Part 1 - Breaking in and the road to STREET FIGHTER
My talk with THE JUNGLE BOOK screenwriter Justin Marks continues.
Well you’ve talked about STREET FIGHTER in so many other interviews that I don’t want to linger on that production, but that’s your most recent produced feature credit until THE JUNGLE BOOK. And it’s my understanding you were supporting yourself entirely on your writing in between those two, is that right?
So explain to my audience what a working writer does when they’re not making movies in that interregnum.
Basically, for every ten jobs you get, one of them gets produced. I know that batting average is different for some people. I would say you average two or three, maybe four jobs a year. Those can be anything from a quick rewrite or a weekly or a polish to a pilot that you sell, a blind script deal or a straight two-step assignment. You’re always working on something, and then every writer should be doing a spec once a year.
So you’re always just generating new material, and I think that’s the hardest thing to see from the outside. And I wish I could say there’s something extraordinary about working four or five jobs a year – every writer does it. Some do even more.
When you’re working on these assignments, it’s probably easy to know when you’re done because they tell you you’re done. When you’re working on a spec, when do you know to give up on a spec?
Yeah, I’ve given up on some things. It’s a conversation you have with your reps and at a certain point we may stop, or we may float it out to a couple producers who we trust and ask, “What do you think? Think we can get anywhere with this?” And if they say no, you’ve gotta be willing to let it go.
It sounds like bullshit but it’s true – you don’t write to make money. You write because it’s a compulsion, that’s what makes you happy. And the ones you get money on, well that just helps you get even more happy.You write because you have to, so those scripts you abandon, maybe you just take them as a tax write-off on time that you’re making money on other things.
And when you’re coming up with ideas, are you working with your management team, like “Hey I’ve got three ideas, which one do you think I should write?”
It’s not even like that with me. It’s like “Hey, I’ve had this idea for a while.” Maybe I’ll share the first ten pages with them, and if they think there’s something there, we do it. If not, we don’t. Most of the time, once you’ve started to create a career as a writer, no matter what level you’re at, specs become something you do to expand on your “brand.” I’m using air-quotes when I say “brand” because it sounds so awful.
As an example, I speced an early 20th Century espionage script for Ron Howard and we worked on it together. I did all the research because it was something I loved and because I knew no one was gonna pay me to write that.
Because at that point, you’re “the HE-MAN guy,” you’re “the STREET FIGHTER guy.”
Exactly. So I decided to do this on it’s own just to see if I can write a movie like that and see if I enjoy it and in that case I did. We never sold it, but I took all that research and I put it into my TV show. You always win, but you do that to prove to people you can do something different.
With SUPERMAX, I want to say it was roughly around the time of BATMAN BEGINS when it became known?
It was soon after BATMAN BEGINS, like within a year that I set up HE-MAN and SUPERMAX at Warners, and they were within a month of each other. It happened very fast, and that was with David Goyer producing that.
And how did you get hooked up with him?
I met David because his wife at the time was an executive on STREET FIGHTER. Jessika Borsiczky, she’s now a writer in her own right and works on HOUSE OF LIES. She introduced me to David just for coffee because I’d mentioned – not knowing that they were about to get married – how David has always been such an influence on me. Then she brought us out to meet at the Chateau Marmont and just over the course of a coffee I pitched this idea that I had for years, sort of a Count of Monte Cristo prison-break story in the world of supervillains.
That was how we first got started together and we’ve worked together a couple times since as well.
And did that become Green Arrow because he’s the most Batman-like character who isn’t Batman?
No, actually when that was conceived, David was adamant that we should pitch it as any hero, probably someone who didn’t have superpowers.
And that cuts it down pretty fast in this universe.
So we pitched it to DC. I gave the whole story from beginning to end. After I finished the pitch, it was Greg Novak at DC who said, “Why don’t you put Green Arrow into that?” Then we brought it to Warner Bros with Green Arrow and they bought it as a Green Arrow movie.
And I think at the time, this is before even SMALLVILLE was using that character. It was like “Green Arrow? Who’s pulling Green Arrow for a movie? They’ve spent almost ten years trying to do Batman and Superman again!”
And I think to this day that might be still one of the biggest problems with it. I want to see it, but maybe the perception is, “Who wants to see a sequel to the Green Arrow story when we haven’t even seen the first one?” That may be what always slowed it down.
Part III - Making THE JUNGLE BOOK