Hanna Flint Exclusive 'The Meg' director shares the secrets of making a killer shark movie

The shark movie has become a staple horror subgenre ever since audiences heard those two notes of John Williams’ daunting Jaws score in 1975.
Forty-plus years later, there have been many additions to the B movie tradition, some good (Deep Blue Sea), some bad (Shark Swarm), and some inexplicable (Sharknado), but in 2018 The Meg proved that they can still be a box office hit.
The Jason Statham-led shark movie – centred on a mammoth, 70-foot sea creature believed to have been extinct for millions of years – made a staggering £415 million at the international box office making it one of Warner Bros’ most profitable original films of the year.




Audiences have loved shark movies ever since Jaws hit screens in 1975.

So what makes a shark movie a box office hit? The Meg director Jon Turteltaub gives us the lowdown in his own words… Spoilers ahead.

Know the genre





The fin shot is a must for all shark movies

Jon Turteltaub: Like every movie, you have to first understand the genre and what people expect. Then you focus on a good story with good characters. Sometimes you succeed, and sometimes you don’t. You don’t run away from the cliches, you lean into them. I think audiences expect them and like them.
With a shark movie, you better see that fin, you better see under the water legs dangling – we love all that stuff and we want to see people dying in really cool ways. That’s what you expect and why you’re going to these movies.

Suspense is key





The Meg movie

First of all, you want to set deaths up so the audience is not sure if it’s going to happen or not. You don’t necessarily want these to come out of nowhere. The start of these movies is the suspense so the person in the water instantly gives you that sense of “oh no.”
The worry about what’s going to happen is actually more interesting and enjoyable for an audience than the death itself. Unless there are two people in the middle of getting married and they love each other and it eats one of them. There’s not that much emotion attached unless it’s one of your major lead characters otherwise you just like watching how they’re going to die but mostly are they going to die? What’s going to happen, what are the choices they make?
I really like the death of Dr Heller [in The Meg] because he chooses to die to save Jaxx. The shot of him dying, for me, it’s the most realistic shark shot in the movie because it’s more of how we see sharks rather than how movies see sharks.

The kill list





The Meg movie

We really pondered this and that really starts with the writers. Have we killed too many people? Have we killed enough people? But a movie like this you are really paying attention to entertainment value. Nobody thought we were going to win a Nobel Prize when we made this movie, our job is to put on a really fun show so you’ve got to figure out not just how many people die, but who too.
What’s the price, what’s the cost? The more you love a character the more often it is for them to die but there is a point at which, when that character dies, the audience hates you. In our case, it’s a dog! A lot of people were telling me, “what was this dog doing in the movie, we have all these people to kill?” and all I could think of was people always care more about a dog than a person.




The audience is always on the dog’s side

If there is a dog trapped in a building and you get him out everyone starts crying. If there is a person trapped in a building and you get him out the audience is like” oh cool, glad he’s safe.”

Making the shark





They didn’t want it to look like a Great White Shark

You have no idea what a complicated process that is because it’s more than having good ideas for the shark but finding those who can realise them. Getting everyone to agree on those ideas is hard too. Everyone has their own point of view, starting with the writers of the novel, to the producers who bought the novel, to the studio who is paying for the movie, then to me who just wants to do what I want to do.
That debate of “gigantic great white shark versus creating our own” went on for a long time and I’m glad I got the shark I wanted because I didn’t want the great white, that seemed very low budget for me. It looks like you took a regular great white shark and just made it bigger in the cheapest way possible rather than figuring out what a shark would have looked like millions of years ago, how it would have survived in the ocean and all that sort of stuff.

Balancing the visual effects





The visual effects had to make the shark look as real as possible

I feel, as a director, you have to make a decision and decide if you want to scare the audience because it’s real or do something that is really cool. I tend towards real; I want things to feel like real life rather than “look how cool this shot is how the camera can jump off the boat and go through the shark’s mouth and come out the gills” and all that stuff.
With visual effects, you can do that, and there are directors who are amazing at doing all that, but for me, I tend to get pulled out of a movie when I can see the director’s hand showing me how cool they are. So I try to create images that feel more real because when you do that it makes the shark look more real and one of the things we talked about was to never let the shark do something that the shark wouldn’t do.

Levity is a must





Rainn Wilson brought a lot of comic relief

That was super important to me. Our approach was very tricky because we tried to thread the needle with the notion that the characters in the movie have seen shark movies in their lives. Let’s not pretend they don’t know the cliches or have seen movies like this so you can lean in a little bit to the humour.
Let the characters be funny in these extreme situations. I had people saying “do you want it real or do you want it funny?” I don’t know the difference. That’s part of life.

More than a hero





Jason Statham makes you feel safe, says Turteltaub

We knew we needed the guy who you could believe was a badass hero and could save the day. Jason [Statham] for me took care of the first part, which is much harder to find than you think, but we wanted a person who when you walk in a room you feel safer. You feel like everything is going to be OK and Jason brings that too.
He also brings the counterpoint of a sense of humour. He had done a bit of comedy in his movie but he’s never, with the exception of Spy, he’s never been asked to do too much and I think that’s a mistake. You want to believe these super macho guys have another side to them.

Sequel?





The Meg is out on digital download now

Sequels usually suck and try to outdo the first one where there’s a bigger shark, ninety sharks, or a poisonous shark and that’s not what audiences want to see. They want to see a really good story that they couldn’t think of themselves.
But now that I’ve said it, poisonous sharks sound really cool.
The Meg is available on Digital Download now and on DVD and Blu-Ray from December 10.

From time to time we run into writers who simply don’t want to hear notes aimed at making their work more likely to sell and succeed. Their egos keep their eyes from seeing how rare constructive criticism is. They remind me of this great poster we ran across:



Turn your book into a movie: 16 treatment tips by Kenneth Atchity


Turn your book into a movie 2By Kenneth Atchity

Making a book into a film can cost producers anymore $1 million to $200 million, so this is clearly a major investment.

Talk to a story editor from any production company, studio, or agency “story department,” and they will tell you the weaknesses they see in novels submitted for film or television.

The story department’s report on the book’s potential for translation to film, referred to as “coverage,” is their feedback to the decision-making exec. It can make or break it for you — and it kills countless submissions.

The sad thing is, most writers will almost never even get as far as a coverage of their novel.

That’s often because of the book’s “treatment.”


What’s a treatment?


A treatment is a relatively short, written pitch of a story intended for production as a motion picture or television program. Written in user-friendly, informal language and focused on action and events, it presents the story’s overall structure and primary characters. It presents three clear acts and shows how the characters change from beginning to end.

You can write a better treatment if you know about the typical weaknesses story editors find as they prepare each option’s “coverage” (see my book, Writing Treatments that Sell). When you address these common weaknesses, you give your story a much better chance in the rooms where people decide whether, and how much, to spend on putting your story onto the screen.

Then you can use that treatment to market your story to Hollywood.


16 treatment tips that will help you turn your book into a movie


Here are 16 things to know about what your treatment needs to include.

1. Make sure your primary characters are relatable (that’s also called sympathetic).

If we can’t relate to them, we don’t feel for them. This addresses the comment: “I can’t relate to anyone in the book.”

2. Trim the number of characters way back so the treatment’s reader isn’t boggled by the immensity of the cast. 

Also, keep the treatment focused as much as possible on the protagonist (and his or her love interest and/or ally) and antagonist. Comment: “There are way too many characters, and it’s not clear till page 200 who the protagonist is.”

3. Build a strong protagonist in the 20 to 50 star age range, one we want to root for

Comment: “We don’t know who to root for.”

4. Make sure your hero or heroine takes action based on his or her motivation and mission, and forces others in your story to react.

Comment: “The protagonist is reactive, instead of proactive.”

5. Offer a new twist in your story even if it’s a familiar story to avoid the comment: “There’s nothing new here.”

6. Write it so the story editor reading your treatment can see three well-defined acts: act one (the setup), act two (rhythmic development, rising and falling action), and act three (climax, leading to conclusive ending).

Comment: “I can’t see three acts here.”

7. Make sure the turning point into the third act of your story is well-marked with a major twist that takes us there.

Comment: “There’s no Third Act…it just trickles out.”

8. Create a well-pronounced theme for your story (sometimes called “the premise”) in the treatment, so that the reader (audience) walks away with the feeling they’ve learned something important.

Comment: “At the end of the day, I have no idea what this story is about.”
9. Be sure there’s plenty of action in your story. 

Action means dramatic action, of which there are two kinds: action and dialogue. Action is obvious:

She slams the door in his face.
The bullets find their target, and he slumps in his chair.
The second plane crashes into the Pentagon.
But good dialogue is also action:
“Would you do something for me now?”
“I’d do anything for you.”
“Would you please please please please please please please stop talking?” (Hemingway, “Hills like White Elephants”)

10. Sprinkle character-revealing dialogue throughout, enough to let the reader know what your characters sound like—and that they all sound different.

Comment: “There’s no dialogue, so we don’t know what the characters sound like.”

11. Make sure the plot is hidden not overt, dropping clues act by act so the audience can foresee its possible outcomes.

Comment: “At the end, the antagonist lays out the entire plot to the protagonist before he’s killed.”

12. Ruthlessly go through your treatment and remove anything that even hints of contrivance.

The audience will allow any story one gimme, but rarely two, and never three, before they lose their belief. Everything needs to be grounded in the story’s integrity.

Comment: “The whole thing is overly contrived.”

13. Make it well-paced, with rising and falling action, twists and turns, cliffhangers ending every act, etc.

Comment: “There is no real pacing.”

14. Be able to pitch your story  in a single punch line (aka “logline”), and put that line at the beginning of your treatment in bold face:

She’s a fish out of water—but she’s a mermaid (“The Little Mermaid,” “Splash”).
He’s left behind alone. On Mars (“The Martian”).
An inventor creates an artificial woman who’s so real she turns the table on her creator, locks him up, and escapes (“Ex Machina”).

This is also called “the high concept,” which means it can be pitched simply—on a poster or to a friend on the phone.

Comment: “How do we pitch it? There’s no high concept.”

15. Make sure your story feels like a movie, which includes taking us to places we’ve probably never been, or rarely been.

A movie transports us to locations we want to feel, like Antarctica, or the Amazon jungle, or a moon of Saturn, or, in movies I’ve done, a brothel in New Orleans (The Madams Family), the experimental lab of the inventor of the vibrator in Victorian England (Hysteria), a mountain cabin during a blizzard (Angels in the Snow), or the Amityville house in Long Island (Amityville: The Evil Returns).

Comment: “There are no set pieces, so it doesn’t feel like a movie.”

16. Get someone who knows the industry well to read your treatment and give you dramatic feedback on it before you send it out.

Comment: “The writer shows no knowledge of movies!”

Of course anyone with the mind of a sleuth can list films that got made despite one or more of these comments being evident. But for novelists frustrated at not getting their books made into films, that’s small consolation.

If you regard your career as a business instead of a quixotic crusade, plan your novel’s treatment to make it appealing to filmmakers–and to avoid the story department’s buzz-killing comments.

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Self-Publishing: Expectations vs Reality For New Authors



Self-publishing is a great opportunity – if you have a head for business

Are you dreaming of becoming the next bestselling author?

For anyone who writes, it is natural to want your hard work to reap the rewards you believe it deserves.

Self-publishing today gives all authors the chance to publish for (almost) free and to have a book on sale on Amazon and many other online book retailers.

If you use Amazon’s publishing service, Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP), you can publish an ebook, and it will be on sale in around 24 hours.


For a paperback version of a book using print on demand, it takes only a few days.

In the days before self-publishing, the publishing process for a traditional publisher very often took a year or more. It has not changed a great deal for large publishers today.

It is a long road to take to get a book published the traditional way. You need first to find a literary agent to represent you, which is no easy task.

Then if you are lucky enough to find one, it can take months for your agent to secure a publishing contract for you. If you are one of the fortunate authors who manage to get this far, it is then a wait of another year before your book is released.

After that, you cross your fingers and hope your book sells well. Otherwise, the chances of another contract are slim.

However, if you self-publish, you skip all the waiting and jump immediately to crossing your fingers.

So much has changed, but the publishing industry stays the same. It is about hoping that readers will buy your book.


The expectations of publishing a book



I started publishing in 2005 with Createspace. The following four years were marvellous for me for with my print books selling well enough to get a nice check every month.

Then came the ebook.

When I self-published my first ebook in 2011, there were fewer than 800,000 Kindle ebooks on Amazon. Fast forward to today, and it is over 7 million.

Did you know that a new Kindle ebook is now published on average every 3 minutes?

You do not need to be a statistician to calculate that while the number of ebook titles has risen dramatically, the number of book buyers has not increased proportionally.

In simple terms, for a digital book, it is a highly competitive market.

On top of that, Kindle Unlimited has turned all the publishing rules on its head. No longer do you sell a book. You sell page reads. For authors and publishing companies alike, it is a considerable challenge.

Many new authors leap into publishing an ebook on Amazon with the expectation that because their book is for sale, it will sell.

Nothing could be further from the truth. The hard facts are that very few titles sell well, and most struggle to sell more than a handful of copies per year. Mostly to friends and family.

The biggest problem is that many newly published authors do zero market research before a book launch.

If you want to sell anything, you have to know what your market is and how you are going to attract people to buy your product.

Smart indie authors know this and have a clear idea of their genre and what market potential there is for their writing.

For example, there is a massive market for contemporary romance, but only a tiny market for gardening or rose care books. However, a small market segment is less competitive.

Balancing competitivity and volume is how you understand your potential market share. Do you want a tiny proportion of the highly competitive romance market, or to dominate the less competitive rose care genre?

For new independent authors, do not let your expectation cloud the reality. Selling books in today’s market is very hard unless you are an expert in book marketing and know who your potential book buyers are and how you can connect with them.

Putting your book up for sale is one thing. Selling a lot of copies is another reality altogether.


The realities of making it with self-published books




The first reality is to understand that vanity presses will never help you succeed.

I hear from so many authors who had wild dreams, were told mistruths and paid an awful lot of money to publish their book. And all for nothing.

Vanity publishing is definitely not self-publishing. Paying a vanity publishing company to sell books to you is not a recipe for success. Do not fall for the trap.

You can only succeed if you can sell books to readers. And you can.

Here is a short extract from the 2018 Author Earnings Report.

“Despite the prevalent indie doom-and-gloom rumours, today’s top sellers are handily making as much or more than the top-selling indies from prior years were.

But here’s the kicker. A lot of today’s top-selling indies are relatively new names. We didn’t recognize a lot of them. And a lot of yesteryear’s pioneering indie superstars no longer even make the Top 50.”

A look at ebook sales for 2017 tells an optimistic story for indie-publishing authors.






Combined Indie author ebook sales of imprint, not listed and collective amount to over 37% of the market. A full 12% higher than the Big Five publishers.

There is no doubt that readers do buy self-published titles and far more than traditionally published titles.

But do not expect to be part of this success if you think that everyone in the world is going to want to buy your book about rose care, or even romance.

You have to know your specific genre, the demographics and interests of your potential readers, and most importantly, how to get them to find your book.

You might have a fantastic book title, a brilliant professionally designed book cover and had the interior of your book formatted by a book designer.

But unless the story or subject of your book is what readers really want to read, your book can still fail.

Book buyers are fickle, so you need to give them a compelling reason to buy your book.


Learning about how people find books they want to buy



Understanding how and why people buy books is your first step towards being a successful indie publisher.

Yes, you need a great story, a brilliant book description and a killer cover design.

You need to be a little tech savvy and know how to exploit social media and attract attention via your blog with good use of SEO.

Most of all though, you need to know how to leverage categories and keywords for your books.

Getting your book into the right place for readers of your genre to find is more powerful than any other form of book marketing.


The new breed of successful Indie authors are quietly and studiously using data to help readers find their books on Amazon and other retailers. It is an electronic form of getting your book on a shelf at the front of a bookstore.

The expectation vs reality equation is now that you can only expect to gain regular book sales if you understand the reality of the necessity to use data.

Learning how to access and leverage Amazon book sales data especially is now key to succeeding in the online book market.

To use the example I mention before of the difference in the market for contemporary romance and rose care, here is some hard data.


Amazon sales data for books related to rose gardening. Data source KDP Rocket

In line six, the book, The Rose Garden, is fiction, so it needs to be ignored. But you can see that the monthly sales for books related to rose care and rose gardening is very small. The best selling book is making $73.00 per month.

Now let’s looks at contemporary romance.


Amazon sales data for books related to contemporary romance. Data source KDP Rocket

What a difference! Yes, your eyes aren’t deceiving you. In 21 days, Every Breath has made sales of over half a million dollars.

When you can access data as I have illustrated above, you can drill down to find your niche market and find keywords and categories to make your book as competitive as possible.

This is the future of independent publishing. Using data to position your book where readers can find it, and buy it.

In SEO, there is an expression that if your page ranks on page one of Google Search, you get traffic. If it is listed on page two, it is in the cemetery.

The same applies to books on Amazon. If you book appears on the first page when a book buyer searches for a new book, you will make book sales. If it appears on page two, you won’t.


The future success stories of indie publishing

Book buyers are over discriminating between traditional published and self-published books and ebooks. They just buy books they want to read.

In the past, the best advice to new authors was to have a fantastic book cover, a great book description to hook readers and to have a book properly edited.

But today, that is now not going to be enough to succeed.


The path to success today and in the future will be to learn how to market a book to an electronic online market.

Using data research to find your market niche and to better position your title so buyers see it will be more important than your book cover and description.

That is why the Author Earnings Report I mentioned earlier stated that today’s top-selling indies are relatively new names.

They are the new authors who know the power of data, and how to use it.