In just seven hours, Mr. Landis bashed out a spec script (as unsolicited, over-the-transom screenplays are known) for a psychological horror-thriller called “Deeper,” about a disgraced astronaut. Almost as quickly, a bidding war broke out, and in April, “Deeper” sold to MGM for $2 million.
A couple of things here. First off, it’s worth noting that this is the kind of decision that put MGM into bankruptcy four years ago. Two million dollars for a screenplay from a writer whose last movie made $35,000 at the box office, despite starring Anna Kendrick and Sam Rockwell. $2 million for a screenplay from the writer of Victor Frankenstein, which made $5 million total, despite having both Daniel Radcliffe and James McAvoy in it. The movie before that, American Ultra, made $14 million on a $28 million budget.
Also, who brags about finishing a spec script in 7 hours? That’s like finishing a math test half an hour before everyone else, but getting a C.
To hear Mr. Landis tell it, however, the payday pales in importance to a more existential imperative. “I write scripts the way a lot of people play ‘Angry Birds,’” he said, sipping a mojito poolside here at the Chateau Marmont.
Max Landis sipping a mojito poolside at the Chateau Marmont sounds like the worst white rum campaign ad ever. Also, of course he writes scripts like other people play Angry Birds: With a sort of active disinterest in what’s on the screen and an eye only toward the end so he can put the damn thing down and go back to his true passion: Twitter missives.
“In my head, I see a movie. If I don’t write the script, there’s no chance that movie will exist. If it doesn’t exist, I feel like I’m failing. I feel like this pit inside of me is rapidly growing and expanding. And I’ll disappear and be nothing. So clearly I have to write something. Otherwise I’ll die.”
Oh no! But if Max Landis dies, who will mansplain feminism?! Who will mash-up better movies from the 90s into bland, derivative cinematic paste! Who will be the poster boy for white male entitlement? Scott Eastwood?
A spectacular pitchman with a multicolored mohawk and voice that can break into the register of an excited teenage boy, the single, 6-foot-3½-inch Mr. Landis now ranks among Hollywood’s most sought-after writers for mainstream genre fare.
Who said movies are a dying art form?
Mr. Landis claims to have written an astonishing 98 screenplays (nearly all still unproduced) with 20 or 30 more in the “things I might finish soon” category and some 200 others in various stages of completion. “Without exaggeration or braggadocio, I write more and faster than any writer I’ve ever met,” Mr. Landis said.
Anyone that prefaces a statement with “without braggadocio,” is clearly about to brag. You know who else is a prolific screenwriter? Alan Loeb, the man who shat out 8 produced screenplays in two years. Remember Just Go With It or The Dilemma or The Switch or Here Comes the Boom or So Undercover with Miley Cyrus? Yeah, no one else does, either.
All the while, Mr. Landis has maintained a vibrant social media presence across Facebook, Tumblr, YouTube (111,000 subscribers) and Twitter (81,000 followers). Posting numerous times daily, he shares homemade parody videos and offers pop cultural ruminations (“Macklemore Is the White Eminem”).
And Landis is the screenwriting Macklemore.
“I got this fire lit in me a couple of years ago to make understanding the job of a screenwriter as visible as possible,” Mr. Landis said. “Not because I think screenwriters are underappreciated — even though they are.
Says the man who was just paid $2 million for a spec script he wrote in 7 hours, and $4 million for Bright, which is basically End of Watch with orcs.
Since the critical and commercial misfire of “Victor Frankenstein” (he said his script was significantly changed on its way to the screen), Mr. Landis has refused to sell his screenplays to the major movie distributors unless they come “completely packaged” with deals for actors, directors and budgets, effectively preventing studio executives from “disfiguring” his writing.
I mean, the last thing anyone would want was to have the Shakespearean prose of Max Landis “disfigured” by studio hacks who were dumb enough to offer $2 million for a spec script written in 7 hours. I wouldn’t trust those guys either, Max!