Ermahgerd: Jack Black and Rob Letterman reveal how the Goosebumps movie came to be

Contributed by
Oct 15, 2015

If you grew up in the '90s. it's likely the Goosebumps book series by R.L. Stine became your gateway drug to the delights of the horror genre. Equal parts scary and funny, they made kids the heroes in stories where they had to overcome the things that go bump in the night. With more than 182 books written under the Goosebumps brand and 320 million copies sold globally, it's almost weird that it's only just now that the series has been adapted into a big-budget film.

Literally more than a decade in development, Goosebumps the movie finally landed on Rob Letterman (Shark Tale) to direct along with his three-time collaborator, Jack Black, starring as a fictional version of Stine. Black joins young actors Dylan Minnette, Odeya Rush and Ryan Lee as the heroic teens trying to stop the author's fictional monsters (who have come to life) from wrecking their home town of Greendale, Md.

Recently, Blastr had a chance to talk 1:1 with Letterman and Black about the journey to get a Goosebumps movie right for its legion of fans around the world.

Goosebumps is sacrosanct to two generations of kids learned to appreciate horror through them.  However, the film adaptation seemed to languish a long time. Where was it when it came across your desk?

Rob Letterman: It was in development for years. When they finally came up with the meta idea for the movie, which is the notion that Stine's monsters were literal manifestations that can pop out of the books, they went out to directors. {Producer] Neil Moritz called me and pitched me that big idea. I was psyched, because I wanted to do something like those Amblin movies I grew up with. I auditioned/begged to do it. There hasn't been a movie like it in the family genre in a long time, so I chased it really hard.

When you make Stine an actual character, portraying how he will come across seems key to locking the tone right away. Was that simple, or was it based more around casting Jack?

RL: It's interesting because, pre-casting, it was figuring out that character and pulling back the curtain to show who he really is. The real Stine is a sweet and nice guy. I loved developing the character, and that was complemented by the other characters like Zack [Minnette], who moves in and falls for Stine's daughter, Hannah [Rush].

I love Jack and know him really well. Two things were important in casting him. At the time, he had just done the [Richard] Linklater movie, Bernie. He was so good and did this amazing performance. I just loved it. We then needed to figure out the tone, because Goosebumps aren't just scary, but also funny. It was important to capture the spirit of that. But Jack can go back and forth and make people feel good with funny and scary.

Jack, what's special about your work relationship with Rob?

Jack Black: We had a lot of fun on Gulliver. I appreciate his intelligence, and he's real knowledgeable about projects with a ton of CGI and special effects. Also, his work in the animation field is really great. I had a blast with him on Shark Tale. We're on the same page comedically. We have a lot of fun, and I like his taste. I felt we were due [for a hit]. We have great chemistry on the set. I wanted to be part of this and could see myself playing this dark, interesting role.

What was the thinking in regards to how to portray Stine?

JB: Well, it's not a biopic by any means. I didn't approach it as being accurate of my portrayal of who he is. He's not anything like the guy I was playing. I approached it from what the film needed, a gravitas. He's a little intimidating. My guy had to be a curmudgeonly hermit who had to be away from society with his demons. Whereas in reality, R.L. Stine is a sweetheart and fun to hang out with.

How much was Stine involved?

RL: Jack and I sat with R.L. Stine and talked everything through with him. He was reading the script drafts along the way. He was really cool and more interested in talking to us about the history of comedy and Sid Caesar and Mel Brooks. We sent him the film recently, and he sent me an incredible email about it.

Was it really important to mine the books for classic characters and monsters so they became the emotional connection with the devoted book fanbase?

RL: The key thing, even though the movie story isn't from the books, was capturing the spirit. There is a pattern in the books of kids stumbling upon something, with no parents believing them and then solving the mysteries, and we tried to capture that, too. And without giving away all the monsters, I picked monsters that I felt I could make and then ones that were inherent to the storytelling. We didn't want to force them in. We also looked at the most popular of the Goosebumps monsters, so it was a grab bag. There are a lot in there.

JB: I thought it was a brilliant plot device to get all the monsters together and to make Stine and his characters exist in the physical realm. One of the books describes the exact typewriter we use from The Blob That Ate Everything, and we felt good about that. It made me think of some of my favorite movies where it took an author like Charlie Kaufman into the story. That's a really heady example, but we do this in a really fun way.

Why do Stine's creatures come to life?

JB: The overall theme is that you can escape to your inner life to protect yourself. He created these monsters because he was bullied. He found escape and his own power by creating demons and monsters who would get revenge for him, but he lost control of his rage. In the end, he makes peace with his demons and the world and controls his creativity again.

As you mentioned, your Stine sounds pretty dark.

JB: I didn't want to go full on Jack Torrance [from The Shining]. There was a scene in a car, and someone brings up that I'm not as good a writer as Stephen King, which is a running joke. There were a couple takes where I really flipped my lid and had murder in my eyes. I had to soften it for the kids. [Laughs.]

Speaking of the kids, how was it finding the right young actors to go toe to toe with Jack?

RL: It was a bit of hair-puller. We read a lot of kids, and I needed the right group. It's a testament to the three we got. Dylan may have been the first guy who read for Zach, and I loved him immediately. He came in and then he wasn't available, so I was having minor heart attacks. But then things worked out and we got him. Dylan is amazing. He's grounded and real and not silly. He brought it all to the table. We did a lot of chemistry reads, and it paid off. They are great actors, and we just got lucky.

Jack, you have kids now, so do they influence your role choices?

JB: I do make decisions based on what my kids are interested in, and they have been really into some scary movies, but I don't mean The Shining. My youngest boy loves old-school Frankenstein and Godzilla. The effects were more silly and creative than scary. I think it allows them to face their own fears. Like, my boy Tommy is obsessed with the Jurassic Park ride. He likes to watch other kids go on the ride on YouTube. For his birthday, he wanted to go to Universal Studios, and he was all about the ride. We went on all the rides, but when we got to Jurassic Park he was like, "No, I'm not going." He's not quite over the fear of it yet. And then there's this app that might be too scary called  Five Nights at Freddy's. They both love to play it, and I know they are scared by it, but they can't help themselves. They are slowly building up courage, and I feel like Goosebumps could scratch that same itch, because it's scary, but not too scary.

Goosebumps opens Oct. 16.

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