Has it happened yet?
The It backlash?
I’ve found that each year, the post-success backlash leash gets shorter and shorter. So has it happened yet for It?
I don’t know about you folks. But I think this movie is great. It’s the kind of movie that reminds you of why we go to the movies. Not just to see a bunch of pretty pixels clash, but to meet people, get to know people, have an experience with them, see them overcome things.
I love this message that we’re stronger together than we are apart. As I’ve told you guys before, I believe the best themes are the most universal. “It” proves that.
So all you haterz? Just stop.
Now that we’ve got that out of the way, let’s talk script changes. “It” endured a long development process that saw writers and directors come and go. At one point True Detective director Cary Fukunaga was going to helm the project, and that’s what got the world excited in the first place. The guy who did that fucked up show was in charge of Stephen King’s most fucked up story? Sign me up!
But things got delayed, schedules got screwed up, and away Cary went. So one of the big questions has been, what was Fukunaga planning to do with the property? What was his (and co-writer Chase Palmer’s) script like? Lucky for you guys, I’ve read it. And I’m going to give you the lowdown.
Since this is a screenwriting site, I’m going to focus on the screenwriting changes. And to that I’ll say this: The script didn’t change that much. However, there are a lot of little screenwriting changes that are relevant to geeks like you and me. Are you ready to check them out? Good. Jump on my homemade raft. Don’t worry. You’ll float too.
The first big change I noticed happened in the first scene of Georgie making a paper boat with his brother, floating it down the street, and getting eaten by Pennywise in the gutter. In this early draft, the conversation between Georgie and Pennywise takes only a SINGLE PAGE – just one page of dialogue – before Pennywise kills him.
Gary Dauberman extended that scene waaaaay longer. The onscreen conversation goes on for 3-4 minutes. And that was a much better choice. Whenever you have a great scene setup with a potential dangerous outcome, that’s screenplay gold right there. Those are the situations we wish we could have in every scene. So when you have that, you milk it for as long as possible. And that’s what Dauberman did. And the scene was all the better for it.
The next change I noticed was Stan’s first scare scene. Stan is the young Jewish kid getting ready for his first Bar Mitzvah. He’s going to finally “become a man.” In the movie, his scary scene occurs when he goes into his dad’s library and the weird warped painting dude comes out of the picture and stalks him.
In Fukunaga and Palmer’s draft, Stan goes to the bathroom, and an eerie beautiful naked woman rises from the toilet next to him, asking if he’s ready to become a man. Her lower half still blocked, she tempts Stan with seeing more of her, finally rising up to show that her entire lower half is decrepit and rotting.
This was an interesting dilemma, which of these two scenes to go with, because Fukunaga and Palmer’s scene is more character-based. The woman represents the other side of Stan’s impending manhood. It plays to his eventual transformation. But the painting scene, while having zero thematic connection to anything in the movie, is just scarier.
As screenwriters, we face this dilemma all the time. Do we go with the more entertaining choice or the more relevant choice? It’s never an easy answer and you have to weigh both sides carefully and make the decision you think is best for the script. They probably made the best choice to go with the painting scene.
Next up was the absence, in this early draft, of the New Kids on the Block inside jokes between Beverly and Ben. These jokes played interestingly in my theater and I’m not sure what audiences thought of them as a whole, but here’s why I think Dauberman’s choice to include Donny, Joey, and Marky Mark wins again. In order to convey a bond between characters, you need specificity. You need something beyond “I like you and you like me.” The specificity of that New Kids connection made Beverly and Ben’s friendship more real.
Another change in this draft actually addresses a complaint I brought up in my review of the film. It was there that I questioned if Ben would really follow a trail of spooky flaming eggs into the basement. The point of the scene was to set up the tragedy in Derry 30 years earlier during the Easter Day parade that killed 100 people in a factory fire.
In Fukunaga and Palmer’s draft, this scene doesn’t happen. Instead, the famous fire is set up via the bully character, Henry Bowers. Bowers, after searching for Ben, ends up at the old factory, where he and his cronies search around. They start seeing scary ass shit, including Pennywise.
The reason I think this scene was cut was because we had a ton of main characters to cover. This is the issue you run into whenever you write ensemble scripts (“protagonist as a group”). You have to build depth into each and every character, which takes time. They probably decided that giving a full 5 minutes to the bully character wasn’t time well spent. That as much time as possible should be dedicated to the core group of boys. And so Henry’s factory scene was cut and the Easter spooky scene was shifted over to Ben. Even though it didn’t make sense!
A problem in both drafts seems to be Mike Hanlon (the lone black kid in the group). He has so little to do in the movie that you’re surprised when he actually says anything at all. He gets a little more time here, but not much.
There’s a scene where Mike’s dad tells him about his past and we flash back and we see the KKK and his dad says he saw Pennywise. But obviously none of it made it into the movie. Usually when you’re cutting scenes like that, it’s because you don’t have any confidence in the character.
But there may be a bigger reason, one that more recent readers of It can correct me on if I’m wrong. I seem to remember some HARDCORE exploration of racism in the book. King wrote this back in the 80s, when racism was more rampant. And that sort of defined Mike’s character. I don’t believe today’s audiences wanted to go that deep and the writers recognized that. Which, unfortunately, didn’t leave much for Mike to do but shoot sheep.
Another scene in Fukunaga and Palmer’s script has the kids going to the fireworks show together. Scenes like this are important in group friendship movies because they help solidify the bond in the audience’s eyes. As a writer, you can’t just assume the audience will buy the friendship. You have to SHOW it. However, the scene was erased and I’m guessing it’s because they felt the naked swimming scene was so strong and did such a good job of selling the bonding of these kids that they didn’t need an extra scene to do it.
Aspiring screenwriters everywhere: This is what big time screenwriters get paid for. The people who can do in one scene what it takes others to do in two or three or four – they’re the ones who are going to get the job. Screenwriting is about efficiency. So you have to be able to do a lot inside little spurts of time.
Another big change is how the kids end up in the Neibolt Street haunted house. In the film, they CHOOSE to go in there. In Fukunaga and Palmer’s draft, they get backed in there by Henry Bowers and his goons.
This is the most interesting “It” draft-war debate, in my opinion. Motivating characters to willingly walk towards danger is always tough. So Fukunaga and Palmer made the smart choice of forcing the characters into a place they didn’t want to be in.
On the surface, this seems like the better choice. In the movie, when the kids are in the house, you’re constantly asking, “What are they doing here??” It didn’t make a whole lot of sense.
But I can understand Dauberman’s reasoning for doing so. It makes the characters a lot more active if they CHOOSE to enter the house. It makes them braver. Dauberman just needed a reason to get them there, so he came up with this whole plotline where all the sewers lined up under the house and, therefore, that’s the most likely place Bill’s missing brother Georgie would be.
In the end, I’m not sure which was the better choice. I like the characters willingly going to and having a purpose to be in the house. But had they been pushed into the house, you wouldn’t have had the problem you had in the movie, which was the characters standing around waiting to be scared. They would’ve been trying to escape the bully and move through the house more quickly.
There were other changes here and there. There’s a flashback 1800s Pennywise Old West scene. There’s more bully stuff. But both scripts are working off the same source material so the stories never stray too far from one another. It’s always interesting, though, observing the different choices a writer makes, what they think is important and unimportant.
I was watching some promotional material for the upcoming “Disaster Artist,” James Franco’s adaptation of the making of the worst movie ever made, The Room. Franco asks the weirdo real-life star of the infamous film, Tommy Wiseau, what part of James’s movie Tommy liked best. Tommy replied, “The way the pool was lit.” Franco laughed, because the pool was like 3 seconds of the entire movie and didn’t have anything to do with anything. It’s an extreme example of how every artist prioritizes things differently.
But in the case of “It,” I honestly don’t think any of these changes mattered. It would’ve been a good movie either way. The source material was too damn strong.