Summer is coming to an end and so are this year’s fun, action-thriller blockbusters we all love. If you’re like me and you enjoy shoving popcorn into your mouth while radical chaos ensues on screen, you’ll love The Meg. Cleverly, this film is a shark movie that’s also a dinosaur movie, combing the best of Jaws and Jurassic Park that you can get without Steven Spielberg.
But as more summer blockbusters get made, and as audiences get more savvy, writing a screenplay that will feel satisfying on screen becomes more difficult. Luckily, I was able to sit down with all three of The Meg’s writers to talk about the challenges of both meeting and subverting the audience’s expectations.
Based on the book Meg by Steve Alten, Dean Georgaris (Laura Croft Tomb Raider: Cradle of Life, Paycheck) wrote the first draft of the screenplay before brothers Jon and Erich Hoeber (Battleship, Red), were added to the mix. “We worked as a cohesive unit,” says Jon Hoeber, which is pretty rare, given there’s often animosity when multiple writers work on a project.
With the success of Jaws, and its campy stepchild, Sharknado, I was surprised the writers weren’t intimidated to write another shark movie.
“When I first read the original material,” says Georgaris, I wasn’t worried about comparisons to Jaws, I was more thinking about Jurassic Park and being wary of that franchise and wanting to respectfully play in a different space. Yes, it’s a shark that happens to be huge but really what we’re talking about is a prehistoric monster that happens to be discovered in the ocean. The three of us have always talked about James Cameron movies like The Abyss and Steven Spielberg movies, so I think it was as much about trying to get all of the thrills and humor that you want in a movie that at it’s core is something that’s both really scary and really absurd.”
“Obviously,” adds Jon Hoeber, “Jaws was a massive touchstone both culturally and for all the creative team. We didn’t want to redo it, but be respectfully aware of it and have fun with it.
But they also weren’t afraid to get a little meta. In The Meg, there’s a little dog named Pippet – the same name as the dog that appears in Jaws. The writers don’t take credit for the Easter egg, however, they say it was the director, Jon Turteltaub’s, idea.
The writers admit the biggest challenge in adapting The Meg, was discovering the right tone. Blockbusters need to have big thrills and scares, counterbalanced with comic relief while still feeling fresh.
“We talked a lot about humor,” says Erich Hoeber, “about delivering the kind of hero moments you expect but hopefully they feel original.”
In the film, an oceanic research team discovers a deep underwater canyon that’s home to some creatures time forgot – including a megaladon, a 75-foot shark thought to have gone extinct millions of years ago. Though it seems pretty unlikely such a creature would still be swimming around out there, the writers didn’t get too caught up in trying to explain its plausibility.
“Some of the science in this is pretty good and some of it is pretty fuzzy,” says Georgaris. “But we didn’t want the truth to get in the way of telling a good story.”
One good thing to remember when dealing with over-the-top circumstances, is to write characters who deal with even the most absurd situations seriously.
“You may have larger than life things happening in the movie but if your characters are dealing with them authentically, as if they were real, then the audience will just go along with them,” says Erich Hoeber. “That’s an important lesson when you’re dealing with things that probably couldn’t happen.”
Another important lesson is to really understand the genre.
“There have been a lot of really well crafted movies in the last 30 or 40 years in particular and really understanding why they do work, as opposed to other movies that were spectacular but didn’t leave you feeling quite so satisfied,” says Georgaris. “There’s a lot to be learned looking at the mistakes people have made and also looking at what they’ve got right.”
Erich Hoeber says it helps to know everything that’s been done before so you don’t hit the same beats.
“So much of writing a blockbuster, say Erich Hoeber, “is just being highly aware of the genre – this is going to cover some territory that’s been trod before. You just have to be aware of the audience’s expectations and figure out ways to subvert them.”
Lucky for us,The Meg succeeds at both.
The Meg opens August 10.