In the run up to the biggest shark movie of 2018, The Daily Jaws chummed the waters with some killer questions and was lucky enough to hook a big fish, The Meg author himself Steve Alten! Read on as Steve talks movies, screenwriting, Jason Staham and Jaws vs The Meg.....
The Daily Jaws: Were you a big fan of Jaws the book or film?
Steve Alten: Both. I saw the movie when I was fifteen, then read the novel, then proceeded to read every true-life shark attack account I could find. In most, there was a blurb about Megalodon, usually accompanied by a black & white photo of six scientists seated in a Meg jaw… but no novels.
TDJ: Recently there has been a real resurgence in the shark movie genre, why do you think this is?
SA: I think shark stuff – whether books or movies -- has always been popular; Shark Week is a prime example.
TDJ: What are the challenges of writing a great shark movie?
SA: As with any movie, you need a good script and a story that is intriguing. That’s why JAWS holds up well. The fake-looking Bruce-the-shark is tolerated because we love the story of Brody, Hooper, and Quint battling a nasty creature tying to eat them.
TDJ: Do you think it’s inevitable/fair that all shark movies are compared to Jaws? And what comparisons, if any do you hope will be made between The Meg and Jaws?
SA: JAWS is the standard-bearer, so it’s natural. I think The MEG, while a shark movie, is more of an action-hero flick with the shark as the bad guy. I don’t think of JAWS as a shark movie, I think of it as great cinema. Spielberg had tremendous obstacles to face and less shark had to be more. The MEG’s trailers have more shark sequences than the entire JAWS movie simply because of the technological advances since the 1970s. Interestingly, the same can be said of the two novels. When I read JAWS, I remember wanting MORE SHARK sequences. When I wrote MEG, I made sure the shark sequences dominated the pages. Nowadays, that’s what audiences want.
TDJ: How did the idea for Meg come about?
SA: Well, I mentioned my love of JAWS and true Great White shark attack stories. Flash forward 20 years. At 35, I was struggling to support a family of five having closed a water treatment office to work door-to-door while I tried many other second jobs. In August of 1995 I read a TIME magazine article on the Mariana Trench. It detailed hydrothermal vents and life flourishing at the bottom of the sea and I thought, wow, wouldn’t it be cool if that giant shark was still alive down there? So I went to the library (there was no internet then) to research the story to see if it was plausible. That’s the thing about an Alten novel – even if it’s fiction, the lines blur with the facts. And my idea WAS plausible, so I set a goal that I would be the guy who wrote the Megalodon story.
TDJ: We understand you wrote Meg whilst holding down a regular job, when did you find time to write and how disciplined did you have to be?
SA: The only time I could write was at 10 pm to 3 am and on weekends. That was challenging, but I’ve always been extremely disciplined. At the same time, MEG was far more to me than an exercise in discipline, it represented my future… it would launch my career, it would be a movie… it would feed my family and save me from poverty. Everything that is happening now was already in my head in 1995….I just never imagined the challenges and body-blows waiting for me.
TDJ: What sort of planning process did you have?
SA: My first draft was weak; I needed to be coached. My first literary agent, Ken Atchity taught me how to construct a story.
TDJ: What do you think is the lasting appeal of the series?
SA: Fans care about the characters; otherwise it would just be a monster story. But each Meg or new creature carries its own distinct personality as well.
TDJ: Tell us about the latest Meg book.
SA: MEG: Generations picks up where MEG: Nightstalkers left off and splits the novel into three distinct storylines. I had intended to end the series but Generations unexpectedly sprouted a fresh new limb that led me into a seventh book, MEG: Purgatory (to be written).
With Generations, I also wanted to try a new marketing approach – I wanted my MEGheads to have the inside track on ordering a limited edition hardback print. And so Generations hardback will not be sold in stores or on Amazon, only on my webstore at www.SteveAlten.com We only printed about 700 more than were pre-ordered, so it’s first come-first served for the best sequel in the series (ebooks are available for everyone else).
TDJ: Peter Benchley famously had a cameo in Jaws, have you got one in The Meg?
SA: Hell, no. But my daughter, Kelsey was used as an extra in the beach attack scene. She’ll be the American blonde made to look Asian.
TDJ: The Meg had been stuck in a deep trench of development hell on and off for years. Were you ever worried it wouldn’t make it to the big screen?
SA: I was worried when New Line had it that it was going to be made wrong. The screenwriter (Shane Salerno) completely ignored the novel and wrote some piece of crap Moby Dick tale with a Megaladon. Thank God the rights reverted so I could option MEG to Belle Avery.
TDJ: Why is the timing right for The Meg movie?
SA: That’s like asking me, as an Eagles fan, why was the timing right this year for Philly to win their first Superbowl. Hell, it’s always been the right time for us fans, but this year all the ingredients came together. Same with MEG. Belle put together the right team to make a great movie. After you see it, you’ll want more – just like us long-suffering Eagles fans now want another ring. That both happened in the same year for me as a Philly guy is something special. Unfortunately, my dad died seven years ago… I wish he could have seen both.
I know one of the reviews that screamed out from the front cover of my first edition of Meg said ‘Jurassic Shark’, so it’s only fitting that one of the Executive Producers is Gerald R. Molen, who also produced Jurassic Park. It’s quite a team they’ve assembled in front of and behind the camera.
TDJ: Are you pleased with how it has all gone and did you get to visit the set?
SA: Very pleased. As for visiting the set, my Parkinson’s made those long trips (New Zealand and China) too challenging. Hopefully I’ll be ready for the sequel!
TDJ: What’s it like having Jason Statham as your leading man? What does he bring to the role?
SA: He was my flat-out #1 choice. Tough as nails, haunted by his past… he is Jonas Taylor.
TDJ: Statham wasn’t big in movies at the time the book was published; did you have anyone in mind when you were writing the character of Jonas Taylor?
SA: Back then, I always liked Kurt Russell in the role.
TDJ: Are the many major differences between the book and the film?
SA: There are differences, but none major.
TDJ: Like Peter Benchley you also share a screenwriting credit, how was it adapting your book for the big screen?
SA: After the rights reverted from New Line, Belle and I co-wrote a new script that was used to sell investors. It was fun to write.
TDJ: Have you any tips for any budding screenwriters?
SA: I’ve written several adaptations of my own work, and half a dozen original scripts, but I don’t think I carry the expertise to answer a question like that. Novels… yes, not scripts. Other book to film series - such as Jack Reacher and the Robert Langdon series - haven’t been shot in the order they were published.
TDJ: If there was a The Meg film sequel which book should it based on and why?
SA: Good question. Maybe Hell’s Aquarium.
TDJ: How does Steve Alten feel about sharks?
SA: I know they are a necessary and critical link in the ocean’s food chain and that we must stop slaughtering these amazing creatures – especially for shark fin soup. That insanity must be stopped.
TDJ: What do you think is our continued fascination with sharks, whether it be documentaries, books or film?
SA: We enjoy the thrill of being scared and sharks are scary creatures – especially when we find ourselves in their environment where we are ill at ease.
TDJ: Somewhere, somehow do you think there could be a Megalodon lurking in the ocean depths?
From a scientific standpoint, it is definitely possible. To simply state as fact, “We haven’t seen one, so they died off” is not science, it is conjecture. You are talking about the apex predator of all time that dominated the oceans 30 million to as little as 10,000 years ago. Megs had one enemy – Orca, which hunt in packs. How does a 70-foot Meg avoid being killed by Orca? It goes deep. How much of the oceans’ deep realms have been explored? Less than 1%. Do the math...
TDJ: The Meg has been rated 12A in the UK and PG-13 in America, can we expect an unrated edition when it comes to Bluray?
SA: I don’t know. Personally, I am not into excessive gore for gore’s sake.
TDJ: Have you seen the film yet? If not, how will you be experiencing it for the first time?
SA: God-willing, on August 6 in Los Angeles at The MEG premiere.
TDJ: You’ve shown great perseverance with your books and finally getting Meg into cinemas. You’ve also been diagnosed with Parkinson’s- how has that impacted your creative streak and writing? What keeps you going?
SA: Physically and mentally, it is a challenge. But others have cured themselves, and that is my goal. Plus, I have a family to support, so I’ll continue to persevere as long as God allows me.
TDJ: Has the journey been worth it?
SA: I am convinced it was the journey I was intended to take. Would I do certain things differently if I could go back in time? Sure. But here we are. I did what was necessary at the time to get us here… to get me here.
TDJ: Finally, will you be visiting the UK anytime soon?
SA: I hope so. First, I need to beat this disease. The odds of getting published, and having your best-seller turn into an amazing motion picture are far greater. Us Philly guys… don’t give up easily.
'The Meg' premieres August 10th