GLEN MILLS, Pa. — When local movie buffs flocked to theaters to see the opening of the supernatural horror film “It” last weekend, many may not have known that the film was written by a screenwriter with roots right here in Delaware County.
Gary Dauberman, Penncrest Class of 1995, not only wrote the adaptation of Stephen King’s 1986 novel “It,” along with Chase Palmer and Cary Fukunaga, but he also penned the “Conjuring” spin-off movies “Annabelle” and this past summer’s “Annabelle: Creation,” which is also currently playing in local theaters.
Distributed by Warner Bros. Pictures and shot in Southern Ontario, “It: Chapter One” is intended to be the first installment in a planned duology. The recently released “It” is getting rave reviews. It’s also proving to be killer at the box office. Since it opened in theatres nationwide Sept. 8, the film proved tops at the box office, raking in $117 million in revenue for its opening weekend. Stephen King himself tweeted that the film “succeeds beyond my expectations.”
“I read the book several times growing up and several times before I started writing for the film,” Dauberman said. “Then I had to close the book, put it aside and just write and see what I’m missing and what I’m not, what people are missing when they read the script, and go from there.”
Dauberman, who grew up in Glen Mills, said he was around 11 or 12 years old when he first read Stephen King’s 1,150 page novel, “It.”
“It was my first ‘adult’ book,” Dauberman remembered. “I had read a lot of King’s short stories and novellas before I tackled ‘It.’ King’s writing changed the course of my life, that’s for sure.”
Dauberman said he is “pretty sure” that he bought the book at Waldenbooks at the Granite Run Mall in Middletown Township, the same place that he purchased “Archie,” his very first comic book.
“I was in awe of King’s writing,” Dauberman explained. “It was a coming-of-age story but then you had this terror happening within this town. It was just so brilliantly executed that, even at that young age, it was like, I’ve never encountered anything like this. ‘It’ was just an awesome experience.”
Years earlier, King’s terrifying novel was adapted into a 1990 made-for-television ABC mini-series. Set in Derry, Maine, the 2017 film, directed by Andy Muscietti, tells the story of seven bullied children, members of a “Losers Club,” who are terrorized by a shapeshifting demon, taking the appearance of Pennywise the clown, who haunts and hunts the children.
In the earlier two-part mini-series, the sinister clown character was brought to life by Tim Curry. This time around on the big screen, that challenge fell to Bill Skarsgard. Other cast members of the 2017 film include Losers Club members Jaeden Lieberher as Bill Denbrough, Jeremy Ray Taylor as Ben Hanscom, Sophia Lillis as Bev Marsh, Finn Wolfhard as Richie Tozier, Jack Grazer as Eddie Kaspbrak, Chosen Jacobs as Mike Hanlon, and Wyatt Oleff as Stan Uris.
Now an in-demand Hollywood screenwriter, Dauberman said that he can look back to his earlier years, growing up in Delaware County, and see how he was influenced toward his future career.
“Where I grew up in Delco, there seemed to be a lot of urban legends and a lot of great haunted hayrides that helped feed my hunger for the darker stories, more spooky stuff,” Dauberman said. “I remember going on haunted walks at Glen Providence Park in Media every Halloween, which helped to foster my love of horror at a very young age. So did driving by the Heilbron Mansion on the school bus every day on the way to Springton Lake (Middle School) and hearing all of the supposed ghost stories that surrounded that place.”
The screenwriter remembers watching “Cujo” and “Halloween” with his mother when he was a young kid. Although there was a lot of things that contributed to Dauberman’s passion for horror, from the “Nightmare on Elm Street” series to the R.L. Stine “Goosebumps” books, Dauberman said that, beyond doubt, Stephen King was probably a bigger influence on him than any other author or film.
“He’s like the gateway drug into the adult horror world,” Dauberman explained.
Dauberman said that the very first movie to influence him was “Raiders of the Lost Ark,” which he saw at the Media Theater at the tender age of 4. It’s one of Dauberman’s earliest memories and the film is still one of his all-time favorites, along with “It’s a Wonderful Life.”
The Hollywood screenwriter’s parents, Gary and Linda Dauberman, still live in the county and his sister Jennifer Margolis resides in West Chester. Dauberman, who now makes his home in Los Angeles, said he returns to his roots often with his wife, Sara, son Oliver, 7, and daughter, Willa, 4, to visit family.
“The first thing we do driving from the airport is to hit up the Wawa in Media,” Dauberman said. “It’s like stepping back into my childhood. My wife and kids are now big Wawa fans, too.”
Dauberman said he had a lot of great influential teachers in the Rose Tree Media School District who helped him along the way, from his years at Glenwood Elementary with Mrs. Mathis, Mrs. Stewart and Mrs. Nelson to his years at Penncrest High School with Mrs. Bauers, Mr. Simpson and Mrs. Roman, whom, he says, he is “lucky enough now to call a friend.”
“I could go on and on about all my good teachers in school, which speaks volumes about my experience there,” Dauberman said sincerely.
“Although I was a terrible student, but that’s on me, not on any of my teachers,” he smiled at the memory.
Dauberman said that he has many fond memories of growing up in Delaware County.
“I played basketball at the Media Boys Club. I spent nearly every weekend as a teenager going to the Granite Run Mall and spending the bulk of my time in the Comic Shop, Games ‘n Gadgets, Aladdin’s Castle or Jolly Time. Man, what a line up,” Dauberman reminisced fondly. “They all played a significant part in shaping who I am and what I do today.”
After studying film at Temple University, Dauberman headed to Los Angeles with dreams of launching a career in screenwriting, only to face the reality of waiting tables to pay the rent. Working long hours, with no time to write, Dauberman quickly became frustrated that this was no way to realize his dream. He saved enough money to live for three months and quit his job. He began to write furiously. He wrote a spec, which was a love letter to one of his favorite movies, “Big Trouble in Little China.” The piece received a lot of interest, and that scored him reps and appointments.
Dauberman’s first big break came when SYFY recruited him to write the scripts for some low-budget horror movies. The experience taught him to write quickly and deliver on time.
Dauberman’s second break arrived when he was invited to an early screening of James Wan’s original, New Line-produced 2013 supernatural shocker, “The Conjuring,” and got to meet Wan. About a year later, Wan asked Dauberman to write “Annabelle,” which was released just over a year after “The Conjuring” hit theaters.
“It was very much like going back to the days when I worked for SYFY,” stated Dauberman. “‘We have a release date, we need a script rather quickly, do you think you could do it?’ So, those days working at SYFY paid off when I began working on ‘Annabelle.'”
“Annabelle” earned $84 million at the domestic box office, and inspired a prequel, “Annabelle: Creation,” for which Dauberman again wrote the script, with input from Wan.
“Like Stephen King, James Wan is another master of horror who has been a great influence on me,” explained Dauberman. “He is amazing to work with.”
Dauberman has also penned a third film in the James Wan-overseen supernatural universe, “The Nun,” which director Corin Hardy (The Hallow) filmed in Romania and Transylvania earlier this year. Dauberman is executive producer of “The Nun,” just as he was on “Annabelle Creation.” The film is due out in July 2018.
“I spent most of the spring on set in Romania, which was a lot of fun, and a little scary,” Dauberman shared.
Dauberman barely has time to enjoy or wallow in the phenomenal success of “IT: Chapter One” because he is already hard at work on “IT: Chapter Two,” which is projected to open in theaters in 2019.
“Most of my attention right now is on the second chapter of “It,” and we are also in post on “The Nun,” Dauberman said. “It’s been a bit busy.”
Information from: Delaware County Daily Times, http://www.delcotimes.com