Man of Action Figures

Klein’s enthusiasm couldn’t shield Marks from the backlash, however. Months later, when it was announced that Marks would pen the screen adaptation of the video game Shadow of the Colossus, online opinion of Marks had turned tepid at best. A sampling: “Now for the potentially bad news. The script is being written by Justin Marks.” “I still don’t trust Marks … @Marks: Prove yourself.” “This is going to hurt, isn’t it?” Even Marks’ successful scripts were retroactively downgraded: “I have to admit it’s kind of funny that if you do a quick search for the screenwriter Justin Marks, you will get ‘the guy they brought in to fuck up He-Man’ in your results (probably not very funny to him, but what can you do?),” read one brutal assessment of Marks’ Colossus prospects.

Look, I grew up reading these sites and being part of this thing, but it was so heartbreaking to see the hostile reception, in the sense of suddenly everyone’s equating your name with this movie that you feel like was this thing that just happened to come out while you existed that you had written a draft of a long time ago,” says Marks in one long breath. “And now, suddenly, everything you do is tainted by that. It’s taken a lot of therapy to get through the Street Fighter experience.”

Surfing the setbacks

Despite Street Fighter’s failure, work kept coming in for Marks, based on the strength of that film’s original script and the glowing reception within the industry to his version of He-Man. First came the opportunity to take a pass at Hack/Slash, comic book writer Tim Seeley’s Buffy-esque series about a tough, sarcastic high-school girl who hunts monsters known as “slashers.” Even better, the studio responsible for the picture, Rogue Pictures, did not expect Marks’ version to be a definitive draft by any means. Many well-known writers had taken their stabs at the property and more have since Marks. He likens the experience to a hit-it-and-quit-it scenario.

I had just been working on He-Man for the last year of my life, and frankly, I needed to get out of Eternia,” says Marks. “I like to say it’s comparable to being in a very intense relationship for a year and, when the relationship ends, you go to Vegas with some beautiful girl and just disappear for the weekend.”

Within a couple of months of Street Fighter, Marks had been officially announced as the writer of four upcoming films, all adaptations. Along with Hack/Slash, he was confirmed as writing the scripts for Suicide Squad, a Dirty Dozen–style DC Comics league best known from the comic-book series of the 1980s; the aforementioned Shadow of the Colossus; and, most exciting of all, a new version of 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea with Terminator: Salvation director McG at the helm.

Some of those things had been booked the summer before and got delayed being announced for whatever reason. But for me, the high point was getting to work at Disney on 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea. It was this incredible experience of getting to work on a big-budget Disney blockbuster movie with a bunch of great people,” says Marks. Somehow, he found time during all of this to fly once a week to Montreal to work as a writer for Electronic ArtsArmy of Two sequel The 40th Day. “I wrote three of the levels, but then I went on to go to Disney and I think EA internally wrote the last three levels after I left.”

By the end of 2009, however, things had turned sour once again for Marks. In September, Warner Bros. announced they were canceling work on Grayskull, Marks’ He-Man script, and were walking away from the property altogether. In November, Hack/Slash moved on to another writer, and in April of 2010, the rights-holders to Voltron announced they were throwing out Marks’ development and starting at square one. The final blow to Marks came this May, when Disney stated they were letting go of Marks and McG and had hired David Fincher to craft an entirely new vision of the Jules Verne novel.

The only real disappointment I’ve had in the last few months is 20,000 Leagues, and the way that all went down,” insists Marks. “It was something everyone was very high on, and the studio leadership changed very suddenly and things went south from there. I was planning my vacation in Mexico when suddenly we found out there was a new head of the studio.

You have to detach and take it for the work and the work alone. It’s something that’s been, over the last couple of years, the hardest thing to learn. … You have to take every project with the only thing you can control, which is that little brief moment before you finish your first draft. Everything else is putting your fate in a studio that isn’t concerned with whether your movie gets made, but whether they have the right slate for a given year.”

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

In the meantime, Marks seems to have endured the wave of disappointment and come out on the other end intact. Super Max, the project that first put his name on the lips of so many geeks, is still a go. In it, DC hero Green Arrow finds himself locked up in an impenetrable prison with some of the supervillains he helped put away. Marks also has high hopes for Shadow of the Colossus, which he’s writing now.

Now that he’s proven himself as a marketable screenwriter—even if he’s not quite cemented his reputation in the fanboy world—Marks feels comfortable giving advice to up-and-coming writers. The most important first step: move.

Being an assistant is the best film school you can ever have,” says Marks. “You’ve gotta be in L.A. If you want to work in politics, you go to Washington, D.C. If you want to work in film, you crash on a friend’s couch for a couple of months and see what it’s like. I think it’s an essential part of the business. You’re working on your craft at the same time, as a writer, but you’ve got to hear what people are talking about at dinner tables, as far as what people want. You’ve got to be meeting with other people who are trying to move up like you and build a community of friends who come up together.

As far as the process is concerned, the best thing is just to be genuinely intimate with the material, and fully embrace what you’re trying to do and disappear into it. The best material is the stuff that [reads] like someone really fell in love with what it is they’re trying to write. I can’t put my finger on what it is, but it’s something that’s undeniable.”   Get In Media



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