The best part of being a film writer is the chance to talk to people within the industry and talk about their process and views. Novelist Steve Alten may not be “Hollywood” but he has hand an interesting experience in the city of angels (L.A, not the Nicolas Cage film). Just to give you a bit of warning there are quite a few sailing and fishing puns in the following article but I do feel that you will find it nautical but nice.
The first time that I heard of Steve Alten was about seven years ago when I’d heard that a movie was in the pipeline featuring a giant prehistoric shark. I’ve always enjoyed shark films, obviously there’s Jaws and its sequels and Deep Blue Sea featuring Thomas Jane and Sam Jackson. I thought the concept of a giant prehistoric killer shark was a great idea and I began to follow the development of Meg. However as is usual in the Hollywood system the film got caught in the net that is development hell.
The film switched studios from Disney to New Line and when the budget rose from the $70 million range to $150 million the boys at New Line decided to reel the film in. Even when Jan De Bont was at the helm (hitting the high seas for the first time since Speed 2) the film still couldn’t set sail. When concept art was released in 2006 whetting appetites for the feature there still wasn’t enough love from the studio and the film faced yet even more choppy waters. Currently the film is in turnaround with all crew still on board.
I had the chance to question Alten covering his writing career and of course the development of the Meg feature film. His frustration at the development process is evident but he seems confident that the film will set sail again at some stage in the future.
Enough of my crazy ramblings here’s the interview
How did you first get interested in writing?
I enjoyed reading, and felt I could write. I had written short stories as assignments in college.
Was it difficult finding the discipline to write your first novel considering that you already had a job?
I’m very disciplined in most things I do, but writing from ten at night until 3 AM was hard. And I still do it.
The second novel is always seen as more difficult. What are your thoughts on that? Did you find it to be true?
My second novel was far more difficult (called FATHOM, eventually rewritten as DOMAIN) but the subject matter was very complex.
Who are your writing heroes?
Ian Fleming, Bram Stoker and Thomas Harris.
You often hear of writers finding it difficult to get their first novel published, did you have such a problem?
Actually, the first novel became the easiest and biggest of my career because MEG had a movie deal attached to it when it was marketed. Ironically, my 8th novel The SHELL GAME, (set to be released in January) was the hardest to sell, yet I believe it will be my biggest success.
Talk me through a normal day for you.
I’ve been working late hours of late, usually until 2-3 AM just for the quiet, since I rise about ten AM. My back gets very sore from arthritis, so I hang upside down on my inversion bar, shower, then eat breakfast while I read the newspaper front to back, cutting out articles of importance. Then it’s on to answering e-mails, checking out the Philly Sports Section, MySpace, IMDB, then on to work. I’ll usually edit my work from the day prior by lunch, then write new passages until dinner. I’ll return for a late night session around midnight. Seven days a week.
Where you surprised by Meg’s success?
No, in fact, I was a little disappointed. The book would have done far better if Bantam/Doubleday had put a shark on the cover like I begged them to.
How did you come up with the idea?
I grew up reading about shark attacks and there was always a blurb about the great white’s prehistoric cousin, Megalodon. In 1995, I read a TIME magazine article on the Mariana Trench and hydrothermal vents, and the story just developed from there.
How do you develop your ideas?
Do you always know where your ideas or going or do you just sit down and type and see where you end up?
I try to work off a synopsis, but the writing takes a life of its own once I begin. I am sometimes amazed at what transpires.
You’ve written a few sequels. Does it get more difficult or easier to continue the story?
It gets easier. I know the characters far better. MEG: Hell’s Aquarium (MEG 4) is far and away the best in the series.
Do you have an overall plan where the story is going?
Yes, absolutely. I know the beginning and end, and the road to get me where I want to go has signposts.
When did Hollywood first get interested in Meg?
In 1996, when Hollywood Pictures optioned the unfinished book.
Is Jan De Bont still attached?
New Line Cinema has decided to put the project in turnaround. All producers and the director remained attached during this process.
What’s it like having so many other people take a creative interest in your idea, something that you have a personal attachment to?
It can be good and bad. Bad in that the Writers Guild rules for story credit encourage “originality”. So the nature of the beast is that your story is going to change whether you like it or not.
How much control do you have in the development process?
I have a voice and my producers and director have listened, but my voice comes after the script is written.
Do you have any dream ideas for casting?
Talk me through some of the difficulties that the production is having in the development process?
I’d rather not discuss that at this juncture.
Would you like to see any of your other books turned into films?
All of my novels are very visual, the stories would all make great movies. I believe it can happen., after the success of the first one.
In fifty years what would you like people to say about your career?
That my novels made reading fun and people think.
This interview first appeared on Collider in 2007.