Max Landis interview: Chronicle, comic book movies and more

The screenwriter of Chronicle, Mr Max Landis, looks back on writing the film, and tells us what he's up to now...

One of the best surprises of 2012 to date has been Chronicle, a movie directed by Josh Trank, with a screenplay by Max Landis. As the film arrives on DVD and Blu-ray in the UK, Mr Landis spared us a few moments for a quick probe about the movie, and what he’s up to next…

Where did the inspiration for Chronicle’s characters come from?

Josh and I worked them up in a backyard.  Andrew was entirely mine, but Matt, as the slacker, and Steve, as the golden boy, were Josh’s inventions.  It was me who added the pseudo-intellectual nascent superhero component to Matt and the Nice Guys Finish First component to Steve.

Did you try to create the script with a modest budget in mind, or did you prefer not to allow those concerns to stifle the process of writing?

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Shit like that will stop you writing you think about it too much.

How much of Chronicle’s story was in place before you began writing the screenplay? Were there action moments that only came to mind in the process or writing it?

I knew the whole thing from the get.  It all came into my mind at once while Josh was explaining the bones of the idea.  It was a thrilling, exotic thing for me; it’s happened since, but never before, and that was when I could feel that electricity shooting through my bones.

Was Chronicle’s concept borne out of a frustration with the conventions of comic book storytelling as well as a love for it?

The comic stuff is all me; it’s me venting my rage at comic book movies, and dissecting and deconstructing the idea of what makes someone a “superhero.”  Carrie wasn’t a superhero.  Danny Torrance wasn’t a superhero.  I’m not sure Andrew, Matt and Steve are superheroes, either.  It’s just me hoping and wishing for a film that focused on character instead of the tropey A-B-C plot.  It’s the first act of something.

One of the striking things about Chronicle is its realistic, often very funny dialogue. What’s the process of writing those exchanges like, and does dialogue and character come before a story’s structure, or vice versa?

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Thank you; kind words.  I dunno, man; Matt, Andrew and Steve’s banter is just me sitting there essentially with sock-puppets, talking to myself as these three guys, and then Alex, Dane and Michael taking that and making it completely real.  I’m the sort of writer who believes characters and story service each other, and are inextricably connected, so answering that question is a bit of a an egg-hither-chicken-thither debacle.

Were the short films you wrote earlier in your career an important part of learning about screenwriting? Would you say a short film – a Fear Itself episode, for example – is any more or less difficult to write than a feature?

Every story I write is different.  Some are hard.  Some aren’t.  Chronicle was tremendously easy.  I have a hard time comparing my process on different things, but I will say this:  The more you write, the better you get at it.  That’s one of the few things that’s markedly true.

You’re currently attached to two projects which retell familiar stories from a new slant – The Pied Piper and Frankenstein. Will they be told in a contemporary ‘voice’, as Chronicle was, and what is it about those stories that interest you?

Frankenstein was a matter of me realizing that the Frankenstein story that exists in the zeitgeist – Igor, Victor Frankenstein, Lightning, the 1800s – actually didn’t fucking exist.  It was just a conglomeration of a bunch of bullshit people had cobbled together from a dozen different sources.  Well I was like, fuck it, let’s make them right.  Let’s do the zeitgeist version of Frankenstein, and make it about friendship instead of antagonizing, love instead of hate, medicine instead of madness and science instead of god.  I’m deeply proud of that script. 

Pied Piper came to me all at once; I wanted to do a fairy-tale movie with some edge, but not “dark,” per say.  I wasn’t trying to make it “bad-ass” or “edgy,” though it could be described as both of those.  It’s actually better, and most accurate, to compare it to a nineties Disney film; Beauty And The Beast, minus music, plus blood.

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We’re intrigued by the project you’re writing, currently called Untitled Disney Space Adventure according to some online sources. Is there anything you can tell us about that?

Nope.  The mouse has me on lockdown.  The answers you seek can’t be found in Today.  But they can be found in Tomorrow.

The mind-bending extended edition of ‘Chronicle’ with thrilling new footage will be available exclusively on Blu-ray from 28 May!

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