Over the course of the last 22 years, every time writer Steve Alten has visited the cinema with his wife, he has turned to her during the previews and said, “One day we will be watching the preview for my movie.”
This wasn’t just a pipe dream. Years ago Alten had sold the rights to his book “The Meg,” which tells the story of Jonas Taylor’s attempts to catch and kill a 75-foot prehistoric Megalodon shark from terrorizing the world’s beaches.
But during this time “The Meg” got caught up in all kinds of development hell. That was until producer Belle Avery took control, and now Jon Turteltaub has directed Jason Statham in the guiltiest pleasure of the summer, and, as he made it clear to me over the phone recently, Steve Alten couldn’t be happier.
Where did the idea for “The Meg” come from?
It started when I was 15-years-old and I saw Jaws in the movie theater. Then I read Peter Benchley’s book, and that got me to read everything I could find of true white great shark attacks. There were always stories about Megalodon, but nothing commercial had ever been written about it. Fast forward 15 years and I am 35 struggling to take care of a family of 5. In August 1995 a Times magazine article came out and on the front page was the Mariana Trench. And they were talking about hydra thermal vents and life at the bottom of the ocean. I remember back to that shark image when I was 15 and I thought, ‘Wow this would be a pretty cool story if it was feasible.’ So I went to the library to check it out, because there was no internet back then, and sure enough the theory about the Meg being alive was feasible and it made sense he might be in the deep water. So I made it my goal to write the book.
Talk me through selling the book to the studios.
I’d gone to school to get a doctorate degree in education, but wasn’t really using it for anything. I had opened a small business selling word treatment systems. Things were struggling a bit. And I needed something to dive into. So I would work on the book from 10 at night to 3 in the morning and on weekends. On an old fashioned word processor in my living room. When I finished it I sought out agents to handled it, and only one agent was interested. He took the book out and actually got a pre-publish, first look deal with a studio. So the first dramatic rights for “The Meg” were actually sold back in 1996 a month before the book rights were sold. But what happened then with Disney is that we went through two drafts of the screenplay and then the head of the studio was fired. When a new coming President comes in they never take the old guy’s stuff, so the rights reverted back to me. And then in 2004 I talked to a friend of mine, Nick Nuziata, who was the founder of a website about movies that were in development, and he showed the book to Guillermo Del Toro and Lloyd Levin, the producer of “Hellboy.” They optioned it from me for a $1, while a wrote the script with Jan De Bont, who was brought in to direct. That package was sold to New Line Cinemas back in 2005. The problem there was that they hired a new screenwriter, Shane Salerno, who decided to go off and his own and write a completely different story, which didn’t make any sense. He sort of wrote “Moby Dick” but with a giant Meg shark. Horrible. So fortunately the rights reverted back to me two years later, so I got in contact with producer Belle Avery, her forte was raising money, who took to Gravity Pictures in China, who took it to Warner Bros, and finally we were on the right track.
How involved were you with Warner Bros?
Belle and I co-wrote the screenplay that was used to shop for the money, in 2008. Since then they have brought on several other screenwriters, but I do get a screenwriting credit. I have trusted Belle to be the gatekeeper of the movie and the book. She has done an amazing job.
Did you write “The Meg” planning for it to be a film?
I have always believed that “The Meg” would make a great book and movie. I write very cinematically and very visually anyway. So “The Meg” sort of reads like a movie anyway.
Talk about adapting your own book, was it complicated?
In my version it stayed on course with the story, but I updated a few things. We had a lot of people read that and really loved the storyline and script. The new script has been a bit more polished than the book, but it is a great script and great movie. My top choice to play Jonas Taylor was Jason Statham, so when he signed on I did a happy dance.
What was it about Jason Statham that made him so perfect then?
First of all he is a tough guy. And Jonas Taylor in the story starts out as a Navy Seals pilot that runs into the shark 7 years earlier. So he has lost his naval career, lost his credentials, lost everything. So he decides to reinvent himself as a scientist, which was not an easy for him to do. But Statham is a versatile actor and he can be a tough guy that fits perfectly for the movie. But also he was really into the role. He is a diver, an action man, so I think it is a good marriage.
How does it feel to finally see “The Meg” reach the big-screen?
Obviously I am thrilled, flattered and humbled. I have Parkinson’s diseases, so that makes it a little harder to enjoy, but I get through that. I am really looking forward to seeing the movie on August 6 at the premiere. All I have seen is the trailers, but they have me jacked up about it.