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Fear and filmmaking

September 11, 2019

I had the pleasure of having a short conversation with “IT” director Andy Muschietti and his sister, producer Barbara Muschietti. We talked about effectively translating our deepest, darkest fears and childhood traumas to something compelling for movie audiences.

Within a minute of being in their company, I felt at ease, impressed and delighted. If I could have a do-over of my life after 18, I would try harder and attempt to follow in the footsteps of Barbara and see how far I would get. She’s such an inspiration in terms of career, creativity and intellect.

I asked both of them if they thought people really ever outgrow their childhood fears. While Barbara hoped they did—“because that’s how you become an adult,” Andy disagreed, saying: “Chapter One was a movie about childhood and friendship. Chapter Two is a movie about trauma; So you’re telling a story about characters that could actually not overcome the fears of their childhood.”

He continues, “In Chapter Two, we describe these characters 27 years later, and we soon realize that successful as they seem to appear professionally in their lives as adults, they’re all broken characters. And in the evolving of the movie, they realize there’s a trauma that started in childhood, in that summer of 1989, that basically stuck with them for all their lives and sort of defined them as the persons that they are. They’ve been repressing it for all this time but now they have to confront it and remember it in order to gain the power again.”

Effective psychological horror is difficult to achieve. Sometimes a viewer can leave the cinema feeling like child waiting to watch a firework show but getting duds, or sometimes they can laugh not because they’re nervous but the fright unintentionally ends up being silly.

(From left) Director Andy Muschietti, Jessica Chastain and James McAvoy at New Line Cinema’s 3rd annual ScareDiego presenting ‘IT Chapter Two’ at San Diego Comic-Con 2019, San Diego, USA.

Andy and Barbara truly have their finger on the pulse. Before doing “IT,” the siblings (along with Neil Cross) came out with “Mama” in 2013 starring Nikolaj Coster-Waldau and Jessica Chastain (who now plays the grown up Beverly Marsh in IT Chapter Two). The full-length feature version of “Mama” has its beginnings in a three minute YouTube clip Andy did in 2008. (It was this clip that got the attention of Guillermo del Toro, another man I truly love and admire. He later on became executive producer for the “Mama” feature.)

Barbara says, “What I can tell you is again going back to human emotions ending into that aspect of filmmaking and crafting scares around exactly that. They’re not just visual tools, they have to be connected to a primal, primal fear and that’s what Andy does so incredibly, I believe. That’s why when you watch a film like IT–and I can mention many other films that have that same pull–that’s when you feel scared because that’s when you’re connecting with those characters, you’re connecting with that story. If there is no connection, the fear becomes a joke and then you laugh, which is never great unless you’re so nervous because you see something so horrific that your brain can’t process it.”

Andy brings the conversation back to the fears we have as children. “I think if you experience fear as a child, most of us have–if that fear is something that excites you because it became an addiction, like watching horror movies or reading horror literature, then you have to stay true to those feelings. When a horror movie comes from that corner of the personal, emotional experience, I think it’s probably going to be effective because it comes from a very genuine memory or feeling or emotional memory. And the reason we’re making movies is because I want to basically re-enact those feelings, even if it’s a utopic, because we’re not children anymore.

It’s curious–we’re making movies about adults trying to become children again, to regain the power of belief and imagination again, which is something a filmmaker does, you know? Trying to regain those feelings of horror or wonder that we had as children that we will never have again.

And the irony of that is: the more you work on the movie, the more you detached you are from it. Eventually, it’s for others to see and it’s great that we’re able to scare a new generation of kids the same way other filmmakers scared us as children and gave us that addiction.”

Talk about full circle.

I would have loved to talk casually off camera about what Andy and Barbara watched and read while they were growing up, who they in turn look up to, who inspired them and take the conversation from there. Who knows, maybe I’ll get the chance.

Andy Muschietti is the current director (in a line of other big names) attached to “The Flash” movie with Ezra Miller. If that decision is final, Barbara will be on board as producer.

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