Most of us have heard of the ‘It’ movies. We know they were a phenomenon, racking up hundreds of millions of dollars at the box office around the world. But did you know that there is a whole other side to the story? That is, what did the ‘It’ movies actually involve?

What We Do in the Shadows is a six part British miniseries that tells the untold story of the making of the ‘It’ movies – from pre-production to release – and its effect on the people who lived it. It is inspired by the bestselling book of the same name by Max Brooks. The book is largely about the extraordinary experience of working on the films, as well as giving an insight into the making of the movie, and the effect it had on the people who worked on it (and those who were attracted to it).

It Was A Struggle To Keep Things Authentic

Even before the book was published, Brooks had gotten in touch with the producers of the series, saying he was interested in the project but wanted to make sure that his experiences were accurately portrayed. He was worried about several aspects of what he had written, and the series agreed to adapt them, making changes where necessary to keep things as authentic as possible. This was particularly important as regards the depiction of certain creatures in the book, for whom Brooks had a fondness – namely, his invented ‘werewolves’ of the Sub-Saharan black ethnic group, the Watusi. He and the producers worked together for a few weeks, trying to find a solution that would both keep the spirit of what Brooks had written, and give the show a fresh feel by incorporating CGI and using a mostly British cast.

‘Blood And Guts’ Are Key When It Comes To Making An Appetising Fight Scene

One of the primary locations used for the ‘It’ movies is a sound stage in London. The set is designed to look like a cheap hotel room, with a small bed in one corner and a sink in another. One of the main characters, Alistair Reed (John Goodman), a.k.a Captain Kirk, lies down in the bed for what will be the last night of his life. He is going to be killed by a group of genetically mutated creatures, known as ‘Jinoids’, that have burst out of the sewers below. The sequence, which lasts for almost thirty minutes, is extremely violent; it uses a combination of live bullets, blasters, and explosive devices – all of which are packed with ‘blood and guts’ as Brooks so aptly put it.

The Making Of ‘It’

“I worked on ‘It’ for four months in Belfast,” says Bill Hader, the actor who plays one of the monsters in the series, and who also acted as a consultant for the show. “We did every single thing by hand. There were no digital effects, no green screens, nothing. We had to figure everything out for ourselves.”

The script was co-written by Alex Kurtzman and Bob Orci, who are best known for their work on the Transformers franchise and Star Trek, respectively. They also worked together on Jekyll, a Hyde, and The Little Mermaid. “It was a struggle to keep things authentic,” Orci says. “I think a lot of that has to do with [Brooks’] book. There are certain sequences that you really need to see to understand what he is going for. But when you do see those, it is immediately apparent that a lot of effort went into making them work.”

The Book’s Impact

The show’s producers were keen to stress that, although it is based on the book, they wanted to give it their own spin. This was partly to reflect the changing cultural landscape of the English-speaking world in 2018, as well as to differentiate it from the book, which was published in 1996. What the show does well is precisely that it differentiates itself from the book while keeping enough of its essence to still be recognizable as a prequel to it. It even goes a step further, making some aspects of the story more relevant to our current world. For example, one of the main characters, Martin Belmont (Adrian Dunbar), is an arms dealer who sells atomic weapons; in the nineties, this would have been a far different kind of business.

The Impact Of ‘It’

The impact that ‘It’ had on pop culture, and particularly on horror media, cannot be understated. The franchise spawned several imitators and inspired a subgenre – ‘pyschological horror’ – of films that explore mental illness and the dark side of human nature.

“The book was huge,” Hader says. “It was a phenomenon. I still get emails from fans who read it when they were kids, and it inspired them to become filmmakers. When I got the script for ‘It’, I just fell into the role. When I watched the movie as an adult, I could see the impact it had.”

“I loved working on ‘It,’” Orci says. “I think that the level of detail that the book contained was extremely high. There were little things here and there that were completely made up [for the show], but I think that for the most part, it was very well written.”

The show’s producers felt that the book had opened the door for them to tell a much more adult-themed story; after all, Captain Kirk and his crew were mostly around 20 years old at the time the ‘It’ movies were released, and adult themes were generally avoided in children’s literature in the late nineties. The producers also wanted to do something different, having previously worked on comedies and dramas, so they opted for a mockumentary style, incorporating a lot of hidden cameras and observational humor.

More In The Miniseries

The miniseries also explores other aspects of the making of the ‘It’ movies, including the extensive amount of research that went into creating the various creatures for which Brooks has a soft spot. The book recounts how he spent three years traveling around Africa, studying werewolves and other creatures that he could use for the film. He went to such great lengths to make sure that his monsters were as authentic as possible, and worked with scientists and wildlife experts to get as close to reality as possible. This is evident in the show in numerous ways, from the DNA analysis that is shown in painstaking detail to the inclusion of actual experts whose areas of expertise can be gleaned from their on-screen presence. For example, Mark Gatiss, who plays one of the monsters in the series, got his Ph.D in genetics from the University of London. He is an expert on cancer genes and the DNA of dinosaurs. He conducts genetic experiments with Reed and other monsters for which he has a deep affection. (He even does this while wearing a latex mask, which becomes somewhat translucent when he is excited or passionate about his work).

The book’s editor, Jonathan Boudreau, calls the science behind the book’s monsters “exciting” and “intriguing,” and the show certainly builds on this aspect of the story, incorporating more and more detail about genetic mutation and evolution as it goes along. In an interview with Entertainment Weekly, Gatiss notes that, although the science in the book is fascinating, “In the script, a lot of the science has been kind of…skimmed over, I guess. A lot of the stuff with DNA and the like.” He continues, “With the first episode, we got to delve pretty deeply into what makes these monsters tick.”