This big-screen adaptation of Stephen King’s It stands as one of the best of King’s works onscreen. There have been a handful that have gotten it right, but it isn’t easy getting into the guts of a King novel and really bring it to life.

But the creative minds behind It do just that, telling half of King’s horrifying tale about an evil lurking in a small town in Maine that raises its awful head every 27 years to “feed.” The book shifts in time from present-day characters to those characters as young tweens, who battle the evil, known as Pennywise the Clown, and defeat it, to some degree. The film, labeled “Chapter One,” tells the story from the kids’ perspective, and it works, terrifying to the last detail. And yes, there will be a “Chapter Two,” in which the kids, now adults, must return to kill Pennywise once and for all.

At the recent Los Angeles press day, producers David Katzenberg and Seth Grahame-Smith, director Andy Muschietti, co-screenwriter Gary Dauberman and star Bill Skarsgård (as Pennywise), talked about bringing the story to life. Here are eight things they did so right.

On importance of telling the It story in two parts:

David Katzenberg: It was important to get this movie right and keep the integrity of the book. For us, that meant breaking it into two separate films essentially. There was a lot of thought that went into this and we kept [King] in mind. There was never a version, for us, where we could manage to put 1200 pages into one movie. There were versions of scripts attempting to try to do this.

Seth Grahame-Smith: You feel the pressure that this book is one of the most iconic works by one of the most iconic writers of our time – and for me, the guy who made me want to write books. So how do you take this 1100 plus page tome and adapt it into something that feels seminal and timeless? That was the big challenge in the six years working on this movie. Famously there were stops and starts along the way, but I feel good about the results.

When we came on, there was a draft that attempted to flash back and forth. To us, it was evident that you’re never going to be able to service these characters and these moments if you try to cram it all into one movie. Never! And then, it’s going to be weird if you’re flashing back and forth, which means if the first movie comes out and tanks, you’re never going to get to finish the story and that feels weird. To us, the best way was to separate it out – as was the decision to move it up to ’89.

On capturing the theme:

Gary Dauberman: I think the fact that I read The Body first is really what influenced and contextualized all the Stephen King stuff that comes after that. For me, it was really about the dynamic of the losers that I really wanted to make sure comes through. I think [coming-of-age] is so universal. We all go through these things and fears, and that was the one thing I wanted to protect.

On differentiating their film from the 1990 TV mini-series:

Grahame-Smith: What jumps out at you is how much they had to hold back. As great as Tim Curry [who played Pennywise] was, the menace, the intensity, even the language that’s so pervasive in all of King’s work was restrained by the fact they were an ABC prime-time special. We wanted to be truer to the book and that meant that we wanted to delve a little deeper into the moments the mini-series didn’t have time to do, but we wanted to bring the intensity that they couldn’t. We knew we were going to be rated-R from the beginning and we were supported the whole way. That gave us that freedom to explore the darkness of what’s going in Bev’s life and what’s going on at school, to say nothing of the terrifying imagery.

On making Pennywise their own:

Katzenberg: People did come in with very similar takes to the Tim Curry version. It was definitely not the direction we were looking to go in, but we were surprised to see certain auditions with similar voices.

Grahame-Smith: The biggest tell was also the New York accent – the gruff [imitates Curry’s Pennywise voice], “Hiya, Georgie!” The minute anyone came in doing this, that was the end of that.

On Bill Skarsgård playing the horrifying clown:

Andy Muschietti: He brought something that I was looking for – the sense of madness and unpredictability. Bill is wired like that. The performance he chose to bring to his reading already contained that.

Grahame-Smith: What jumped out about Bill was that he was clearly gonna commit to it in a total mind, body and spirit manner. The things that he can do with his face and his body that he showed us early on… the things he can do with his voice. Andy saw something in him that it took the rest of us an extra beat to see. Andy keyed in on him immediately, working with him, getting him to a place where it became undeniable.

On the first time the young actors worked with Pennywise:

Grahame-Smith: The way the scheduling worked out, the first month was all kids. Bill didn’t really work the first month, but he was in Toronto. He and Andy continued to work on the physicality, on the voice, on the mannerisms up until we started shooting. It was like we were making Stand by Me. The first day we shot with Pennywise was in the kitchen and he’s hovering over Jack [Grazer, who plays Eddie] and he’s about to bite his face off and drooling. When he was drooling on Jack’s face he just went, [mimics hocking a loogie] and spit right in his face. These kids were not afraid! They give as good as they get.

Katzenberg: One of the coolest things is that the kids had not seen him until the first day of shooting. The first day Bill was on set was Eddie when he hurts his arm. You can imagine the day the bus drops Bill off and walks on the set – Bill is already a massive guy and in the boots, he’s even taller. It was menacing. It also felt like we were making a totally different movie until he came.

Bill Skarsgård: Andy came up with the idea and asked, “Hey, what do you think if we keep you separate from the kids?” And I was like, yeah. It was either or. With the kids, it was a whole bonding thing. They went on excursions, biking trips etc. The best friend camaraderie you see onscreen, happened off screen as well. So it’s really two ways: Maybe you go out of your way to make the kids comfortable around you, so you can use that to make them feel free when you work with them. Or create some tension, so there’s a very charged moment between us.

When I then walked out of the fridge and confronted Eddie, I think it’s one of the most intense scenes in the movie with Pennywise because there is so much there. Jack was like, “Oh my god!” sort of freaked and excited. Then I had to get into this space and I wasn’t going to hold anything back. They yelled action and it was really intense… As soon as they yell cut, I go “Are you okay?” and he just goes, “That’s awesome! I love what you’re doing!”

On conceptualizing Pennywise:

Muschietti: There’s different faces of Pennywise – he’s a shape-shifting monster. I did a sketch early on that looks very much like the final incarnation. It doesn’t have the smile, but apart from that, it’s a baby-horrifying looking monster with wall-eyes. We wanted to bring that contrast of someone who is luring, sweet and cute with little bunny teeth with something that is child-like… and that darkness that is waiting to surface. Then the shape-shifting happens, that’s the bait. There were some references to animal anatomy thrown in too, but not in a classical way. It never looks consistent. It’s always weird and surrealistic.

Skarsgård: When I was thinking about a concept of what scares me, it’s unpredictability that’s scary. There’s a change. If you have explosiveness and quick changes is something that’s very unsettling. I wanted to incorporate that, but also have the character to be like when you’re about to pop a balloon – this tension of explosiveness that’s about to happen… Like you’re pulling something back and at any moment it might snap, to incorporate that into the physicality of it. But also the goofy, weirdness was important to find the balance between something that’s strange and off, but ultimately scary and affecting.

On Chapter Two:

Grahame-Smith: We are locked, loaded and ready to go! The script is not done, but it’s being worked on. Obviously all the filmmakers are chomping at the bit to get started and we have a very exciting shape and Gary is working away. I feel somewhat optimistic we’ll be able to make it, but there’s been no decision.

Go see It playing in theaters now.

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