"The universe is made of stories, not of atoms."
Jon Turteltaub in this exclusive interview and wide-ranging conversation talks about making The Meg, wanting to push harder for an R rating, what they wanted to accomplish with the film, why it took so long from filming to reach theaters, what he learned from test screenings, why he thinks audiences sees a sequel, how the Asian marketplace for movies impacted making The Meg, and more. In addition, he talked about the status of National Treasure 3, how his first cut of National Treasure was close to four hours, and more.
How To Book Meetings With Studio Heads And Get Into The Story Market - Dr. Ken Atchity With Alex Berman
With more than forty years’ experience in the publishing world, and twenty-five years in entertainment, Dr. Ken Atchity is a self-defined “Story Merchant” – author, professor, producer, career coach, teacher, and literary manager, responsible for launching dozens of books and films. Ken’s life passion is finding great storytellers and turning them into commercial authors and screenwriters.
In this episode you’ll learn:
[01:14] Dr. Ken’s first deal was for 8 movies
[05:25] No one knows anything in Hollywood [06:14] Entertainment business is based on wild ideas
[06:36] What stops someone from thinking outside the box
[08:40] It took 22 years for Meg to get to the screen
[12:13] Story market is very volatile
[15:14] How is Dr. Ken setting up the meetings with studio heads
[17:55] How to stay memorable
[19:50] Pitching is an art
[23:00] Difference between amateur and veteran pitching
[23:55] What makes for a good film story
[28:55] It’s hard to get in the story market at a national level
If you’ve enjoyed the episode, please subscribe to The Alex Berman Podcast on iTunes and leave us a 5-star review.
It’s been more than twenty years since Dennis Palumbo’s fiction has appeared in EQMM. In the meantime, he’s been busy with a series of novel-length thrillers featuring Daniel Rinaldi, a psychologist who consults with the Pittsburgh Police (the latest is Head Wounds, from Poisoned Pen Press), and his short stories have been collected in From Crime to Crime (Tallfellow Press). A former Hollywood screenwriter (My Favorite Year; Welcome Back, Kotter, etc.), Dennis is himself a licensed psychotherapist, and in this post he talks about some misconceptions many mystery writers and readers have about the usefulness of psychological diagnoses in solving crimes. —Janet Hutchings
As a former Hollywood screenwriter, now a licensed psychotherapist and mystery author, I have more than a passing interest in how therapy is portrayed on screen and on the page. That said, I’ve noticed that in recent years, whether in some best-selling crime thriller or on your average procedural TV drama, the therapists depicted are usually pretty quick-on-the-draw when it comes to diagnosing characters in the story.
For example: To explain a suspect’s behavior to the investigating detectives, shrinks in these novels and TV series toss out easily-digestible diagnoses like “psychopathic,” “schizophrenic,” or “borderline personality disorder.” As if these terms explained everything the cops (and readers or viewers) needed to know about the person being discussed. In my view, not only is this lazy storytelling (psychological symptoms taking the place of character development) but it’s clinically debatable.
The problem starts with the DSM (the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders). Used as the premiere diagnostic bible by mental-health professionals worldwide, the DSM has been predominately responsible for the labeling of an individual’s behavior, in terms of whether or not it falls within the range of agreed-upon norms. As such, it’s been both praised and reviled over the years. Praised because of its concise descriptions and categorizations of behavioral symptoms; reviled because of its reinforcement of stigmatizing attitudes towards those whose behavior is deemed “abnormal.”
In fact, there’s an old joke about how clinicians use diagnostic labels to interpret their patients’ behavior. If the patient arrives early for his therapy appointment, he’s anxious. If he’s late, he’s resistant. And if he’s on time, he’s compulsive.
Nowadays, however, it’s becoming clear that the joke may be on us. Diagnostic labels are thrown around quite casually by people who ought to know better (therapists on TV news programs) as well as by people who usually don’t (writers of mystery novels and procedural crime shows).
For the latter, it’s perfectly understandable. With rare exceptions, most writers depend on research—and such tools as the DSM—to provide their psychologist and psychiatrist characters with the right lingo. This not only makes these characters sound like the mental-health professionals they’re supposed to be, but it also allows the writer to describe the bad guy’s psychological problem in a way that the reader understands. Plus it makes the shrink character seem wicked smart.
However, as I said, it can also lead to lazy storytelling. In too many mysteries and thrillers nowadays, the shrink character need only say that someone’s a psychopath and—in an instant—a whole series of inexplicable or horrendous behaviors are explained away. To the question of why the bad guy did what he did, the answer is simple: he’s crazy.
In other words, so much for developing a vivid, relatable backstory for this character. Or creating a motive that makes sense. Or for acknowledging, as the author should, that most people are too complicated to be reduced to a set of easily determined symptoms.
Which is why I feel that crime writers—especially those who make use of therapists in their stories, either as protagonists or “experts” brought in to help the hero or heroine—need to take care not to use a one-size-fits-all model of diagnosis when it comes to describing a character in the story.
(There’s another problem with this, one which I think writers need to be aware of. Diagnostic labels, like practically everything else nowadays, follow the dictates of trends. Remember how, not too long ago, every other child was diagnosed with ADHD [Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder]? Or Asperger’s? Well, forget about those. Now the “hot” new label, regardless of age, is bipolar disorder [what used to be called manic-depression]. Lately, whether you’re a movie star, teen heartthrob, politician, or athlete, you’re not cool if you’re not bipolar.)
Not that there’s anything wrong, per se, with labels. Nor with the idea of a common vocabulary so that all us clinical geniuses can communicate with each other. It’s just that, if we’re speaking honestly, diagnostic labels exist primarily for the convenience of the labelers. Which is fine, as far as it goes. But how far is too far? Especially for crime writers?
In my opinion, “too far” is when authors give their therapist characters an almost clairvoyant ability to declare (with God-like conviction) what’s going on in the mind of some suspected bad guy. Because, as any working mental health professional will tell you, facile, off-the-cuff interpretations of a patient’s psychological state rarely end up being accurate. And can even do great harm.
Once, when asked how he worked, Albert Einstein replied, “I grope.” Frankly, that’s what most good therapists do, too. They grope. That is, if they truly respect the therapeutic process—and their patients.
In my own series of mystery thrillers, my lead character, psychologist and trauma expert Daniel Rinaldi, does a lot of groping. Trying to make sense not only of his patients, or some suspect for which the Pittsburgh Police are seeking his expertise, but of himself, too. His own motives, prejudices, needs.
As a therapist in private practice for over 28 years, I’ve grown to appreciate the vast differences in temperament, relationship choices, communication styles and beliefs of my patients—and how these translate into behaviors, both healthy and harmful. Which means I’ve been forced many times to challenge the orthodoxy of my own profession, and to pay attention to the potential danger of reducing people to a simple diagnostic category.
I think all of us who write mysteries owe our various suspects and bad guys the same consideration. As well as try to keep our shrink characters’ smug, self-congratulatory opinions in check.
After all, despite being fictional, they’re still only human.
Steve Alten has always insisted that, if done right, The Meg could be a billion dollar franchise.
"The Meg’s" 22 year long journey from book to screen, during which time it has been in the hands of several studios, proves that not everyone believed Alten’s prediction.
But, after its impressive start of the box office, there’s a very good chance that we will be seeing much more of the humungous shark in the near future.
Alten is just overjoyed that "The Meg" has finally made it to the big-screen, though.
Even before the nautical blockbuster was released Alten made it clear to me that he was very happy with what had been created of his book, even going as far as to insist that "The Meg" would attract a big audience, before laying out the reasons why the current creative team had got it just right.
“New Line were off on a completely different tangent. They were looking more for a $75 million 'Open Water,' while Shane Salerno was writing a $150 million 'Moby Dick' with a shark. When I was at New Line I was most worried it wasn’t going to be made right.”
“In Hollywood, of course, it has to make money. If it makes money then they will make another one. But I think people will be shocked by just how well this movie does.”
“Because it has kind of crept up on a lot of people. And then when people have started to watch the trailers it has blown everyone away. But there is a devoted fanbase, we call them Megheads.”
“They are devoted ‘Meg’ followers for the last 22 years. And there is an army of people out there waiting for this movie. They are so passionate about this project, and they are going to see it dozens of times when it comes out.”
“Plus, people love sharks. And this is the biggest and nastiest shark of them all.”
A riveting novel grounded in theological academia featuring an exciting narrative that leaves fiction fans and history buffs alike interested in delving into the factual basis for the book.
Atchity’s plot is fast-moving and full of mysterious twists and turns that will keep readers on their toes throughout this fascinating novel. The prose often flows beautifully, with meticulous descriptions of settings, characters, and adventures. The various storylines intersect at the most crucial moments, and the exciting dialogue and sense of dark humor conveyed certainly intensify these scenes.
Though The Messiah Matrix brings to light many fresh theological and historical possibilities, the subplots of the novel bring to mind the popularized work of Dan Brown. The storyline of deception, questioning, and even murder within the Church is not a new one, but the elements of archaeological discovery and alternate past timelines shine a fresh new light on the genre of historical fiction. The main and supporting characters are described in thorough detail: their aspirations, their fears, their romantic and emotional turmoil.
Director Jon Turteltaub narrates a sequence on the water with Statham going up against one very big shark.
In “Anatomy of a Scene,” we ask directors to reveal the secrets that go into making key scenes in their movies. See new episodes in the series each Friday. You can also watch our collection of more than 150 videos on YouTube and subscribe to our YouTube channel.
“Just keep swimming, just keep swimming.” The director Jon Turteltaub borrows this line from “Finding Nemo” and gives it to Jason Statham for a tense scene in the giant-shark thriller “The Meg.” It’s one of a few surprising moments in this sequence, narrated by Mr. Turteltaub.
For a moment when Mr. Statham bobs in and out of the water looking for the menacing Megalodon of the title, Mr. Turteltaub was inspired by GoPro footage on YouTube of divers doing the same in shark-filled waters. This wild sequence is a mixture of footage shot on location, in water tanks and on a soundstage, then blended using digital effects. “It’s a lot,” Mr. Turteltaub says.
Jason Statham and Li Bingbing's shark tale thriller is going to be a solid hit even with its $130m budget.
With 'The Meg,' Jason Statham Succeeded Where Dwayne Johnson, Matt Damon And Vin Diesel Failed
As of this writing, The Meg has earned around $6.05 million on Tuesday, rising a solid 33% from Monday and bringing its five-day total to $56m. At a glance, we're probably looking at a first-week gross of over/under $65m, with the hopes that the surprisingly solid opening weekend and decent audience buzz will allow it to join Mission: Impossible - Fallout as the summer closer. Amusingly, the chief competition this weekend is Crazy Rich Asians, which is also a Warner Bros./Time Warner Inc. release. No matter, unless it collapses here and abroad, Jason Statham and Li Bingbing's shark tale thriller is going to be a solid hit even with its $130m budget. And in that sense, it may be the first modern case of a big-budget live-action Hollywood/China co-production that was a success on both coasts.
No, it's not remotely the first big Hollywood movie that has been successful in China and North America. But in terms of movies that were, for all intents and purposes Chinese productions with a major Hollywood distributor, The Meg is in rare territory. Yes, Paramount/Viacom Inc.'s xXx: Return of Xander Cage was tailored to the Chinese marketplace. But the Vin Diesel action sequel cost just $85 million and flopped in North America. It earned most of its $346m global cume outside of America. Legendary and Universal twice tried this gambit and twice struck out. Warcraft was expected to hit big in China, and it did, for a week. The film was incredibly frontloaded and earned $90m in the first 48 hours and yet just $223m overall in China. But it made less than $50m in North America and its $165m budget (plus marketing) rendered even its $433m global cume something of a wash.
They tried again in late 2016/early 2017 with Zhan Yimou's The Great Wall. The Matt Damon action fantasy, wrongly tagged pre-release as a whitewashed/white savior story in the states (it was exactly the opposite, using its white guy hero to tell an "East >> West" melodrama), earned a decent $170 million in China when it opened in December of 2016. But it stumbled elsewhere, including just $45m in North America when it opened here in February of 2017. Doing well enough in China isn't good enough when A) the movie cost $150m and B) it only performed-to-expectations in China. I like the movie, but it was an example of studios targeting American and Chinese audiences and pleasing neither marketplace.
Ditto Pacific Rim: Uprising which earned $100 million+ in China but bombed almost everywhere else, including a $59m gross in North America. And, relatively speaking, ditto with Dwayne Johnson's Skyscraper which earned less in North America than The First Purge and did merely okay outside of China. So with a $125m gross and mediocre reviews/buzz, even a $98m total in China can't make it into a massive win. It's a minor disappointment, as opposed to a disaster, but it's another example of a movie tailored to China (it takes place in Shanghai and features many Chinese supporting characters) not breaking out on both sides of the isle.
In general, I have argued that the movies that score big in North America and China are often distinctly American movies (Ready Player One, Zootopia, etc.) or franchises that have gained a foothold in China (the MCU, Fast and Furious, not Star Wars, etc.). To the extent that Chinese audiences are flocking to the likes of non-fantasies like Dying to Survive and arguably "foreign" films like Coco and Dangal, it doesn't do much good to have a big movie that feels aggressively pandering to the Chinese marketplace. In a world where Operation Red Sea and Detective Chinatown 2 can top $500 million in China alone, the audience doesn't need to embrace pandering Hollywood biggies for big-scale cinematic thrills.
Ironically, the one prior example of a successful co-production was STX's The Foreigner. Martin Campbell's Jackie Chan/Pierce Brosnan action thriller, about a man pursuing the IRA terrorists who killed his daughter, was cheap enough (around $35 million) that a mere $35m domestic total, combined with its $81m Chinese gross (not bad for a bleak and action-light R-rated thriller) made it a big hit for STX and Wanda Pictures (among others). If the movie had cost $150m, a $145m global cume would have been a disaster. And since The Meg did in-fact cost between $130m and $178m (depending on who you ask), it matters that it isn't just (pending post-debut legs) a hit in China.
The film was financed by the likes of Warner Bros. and Maeday Pictures. WB and friends get 40% of the Chinese box office instead of the normal 25%. The film was sold as "Jason Statham versus a giant dino-shark" in North America. It also had a Chinese co-lead (Li Bingbing) and takes place in and around China. The closest thing the movie has to a villain is Rainn Wilson's tech zillionaire, so you don't have to play the "You think the Chinese company is evil but it turns out they really aren't!" game that felled Uprising and Skyscraper. And like a number of big Chinese productions (think Renny Harlin's Jackie Chan/Johnny Knoxville action comedy), The Meg was helmed by a guy (Jon Turteltaub) who was a big-deal big-movie Hollywood director in the 1990's or 2000's.
And, yeah, the Chinese/Hollywood co-production opened with $50.3 million in China and $45.3m in North America, a massive domestic overperformance. There are plenty of good reasons why this mega-budget shark thriller isn't relying on China to save its butt. It may have been sold in a wink-wink Snakes on a Plane fashion, but it offered enough "Don't worry, this is a real movie and not a camp fest" appeal to make sure folks didn't think they were being asked to fork over money for a knowingly bad flick. And it capitalized both on the public's appetite for shark thrillers and a general fondness toward Jason Statham that doesn't necessarily extend to his smaller, R-rated action movies. But no matter the reason, the fact remains that, barring a post-debut plunge here and abroad, The Meg may be the first of its kind. It's a Chinese/Hollywood big-budget production that is a hit on both coasts.
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The Meg, a movie about a ginormous shark menacing Jason Statham and a bunch of scientists in the deep ocean, has wildly outperformed box office expectations, raking $44 million domestically and another $97 million overseas, according to Box Office Mojo, to give Warner Bros. a surprise hit late in the summer moviegoing season.
The monster movie is the week’s biggest grossing flick in North America, surpassing the third weekend of Mission Impossible — Fallout, the sixth installation of Paramount’s popcorn-movie franchise. That now stands at $161 million (estimated) domestically.
The Meg is Warner Bros.’ best weekend debut of the year, even over bigger-name and bigger-publicized films like Ready Player One and Ocean’s 8, both of which took in $41 million in their March and June openings, respectively.
Mission: Impossible held the top slot at the box office from its July 27 premiere date until Aug. 9, with The Meg taking over from its Aug. 10 debut to now.
Modernism puffs out its chest with pride for having fostered many creative works that shocked and titillated their first mass audiences. James Joyce’s Ulysses ranks quite highly upon that list. The novel’s initial reputation as highbrow smut seems at odds with Sam Slote’s characterization of it in the TED-Ed video above as “both a literary masterpiece and one of the hardest works of literature to read.” But it can be all those things and more. Inside the dense experimental epic is a charmingly detailed travelogue of Dublin, a theological treatise on heresy, a series of Freudian jokes with the kinds of sophomoric punchlines “stately, plump Buck Mulligan” would appreciate….
After battling zombies and giant robots in Hollywood blockbusters like Resident Evil: Retribution (2012) and Transformers: Age Of Extinction (2014), Chinese actress Li Bingbing, 45, now takes on a 75-foot-long shark known as the Megalodon alongside English actor Jason Statham in The Meg.
The sci-fi action thriller directed by Jon Turteltaub.
When a deep-sea submersible that is part of an international undersea observation programme is attacked by a creature and lies disabled at the bottom of the deepest part of the Pacific Ocean, a former deep-sea rescue diver (Statham) joins forces with the daughter (Li) of a visionary Chinese oceanographer to save the trapped crew.
What attracted you to The Meg?
It was a total challenge for me. It challenged my mind, my body and my fears...And I love the adrenaline rush. But the real reason is that I got the chance to pilot a glider for the first time.
The title creature is a mammoth prehistoric shark that threatens the crew aboard an oceanic research vessel.
How do you feel about sharks?
Sharks have lived on Earth over 500 million years. Before beginning work on The Meg, I thought that sharks ate humans. But I learnt that sharks eat only invertebrates and fish.
What kind of training did you do for the film?
I did a lot of research on shark habits. I also trained in scuba diving.
What was it like being in the water - or underwater - for such a long time?
Performing underwater wasn't easy. Sometimes, I had to hold my breath for a long time, which was hard. During a scene... I was wearing diving equipment inside a very small shark cage. The shark was attacking the cage and the cage kept moving. I almost ran out of oxygen. I was exhausted when I got out of the water.
What was it like working opposite Jason Statham?
Working with Jason was amazing and a lot of fun... Jason is very different from the characters he plays. When he smiled, I thought "Oh, he has the nicest teeth!" because I had never seen Jason smile in his films.
Later, I told him that I am not a native English speaker, so I needed to rehearse many times before we filmed our scenes. He was so sweet and supportive, and kept saying there was no way he could have done this film in Chinese.
Ahead of his first international co-production, set to hit theaters Aug. 10, Jon Turteltaub talks tackling the marine predator genre, working with China and why Jerry Bruckheimer said "undersea movies are boring and don't work."Director Jon Turteltaub knew he was gonna need a bigger shark. After all, if you're going to tackle the genre these days, you'd better bring something new to the table, since the undersea apex predator has been reimagined in countless forms, from flying sharks to robot sharks and, yes, even zombie sharks.
So, for his waterborne action thriller The Meg, the 54-year-old director, whose career has bounced between smaller fare like 1993's Cool Runnings and big-budget studio spectacles like the National Treasure franchise, decided the best course of action was to go big — really big. Arriving in theaters Aug. 10 from Warner Bros., The Meg pits action star Jason Statham against a giant prehistoric shark called a megalodon. Lured to the project by producer Lorenzo di Bonaventura, Turteltaub finished principal photography in December 2016, with the film's hefty budget (studio insiders say $130 million, but sources peg it as high as $150 million) ensuring that the 90-foot-long beast didn't look, as he puts it, "really stupid."
The Meg also marks Turteltaub's first international co-production; the movie was co-financed and co-produced by Gravity Pictures, the film studio of entertainment conglomerate China Media Capital, which recently raised $1.5 billion. "A strong, healthy Chinese film industry is going to teach us more about China than CNN is," says the L.A. native. Set against the thematically appropriate backdrop of the Pacific, Turteltaub sat down with THR at the Malibu home he shares with his wife, producer and philanthropist Amy Eldon, and their three children, to discuss the anxieties of making a big-budget studio movie and the advice from Jerry Bruckheimer that he didn't heed.
I get asked the shark-movie question a lot. I'm not totally sure there is such a thing as a "shark movie." After Jaws, the shark movie became a thing, but it also became a pretty pointless thing compared to Jaws. So how do you exploit what Jaws got everyone interested in, knowing you'll never be that good? I remember when I was making Cool Runnings and someone saw an early cut and they said, "It's pretty good." And I said, "What do you mean pretty good? Isn't it awesome?" — as a joke. And they said, "Well, it's not like you set out to make the greatest movie ever." And I realized, yes, actually, I did. Every director on every movie sets out to make the greatest movie of all time. And along the way, you have realizations that that's not going to happen and you're just trying to make the best movie you can. I probably wanted to be a moviemaker because of Jaws, so truthfully, I set out to make the second best shark movie of all time. And I hope we did it.
What is it like making a blockbuster that isn't based on a well-known IP?
These days it's scary. My job is to just make that movie, but I'm fully aware that in the marketplace, in spite of the public complaining that everything is a sequel or a superhero, they're not living up to their complaints with the tickets they buy. It does give you plausible deniability for your lack of success. (Laughs.)
What did you take away from making a Chinese co-production?
When you enter the film business, it doesn't take long to realize that once a film starts shooting, it is a train wreck that you cannot stop. In development and in postproduction, you can maybe get more involved [as a financier]. And they did. That's normal. [But] in this case, it's hard to anticipate the needs because you don't know what their cinematic sensibility is and you don't know what their system requirements are. There's a lot to be said, written and studied about the Hollywood-China relationship that's probably best done in a book and not by somebody about to release a movie.
How have you seen studio franchise filmmaking change since the '90s and 2000s?
I've been through eras where the studios want to make as many movies as possible and as few movies as possible, as expensive as they can be and as inexpensive as they can be. If you look at an action film from 25 years ago, there were two action scenes, right? Now they have two nonaction scenes. The audience just wants more and more and more. They want lots of cool shit. [But] if [audiences] don't give a shit about the people in the movie and the characters, then they don't go. It's awesome to watch Iron Man blow shit up, but you go to see Tony Stark be the smartest guy in the room. That said, if the effects in a Marvel movie stunk, people would be pissed. So they didn't get any cheaper. On every single movie, either the visual effects house is getting ripped off or the studio's getting ripped off. [That's why] we have these companies going into and out of business. We haven't figured out how to make that system fair and consistent.
Because it's a first movie, not a sequel, you can't just throw money at stuff. You've got to be smart and pick your spots. And our spot we picked was the shark. Jerry Bruckheimer always warned me and said, "Undersea movies are boring and don't work." Because everything is slow and it doesn't feel real. And I realized how right he was when I suddenly found myself making a Jason Statham action film without gunfights, without fistfights and without car chases. What's left? There was a lot of pressure on us to show the shark early and often because today's audiences want to see it a lot. Here was the other big challenge: When you have a giant version of an animal, it immediately can look stupid and weird and "movie fake." But you can tolerate a lot more when it has a face. King Kong is a brilliant movie character because you spend the whole movie fearing him and the last 10 minutes in love with him. You cannot fall in love with a shark face. They have no eyebrows, they don't smile or frown, their eyes — you can never see the two eyes at the same time. It's just the antithesis of what humans have affection for. And that limits you as a director. I want people to fear the Meg, but I don't want them to hate it.
What would a National Treasure movie look like in today's political climate?It is amazing how many people in Washington assumed I was a Republican because the movie is patriotic. I think today the movie would do just as well and is even more needed. The National Treasure movies stay away from politics, but they stay true to political idealism. And it bugged me that conservatives thought that these are only conservative ideas. The ideas in National Treasure are all of us, neither conservative nor liberal.
Do you think there is room for a third National Treasure movie?
Every person I know wants to make National Treasure III, with the exception of the people who are in charge at Disney. They don't feel it needs to be made. But Jerry and Nic [Cage] and I — Jon Voight and Helen Mirren and everybody else — we're ready to go.
Certainly the lack of variety of studios can easily make for a lack of variety of films. It's hard to say what's more significant, the fact that there aren't as many studios as there used to be, or the fact that one studio has six studios inside it. Disney's pulled these things together in a very smart way so that the people who are best at something focus on that thing. As a director, though, it might make the world a little cliquey. It gives you the advantage of being on the inside when you're on the inside, but it also puts you on the outside, and [it's] hard to break in. But I will say that with all the changes that have taken place over the years, it's hard to put your finger on anything that has made movies better or worse. Movies are either good or bad for their own reasons. Whether you're competing with TV, whether you're doing it with black and white or color, whether you're just making superheroes or just making romantic comedies, they find their way to suck all on their own.
Peter Benchley’s 1974 novel Jaws did more than frighten and fascinate a generation of swimmers. It also inspired a young Steve Alten to research stories about great white sharks and their ancestors.
Alten’s take on the mother of all great whites — a prehistoric shark called a megalodon — comes to the big screen next month in “The Meg,” an adaptation of his 1997 novel MEG: A Novel of Deep Terror. Directed by Jon Turteltaub (the “National Treasure” films), “The Meg” stars Jason Statham (“The Fate of the Furious”) as U.S. Navy diver Jonas Taylor, who encounters a megalodon weighing about twenty tons in the deepest part of the Pacific Ocean. Ruby Rose (“John Wick: Chapter 2”) and Rainn Wilson (“Star Trek: Discovery”) costar.
The film’s advertising mixes plenty of teeth and the promise of terror with campy touches. Bobby Darin’s song “Beyond the Sea” plays in the trailer while swimmers and surfers flee. The posters feature taglines such as “Chomp on this” and “Pleased to eat you.”
For Alten, who turns fifty-fine in August, “The Meg” caps a long journey that began in the library when he was a Philadelphia teen, inspired by a love of Jaws. “I went straight to the library and checked out every true-life great white shark attack story,” he said in an interview earlier this year. “In the process, I came across little blurbs about megalodon, the prehistoric cousin of the great white, usually accompanied by a black-and-white photo of six scientists seated in a [megalodon] jaw.”
The megalodon grew to about 60 feet long and weighed up to 77 tons, according to the National Aquarium in Baltimore, which displays a massive replica of its jaw. People have recovered fossilized megalodon teeth that are as big as their hands at Sharktooth Hill in California, the aquarium says.
No wonder the meg never left Alten’s mind. He earned a master’s degree in sports medicine from the University of Delaware and a doctorate of education at Temple University, but as a married father of five, he struggled to make ends meet. In 1995, he saw an article in TIME magazine about deep water hydrothermal vents in the Mariana Trench in the Pacific and wondered “if that big shark was still alive down there.”
Alten returned to the library to research his idea, then wrote three to four pages a day from about 11 p.m. to 3 a.m. About six months later, the manuscript of MEG was born.
|Alten, Ken Atchity, Joel McKuin|
The revision turned out to be fortuitous. Alten lost his job as a sales manager for a wholesale meat company, but MEG was published, even landing on the New York Times bestseller list.
Hollywood was interested, too, but changes in industry personnel among other issues meant a lot of stops and starts before the film finally came to fruition. In the meantime, Alten kept writing, producing six more books in the MEG series: The Trench, MEG: Primal Waters, MEG: Hell’s Aquarium, MEG: Origins, MEG: Nightstalkers, and MEG: Generations. His protagonist, Taylor, appears in all of them, sometimes with his older children — and the offspring of the prehistoric shark.
He’s also written about a dozen other books in the science- and speculative fiction genre, including Domain, Goliath, The Loch, The Omega Project, and Undisclosed. In addition, Alten launched Adopt-An-Author, a nationwide nonprofit program that provides books and materials for teachers to encourage reluctant teens to read.
Although some “MEGheads” (his loyal fan base) balked at images in the initial trailer — the shark not being albino, for instance — Alten is happy with the end result. He’s lived with Parkinson’s disease since 2006 and said in an open letter to fans online that he’s honored a studio wanted to buy his work. He’s also thankful to everyone over the years who has kept “this dream and career alive. …. what would I do without you?”
In honor of the film, MEG will be released in August as a graphic novel adapted by J.S. Earls and artist Mike S. Miller (The Hedge Knight, Injustice).
Acclaimed author and psychologist Dennis Palumbo discusses his latest book, Head Wounds. This is the fifth installment of the much-admired Daniel Rinaldi Mysteries.
In our conversation Dennis gets his most personal and all will benefit from his insightful wisdom that transcends the fictional.
For more Barry Kibrick go to: www.barrykibrick.com