After an unprecedented viral response to its creepy first trailer, the New Line horror film It continues to build out-sized tracking numbers that have some whispering the film could exceed a $70 million and even hit $80 million when it opens September 8. The film is directed by Andres (Andy) Muschietti, with his partner and sister Barbara producing alongside Roy Lee, Dan Lin, Seth Grahame-Smith and David Katzenberg. This is only the pair’s second Hollywood feature after their $15 million debut ghost story Mama grossed $145 million worldwide after exec producer Guillermo del Toro saw the concept in a short scene filmed by the duo and encouraged them to turn it into a feature.
An adaptation of the 1986 Stephen King bestseller about a clown that terrorizes and kills children in the town of Derry for short bursts and returns every 27 years, It was previously turned into a miniseries best remembered for Tim Curry’s creepy murderous leering circus clown. Those big red shoes have been capably filled by Bill Skarsgard, and the film’s heart, the bond between seven pre-teenagers known as The Losers (Jaeden Lieberher, Finn Wolfhard, Sophia Lillis, Jack Dylan Grazer, Wyatt Oleff, Jeremy Ray Taylor and Chosen Jacobs) gives It a vibe that feels like one part Stranger Things and one part Stand By Me (which was based on a King novella). This despite a well-deserved R rating for scares and violence, including a shocking opening scene.
Here, this emerging star filmmaking team tells Deadline how making King movies was destiny for them and why clowns can be so damn scary.
DEADLINE: The It trailer went viral and received nearly 200 million views in the first day, the most ever for a movie. Whether it’s fear of clowns, or affection for a 31-year-old Stephen King novel, why did audiences respond so strongly, in a way that few new films resonate?
ANDY MUSCHIETTI: Well, the trailer made a splash because it is very horror-driven. But when you see the movie, you will encounter a story that is not only that, but is very much a character-driven drama about the bond between these kids, The Losers, and their emotional journey and all that that implies. That includes humor. That is what you don’t see in that trailer.
BARBARA MUSCHIETTI: I think the reason people responded so strongly when it went viral and had so many hits is because they wanted to share the pain, or the fear, that is magnified by their own experiences. Then, you get to be the first one that tells your friends about what they’re about to experience, and it becomes this collective experience, which is what we’re all trying to achieve in this world of disconnection.
DEADLINE: This became an opportunity for you when Cary Fukunaga stepped away over creative disagreements. Word was that he wanted to keep some version of the scene in the King book where these kids engaged in an act that pushed the boundaries of sexual content. It is hard to imagine a wide studio release featuring such a thing, but can you explain how you dealt with this as a creative decision?
BARBARA MUSCHIETTI: To be completely honest, I think there is a bit of misconception there. When we got the material we inherited from Cary, those scenes were not there. There is a bit of clout about that being a reason he left and I don’t think that was it, but clearly, when we boarded and Andy took over, those parts of the book were really not things we felt we needed in the story. It wasn’t a question of censoring it. The studio never said no, stay away from this. It just wasn’t a natural way into the story.
ANDY MUSCHIETTI: I wasn’t interested in that part. My emotional experience with the book did not regard that scene at all, and I think in general it’s an unnecessary metaphor at the end of the story of a rite of passage. That actually was talked about during the whole story, but it was a bit unnecessary. It’s great in the book. I love Stephen King’s style, his way of shocking people with those tonal swings and unexpected intensity, but I think while it was jarring in the book, it wasn’t necessary in the movie adaptation. For me it was about engaging the audience from an emotional point of view with the characters.
That passage from childhood to adulthood is happening all the time in the story, which in its entirety is a parable of the horror of leaving childhood behind. Basically, it is the death of childhood, and that’s why it is not a coincidence that Pennywise calls himself the eater of worlds. It’s not an eater of worlds in regard to planets, or at least I never thought of it that way. What he’s eating is faith and imagination and the ability to fantasize about things that don’t exist, that are part of the magic of childhood, and yeah, I think the group scene was a bit of unnecessary broad metaphor of that rite of passage.
DEADLINE: You instead see them making a blood pact to fight this clown if he comes back. Perhaps that was enough of a bond between these kids?
ANDY MUSCHIETTI: Yeah, and it’s very sad, too. It’s a bittersweet moment because if you read the book, you know that that blood oath moment is the last time that all of The Losers will be together, the seven of them. And even though they don’t know it, the tone of that scene, how it’s shot and how the music underlines it, that tells you about it in a subliminal way because they all say goodbye to each other and there’s something there that’s telling you this is the end of something. It is the end of childhood.
DEADLINE: What kind of influence was Stephen King’s novels to two young wannabe genre filmmakers in Argentina?
ANDY MUSCHIETTI: We grew up reading Stephen King. We were fans of horror at very early age; we were exposed to horror movies very early in life so there was this addiction we carried very early, and then came Stephen King. We’re very big fans of his. He’s my literary hero. It all started with Pet Sematary but then It came along and for me, it was a mind-blowing experience. My first reaction, when offered the opportunity to direct this movie, was basically to go back to my emotional experience reading the book when I was a child, and translating that into a movie that would blow my mind as an adult. Those were the big ideas when approaching the making of this movie.
DEADLINE: When you were kids soaking up horror in Argentina, what movies scared the daylights out of you?
BARBARA MUSCHIETTI: Our parents used to take us to the drive-in, a lot. It was a good way for them to save the money for a babysitter. We’d sit in the back. Sometimes we’d pretend to be asleep. But we’d just watch these films. I remember one of the films that scared the bejesus out of Andy in particular was Close Encounters. That is not traditionally a horror film…
ANDY MUSCHIETTI: It scared the sh*t out of me. It was a seminal experience, both an introduction to the magic of movies but also to the horror of movies. I lived that movie with so much excitement. And at the end, when the alien queen comes out of the spaceship, I was f*cking terrified. I was maybe 5. That’s where the addiction started. And then, every Saturday night as a family activity, we would stand in front of the TV and watch horror movies. Probably the other big shocking experience was that day we saw Manster. It’s an old black-and-white movie about this actor who turns into a monster. The image that still haunts me till this day, is the guy is looking at himself in the mirror, and finding that he has an eye on his shoulder.
BARBARA MUSCHIETTI: Also Dr. Phibes. They would show that Vincent Price movie on TV in Argentina, and we watched on our little black-and-white Noblex TV. Also, there were a couple of old Spanish anthologies that were terrifying we grew up with. One day we’d like to remake those.
DEADLINE: I had the drive-in on my mind as I wrote Tobe Hooper’s obit. That’s where I saw his Texas Chain Saw Massacre as a teen. It was the scariest way to see it, at the drive-in. I’ll never forget the feeling.
ANDY MUSCHIETTI: There was something very special about that feeling, the emotion of being there inside the car, with those iron cast speakers on the window, and the food inside at the concession stand, the whole thing.
BARBARA MUSCHIETTI: And you were freer to move, and you can see other people, in other cars, and their reactions. At the same time, you’re very vulnerable because anybody could come at you with a chain saw, basically.
DEADLINE: It’s a great memory, but I stopped mourning the extinction of drive-ins once I had a couple of daughters.
BARBARA MUSCHIETTI: And there, too, all great things happen at the drive-in!
DEADLINE: Not on my watch. When you took on It, had Will Poulter dropped out as Pennywise?
ANDY MUSCHIETTI: No. He hadn’t dropped. I had a conversation with Will in which he, you know…
BARBARA MUSCHIETTI: Actually, let me interrupt. There was no more cast when we jumped in. We basically started from scratch but…
ANDY MUSCHIETTI: But I was very, very intrigued by the prospect of working with Will, I always thought that he would be an amazing Pennywise. We talked a little bit about it, the idea of making the movie even though that Cary wasn’t there. Will basically expressed a feeling that he had slowly disengaged from playing that character, that was so dark and terrifying. It was a personal decision I respected, but I was eager and willing to find my own Pennywise and that’s what we did.
DEADLINE: Bill Skarsgard’s clown is certainly terrifying, as was his opinion that his version of the clown started with charm to draw in child victims, followed by fear to season the flesh. What was the balance you sought in balancing those elements in the clown, and when did you know you’d gotten it just right?
ANDY MUSCHIETTI: I wanted to reach a balance between a character that is a trickster and a monster. The sole fact that he incarnates a clown is terrifying because it’s like bait. And there is nothing worse; it’s not an honest approach in killing someone. He is tricking someone into something horrible, and I wanted to convey that. It was why in part that I wanted to work with Bill. He has that balance. He can be sweet and cute and good looking. But in the turn of a wink, he can do something, a gesture that gives an unsettling feeling. The character is very childlike, too. He has the buckteeth. That’s what I wanted to convey, that balance between a sweet and cute creature, with something very dark behind it.
BARBARA MUSCHIETTI: Like Bill [laughs].
DEADLINE: Given how formative Stephen King was to you, I’m sure the first thing you wanted to do when you got this job was race to Bangor, Maine. Describe the interaction with him.
ANDY MUSCHIETTI: Well, yeah, the first thing I wanted to do was go to Bangor and bang on his door.
BARBARA MUSCHIETTI: We did that, actually. We didn’t bang on the door but we went to Bangor.
ANDY MUSCHIETTI: We took a research trip to Bangor before shooting the movie. The town of Derry is based on and it was amazing to see. It was winter and everything was snowed over. Stephen King was always in my mind when doing this because he’s like sort of God for me. So not disappointing him was a big motivation. On the other hand, the only way for me to make this movie was to look inside and stare at my own emotional connection with the book. You need to find your vision and remake the story guided by your emotional observation of things. Stephen King was always on my mind, but he didn’t interfere during production. In fact, I only met him at the end of the movie, and not personally. When we finished, he asked to see a copy and we sent him one and he saw it in a movie theater in Florida.
DEADLINE: That is pressure.
ANDY MUSCHIETTI: I sent him a handwritten letter, asking for forgiveness, for all the creative license I had taken. He saw the movie and his reaction was immediate. He wrote me an email expressing how much he had liked it and that I shouldn’t worry because all the changes were approved.
BARBARA MUSCHIETTI: Even though we didn’t get to sit down with him and have a chat about the film, he is a huge part of why Andy is the type of director he is. Definitely a huge chunk of what I am as a producer and the material I am drawn to. You can see Andy’s films are so influenced by Stephen King literature in tone, and how deep the emotions run with the characters.
DEADLINE: From what he has told Deadline, he doesn’t want cinematic stenographers and to be looking over their shoulders. He options his work for a buck, has that approvals system in place and understands the difference between a novel and a movie adaptation, and only gets involved if things go off course. Was there anything he objected to or asked be nuanced or changed?
ANDY MUSCHIETTI: You know what? He didn’t say anything except for when [an unsavory character] is bashed over the head and goes to the ground. [Stephen] said, “I’m not sure if he’s dead or alive,” and that’s all he said. We were still working on the cut in sound editing, so we basically added a groan.
DEADLINE: You must realize you are doing for the clown industry what the Dustin Hoffman movie Marathon Man did for dentistry.
ANDY MUSCHIETTI: Is it safe? Is it safe?
DEADLINE: The better question is, will it be safe if you walk around in white makeup and big red shoes?
BARBARA MUSCHIETTI: Is it going to be safe for us and clowns basically? That’s the issue.
ANDY MUSCHIETTI: I really didn’t want to expand the negative vision of clowns because clowns are not intrinsically scary. In fact, this monster becomes a clown because it’s supposed to be happy and a magnetic figure for children and adults. It’s all about happiness. Of course, we sense some pullback.
BARBARA MUSCHIETTI: Pushback?
ANDY MUSCHIETTI: Pushback from the clown community that was offended and then personally I got a message from a clown that he was sad. He was saying basically it’s getting hard to go out with all this It-mania. I said, man, I really don’t want to establish that image and I will do my best to say to make this clear in press and promotion, and I explained what clowns are to me. I don’t have a negative perception of clowns. I enjoyed clowns when I was a kid going to the circus. Mainly I mean the good clowns, when you go to a circus. When you go with the cheap costumes, the birthday party clowns and you know they do their best but children are so perceptive. When they see a guy with bad or runny makeup and a sh*tty costume, that’s when you start perceiving something is not right. I think the fear of clowns comes from that kind of clown.
DEADLINE: After Jaws came out and everyone was terrified of sharks, I recall author Peter Benchley publicly proclaiming sharks were necessary, and they weren’t all trying to eat swimmers. Is it fair to interpret that what you are saying is, clowns are our friends?
BARBARA MUSCHIETTI: Well…that clowns can be our friends.
DEADLINE: Sophia Lillis plays the one girl in The Losers, Beverly, and now that you will tackle a sequel that brings the groups back to battle the clown as adults, she looks a lot like Amy Adams, or Jessica Chastain, latter of whom starred in your first film, Mama. I’d heard that you either planned to, or actually shot a coda for the end of the movie where Chastain is shown getting the message that Pennywise has returned, 27 years later. I didn’t see that in my movie. What happened?
BARBARA MUSCHIETTI: Nothing happened. You know, we wanted to keep surprises for the second part, that may never happen, but God knows we really want to do it. So you know nothing happened and I mean I was going to, you know, have to…I can’t bite my tongue about this. We would love for Jess to play her. I think one of the first things that we noticed when we saw Sophia come into the room was, my gosh, you look like her. It’s a strange kind of connection but we will see. We will see.
DEADLINE: Warner Bros courted you for Justice League Dark when Doug Liman dropped out, and there are other offers including Robotech at Sony. It looks like a big hit for sister studio New Line. How are the two of you dealing with a sequel that now looks inevitable?
ANDY MUSCHIETTI: Well, my priority is always the second half of It because, whether it’s a reality or not, I have to complete this and everybody around us seems to agree. There’s a lot of enthusiasm. In my case, it’s beyond commercial reasons. I just feel it wouldn’t be right to not give a complete story with the second half or chapter two or whatever you want to call it because a continuation gives closure to the story. I’m very excited about doing it and it’s my priority right now. I’m not going to do…
BARBARA MUSCHIETTI: We all want to do It, all of us collectively are working toward that.
DEADLINE: You mentioned your love for Pet Sematary; is that another King book you’ll turn into a movie?
ANDY MUSCHIETTI: Pet Sematary is one of my favorite books of Stephen King and I have a deep love relationship with it. I love the movie Mary Lambert made back in the day, but I think there is margin to make another version that is even cooler. But nothing is confirmed yet.
DEADLINE: It is always intriguing to look at young filmmakers who make the quick jump to stardom. Your ticket was the short film Mama, really a single scene that was so disturbing. Can you describe the trajectory from when you put it online to when it became a feature film?
BARBARA MUSCHIETTI: At the risk of aging us a bit, this was slightly before you put those things online. Guillermo del Toro saw at a film festival and that’s how the short got to him. He gave us a call and he was the best. He said, look, you guys are in Spain. We can make this feature for a million and a half in Spain, or you will make it for 20 million in the U.S. If you make it for a million in Spain, someone will do the remake for a lot of money and it will piss you off. I recommend let’s do it together in English. So we did that.
DEADLINE: What it’s like to get a call like that from Guillermo del Toro? Andy, you are very meticulous about drawing storyboards, and you drew the sketches seen in the Mama feature. Guillermo is extremely gifted in that regard and like you he came from outside Hollywood, in his case, Mexico. He has two homes that are museums to scary movies, where he cocoons himself to create his movies.
ANDY MUSCHIETTI: Oh, I went to Bleak House! His attention was caught by the short but when we met we discovered something else that connected us. The passion to tell macabre stories and to communicate through design, and sketches, and that was an extra layer of bonding. We became kindred spirits. Working with a guy I admired a lot was good but this was more because he understood me. He does the same thing. He designs everything in advance. All the visions come in your head, but then you can draw them and show them to people so they can understand better what you are going to do.
DEADLINE: Did you have a movie in mind when you put that scene into a short film?
ANDY MUSCHIETTI: With Mama, the short film, that was a rough idea. There wasn’t a fully fleshed story behind it. It was a cool sequence. I woke up one morning with it and thought, oh, this is going to be cool. But it didn’t have any context. We were writing another script, another ghost story, and we decided to use Mama as the visual supporting moment. The intrigue, the question mark in the short film, was stronger than any other story, and we decided to expand it into a full story.
DEADLINE: So you didn’t have the movie scripted, and were using that scene as a calling card to raise the budget?
ANDY MUSCHIETTI: No, it was an exercise, and it was supporting a different script. I wanted to make a statement of style, more than anything, more than storytelling.
BARBARA MUSCHIETTI: We had no answers for the questions we were posing in the short. We didn’t know it would end like that. Andy had that idea in his head, this exercise in style as he calls it, and we were shooting a commercial in a house. We said, this is a perfect house to shoot the short. I talked to the owner and asked if we could borrow it to do the short. She said yes, but we are tearing down the house in exactly three weeks. So you better do it in the next three weeks. And we did.
Editors note: This interview originally published August 31, 2017.