Those Syfy Channel B-grade, 80's inspired, popcorn munching, watch-the-red-caro-syrup-gush monster movies. They're like the ones you'd stay up late to watch on cable between badly dubbed French softcore porn and badly shot American softcore porn. Galaxy of Terror with better production value and no nudity. Or giant maggot rape scenes.
And aren't we all happy we've moved past those? The giant maggot rape scenes, not the nudity. NEVER the nudity.
But who writes these things? How do you get that job? What's it like?
Good questions. Well, I know who writes them. Mike MacLean. He co-wrote DINOCROC VS SUPERGATOR, which recently aired on Syfy and penned SHARKTOPUS (SHARKTOPUS, PEOPLE!!! HOW FUCKING COOL IS THAT?), which will be coming up not nearly soon enough.
I met Mike at Thrillerfest in the summer of 2006. Middle of the fucking Arizona desert. A dry heat. Fuckin' bat county is what it is. Perfect place for the man.
Mike is a very cool writer and, at the time, he'd been pumping out the crime fiction. He's had stories in Thrilling Detective, Thuglit and the The Best American Mystery Stories 2006.
So after threatening to release pictures of Mike running through the Arizona desert with nothing but a thong and a .44, he graciously agreed to answer my (admittedly dry) questions.
First and foremost, how are you doing?
I've got this nasty rash on my 'nethers with these milky white pustules that... Oh wait. That was one of those "polite conversation" type questions, wasn't it?.... In that case... fine. I'm doing fine.
How'd you get the gig writing Dinocroc VS Supergator?
Roger Corman's story editor discovered "McHenry's Gift" in the Best American Mystery Stories and hired me to write a few screenplays. (For those who don't know, Corman is the undisputed king of the B-movies and has push-started the careers of countless actors and directors, including James Cameron, Ron Howard, Francis Ford Coppola, Jack Nicholson...) Needless to say, I was thrilled. Then about a year ago, Roger's son, Roger Martin, contacted me. He and writer/director Jim Wynorski (aka Jay Andrews) had the financing to make a movie in Hawaii. Unfortunately, they also had very limited time and only the first draft of a script. They needed revisions, and they needed them yesterday. I was off to the races.
Was your previous experience writing thrillers/crime fiction helpful in that or was it unrelated?
Helpful, without a doubt. I've always gravitated towards crime fiction that is economical, both in its language and storytelling, and that has served me well in screenwriting. Producers and directors don't have time to read three pages of back story concerning the protagonist's favorite pen (I'm looking at you Anne Rice). You need to catch their attention and keep the story moving. Those are skills I learned reading and writing crime fiction and thrillers.
You co-wrote the script with Jay Andrews. How was it to collaborate? What sorts of challenges and benefits did you run into working with someone else?
Every script is a collaboration. On most, I'm fed a constant diet of notes by everyone from unpaid interns to executive producers. Dinocroc vs. Supergator was different since I was revising Jim's work. Syfy has a very particular formula for their Saturday night creature features, and his script already followed it perfectly. The bones were solid, the pacing was great, and it had a fun '80s vibe. I added some conflict between the characters, killed some of them off, and streamlined the dialogue. All in all, I think my changes made for a better movie. But I had nothing to do with my favorite scene, the hot tub/douche bag massacre. So, the collaboration worked well in this case. I think we both added to the soup pot.
What was your workday like? Were there a lot of on-the-fly script revisions or was the script pretty much static throughout shooting?
The workday was crazy. I had two weeks to make major revisions. I know that doesn't sound so tough, but I was also teaching full time and earning my masters degree. On top of that, I had a devilish two year-old to deal with. I couldn't have done it without two things: my supportive wife and gallons of Amp energy drink. It was stressful but fun as hell.
Did you work much with Roger and Julie Corman? Did they have a lot of input into the script or were they largely hands-off during the process?
I didn't work with them too closely on DvS (that's what the cool kids are calling it). But Roger and Julie had a strong, guiding influence on Sharktopus. Syfy gave Roger the title, Roger came up with the basic plot, and I fleshed it out. The highlight of the whole experience was meeting Julie and him in Puerto Vallarta, where the film takes place. I got to tour some possible set locations, including places where they filmed the original Predator. Then we brainstormed on the kill scenes. Roger and Julie came up with one of my favorites.
What's next? Can you talk a little about Sharktopus? What's the premise?
It's called Sharktopus... Do you really need to know the premise? Okay... A mercenary hunts down a genetically-engineered shark/octopus hybrid as it wreaks havoc on beautiful Puerto Vallarta. Blood, bikinis, and Eric Roberts. What more could you want?
The buzz on Sharktopus took off before I was even done with the script. Craig Ferguson from the CBS Late Show did a nine minute bit about it in one of his monologues. It should hit Syfy either late this year or early next.
Financing is being sought for one of my earlier scripts, a noir, street racing film. Think a grittier, tougher Fast and the Furious. Keep your fingers crossed.
Anything else you want to talk about the experience or the process?
I'm just ecstatic to be given this opportunity. I'm from Tempe, Arizona (not LA) and I'm working on films that millions of people will see. I know that doesn't usually happen, so I count myself lucky. Moreover, the Cormans have been nothing but supportive and gracious. I've learned so much from them and appreciate the chance they took on me.
And let us close on a photo from SHARKTOPUS that Mike was gracious enough to send.
Does it get any better than this, people? SHARKTOPUS, BABY! SHARKTOPUS!!!
And there you have it. Thank you, Mike for your time and insight. I'll get the photos to you soon.
But I'm keeping the negatives.