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Studio meddling pushed him out of Stephen King’s IT, says True Detective’s Cary Fukunaga

stephen king it movie photo pennywise
Back in May, True Detective director Cary Fukunaga made a sudden and unexpected exit from New Line Studios’ big-screen adaptation of Stephen King’s IT, reportedly due to creative differences over the film’s budget. In a recent interview, however, the Emmy-winning director indicated that budget had nothing to do with his departure.

According to Fukunaga, his decision to leave IT was based on differences with the studio over the content and direction of the film.

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“I was trying to make an unconventional horror film,” Fukunaga told Variety. “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.”

Fukunaga went on to suggest that the two-part structure he was envisioning for the story didn’t go over well with the studio, which wanted something a little more traditional for its big-screen version of Stephen King’s terrifying 1986 novel.

“It was two movies. [New Line] didn’t care about that,” he continued. “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 went on to describe his plans for Pennywise the Clown, the nightmare-inducing personification of the evil entity at the heart of King’s story. Memorably played by Tim Curry in the 1990 television miniseries Stephen King’s IT, Pennywise was to be played by talented young actor Will Poulter (The Maze Runner) in the new film — an unconventional casting choice that generated quite a bit of buzz when it was announced.

That wasn’t the only new direction Fukunaga planned to take the character of Pennywise, either.

“The main difference was making Pennywise more than just the clown,” he said of the iconic character. “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 was being rejected,” Fukunaga went on in his detailed explanation of the breakdown of his relationship with the studio. “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.”

With Mama director Andy Muschietti now rumored to be the front-runner to replace Fukunaga on the film, the studio is also expected to do a rewrite of the script penned by Fukunaga, David Kajganich, and Chase Palmer. According to Fukunaga, this comes as welcome news.

“We invested years and so much anecdotal storytelling in it,” he explained. “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 stealing our childhood memories and using that. I mean, I’m not sure if the fans would have liked what I would had done. I was honoring King’s spirit of it, but I needed to update it. King saw an earlier draft and liked it.”

There’s currently no timetable for New Line’s adaptation of IT to begin production.

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