sometimes it’s just “They fight.” Like, in the first one with the rock fight. It’s like “They throw rocks and so and so gets hit on the head,” but you’re not describing every rock that’s thrown’s story. It’s like recapping a fight in a lot of ways; like this happened and then that happened. But you don’t tell all the nuances. Then Andy takes it and elevates it to the next, next, next level. You try to be as detailed as you can without boring the reader.
Is there a sequence that looks in the movie exactly as you imagined it — or perhaps totally different than you envisioned it? I’m curious how things evolve from the script to the screen.
One of the great joys of being a writer, being involved in the process as much as I am, is that more often than not, it’s much better than it was in my head, because of the talent involved in the cast and crew. Your hope is as a writer that someone’s going to read it, know what you were going for, and then take it and plus it and go “Oh that’s so cool! What if we also did this?” because you have a fantastic set designer who thinks “How can we tell this story visually?” and you have a director who is the maestro orchestrating all this stuff. As a writer you get to see how people interpret what you write and make it into something you never even dreamed of in your head.
I’ve read Andy talking about alternate cuts of the films. That there might be director’s cuts of each Chapter, and then also some massive compilation film that would combine the two movies into a single epic. I’m curious if you’ve seen any of those versions yet, and if you have any thoughts on the idea of combining them into a single film.
I haven’t seen those versions. I’m really excited about a supercut version, because I think it would be really, really cool.
If you were the guy making that supercut, would you cut it down in any way, or would you let it really just be the full Chapter One plus Chapter Two?
I don’t know. That’s a great question. I love everything that’s there, so it would be tough to go “We don’t need this, we don’t need that.” It would be a fun exercise. Editing those two movies together and seeing what they look like. In my heart of hearts, I think that’s going to happen, and I can’t wait to see it.
It Chapter Two is in theaters now.
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