One of the few constants in show business is change. Projects change hands, actors are recast, and often scripts will go through numerous revisions and adaptations before settling on a final version. Hollywood is littered with abandoned projects and retooled scripts. One of the most recent cases of this is New Line Cinema's remake of the Stephen King classic It, which director Cary Fukunaga (True Detective) exited over creative differences.
Fukunaga, who was hired to write and direct the two-part film already has some impressive titles under his belt, having directed the moody Jane Eyre and all of True Detective season 1. There has been plenty of speculation over his decision to leave the project, and now he's shed some light on the differences that made him abandon the project he spent so much time working on.
In an interview with Variety, while promoting his latest project, the Netflix original film Beasts of No Nation Fukunaga spoke about some of the creative differences he had with the studio, which had little to do with money and everything to do with the characters:
"I was trying to make an unconventional horror film. It didn’t fit into the algorithm of what they knew they could spend and make money back on based on not offending their standard genre audience. Our budget was perfectly fine. We were always hovering at the $32 million mark, which was their budget. It was the creative that we were really battling. It was two movies. They didn’t care about that. In the first movie, what I was trying to do was an elevated horror film with actual characters. They didn’t want any characters. They wanted archetypes and scares. I wrote the script. They wanted me to make a much more inoffensive, conventional script. But I don’t think you can do proper Stephen King and make it inoffensive."
Fukunaga was clearly focused on the plot and character development, which is a far cry from the surprise twists, and focus on things that go bump in the night, which are staples of horror movies these days.
"The main difference was making Pennywise more than just the clown. After 30 years of villains that could read the emotional minds of characters and scare them, trying to find really sadistic and intelligent ways he scares children, and also the children had real lives prior to being scared. And all that character work takes time. It’s a slow build, but it’s worth it, especially by the second film. But definitely even in the first film, it pays off."
It sounds like the whole thing can be boiled down to studio micromanaging, and New Line executives not trusting Fukunaga to make the movie they wanted. Apparently budget, location, or arguments about how many movies there should be never entered into the dissolution of their partnership, as had been rumored.
"It was being rejected. Every little thing was being rejected and asked for changes. Our conversations weren’t dramatic. It was just quietly acrimonious. We didn’t want to make the same movie. We’d already spent millions on pre-production. I certainly did not want to make a movie where I was being micro-managed all the way through production, so I couldn’t be free to actually make something good for them. I never desire to screw something up. I desire to make something as good as possible."
Ultimately Fukunaga decided to exit the project, and the studio hired Andrés Muschietti (Mama) to take over. There will be a new screenwriter brought on to revise script, which sounds like a relief to Fukunaga.
"We invested years and so much anecdotal storytelling in it. Chase and I both put our childhood in that story. So our biggest fear was they were going to take our script and bastardize it. So I’m actually thankful that they are going to rewrite the script. I wouldn’t want them to stealing our childhood memories and using that. I mean, I’m not sure if the fans would have liked what I would have done. I was honoring King’s spirit of it, but I needed to update it. King saw an earlier draft and liked it."
Hearing what his version of the movie could have been just makes the changes that much more disappointing. Fukunaga's production sounds intriguing, and different from the typical studio horror movies churned out every year - which was essentially the issue. Tim Curry's Pennywise is such an iconic character it would have been hard to top - which is perhaps why the director cast Will Poulter in the role: to try and make something wholly new.
Of course, Muschietti will put his own stamp on the production, and while he hasn't helmed that many mainstream movies, Mama was excellent and managed to balance character with suspense. Hopefully he is able to create that same magic here.
Stay tuned to Screen Rant for further updates on the It movie adaptation.