Film, Interview

FIVE QUESTIONS: John Campopiano on Stephen King’s IT

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At the risk of launching into an Abbott and Costello routine, It is everywhere.

I’m speaking, of course, of Stephen King’s mammoth 1986 horror novel, whose iconic villain Pennywise has inspired more than thirty years of rampant coulrophobia. Most obviously, last year’s cinematic adaptation of the book’s first half smashed past expectations to become the most commercially successful horror movie of all time. But It has been sneaking its way into the public consciousness in other ways, from the bizarre spate of phantom clown sightings in late 2016 to Stranger Things, whose band of preteen misfits owes a clear debt to the Losers Club (hell, even its very title seems to be a play on the cadence of the master’s name). When taken in combination with a recent spike in film and TV projects inspired by his work (as well as the author’s endlessly affable social media presence), it would seem that 2018 is a very good time to be the King.

None of this comes as a surprise to local documentarian and Stephen King superfan John Campopiano. Following the success of 2016’s feature length making-of documentary Unearthed and Untold: The Path to Pet Sematary, Campopiano is currently working on Pennywise: The Story of It, chronicling the making of the story’s iconic 1990 miniseries adaptation. That miniseries takes center stage tonight for the Coolidge’s latest outdoor screening at Rocky Woods Reservation. As if experiencing King’s work outdoors in the spooky New England woods weren’t enough, Campopiano will also be on hand to interview screenwriter Lawrence D. Cohen, and to display his prized possession: an actual Pennywise suit, worn by the great Tim Curry onscreen in the actual miniseries. We had a chance to speak with Campopiano about the enduring appeal of King’s work, the latest King-inspired work of his own, and just how awesome that suit is.

BOSTON HASSLE: What do you think is behind the recent revival of interest in Stephen King’s work?

JOHN CAMPOPIANO: It’s funny, because I don’t really think about this current wave of King projects as a revival necessarily. I think interest in his work has always persisted, but maybe, at this moment, that interest is closer to the surface than in recent years.

That said, I do think there are at least two things happening right now that are feeding the interest in King’s work, and making filmic adaptations of his writing especially appealing: the filmmakers at the helm of these adaptations, and the new ways in which viewers are finding and consuming media. Filmmakers like Andy Muschietti (2017’s It), Zak Hilditch (1922), Mike Flanagan (Gerald’s Game) and Kevin Kölsch and Dennis Widmyer (the upcoming 2019 adaptation of Pet Sematary) all represent a new generation of filmmakers who grew up engrossed in the early films of King’s work, his novels, or both. I think these and other filmmakers are now in a position of wanting to give a modern update to some of their beloved King stories, and pop culture seems to be welcoming them and their efforts with open arms.

I also think today’s media landscape has fueled an interest in bringing more of King’s works to life. From the surge in popularity of streaming services like Netflix and Amazon to the renaissance of serialized television, there’s really been no greater time to be a creator in this space. And thanks to King’s extensive output starting in the mid-1970s (something like 54 novels and 200 short stories!?) there’s plenty of source material to keep drawing talented writers and filmmakers to the well.  

BH: What’s the most surprising thing you learned in the making of Pennywise?

JC: One thing I learned that really surprised me was how deeply involved horror icon George Romero was with the pre-production plans for the miniseries. The original idea was to create something closer to 8 hours, and both Romero and teleplay writer Larry D. Cohen spent time corresponding about how to execute the mammoth task of bringing It to the small screen. On a personal level, I found the Romero connection to It very ironic, given that he was also initially attached to the adaptation of Pet Sematary, another King film I produced a documentary about with Justin White.

BH: How did Mr. Cohen come to be involved with the screening?

JC: That’s an easy one–I asked him! We had interviewed Larry for the documentary in NYC last September, and he and I really hit it off. As [Coolidge Corner program director] Mark Anastasio and I began brainstorming possible ideas for screening It, I proposed the idea of involving Larry somehow. Larry is such an interesting guy, and I felt confident that film fans would love to hear him talk about not only his teleplay work on the miniseries, but also his work on other horror classics like Carrie and Ghost Story. Thankfully, to our delight, Larry accepted the invitation to join us for the Rocky Woods screening and participate in a Q&A in between parts 1 and 2–a Q&A that I’m thrilled to be moderating.

BH: How did you come into possession of the Pennywise suit?

JC: We were shooting cast and crew interviews for the documentary in Vancouver last August when I acquired the screen-worn Pennywise costume. One of those interviews was with the costumer designer on miniseries, Monique Prudhomme. She had arrived to her interview with the Pennywise costume covered in a garment bag and hung it up in the back of the interview space while she spoke to us on camera. Needless to say, the entire crew was transfixed by seeing this piece in the flesh. Monique explained to us that she had kept the suit in her costume archives all these years. Toward the end of the interview, she actually held the costume on camera and walked through how she designed it and the creative decisions behind the colors and fabrics picked.

After her interview and just before leaving, she offered the suit to me. I was a bit stunned, but I do clearly remember her saying that, because I had put so much time and energy into the production of the documentary and because I had been such a longtime fan, it belonged with me. It was a humbling and truly surprising moment. Monique said that it was one of three or four Pennywise costumes that had been made for Tim. No telling where the other suits are today–if they even still exist. The only original pieces missing from my suit are the orange pompoms. Despite this, it’s without a doubt the crown jewel of my collection, and I’m very excited to be able to share the suit with fans and fellow collectors at a bunch of film and convention events this fall.   

BH: You’re also working on Georgie, a King-inspired film of your own. Anything you’d like to share about that?

JC: Sure! Georgie is a brand new short film project spearheaded by yours truly and Ryan Grulich of Creepy Kingdom and featuring It miniseries originals Tony Dakota and Ben Heller. Ryan and I have locked in our script and filming locations. The shoot is scheduled for mid-November. During our Indiegogo campaign we were purposefully vague about the particulars of the story (we don’t want to spoil anything!) but we’re confident fans are going to enjoy seeing the original Georgie Denbrough grace the screen nearly 30 years later. We’re hoping to unleash GEORGIE into the world sometime in the first quarter of 2019.

It
1990
dir. Tommy Lee Wallace
192 minutes

Screens Friday, 10/12, 8:00pm @ Rocky Woods Reservation – Click here for ticket info
Special outdoor screening!
Screenwriter Lawrence D. Cohen will be in attendance in conversation with John Campopiano
Presented by Coolidge Corner Theatre

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