THE BUTCHER'S BLOCK - Chopping It Up With Excitable Eccentric, Screenwriter MAX LANDIS
Welcome to the first installment of an ongoing feature I'll be doing, spotlighting talent that may not have "two nickels to rub together" (to paraphrase a reader here at Twitch), but tomorrows giants are today's unknowns. Hopefully we here at Twitch can help in some small way by focusing on those, who in my humble opinion have something a little extra special, and help them get noticed. We kick it off with Max Landis, a trippy guy to say the least, and a major burgeoning screenwriting talent. Okay Mr. Big Daddy Movie Deal Maker, are you reading?
Max Landis lives a liiiiiiittle outside the box. I mean the guy makes hamburgers on inverted glazed doughnuts for Pete's sake. Admittedly, it looks appealing to a junk food aficionado like...wait where was I? Oh yeah, Max Landis. Outside the box. Playing dress up. Check. Make silly videos on the streets of Los Angeles? Check. Have a zany sense of humor as well as an uncannily insiteful mind? Check. Yep, for a bozo Max Landis is pretty dang smart. And his work shows it.
Born to John and Deborah Nadoolman Landis back in 1985, his earliest movie memories are seeing King Kong and Bambi with his father (who yes, happens to be that John Landis) Max at 18 wrote the screenplay for Masters Of Horror episode "Deer Woman", which was also directed by the elder Landis. He was invited to back to pen something for Fear Itself (the network version of MoH actually) which aired as Something With Bite. A little comic work with Return To Mysterious Island from Blue Water, and many many screenplays later, Max is ready for that Big Break. His story telling skills are honed, creative, and as clever and twisted as he is. His work is heavily informed by pop-culture, and I can hear echoes of the rapid fire style of a Quentin Tarrentino or a Kevin Smith, as well as the caustic but kind hearted dialog found in Judd Apatow's work. But these are only touchstones, as is the fact he has a legendary director for a father. Eccentric. Prolific. Clever. Maniacal. Talented.
Max Landis is his own entity. And a born storyteller, as we can see from the following -I threw a few questions at him via e-mail, after reading a couple of pieces of his work. One was a strange and surreal crime flick/love story/comedy piece titled Mr. Right, and the other an insanely fun tribute to fanboys and Famous Monsters kids everywhere, called Universal Monsters. I'll have a little more on that later...
So here it is, my conversation with excitable eccentric, screenwriter Max Landis.
When did you first know you wanted to write?
I've been lying since I was very young, and I'm pretty sure they're connected. Most of my lies, especially once I reached like 5th, 6th grade, wouldn't involve me, and would just be about fantastical things that I would claim to have witnessed. It would get to the point that I'd have like ten or fifteen people just in a circle at school listening to me bullshit, and it very slowly dawned on me that if I PRESENTED THESE STORIES AS FICTION, though they'd lack a certain element of interest, they'd be much less likely to bite me in the ass later, and I could probably still get about five of my listeners to pay attention.
But really? Actual writing: prose, 11. Screenplays, 16.
What was the first thing you wrote that you were actually like "Yep, I can do this!"?
That's a really tough question, because from like twelve to nineteen, I thought everything I wrote was fucking brilliant. I still kind of do, but I have to be quieter about it, and like all writers, claim that a lot of what I write is "shit" or that I "hate my writing." Because I'm so used to lying about that, there's always kind of an internal smile that washes over me when I hear other writers saying the same stuff. It's like "yeah, buddy. Sure you do."
These days I 'm more realistic with myself about my work. A lot of it is NOT for everybody...And some of it might just be for me, so there's definitely an element of "me being crappy at rite gud" in there. I would say the first thing I wrote that I went "Okay, this seems like something that could actually be a movie" was my script Hometown Hero, when I was 19.
What are your influences? Both writing and film-wise?
Stephen King is really the big one. Everything else is trickle down. I'd say most writers are influenced by everything they see, everyone they meet, to some degree. I'd put myself there; creativity via osmosis.
You do a lot of weird and funny performance videos, that pop up on your youtube channel. Do you have any aspirations to direct, or act, as well?
Acting, not so much. I'd love cameos, though, as the world would be spared my dramatic abilities, but still get to bask in my visual presence. Directing, who knows. UNiVERSAL HORROR is the first thing I've written that I'd feel comfortable directing...and I've written A LOT.
What was the genesis for your script Universal Horror?
UNiHO was an amalgam of a couple of different ideas. I'd wanted for ages to write a script about a kid just coming out of college in today's economic environment, and of the malaise I keep seeing in a lot of my friends, the lost feeling. I wanted to take this kid and have him prove himself, take him on a crazy adventure.
Then of course there's the Abbott And Costello Meet Frankenstein part, which is really the big one. My dad first showed me that movie when I was, what, five? I must've seen it one hundred times since. I love the way the threat works in that movie; it's a comedy, but the monsters are taken DEADLY SERIOUS. If Bud or Lou fuck up, they're DEAD, man, they're gonna get drained by Drac, or ripped to shreds by the Wolfman, or torn limb from limb by Frankenstein.
The last big inspiration was that I wanted to do something really new with the archetypal movie monsters. So I did a bunch of research, even went into the Hammer horror versions of these characters, and looked for shit that hadn't been done. Here's your **SPOILER WARNING**. This is how we got a laid back, stoner werewolf who's fully in control after he transforms, a Frankenstein Monster that spends the entirety of the script strapped to a gurney, an uncommonly talkative vampire eternally dying of Cancer as our villain, a half-a-mummy, a hunchbacked state trooper and The Phantoms, a Neo Nazi biker gang led by the scarred, mask-wearing Leroux.
Oh, and it takes place in the New Mexico Desert. No Country For Old Monster Squad.
Note from The Butcher* In a perfect world this film would be optioned and getting ready to roll. I really really want to see this film made. The screenplay was insanely fun, I literally got up and made myself popcorn after reading the first few pages. Now, back to our regularly scheduled programming...
What are you working on now?
Rewrites for my Cartoon Network TV movie, rewrites for my POV Supervillain Script, finishing up my debutante-children-of-the-world's-most-dangerous-mercenaries script, getting started on my "guy with trimethylnumeria battles three terrifying female serial killers in a sewer" script, pondering writing this thing about Mermaids, trying to get the job to pen the rewrite of BLOODSPORT (mine would be rather different), waiting to hear back on a script that's out to financiers.
Also, trying to finish six scripts that have been sent to me to read by friends. That's always the hard part. Writing's easy. Reading's hard.
There you have it. The entity that is Max Landis. Stay tuned for more on Max, and his upcoming projects. If talent is a guarantee for success, then we'll be hearing a lot about this guy in the near future. As long as an anvil doesn't fall out of the sky and onto his head I think Max Landis has a destiny...
*Cut to black*
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