Alumnus helps write ‘It’ screenplay

Gary Dauberman, a 2002 alumnus, also contributed to “The Conjuring” series.

Gary Dauberman’s fascination with horror extends back to the era of VHS tapes.

“Horror always seemed to be the most interesting to me,” he said. “Even the boxes on the VHS rental tapes in Blockbuster when I was a kid grabbed me in a way other genres didn’t.”

Dauberman, a 2002 film and media arts alumnus and Delaware County native, wrote the screenplay for “It,” a 2017 adaptation of the Stephen King novel which has grossed more than $300 million in theaters across the country. He previously wrote “Annabelle,” a 2014 spin-off of the “The Conjuring” based on a haunted vintage doll.

Set in 1989, the film follows a group of kids who join together to fight a shape-shifting demon, which takes the appearance of a clown named Pennywise. A planned 2019 sequel will depict the children as adults 27 years later, which was originally included in the book.

Dauberman got his start in screenwriting in his teen years when he realized his dream of becoming an animator wouldn’t pan out. He used to write short, animated stories.

“I wasn’t really good at art,” he said. “That’s when I started to dive into writing more and more, but it wasn’t until my later teens that I really started to understand what screenwriting was and that this could be a job. Temple really opened that up for me.”

After two years at Delaware County Community College, Dauberman transferred to Temple, where he began to hone his craft, turning a hobby he used to do on weekends into his full-time area of study.

“I kind of lived at the film and media arts building,” he said. “All I did was take those classes, as many as I could. Suddenly, the things I was doing in my spare time and what I wanted to do, I could treat it more like a job. It was an education.”

Before coming to Temple, Dauberman wrote “the occasional short story,” but didn’t start seriously writing until he arrived at the university, he said.

After a summer interning in Los Angeles through a Temple study away program, Dauberman decided he could make a career for himself on the West Coast.

“It’s almost like, you don’t want to allow yourself to dream that big,” he said. “But then screenwriting just became the only thing I knew how to do.”

After he graduated, Dauberman spent the next nine months saving up to move across the country to Los Angeles, where he began screenwriting and pitching different horror films to studios and directors.

“The first screenplay I wrote was my love letter to movies of the ’80s,” he said. “And one of those [favorites] was ‘Big Trouble in Little China,’ which has some horror elements that I loved, so [my first screenplay was] kind of a shameless ripoff of that.”

He returned to the 1980s theme years later while working on the script for “It.” He first read the novel at age 12, so he felt that decade was the logical place to revisit the story.

“I grew up in the ’80s,” he said. “And there are some things that are true for every decade. In this case, it was bullying.”

A script for “It” had already been written, but when Dauberman was hired to help rework the script, he thought the other writers made “the right call” in choosing that specific decade. The original “It” movie was set in the ’50s.

When junior film and media arts major Ryan Nilsen first watched the film, he said he loved the shift in time because it meant the second half of the story would occur in a contemporary setting, rather than in the 1980s as was originally depicted in the novel.

This change, coupled with the script’s emphasis on character development, helped Nilsen recognize the potential in horror films for compelling storytelling, he said.

“I thought the horror genre was a lazy genre, ’cause it’s all scares,” Nilsen said. “It takes a good movie like this one to make you realize it’s not that. … You can make a horror movie that has a really awesome story and also supplies the thrills that people want from a horror movie.”

Allan Barber, a film and media arts professor, remembered Dauberman from his time as the faculty supervisor of the Los Angeles Study Away program. In his undergraduate years, Dauberman, known as “Chip,” was a “strong, talented student,” he said.

“He was very verbal, always participated in class and very genial,” he added. “He was sort of the glue, socially, with the students that were out there as interns.”

After seeing the box office figures for “It,” Barber said he emailed Dauberman with his congratulations.

“He actually responded saying we needed to get together someday,” he said. “Certainly, when I have a student who’s received an honor of any kind like this, I’m always very proud.”

Dauberman’s favorite part of filmmaking is the creative collaboration among writers, directors and producers. During the production of “Annabelle,” Dauberman began participating in the production process, he said.

After sitting in the editing room and watching reactions from test audiences, he said he’s become more mindful of how his scripts translate onto the screen.

“Horror is like comedy,” he said. “It has a sense of rhythm. There’s some things that work great on the page that don’t work great when you’re watching with a test audience. You think, ‘Oh, I thought that was going to play well and it really didn’t.’ That was an eye-opening experience and a game-changer for me in terms of how it affected my writing.”

When Dauberman isn’t writing or traveling with film crews to places like Romania, where his upcoming film, “The Nun,” was shot, he’s at home with his wife, 4-year-old daughter and 8-year-old son.

“I don’t think [my daughter] quite understands what I do,” he said. “But my son loves it. He’s just like me, always seemed to gravitate more toward the scarier stuff and the creative process in general.”

“It’s really cool to see that and encourage that,” he added. “That tops it all, when you see the reactions of your own kids.”

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