No one has a better chance of inserting some Delco references into the town of Derry than Gary Dauberman, the Glen Mills native who is responsible for It, the feature-film adaptation of Stephen King's novel.
But it's an admittedly tough sell for the fictional Maine setting of the horror movie currently killing it at the box office. "Let's see. They have the Chinese restaurant, so I don't know if it fits there. Maybe the lobster rolls," Dauberman says. "I'll have to figure that out, but I'll do my best. How about a Wawa reference?"
The flick, which follows a group of outcasts who call themselves the Losers Club who do battle against a demonic clown, has pulled in more than $218 million at the domestic box office since its release this month, and Dauberman is hard at work on a sequel. As a huge Stephen King fan, Dauberman hopes to stay true to the author's work as best as possible, so maybe don't look too hard for a Shorti.
"We love the story, so we want to protect it as best we can as we move it from the page to the screen," he says. "All roads lead back to the page. That's the approach."
Now known as some variation of "Hollywood's It guy," Dauberman, 40, broke into entertainment after studying film at Temple University. After a string of projects for Syfy that included 2007's Bloodmonkey and In the Spider's Web, Dauberman moved on to work with The Conjuring director James Wan.
That relationship opened the door for Dauberman to write 2014's Annabelle and this year's prequel, Annabelle: Creation, both of which are set in Wan's Conjuring universe. He'll continue building that universe with The Nun, set for release in July.
Dauberman's interest in all things spooky started the same way as with many Delco kids: With local autumn attractions like haunted walks through Media's Glen Providence Park, and the area's haunted hayrides. His favorite? Arasapha Farms can't be beat. "Dude, I grew up five or 10 minutes from there — right up [Route] 352," he says. "I went to some of the very first ones. Now, I have kids of my own, and maybe this is the year we'll go back."
Urban legends about Delaware County also inspired Dauberman in his horror obsession. Of particular interest is the Heilbron Mansion, which the Penncrest High School grad says he would see on his way to school, and which had been plagued by fires.
"There was a rumor that the first fire was caused by a Ouija board catching on fire," Dauberman says. "That was really the local thing that threw gasoline on the fire of my love of horror."
That fire grew into a blaze after Dauberman discovered King's work in elementary school. He says he came across a copy of Different Seasons in the back of his dad's closet. A collection of four novellas, the book contains "The Body," the basis for the 1986 film Stand By Me — Dauberman's first experience with King and a definite influence on his version of It. Oddly enough, though, he says he doesn't think his parents were hiding the book from him — but finding it was providence.
"It was just there, and it almost feels like a moment out of one of his stories," he says.
From there, Dauberman moved on to King's short stories, and eventually came across It around age 12 — about the same age as the kids in the book. Though he acknowledges he was too young for the book, he says he identified with the main characters and their outcast status.
"It's set in the '50s, but they're still dealing with a lot of the same stuff kids dealt with in the '80s, like bullies, and feeling like you're an outsider, and trying to find like-minded friends," Dauberman says. "You go through that as a kid and read it, and you don't feel like you're the only one going through it."
Dauberman's adaptation stands on its own in relation to the 1986 novel and 1990 mini-series. To differentiate his version, Dauberman says he focused primarily on the book and didn't revisit the mini-series. But a lot had to be left out, either because the movie could only be so long or because some elements were difficult to translate to the screen. Take Maturin, the giant turtle that vomited up our galaxy and that is from the underlying universe that runs throughout many of King's novels. He's an integral part of the novel. But how do you put that on screen? Although Maturin wasn't in the first It film, Dauberman says the character is something he and It director Andy Muschietti discuss regularly. So rather than a Shorti, maybe keep your eyes peeled for an enormous tortoise in Chapter Two.
"Look, you can't get around the turtle. There are certainly some Easter eggs in the first one, some threads we can pull at in the second one," Dauberman says. "But then the problem becomes: How do you visualize that without having the audience go, 'What the … is that?' "
The primary concern for Dauberman through all this, however, has been not letting King down. After all, the author has slammed several adaptations of his work, including The Shining, Dreamcatcher, and Graveyard Shift. Ultimately, King gave It his seal of approval. "His opinion was sort of the only thing I cared about. When I found out he actually enjoyed the movie, that was, in a weird way, kind of an end to the journey," Dauberman says. "After that, everything else is sort of icing on the cake."
With It under his belt and the sequel underway, Dauberman is looking at other King projects he could adapt to the big screen, although he is not at liberty to discuss any of them currently.
But that hasn't stopped friends from asking him about the It sequel — which is interesting, considering that Dauberman insists he is sticking heavily to the book for his adaptation. So, for folks who want to know what happens, the answer is simple.