Man of Action Figures

One of the more unusual sources of inspiration came from Neptunes producer and N.E.R.D singer Pharrell Williams, who was on the Voltron project even before Marks was. Williams had big ideas for the film and, of course, the soundtrack.

It sent my head spinning,” remembers Marks. “I was saying, ‘Oh, I see. We can think outside this box. We’re not just repackaging a Star Wars story. How can we take what Voltron is and bring it into where we are today?’ Well, something like Pharrell’s music; the sampled style, the cut-and-paste style. That’s very much, to me, what went into the theme of Voltron, where you’ve got these people cutting and pasting their salvation through these machines.”

The script was good enough to land Marks a meeting with toymakers Mattel and the Warner Bros. studio to pitch his vision of He-Man, a mythic yet human interpretation that saw bony Skeletor as a sympathetic villain, “a flawed and ambitious man who wanted nothing less than the whole world.” In the economically worded, broadly visual script, He-Man doesn’t become He-Man until nearly the very end. Instead, we see a young prince whose father, the King of Eternia, is murdered and overthrown by the forces of evil; Prince Adam barely survives and is forced into exile, where he’s trained by Yoda-like Zodak until he’s ready to take on Skeletor and stake his rightful claim to the throne. It was a high-pressure situation for Marks, one that would ready him, like Adam, for his own battles down the road.

“If you want to control everything about the process, you can do
two things: be a director or be a novelist.”

That one was the first time where I was thrown into a project where you’ve got many different factors to balance: You’ve got Mattel, Warner [Bros.], Joel Silver as producer. It was a very, very strenuous script to write because of how many cooks were in that kitchen. It was a hell of a script to write.”

The leaked version of the script received rave reviews from the fanboy community and seemed destined for a fast-track production. It was a high time, and Marks got the most out of it. He could feel clouds gathering on the horizon. 

Walking through raindrops

Street Fighter: The Legend of Chun-Li was a desperation job for Marks. He’d spent years attempting to bring Voltron to life and was just about broke. He took the job to avoid working as an assistant again, and to this day feels proud of the job he did on the first draft. It’s everything after that completed draft that went downhill, and when the first trailers and photos came to light, all eyes turned to Marks. “I’m honestly worried that this will have a great script, courtesy of Marks, but poor direction … and will be nothing exciting in the end,” read one fan’s online guess months before the film opened.

When Street Fighter was released—unleashed, perhaps?—in February 2009, the reaction could not have been more fiercely unkind or financially disastrous. The $50 million film never hit double digits in the gross and merited only a 4 percent “fresh” rating on Rotten Tomatoes, one of the worst showings of the decade for that site and just barely higher than Battlefield Earth. The puzzling direction was compounded by some of the campiest, downright hilariously bad acting this side of Rollerball. A major source of bizarre choices was its star, Chris Klein, now infamous for his goofy Mamma Mia! audition. Many of Klein’s line readings in Street Fighter have become YouTube-famous, including the coup de grâce, “This guy walks through the raindrops.” (The line, along with many others, was not in Marks’ script.)

Due to Writer’s Guild of America restrictions, Marks is not able to discuss much about what happened in the script-to-screen process. But his wounds are evident. “That was a movie that was made during the [2007-2008] writer’s strike. Because I was a Writer’s Guild member, I was not able to be a part of the [production] process,” says Marks. “For me, watching that movie come out and, when I first saw that movie and I first heard a voice-over on that movie … my script didn’t have a voice-over. Your heart breaks.” He did, however, get a free trip out of the deal. “That was still the most worthwhile experience. I’d never gotten a free trip to anywhere before. I got one to Bangkok, Thailand—which was a little weird, because I’d written it to be set in Hong Kong.”

Marks says the script did not go through the WGA arbitration process, in which a committee reads every draft and revision and compares them to the final product in order to determine screen credit, but he hints that that was more because he wasn’t a Guild member at the time he wrote it than a final determination on his contribution. He also can’t say whether he was allowed any on-set rewrites, which is typical of major productions, but he confirms he was only on set for a couple of days, hardly long enough to fix any major damage that had been done to his original draft.

“If you do something
and you fail, it lives on
in infamy for a
very long time.
Sometimes a train wreck
is more interesting.”

At the end of the day, it belongs to them. I gave them a product and they did what they needed to do with it,” says Marks, who found a little ray of optimism in the shrug-it-off attitude of Klein. “The week the movie came out, I had seen it a week prior, so I knew what it was. … But my girlfriend and my friends were like, ‘If you don’t go to a movie theater and see your name on the screen once, you’ll always regret it.’ So we went out there, and I bought a flask to get through it, and showed up at the theater. I came out of the elevator and as I walked to Mann’s Chinese, where it was showing that night, the elevator door across from me opened and it was Chris Klein and all his friends. He was so excited to see the movie! He was like, ‘Of course! It’s a movie! That I worked on! It’s fun! We’re all going to watch it!’ Just the fact that he showed up on opening night with all his friends—I’ve gotta give it to him.”

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