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Interview : Andrés and Barbara Muschietti – IT

To some of us, the idea of working so closely with family members would be its own special kind of hell, but brother and sister team Andrés and Barbara Muschietti have made a horror movie powerhouse duo that’s set to conquer Hollywood.

After their smash hit with 2013’s “Mama”, shepherded to screens by Guillermo Del Toro, the Argentine producer and director were handed the reins to one of the most anticipated horror remakes around, the adaptation of Stephen King’s It.

After a long development process with “True Detective” wunderkind Cary Fukunaga before he left the project, director Andrés and producer Barbara came on board the tale of a gang of kids who face a supernatural entity in smalltown New England, and Hollywood is already betting big on their talents.

They’re attached to “The Jaunt” (another King adaptation), the movie version of hit game “Shadow of the Colossus”, and the big screen outing of cult 80s TV cartoon series “Robotech”.

But before the Muschiettis inherit the keys to Hollywood, they sat down to talk to Moviehole.net in LA about getting notes from Stephen King, why so many adaptations of his work suck so hard and why South American directors are conquering the horror genre.

How long was the production?

Barbara:

12 weeks.

Did you get good feedback from test screenings?

Barbara:

Amazing feedback.

Andrés:

Yeah. I was a bit concerned about showing the movie without it being finished, but the studio had their process and they test movies early on. It was a good journey because feedback from people really helps, even though they are tiny things, you start taking the polls about what the movie means to a fresh audience.

Barbara:

It’s a blank screening, people don’t know what they’re coming to see but most of them had actually seen the teaser. The teaser is very much a horror film teaser and the film is a lot wider than that.

The reaction to the teaser was pretty huge.

Andrés:

Yeah it really exploded. There were some expectations because of all that but we didn’t see something that big coming.

So you intend for it to be a different film from what we all saw in the teaser?

Andrés:

It’s not different. The teaser is just the horror aspect of the movie and the movie has more flavors, more drama, especially the story.

Barbara:

Well, you laugh because the kids are hilarious. And then we get into Beverly, who has a really bad situation at home.

Andrés:

Yeah, there’s a really emotional build to the group. It’s not just horror, it’s a beautiful story of friendship and loss and love, and there’s a lot of different emotions happening. We all know the story so we know about all the big movements, the love triangle, the struggle to stay alive not only from the threat of the monster but also from the families. There’s all kinds of abuse and neglect, it’s a full drama.

It’s such a big book, in a movie a little over two hours what did you have to drop or change?

Andrés:

Well, it’s a very long book but there’s also a lot of lengthy descriptions so it’s fairly simple to detect the big emotional tempos in the story. In that sense it’s not an impossible task to condense the story into a two hour movie – half of the book in a two hour movie.

There are some ways where you’re so attached to the details and every single character and every single event, it’s painful to not be able to put all the warmth and feeling in a two hour movie. But that’s the rules of the game.

Barbara:

Even from what we shot, we had to drop about an hour.

So there could be a three hour cut for the DVD?

Barbara:

Well, two and a half I’d say.

Andrés:

For people that are interested in the movie there are deleted scenes that are very cool. They’re not the kind of scenes that move the story forward by default, and that’s why they’ve been left out, because we had to condense the movie. But you can see the movie and there’s nothing missing.

Barbara:

They’re missing for us. It’s painful.

Do you necessarily have to come to a remake of “It” forgetting the miniseries exists?

Andrés:

To be honest I wasn’t a big fan. I was not a child anymore when it came out in 1990, so my attachment was very much to the book and to the world of Stephen King more than the movie and I totally hadn’t acknowledged how iconic that miniseries was for a generation.

But also you have to say that it impacted that generation because they saw it as a TV movie or on VHS, it was seen by very young eyes. A lot of people don’t remember the whole thing but they’re terrified of the iconic scenes like the clown behind the sheets. Many people didn’t buy in to the spider. Many people hate the spider.

But in my gaze it was a love for Stephen King and his original work, and the approach to the movie was an exercise of staying true to the emotional experience I had reading it. Even though the transfer to a film is such a different thing the emotional attachment was something I wanted to preserve. And then, of course, making a movie that I would enjoy as an adult. So that was the balancing.

The cinematography looks like that of “Stand By Me” or some of Dean Cundey’s work for John Carpenter. A lot of people loved “Stranger Things” because it’s a pastiche of the “Amblin'” movies of the eighties and “It” looks like one of those films.

Andrés:

I grew up in the eighties and there’s something undeniable in the imprint that all the movies marked your self, psyche or whatever you want to call it. And it’s something that’s inside, I didn’t intentionally want it to look like a movie from the eighties. The movies from the eighties with these kind of events, situations, with kids and stuff – they just look like that to me.

The eighties are movie mythology to us now – and that mythology in the eighties was the fifties, so there’s a lot of influence to play with.

Andrés:

Exactly. That was also our approach to the project and my experience. The book is very universal emotionally, but specific events are very much related to experiences of someone who grew up in the fifties. Especially the incarnations of fear, they’re mainly monsters of popular culture and movies [from the time] like the “Wolf Man”, “Frankenstein”, “The Mummy”, “Creature From the Black Lagoon”.

You can see the imprint those had in Stephen King when he was growing up in the fifties. I grew up in the eighties so I have other fears, but there wasn’t a decision to collect the fears from cinema in this case. The fears that are involved – incarnations of It – are more personal and layered, and weirder than what you would expect, some of which I am scared of, or I was scared of as a child.

Such as?

Andrés:

Well, Stanley Uris is afraid of something, I can’t tell you what it is yet but it’s a very specific thing, the coming alive of something he’s scared of. It’s something that scared the shit out of me when I was growing up.

Barbara:

It scared King, too.

Andrés:

Yeah, when Stephen King saw the movie we started exchanging emails and he said, ‘By the way, I love the Uris scare’.

So he’s seen the completed film?

Barbara:

Not the finished version but we call it ‘The King Cut’.

Can you share any his comments on what he saw?

Andrés:

He loved it, he said he was very moved. He said, very publicly, that it exceeded his expectations.

Barbara:

He tweeted that.

As well as the casting and the time period there was a musical cue in the footage that reminds you of “Stranger Things”. Was it hard not to be influenced by how huge that show was?

Andrés:

No, I hadn’t seen “Stranger Things” at all. We were shooting while “Stranger Things” came out. Finn Wolfhard, who plays Mike on “Stranger Things”, plays Richie Tozier. When we started shooting he had 300 followers, and he went up to a million in a matter of weeks.

I had no idea what “Stranger Things” was until mid-production. We were shooting and suddenly people started comparing them and saying, ‘oh, this is gonna be like “Stranger Things”,’ But I refused to watch “Stranger Things” until I was done with “It”.

But it was positive because you feel like even newer generations were still appreciating that recreation of what the eighties were. It happened before – when “Super 8” came out, it was very like that, reinvigorating the “Amblin'” spirit.

Ironically we think of the eighties as a more innocent time, but a hallmark of those movies was kids in peril, which is a much more hot button issue today.

Barbara:

Of course, that’s the thing. It’s so nice to see that. Especially in It when it’s quite brutal, the things Stephen King put them through and which we put them through again. But it works, and this is one thing I’ll give to “Stranger Things”, you’re left with a good feeling of hope and nostalgia.

Any themes “It” will have in common with “Mama”?

Andrés:

The idea behind “Mama” is that it’s about imprint. I was very fixated by that weird process where little kids can look up to a monster as if it were their mother.

Guillermo Del Toro’s work is always very much about horror serving as a metaphor, and he produced “Mama”. Did you let any influence of his find its way into “It”, even subconsciously?

Andrés:

His influence on me as an artist was more rational then visceral. I think there’s previous filmmakers or writers that had a bigger imprint.

Such as?

Andrés:

Stephen King is obviously one of them, Clive Barker very much. John Carpenter, “The Thing” is one of my favorite movies. Some of them are more fringy, like Joe Danté. “The Howling” was one of my favorite movies ever. Probably “Near Dark”, even though Kathryn Bigelow didn’t became a horror filmmaker.

Is there something cultural that makes South Americans so great at horror films? You did so great with “Mama” as did Fede Álvarez with “Don’t Breathe”.

Andrés:

I think it has to do with you growing up, you’re collecting, viewing, experiences not only from American cinema but also from European and South America itself, South American literature too. It’s pretty twisted. You have Borges and you have Quiroga and they’re great.

Quiroga is actually Uruguayan but he delivered an amazing range of stories that dealt with horrific subjects but mainly man versus nature and the psychological warping of a man that is left alone, struggling with the elements. A lot of his work deals with that.

Barbara:

There’s another element that made us get into this and influenced a lot of people in the region – on Saturday nights we used to have the best horror anthology show on TV, hosted by this Spanish actor, a golden age of horror star like a Vincent Price figure.

He used to get made up and he’d host this show in Argentina. It didn’t only have mainstream American movies but there was the Hammer Collection and sometimes they would show crazy-ass Spanish television horror.

So you saw all the old Mario Bava and Lucio Fulci stuff?

Andrés:

Of course, giallo, that was all my experience.

Do you have a fear of clowns?

Andrés:

No, I was never afraid. I wasn’t very friendly with clowns, there was always something off about clowns, especially the clowns in South American circuses. They’re not the happiest of clowns. Everything is sort of worn down and yellowish.

Plus if you go to a circus and watch the clown act, they’re always beating each other. I’m going to get killed by the clown union now but it’s not smart humor. But I was never afraid of them. I’m more afraid of the fact that there’s a monster that becomes your worst fear, that’s the thing I got from It. It could be anything.

Including the adults.

Andrés:

Yeah. All the adults in the story are some sort of oppressor because of abuse or neglect or overprotection or general creepiness.

It’s no secret that most Stephen King adaptations frankly suck. What do you think is the secret sauce that makes the good ones and how did you try to capture it?

Andrés:

There’s good stories and not so good stories, and I think budget is probably one of the reasons of the elements that make good adaptations. But it’s a matter of love, how much you love the work as a filmmaker, and that’s obvious, I think.

Barbara:

I think my favorite ones are the ones where the film is the exploration of the characters, so you have Misery and The Shining, Stand By Me of course, where the fear and the scares are an element of what’s going on but you’re going into a mind, and that’s what’s more fascinating.

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