Jack Black plays a cantankerous version of real-life horror author R.L. Stine, who lives in a world where his successful Goosebumps books aren’t just a scary YA series, but also a way in which the writer battles actual monsters. How is this going to work, exactly? We asked producer Neal H. Moritz and director Rob Letterman to explain.
The idea for a Goosebumps movie has been kicked around since 2009, why was right now the right time (and right iteration) for this adaptation?
Neal H. Moritz: Because honestly, we never had the right idea for this movie. We tried a lot of ideas. We tried a few different scripts that went down alleys that, honestly, just weren’t the right idea to make Goosebumps movie. When we heard this idea of the reason why R.L. Stine’s Goosebumps stories are so good is because the monsters are real and they’re locked up inside of the books, “OK that’s a good idea.” I think we were being too literal to what the books were instead of to the essence and the soul of the books. I think that the script and this movie really capture the essence of what Goosebumps books are: fun, scary, not too scary.
What do you mean by taking the books too literally? Let’s just take this one and make it this, and then try and shoehorn other things into it?
Moritz: Yes. We’re like, here’s one book, and here’s our movie. And then we’ll take another book. That didn’t work. That wasn’t the thing. But what we did was take the touchstones of what Goosebumps is, a new kid moving into town, an outcast. Thematically what the soul of what the Goosebumps books are.
At what point did this become, what seems like, a comedy? It’s a fun movie.
Moritz: It’s a fun, scary movie.
You released all the images of the monsters…
Rob Letterman: We did a Comic-Con thing and we brought all of the monsters as a part of the bit. That was fun.
Is there favorite that has received the most fan reaction?
Moritz: I love The Abominable [Snowman] of Pasadena; it’s my favorite so far, because maybe that’s rendered the most, that’s the farthest along. I love a lot of things about him. But we have so many, we must have 30 monsters in this film.
Letterman: We certainly imply just an army of them. We zero in a handful that play big roles. One of the main monsters, one of the most popular monsters is Slappy. He’s a big part of the movie. He plays a big part of the movie. You sort of discover along the way, we don’t say it… we’re not on the nose about it, but he’s the alternate ego of R.L. Stine (Jack Black)
What’s it like casting a real person [R.L. Stine] who is also working with you on the project?
Moritz: We decided early on that we didn’t want somebody who was just going to imitate R.L. Stine. We wanted, like Jack Black, who could take the essence of R.L. Stine and interpret it and make it his own. The great thing was, is that R.L. encouraged that. They met, they had a great meeting together a great lunch together and then R.L. said, “Go for it. You see who I am, go for it.”
It’s such a surprise. I grew up reading the Fear Street series, which is much darker than Goosebumps, so it never occurred to me (when you brought in Jack Black) that R.L. Stine might be a funny person.
Letterman: But he is! In real life, he’s a funny, nice guy. And he’s a huge fan of comedy, like nerd comedy. He knows the writers from the Show of Shows.
Moritz: In the movie, he tries to be sort of the mean neighbor, and you can tell that’s difficult for his character because that’s not who his character is.
There are a lot of things from the Goosebumps world that are scary but not monsters, per say, like the camera that takes pictures of your death [Say Cheese and Die!] how will that fit into this film? Or will it be monster centric?
Moritz: The Cuckoo Clock!
Letterman: Well, yes, now you know. If you pay attention there’s close to that, we’re not over about it. But it really is, because of the movie story, it is about this Pandora’s box
How much does something like Cabin in the Woods help you guys with this sort of film?
Moritz: It’s a different movie.
Letterman: Totally different. The movies that helped us out a lot were those old Amblin films.
Moritz: It really fits in that category of Goonies, Gremlins, Jumanji. That kind of thing.
How do you get that feeling of wonder and that kids from the block feel?
Moritz: We took our time.
Letterman: We too our time. We shot on location, we made our world very real, very grounded. We cast incredible kids, they’re really amazing.
Moritz: We took our time with the main character and set up what his dilemmas and drama were before we kind of launched into this kind of amusement ride
Letterman: And made him as identifiable as we could and created a family dynamic that people would recognize in their own families, and then suddenly the supernatural thing eases its way in and the movie takes off.
Have you read all the Goosebumps books?
Letterman: It was homework, yes. I have to admit I haven’t read all the books. I’m still reading the new Goosebumps books to my kid. But those first 60 are the most memorable ones. And the first 10 are just, they’re classic and great. We took from the spirit of those.
Goosebumps also has familiarity also with the covers of the books. How do you approach using those images? Are you going to deviate from a perceived image of [a monster] or are you going to go with it?
Moritz: We used it for the basis of a lot of things. I wouldn’t say that it’s duplicated we haven’t copied it. What is inherently strong about Goosebumps the books, is the same thing that’s strong about the movie.
Do you attempt to explain Goosebumps? If R.L. Stine is a real person in this movie and Goosebumps actually exists, but also exists in a weird fantasy way? How is this explained?
Moritz: We explain that he was an author, who nobody knows what happened to, he stopped writing because of this problem, this curse. Each time he’s moved from town to town to town, because maybe one time a monster got out. He’s always been on the move.
Now that you’ve read RL Stine’s work, have you considered adapting some of his scarier work? Like Fear Street or the Witch Saga.
Moritz: Have not honestly, but maybe I will now.