story / ANNE WALLS
photography / ARISTOTLE DREHER
This is a direct quote from an IMDB comment about screenwriter and Hollywood scion Max Landis. After a few minutes with the quick-witted 26-year-old, you quickly learn that in addition to being a writer/director/producer, he is also a complete maniac (in a good way). To wit, Max Landis is obsessed with:
- Full-scale Nerf wars in the park
- Wearing a tie every day, even though he doesn’t have to
- Drinking copious amounts of rum and cokes
- Spending a quiet evening with his cat Junkie, an overweight feline he refers to as a “screaming pillow”
- STEP UP 3-D, the film
More on #7 later.
But first, the obligatory back-story: 1985. Max Landis is born to successful film director John Landis (BLUES BROTHERS, THREE AMIGOS, Michael Jackson’s THRILLER video) and costume designer Deborah Nadoolman Landis. Landis’ first screenplay is sold at age 18 in collaboration with his father for a “Masters of Horror” episode.
Fast-forward to 2011 and Landis, now a graduate of University of Miami’s Film Program, has become Hollywood’s hottest screenwriter, selling numerous spec scripts (screenplays not based on previously published/filmed material), landing on both the highly sought-after Black List and the cover of Script Magazine. Landis is basically blowing up.
Then comes 2012 and the release of his first produced feature film, CHRONICLE. The story of three high school seniors who suddenly discover they have superpowers is directed by Josh Trank and shot in a found footage, handheld style that Hollywood quickly embraces (see PROJECT X, among others). CHRONICLE wows audiences with its witty dialogue, gripping storyline, and general bad assed-ness.
Which brings us to today. Landis is currently working on a plethora of screenplays for entertainment industry heavyweights like Ron Howard and producer Jon Davis. These projects run the gamut from Frankenstein to the Pied Piper, but each have Landis’ signature razor-sharp wit and reverence for both mystical superheroes and ordinary people in extraordinary situations.
So one would expect, upon sitting down with Landis, to hear about the mythology of the Pied Piper or perhaps a detailed explanation of every superhero’s powers, since Landis is a comic book aficionado.
But no. Instead, Landis only wants to talk about what he calls “the greatest dance film of all time,” STEP UP 3D. Told you I’d get back to #7. After revealing his intricate knowledge of the different types of dance crews the movie features (bad guys made of dust, entire crews dancing in animal masks, lasers that shoot with video-game like precision), he sums up his passion for the 2010 flick in one simple sentence: “It’s absolute gleeful madness and a towering achievement in human expression.” Plans for Landis to write a dance movie of his own are quickly becoming less something to joke about over cocktails and more a reality.
The conversation moves on to Landis’ other obsessions: superheroes, wrestlers, and very small mice (no relation to the rodents in the forthcoming PIED PIPER). The mouse he refers to is a bit more…famous, since he has quite a few theme parks dedicated to him. That’s right, Mickey and his pals are all a part of Landis’ grand plans for this month, which he calls “Little Boy Thirty.”
“Little Boy Thirty,” Landis says with a gleeful smile. “Is a 30-day period where I achieve several little boy dreams. It began Friday when I attended a Star Trek/Star Wars Jell-O wrestling match. Then I’m writing the sequel to CHRONICLE. Then I’m going to Orlando with my best friend Brad.” It should be noted here that Landis describes Brad as “this very good human.” He and the Good Human are spending three days in Disneyworld, “just having man time.”
Me: “Please tell me there are going to be Mickey ears involved.”
Landis: “Oh yes, we’re going to be very cute. It’s going to be a mess.”
After Disneyworld is burned to the ground by Landis and the Good Human, he’s off to his old alma mater, University of Miami, to give a lecture about screenwriting. Then it’s time for the main event. Landis will attend WrestleMania, which is, as Little Boy 30 says, “the ultimate dream of my life.” His obsession will be satiated by attending both the pre-party where he’ll rub elbows with the larger than life wrestlers before watching them deliver the ultimate smackdowns on each other the following day in the ring.
You’d think that would be enough dream achievement for one person, but Landis is not your average humanoid. Post WrestleMania comes a different sort of emotional wrestling, when Landis hangs out with two of his exes in Florida. He assures me he is friendly with most of his exes. When asked about his “type,” Landis quickly answers that he doesn’t have one. “If you lined up all my ex-girlfriends, they’d look like the Batman villains. There’s no common thread.”
Little Boy Thirty caps off with the aforementioned Nerf War, featuring Landis and ninety of his closest friends, then he’s being flown to Dubai to attend the first annual Dubai Comic Con. It’s easy to see how Landis could make any situation (Disneyworld, the airplane ride to Dubai, even the dentist’s office) fun. People are drawn to him. As we wrap up the interview, I share this thought with him. He’s humble, a rare moment of stillness in his otherwise always-moving, always-talking persona.
Me: “You know, you could be a cult leader one day.”
After a moment where a look of hope mixed with intrigue flashes across his face, he says: “I could get there.”
What’s scarier, that he has a new action item to add to Little Boy Thirty or that he’ll probably achieve it? Stay tuned, humans.