A Stillness In The Water

Earlier this year we had an editorial meeting on the heady upper floors of FilmGoblin Towers.  

As we were running down our most anticipated summer movies of 2018 something unexpected happened. Across the boardroom table a consensus started to form. Conversations online with our wider contributors, forum and community members also echoed the same thing.

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A meeting, yesterday.

The summer holiday season movie most people wanted to see was not Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson showing us what would happen if Die Hard and The Towering Inferno had a love-child out of wedlock in Skyscraper.  

It wasn’t watching Sandra Bullock and Co strike a blow against the patriarchy by remaking a guys’ movie, but with it about diamonds and pretty dresses. And it certainly wasn’t laughing at Pierce Brosnan attempting to sing in the Mamma Mia sequel nobody asked for.

One movie got all our movie anticipation glands twitching in a way that hasn’t happened since Disney ruined Star Wars. And that movie was The Meg!

The reactions were almost unanimous. Jason Statham vs a Big Ass Shark? What’s not to like!?

Up From The Depths

This movie finally making it to the big screen turned out to be close to quite a few people’s hearts. The reason being that it was first talked about a long time ago. Back in the late 1990s. Back at the very birth of the online movie community.  

In those heady days rumour and spy reports were breathlessly devoured by online movie geeks all over the world. In among endless Star Wars prequel rumours was a story about a shark. A thought to-be extinct shark. A prehistoric shark. A gigantic shark. The Megalodon.

The Meg poster
“Ah, how the seeds of cockiness blossom when soiled in ignorance.”
― Steve Alten

Steve Alten’s best-selling book Meg: A Novel Of Deep Terror was published in July 1997 and the cover proclaimed “Soon to be a Major Motion Picture”. Even back then it was obvious this story was made for the big screen. The book was widely read among genre fans who all spoke of it’s creature-feature potential. It turns out many of those fans are now community members on FilmGoblin.

We have all been waiting over 20 years to see the tale of Jonas Taylor vs. a prehistoric ancestor of the Great White Shark. We have followed the project as it moved between studios, screen writers and directors. At times it seemed production was imminent. At other times it seemed as if hope was lost as the Hollywood system twisted and turned.

All the while the book spawned several sequels expanding the universe of Jonas Taylor and The Meg.  

The Meg sequel book cover
Thought to have been extinct for over two million years. Wrong.

“You’re Gonna Need A (Much) Bigger Boat!”

Well. It’s finally here. 22 years of waiting means we movie geeks have waited longer for this than we did between Return Of The Jedi and The Phantom Menace. 

We have had a lot to say about The Meg on FilmGoblin as it has been getting closer.

See our thoughts and join our community conversations about the posters and trailers, which you can see quickly here –

And the trailers here –

And here –

As this movie has involved the longest wait any of us can remember, we really wanted to do something special here at FilmGoblin.  

So we are delighted to sit down for a chat with none other than Steve Alten, creator of The Meg universe and writer of the novel on which the upcoming movie is based upon.

A Very Big Fish

Steve, thank you so much for taking time out to answer some questions.

It’s an honor for me.

First, let’s go back even further than July 1997 to the start of all this.  How did you come up with the idea for Meg? What was your inspiration?

I saw Jaws when I was fifteen and immediately read the book, then spent weeks in the library reading every true-life shark attack report out there. In most books, there was a B&W photo of six scientists seated in a giant shark jaw. Fast forward 20 years later. I was reading a TIME mag. Article on the Mariana Trench and hydrothermal vents and an idea hit me – what if that giant shark was still alive, living in the abyss? So I spent a month doing research and making sure it had not been done before, then began writing at the only free time I had available – 10 pm until 3 am and weekends.

And at the time you weren’t an author? What were you doing for a career and how did you go about trying to get your story published?

Years earlier, after graduating with a doctorate degree in education, I had opened a water treatment company. Things were not going well and I found myself selling door to door… a horrible existence. After finishing The Meg manuscript, I was fortunate to find one literary agent out of 65 who was interested. He also wanted $6,000 to help edit. I ended up selling my 1971 Chevy Malibu convertible that my Dad had bought me when I was seventeen and borrowed the rest. Midway through the edit I managed to secure a job as a sales manager at a wholesale meat company and was quickly promoted to GM (bizarre story). On Friday the 13th in Sept. 1996 I went to work and was let go by the two quarrelling families I had united who hired me to make peace. I had $45 in the bank. Four days later a bidding war started among publishers for Meg’s book rights, based on a movie deal we had secured from Hollywood Pics.

The book reads like it was written for the big screen. Even back then did you have one eye on a potential movie adaption?

Absolutely. But that’s also how I write – very visual.

And after the novel came out, did you already have plenty of ideas for stories beyond Meg? It’s first sequel, The Trench, came out just two years later?

The second part of Meg’s 2-book deal was for a Mayan Calendar 2012 doomsday story, but my editor at Doubleday insisted on it being an underwater story, I gave him what he wanted, but it wasn’t what I wanted. Two weeks before I was to be paid $800,000 they rudely cancelled the deal with no explanation. It was bizarre and very stressful – Meg had been a best-seller in hardback and had sold 95,000 copies and the paperback was coming out 6 months later and now they refused our calls. We learned later Doubleday was being taken over by Bertlesman and – in an attempt to save her job – the President of Doubleday was dumping contracts with big advances. We had just moved into a new home that I knew we’d be forced to sell – which happened a few years later. The Alten rollercoaster ride – big ups…big downs.

We sued to get the rights backThe Trench was published while I rewrote the entire book the way I wanted to. That book became Domain. Years later, it was optioned to a small Spanish pub and re-titled as The Mayan Testament and hit #1. Then it was #1 in Mexico and Argentina, and sold really well in another dozen countries. It was that book which has been became my top selling book abroad – though I expect that to change with The Meg movie coming soon. So you never know how things will turn out.

Now there are 7 books either published or planned in the series. For those of us who follow your work and subscribe to your newsletter, it seemed at times as if the next Meg book was the last. Then you would announce you couldn’t stay away from the universe you created and another book was coming.  

What drives you back to the Meg universe each time? Do you have an end in sight?  Is Meg: Purgatory the end?

Well, MEG: Hell’s Aquarium (book 4) was going to be the end, but I came up with a new twist that opened up (literally) a new world of monsters. And that excited me. I honestly intended to end the series with book 6, MEG: Generations, and had another epiphany about a new ending. So now there will be a book 7 – MEG: Purgatory. That will probably end it… but who knows? It’s not that I don’t love writing the series, I just want to ensure each book is better than the last… that I don’t “jump the shark.” As long as each scene and story stay fresh and exciting, I’ll keep writing them.

Some of the most memorable sequences in the various novels have been brought vividly to life by Erik Hollander over the years. Quite a few of us in the online movie community remember good things about Erik in that he was one of us – he used to hang out in Jaws forums and on other websites – with talent and a passion who did good.  How did you meet? And what’s it like working together? How does the creative process between you work?

The Meg Nightstalkers book cover
How big is that thing?

Back when I was writing MEG-3, I needed a title for the book. So I posted a contest among my readers with a prize of a character to the winner. Erik submitted MEG: Primal Waters and won. Next thing I know, the dude is sending me graphic art scenes from Meg and blowing me away. From that moment on he designed all my cover art and we’ve become good friends.

Jaws Memories
Another example of Erik Hollander’s work from outside The Meg universe.

When it is time for a new cover, I’ll tell Erik what I have in mind. With the Meg covers, well search shark photography together to find something different. I think Generations is the best Meg book and his best cover.

You are the founder and driving force behind Adopt-an-Author, a nationwide secondary school free reading programme. Tell us about that? How does it work?

Shortly after my debut novel, MEG: A Novel of Deep Terror was first published back in the summer of 1997, I became inundated with email from teens, all of whom were telling me how they “hated to read, but LOVED Meg”, or that “Meg was the first book they ever finished.” Then teachers and librarians began emailing me about how popular Meg was among teens and that they were incorporating the book into their curriculum. When the Young Adult library Services Association listed MEG atop their Top Selections for Young Adults, I knew I had to get involved.

My background is in education; I earned a Bachelors, Masters, and Doctorate degree in Education and am certified to teach in secondary school. To support teachers and librarians, In 1999, I launched Adopt-an-Author, a 5013-C non-profit Teen Reading program which provides curriculum materials, videos, posters, and direct contact between our authors and students & teachers via email, skype, in-class calls, and personal visits. And everything is free! We began with a dozen teachers in 1999 and now have over 10,000 registered teachers & librarians.

One thing those of us who subscribed to your newsletter noticed was a high level of fan engagement. One key feature of this is that your fans turn up in your books as characters! What made you decide to do this and how does it work for you?

With Meg, when I needed the name of a minor character, I used the names of friends. (Mac was named after a fellow teammate at Penn State Ogontz). In The Trench, any reviewer who had given Meg a harsh review got eaten. Every novel after that I opened up to readers in contests and now it’s become a status to be eaten... crazy.

And for the movie. It’s taken 22 years. How does it make you feel to be about a month away from seeing your book brought to life?

To be honest, I don’t get too excited about it. I have had so many ups and downs that I am a bit numb to it all. That doesn’t mean I don’t appreciate everything that has happened – I 100% do. But I’ve been beaten up pretty good over the last two decades, plus I have had to deal with Parkinson’s for the last 12 years and premieres and the business of being me can be stressful. In order to survive I have to keep a distance from it mentally so it can be managed.

Talk us through the process? Do you take the story and sell it to the studios? Or does somebody from a studio read the book on the beach on vacation and call you? How does it work?

Meg was originally optioned to Disney’s Hollywood Pictures by my first manager, Ken Atchity. They went through two really bad scripts and then the president of the studio was fired and that reverted the rights back to me – because God-forbid the fired guy did something right and the movie turns out to be big hit…it’s all about ego.

Nothing happened until 2004 when a friend and supporter, Nick Nunziata (CHUD founder) found out I had the rights back Nick was friendly with Guillermo Del Toro and Lloyd Levin (Hellboy) and they had me write a script. Director Jan de Bont was added to the team, and we worked together on my script. The package was taken to New Line. But as the deal was negotiated, every producer wanted more points off the back end (Larry Gordon, Lloyd’s partner, wanted a king’s ransom and the guy never attended one meeting!) The deal was literally signed in the final hour before the deadline.

Meg-Interview-5
What Del Toro decided to make instead of The Meg.

Then NL added more producers and Shane Salerno was added to rewrite the script. Shane wrote an entirely different story – basically Moby Dick revenge story with a Japanese whaler (my Japanese character was a scientist). When I read the first draft, I felt ill. I wrote six pages of notes and pointed out dozens of scientific flaws, but Shane never took a single piece of advice and his rewrite also sucked. By this time, the producers had fallen into two separate camps who would only talk to me (GDT got out ahead of that). Then New Line’s foreign rights guy undersold the foreign markets (who really wanted Meg) and they couldn’t get co-financing. Mercifully, the rights reverted back to me in 2007. I fired everyone and optioned the rights to Belle Avery, a little-known producer whose forte was in raising money for movies. Belle loved the book and we wrote a new script together. She gave our script and Shane’s last draft to 25 professional readers (our names removed) and all 25 loved our script and hated “Moby Meg.”

Armed with our script, she set off to raise the money herself. Seven years of travel, expenses, and hard work later and Belle and Gravity Pictures in China had the money to privately finance Meg. Warner Bros, joined forces and Meg rose from the abyss.

How do you keep your enthusiasm up when it seems like the movie gets stalled again? Did you ever give up hope?

Never. I believed in God and Belle Avery and my MEGheads, who stayed with me.

Have you been involved in the casting? How do they keep you informed, or you keep yourself informed?

Belle kept me informed and listens to my suggestions.

Way back in the mists of time, when this movie was in development, the hero – Jonas Taylor – was rumoured to be played by Patrick Stewart. Finally Jason Statham has been cast in the part. As you may know Statham, or “The Stath” as we call him, is regarded very affectionately by movie fandom as a no-nonsense action star who harkens back to the glory days of 1980s and early 1990’s action movies. The kind that movie nerds everywhere grew up with.  

When Jason accepted the role, I did a victory dance. He’s perfect – my #1 choice!

Have you met him?  

I haven’t met him yet, but my daughter was allowed on the set in China and met him. He was very gracious.

Did you visit the set in New Zealand?

I was invited to NZ and China, but it was too taxing a trip for me at the time. One day…

Were you very familiar with Jon Turtletaub as a director before he took on this projects?  

Yes. I enjoyed National Treasure very much.

Have you had any conversations with him about the story and the characters?

No. I trust Belle – she is Meg’s gatekeeper. When it comes to Meg, she’s the only one I trust.

Then it finally happens. Somebody at the studio drops you a DVD, or a link, to the very first trailer. Tell us how that happened and how you felt when you saw it?

I saw and posted the link 3 minutes before the world saw it. I loved it, especially the foreign trailer.

There is a scene in the latest Jurassic Park movie of a Mosasaur stalking a surfer and emerging from a breaking wave. A number of fans online have commented how this scene seems to be a direct port from one of the most memorable scenes in the original novel. What did you think when you saw that scene in Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom?

I was more bothered by the scene in Jurassic World where they fed the Mosasaur a Great White. That was a clear message to Meg. I mean, come on — Great White’s are on the endangered species list so what brainiac would put them on the menu. Second, they are hardly a fatty meal. Third, that scene came straight out of the feeding sequences in The Trench.

Meg-Interview-5
Clearly a totally original idea in the Jurassic franchise?

What are your plans for 6th August? The World Premier of The Meg in Los Angeles? Are you going and will you take your family?

That’s the plan. 

Outside of the seven entries in The Meg Universe, you have written twelve other books, including the Domain Trilogy and The Loch series. Any plans in flight for any of those to make it to the big screen? Or has anyone mentioned a sequel to The Meg based on your other Meg tales?

The Loch and one other book were optioned by Belle, and she has two more in mind. She has carte blanche as far as my work is concerned.

If a Meg fan who has completed the series wanted to jump in on the rest of your books, where would you recommend they start?

The Loch, Sharkman, The Omega Project.. lots of choices, but these have monsters.

For MEGfans, hardbacks of the brand-new sequel, MEG: Generations are only being sold on a very limited basis on my website at www.SteveAlten.com An ebook is now available on line. An all-new The Meg trade paperback was released in stores on July 6 featuring a movie cover, MEG: Origins prequel, and 17 interior images.

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Meg Trade Cover

Steve, thank you so much for taking the time to talk to us at FilmGoblin today. Good luck with the lead up to The Meg hitting screens and we hope you enjoy every second of the premier. Fingers crossed we’ll be in touch to talk about the sequel in a couple of years time!

The Meg is released by Warner Bros directed by Jon Turteltaub and written by Dean Georgaris, Jon Hoeber, and Erich Hoeber. The film stars Jason Statham, Li Bingbing, Rainn Wilson, Ruby Rose, Winston Chao, and Cliff Curtis.

It will be released worldwide on 10th August 2018.