If there’s two guys who can tap into the pop culture potential of a Hollywood blockbuster, then it’s producing partners Seth Grahame-Smith and David Katzenberg. The former broke through as an author with Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, and the latter is the son of one of the most successful film producers of all time, Jeffrey Katzenberg. Together their slate includes Gremlins 3, Beetlejuice 2 and Kung Fury 2: The Movie… but first, IT… an adaptation of Stephen King’s book and a shape shifting entity that returns to the town of Derry every 27 years to prey on the personal fears of anyone who encounters it.
It’s 27 years since the miniseries, has this been something that’s been in the works for a long time?
Seth Grahame-Smith: David and I have been on the movie for almost six years and the movie’s undergone different iterations during that. I wish we were smart enough to plan exactly for the 27 years since 1990, that’s just happened by coincidence. If the movie had just formed earlier we would have made it earlier, but we got lucky there.
Can we talk a little bit about the legacy?
SGS: Massive Stephen King fan my entire life… I started reading this book when I was 12, probably shouldn’t have, but… I remember distinctly, in 1990, I was 13 in the summer of 1989, so it’s very interesting for me to watch these kids portray 13-year-olds in the summer of 1989. It feels very personal, but the legacy for me, I can only speak to the personal legacy of reading the book, seeing the miniseries and being so deeply affected by both, and in the early ‘90s just being a rabid Stephen King fan my whole adult life. When the chance came to work on this movie, of course it was a dream come true, but also, you feel a huge responsibility to Stephen King, to his fans, to the legacy of the book. And even wanting to be respectful and honoring the miniseries that came before us, finding things to do different and use the advantage of the fact that we have a movie and not a primetime television show, so that we could go to more intense dark places than they could in 1990, just because we’re an [US] R rated film.
David Katzenberg: Stephen King was involved and we would check in with him occasionally. We sent him Bill’s [Skarsgard] audition tape. We sent him scripts as we went along. He recently watched the movie.
SGS: He was nice enough to say publicly and tweet out something nice about Andy [Muschietti, director], and say that the producers have got it right and that they had done an amazing job. He’s so excited for fans to see this movie because he feels it’s been done right.
That’s the best compliment you could ever get.
DK: Along the whole process, it was so important to us to keep the integrity of who Stephen King is and what the book is. So for us to get his stamp of approval plus being massive fans of him in the genre as well, it means a lot.
SGS: That was the only thing that could have gone horribly wrong, for me. Our feeling from the beginning was always that this had to be more than a horror movie. This is one of his most beloved books, and probably his most iconic character that he ever created. So, as a fan of that you feel a massive responsibility to go above and beyond the usual. Every film is hard and every film you try your best, but not every film carries with it the weight, the responsibility that you feel when you’re dealing with something that is so beloved. And I think everyone, Andy most of all, took that very seriously. We set out to make a film that could last, that could stand the test of time, and wouldn’t just be an entertainment to be forgotten quickly. And that was very hard to do, but I think Andy pulled it off.
It’s open to continuation. Is that in the works? Or are you waiting to see how the movie does?
SGS: We’re not wasting any time. We’re working on the very early stages of the second movie, but the plan has always been to do it as two movies. In the miniseries, obviously, as in the book, it goes back and forth between the adults in the present and when they were kids and they jump back and forth. Very early on, we decided we needed to do this as two movies. Either you’re going to have a four-hour movie or to properly tell the story of these characters, to get to know these kids, you can’t be jumping back and forth, and you certainly can’t squeeze these two stories into one film and have it be satisfying. So, we always planned to do the summer of ‘89 and then present day with the loser’s club as 40-year-olds.
How does it feel that you are going to be a part of something that’s going to mark a generation? Like you’re going to give kids nightmares, you’re going to be a part of something huge.
SGS: Well I think for Bill, people are going to understand very quickly that he’s an amazing actor. When they see that this man sitting before you is actually behind that performance, I think people are going to be amazed, honestly, I do. It’s going to be big. I don’t think Bill will return my calls in a couple of years, he’s going to be too famous.
Back to the essence of this character, Stephen King presents his as an amalgamation, kind of a sum of all the fears and phobias of the children. What’s your take? Is he real? There’s a mystery around this Pennywise.
SGS: Well he’s certainly real, because, you know, he drags children to their deaths… but in the book, well you could speak to it. He’s an amorphous evil shape shifter.
Talking about Pennywise, he uses what the kids fear the most to scare them. If you saw him right now, what would he scare you with?
SGS: Poor box office? (Laughs) Just being honest.
DK: I’m a new dad, so for me, my whole life right now is taking care of my baby. Literally, every noise, everything, all I care about is keeping this child happy. Which relates kind of to your fear of being a dad I think.
SGS: When you become a parent there’s an existential threat that never leaves that there’s something that lives outside of our body that is connected to you that could be harmed and that certainly shows up in Stephen King’s work a lot.
IT is in cinemas September 7, 2017.