Max Landis Interview

The Chronicle screenwriter talks super-sequels, Frankenstein and Video Games: The Movie

Video Games: The Movie may have reached its $60,000 goal on Kickstarter with ease, but with 10 days left there are still plenty of time to make the promising-looking videogames documentary even better. One of the contributors to the documentary is screenwriter Max Landis, an avid gamer who took the time to speak with us about his involvement in the documentary, how he would make a Shadow Of The Colossus movie and his love for science fiction.

Max Landis: Can we take a minute at the top of this interview and talk about something which has been on my mind lately, which is that, if we’re talking about sci-fi, Ray Harryhausen is now dead. It’s really bizarre for me because three of my mentors growing up were Ray Harryhausen, Ray Bradbury and Forrest J Ackerman, and they actually were all very close friends for basically the entire second half of their lives, and most of the first half. It’s so weird to have a picture of them in my house, that these people who were so formative to the genre are gone. But it’s also interesting to see people who had such a big footprint on modern culture, I feel, not enough people even know who Forry Ackerman is. And it’s just so weird that they’re gone. Whenever anyone says sci-fi I’m like “holy shit”.

SFX: How much of a presence were they in your early life?
I’m lucky enough that my dad is a director and they all knew and loved him very much, so I ended up spending a lot of time with the three of them throughout my childhood, especially Forry Ackerman and Ray Harryhausen. Ray Bradbury was always travelling. Forry Ackerman actually published my first short story, which is an absolutely terrible short story, but I think he published it as a show of good faith, because I think I’d sent him 20 or 30 short stories and he was always publishing anthologies, so I think he mercy killed it by publishing it!

Given that you’ve never worked on a video game directly, how did you get involved in Video Games: The Movie?
They contacted me randomly through one of my friends and said: “Do you have anything to say about videogames and their effect on our culture?” I was like “Hell the fuck yes! I definitely do have a lot of things to say about it.”

Do you think videogame storytelling is at a point now where it’s comparable to TV/films?
Of course. Something like the first Bioshock has an incredible story. You talk about great and beautiful videogames and you can’t not talk about Spec Ops: The Line. Some of the most fun I’ve ever had being told a story is that videogame. In movies and books and TV and comics… everything. Spec Ops: The Line holds up to some of my favourite movies because it’s a simple story, but there’s something about how interactive it is and how immersed you feel, it is really incredible. And there’s always the Fallout games, which have this incredible world. Generally the Grand Theft Auto games have a great story. Vice City has one of my favourite videogame stories, just because it’s the complete rise and downfall… downfall of morality, rise of bank account of Tommy Vercetti!

What will it take for someone to finally get a video game movie right?
I thought Max Payne was a lot of fun. Not a good movie, but a lot of fun. Give me a second to wrack my brain… has there been even one good one? The Pokémon TV show did pretty good. There are a lot of good films based around the playing of videogames, like eXistenZ, War Games, The Last Starfighter… Wreck-It Ralph is OK. And there are a lot of good films about videogames. Scott Pilgrim Versus The World is, of course, a movie about videogames. But I can’t think of a single good videogame adaptation. I couldn’t tell you why they don’t work. I think it’s honestly for the reason a lot of IP franchises are so empty and derivative, they feel like they don’t need to put forth the effort. And that always leads to a bad thing because they think people will come see it anyway.

What’s your favourite gaming moment to date?
The best moment I’ve had playing a videogame is the nuke in the first Modern Warfare, because I couldn’t believe they went there, and I was so impressed at the balls it took, I was so surprised by it. I loved Myst and Riven. Those are some videogames you don’t hear about often anymore. Dead Rising 2 is fucking fantastic. And Left 4 Dead used to be my Jam, I used to play that game constantly online.

Was Chronicle directly influenced by any videogames?
Definitely not. The thing I always said was Chronicle was like a theme park ride that’s very emotional. Because the one thing I felt Cloverfield really lacked was a connection to character, so that was just a straight theme park ride. I want to do a theme park ride for emotions and how you feel and I wanted to force people to take someone else’s perspective instead of their own, even though it’s first person there’s not a moment in that movie that doesn’t feel like Andrew, except for when we leave him. For most of the movie you’re trapped with one person and that, to me, is the opposite of playing a videogame.

Josh Trank is down to direct a Shadow Of The Colossus movie…
Is he? He and I have separate careers, I really love Josh and think he’s brilliant, but what we do for work is mostly separate.

Have you played Shadow Of The Colossus?
Of course, I think it’s one of the best games of all time.

Do you think it could work on the big screen?
Yeah, you would have to tweak it. I think you’d have to shift it up. You’d, of course, have to add more than one character and have the ending make sense instead of a girl turning into a deer. I guarantee you the movie won’t have the feel of the game because the feeling of the game is so incredible because you feel so alone in this incredible vastness, and then the only things out there in this beautiful vastness are these giant Colossi, and they’re not doing anything to anyone, and you have to kill them. It’s kind of beautiful and tremendously sad, and kind of glorious because it’s like: “Why am I doing this?” The Colossi aren’t leaving their area, they’re not hurting anyone. You’re persecuting them. They look tremendously sad, and the majority of them are not trying to attack you! It would be incredibly easy for me to write that movie. I’m good at writing, so I can’t imagine that I couldn’t figure out a way to make that incredibly emotional, really sad, sombre introspective journey. But at the same time I don’t know if they want that. It’s always hard to tell what studios want, and sometimes they don’t want what you’d expect them to want and they definitely often don’t want what you’d like them to want. There’s enough incredible imagery to do a hundred fucking great stories, but we’ll see what they come up with. I have absolute faith in Josh, I think he’s brilliant.

The last thing I read about the Chronicle sequel was you saying it wasn’t necessarily true that the studio was unsatisfied with your script, is that still the case?
It’s not not the case? They have their own vision for what they want Chronicle 2 to be. And it’s not what Chronicle 1 really was. It’s a different type of thing. I wrote the script already, I wrote a draft. My vision was different than theirs and we’ll see how it ends up, because since then the conversation on it’s slowed down. And it’s like, “Well, what are we going to do?” I’m about to direct a movie in two months, I have 14 other projects that I’m working on that I’m trying to get made. It looks like Fox are maybe doing my Frankenstein this summer with Daniel Radcliffe, which is tremendously exciting because I think that’s one of the better scripts I’ve written and, at the end of the day, Chronicle’s Chronicle. Josh is not on the sequel right now, and we’ll see where it goes.

I’m finding it difficult to imagine a Frankenstein movie with Daniel Radcliffe as Igor, what kind of tone does Frankenstein have?
Yeah, good. That’s a good thing. It’s not a comedy. My version to Frankenstein is a tribute to a few different things, the themes are about friendship and the idea that by working together and combining our resources and personalities we end up doing a form of soft science where we can create things we would never have been able to do on our own. But when you do this chemistry, this chemistry between people, you end up with a lot of volatile reactions that can spin you out and send you in different directions, to forgive a hackneyed term, it can start fires between people, and a lot of fires get started in this script.

It’s also about science and the idea that science is good and genius is good and important and we shouldn’t hide from the future, which is a new message for Frankentstein, because generally Frankenstein is a much more “don’t tamper in the realm of God”. This has almost the opposite message. It’s all about human achievement. It’s tremendously action-packed. It’s very dialogue-heavy. I think it has some of the best dialogue I’ve ever written. It’s very hearfelt. I would compare it most directly to the movie The Social Network, in terms of tone, in terms of look, if you added action and romance to The Social Network. Also, before you shun Radcliffe as Igor, what you don’t know Igor’s role in this script and Igor might not be who you think he is.

What appeals to you most about the working in the genre?
What are you kidding? Because it’s magic. Magic exits in our culture as an extension of human emotion. The devil, aliens, all of these things, in the way they exist in our culture, are essentially evocations of human feelings, fear, anger, the other. Angels represent love. ET represented love. The Force, the idea that there’s a bigger picture, and that fact when I go outside today and I take a walk in my neighbourhood in Korea Town I’m not going to see anything real that directly evokes human emotion and the nature of imagination. Only art can do this, and when you talk about art you’re talking about the human art of expression and the human style of expression and our method of expression. And at the end of the day, if you’re telling a story that has no rules beyond the constraints of a budget, and the skill of the actors and the director and the cinematographer, and the special effects artist, why not tell a story where you can do whatever you want? Why not use the tools of the imagination that are presented to you to go bigger than a lawyer in a courtroom? I’ve written scripts like that. I’ve written plenty of scripts that are just real, but they don’t sell, because no-one wants to read a script about a 51-year-old sea fisherman trying to get his boat back under control in a big storm written by a 27-year-old loud mouth. They want to read my next big explosion. It’s interesting because I don’t mind. I’m happy to give them 100 more big explosions. I love them all the projects I’m working on right now. They all have characters who I love, but I don’t think those characters would be quite as happy in any other movie as the one I’ve put them in. So to be with those characters I’ve got to put them in space, I’ve got to give them superpowers, I’ve got to trap them in a wormhole or make them the children of international mercenaries. You know, tell a larger tapestry. It’s just more fun tools to play with.

Video Games: The Movie remains open to funding on Kickstarter until Tuesday 18 June.

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