Justin Marks: Destroyer of the Universe
The following interview was taken directly from the Justin Marks interview in the Jan. 2008 issue of ToyFare magazine (yes, it still exists) where he discusses his He-Man script. Voltron does get mentioned briefly. Despite this lack of Voltron, I went ahead and transcribed this interview for the viewing pleasure of all anti-Marks Voltron fans as well as any inherent He-Man fans. As a side note, whenever you see brackets “[ ]“, these are my own words not those of ToyFare. This is to help in giving any addition information or directions. Please enjoy.
“We talk to ‘He-Man’ screenwriter Justin Marks about creating a brand-new Eternia and bringing his childhood heroes back to life” - By Mike Szymanski and the ToyFare staff.
Justin Marks has the best toy collection on Earth. Sure, others might own more G.I. Joes (although Marks owns over 200), but nobody else can bring their toys to life for the whole world to see like he can.
That’s because Marks in the in-demand screenwriter who’s been tasked with reinventing everything from Voltron to Street Fighter to Green Arrow for the big screen [see bottom of interview for more information]. But the 27-year-old’s true passion, and the project that has us the most psyched, is his screenplay for a big-screen, big-budget He-Man and the Masters of the Universe movie for producer Joel Silver (The Matrix) and Warner Brothers.
We spoke to Marks about the path that brought him here, what fans can expect from He-Man and the fringe benefits of being the kid with the coolest toys.
[From this point in the transcript, I will refer to ToyFare as TF and Justin Marks as JM]
TF: How did you get involved with writing the He-Man script?
JM: He-Man came about as a result of a mutual collaboration with (co-screenwriter) Neil Ellice and the guys at Silver Pictures. We came together and married a take that we all really loved and that we felt would be true to Eternia for the first time. And we campaigned and pushed - everything short of getting on my hands and knees begging - for Mattel to hear it, and they did. We got in the room and we basically spoke through not one movie, but three movies, all the way down through our dreams for the titles for the second and third movies and which characters appeared when.
TF: Do you think the public is going to have a hard time accepting He-Man as an action hero?
JM: A lot of people think of He-Man and they think of that guy with the bob haircut and the Arnold Schwarzenegger archetype and laugh him off, but for those of us who grew up on him, we don’t laugh about He-Man at all. There are great ideas in there that we’ve never seen on film…and hopefully we soon will.
TF: Is he still going to be called He-Man?
JM: (laughs) We’re doing something very interesting with that. But…yeah. Obviously you can’t make a He-Man movie and be afraid of the word “He-Man”. You have to get into there. But I think fans will be very pleased when they see how “He-Man” is spoken.
TF: Do you have a villain yet?
JM: Oh, it’s a Skeletor movie. Obviously we can only speak in broad strokes, but how about this? Thus far, at least, there are no invented new characters plopped into it - and if we and Mattel have our way there will never be. We’re talking about He-Man mythology. So what we’re talking about doing, in the same way as Batman Begins, we’re going back to the original thing, let’s built it from the ground up again. How can we find our way in? How can we jump into Adam’s life at an interesting point where new audiences will respect him? It’s an Adam origin story, and it’s a Skeletor origin story. We want to see where both of them come from and how they got that way. If we don’t see the humanity and the truth in what Skeletor’s trying to do, then the story’s not compelling.
TF: Are there any wishes you would have casting for?
JM: Let me just say we don’t want wrestlers. (laughs) I’m not saying he should be He-Man, but Michael Biehn is my all-time favorite actor. You got to Hicks or Kyle Reese, and James Cameron created that action hero type, and I feel like I always write with the mindset of that type of hero who doesn’t exist these days. He’s that guy who, if he took a weapon and said, “follow me,” I’d be right behind him.
TF: How are you going to incorporate all the…let’s say disparate elements of the He-Man mythology?
JM: He-Man is sword-and-sandals meets science fiction. If you avoid it and just try to make it sword and sandals, then it becomes a boring movie. If you just try to make it science fiction, it’s going to be really kitschy and weird, and it’s not going to be true to He-Man. You have to make it both. So we have to come up with specific ideas, grounded, that would spawn a world that was people carrying around swords, and yet, guys like Tri-Klops running around with his spinning visor and this sort of nano-technological way about him. What is the sorcery that can create stuff like that?
TF: So, you’re really sticking fairly closely to the original world?
JM: There’s some stuff going around…we should clear that up. There’s some rumor spreading that he’s a soldier in the Iraqi war. Where did they get that? This is an Eternian movie and it’s a story about an Eternian hero. We’re not going to Earth, here. We’re not going to the modern world. We’re not going to a strip mall in the Valley. (laughs) By the way, I think there are really great things about the original Masters of the Universe.
TF: Uh-Oh. You just made a lot of fans very nervous.
JM: I think fans have nothing to worry about. And the reason is because Mattel has been hands-on in this process and we have been back and forth. We get to a point where we say, “We need something here.” And they’re like, “Look, you have to understand the reality of the situation is that we’d love to have toys. We know there’s a lot of cynicism about that.” And we looked at each other and were like, “Where do we sign up? Where can we show you our ideas for toys? Because we’ve got some cool vehicles that my brothers and I always wanted in the He-Man world but we never got. And now we can put them in the movie.”
TF: They must love you guys for being such big toy fans.
JM: I was born into the peak of the very fun action figures. My first action figure that I owned was Man-At-Arms, and then I got into G.I. Joes. My brothers and I grew up on the lore of the ‘80s mythology, so that’s been the exciting thing about Voltron and He-Man - these are stories that I’ve been concocting in my head for the better part of 25 years.
TF: So we take it you’re having a good time.
JM: Absolutely. It’s something (director) David Lean said on the set of Lawrence of Arabia: “I hope the money men never find out that I’d do this for free.” You only know that you’re doing things that you love if you’d absolutely write them for free in a heartbeat. There’s not a dollar sign you can put for the chance to walk with Mattel and go through the (New York International) Toy Fair and see prototypes and molds. When we were sitting down in the initial meetings with Mattel to talk about He-Man, it was just a thrill for us. And Neil and I were thrilled to ask Mattel all the questions that we wanted answered.
TF: What kind of questions?
JM: If you remember, He-Man (toys), very early own, had two halves of the sword - Skeletor had half, He-Man had half and you could clip them together. And that was discarded by the cartoon. And I’m not sure if I can tell you but we finally got the answer to (why there are two halves), because it’ll be something that I think can affect the movie.
TF: So Mattel has been pretty helpful to work with, then?
JM: Mattel has been really great when we say, “Look, we need something for this scene, something along the lines of this.” And they usually have stuff in their library that’s like, “No, it should be this,” and we’re like, “Great!” So it’s been really fan-friendly in that regard. When this movie comes out - and hopefully some day it will, because things look really stacked in its favor after Transformers - people will catch this movie and say, “I can’t believe it took this long for a He-Man movie to get to the screen,” because of how naturally the original material suits itself to a great, Lord of the Rings scale - and yet high-tech - cool movie.
TF: What do you think has triggered this rash of toy movies?
JM: It’s something the older generation is starting to see - thank you, Transformers, for doing that - they’re starting to see that there’s something that we’ve been missing about these projects. There’s actually a depth and a gravity that you can bring out, and if you bring it out you please not only people like me who are fans of the mythology but you also bring in a new audience.
TF: So what every toy fan wants to know is, how did you get to be writing all these awesome movies?
JM: In college I was going to major in film and I ended up getting side-tracked. I thought, “You know what, let’s step out of the film department.” So I majored in architecture. (laughs) Ironically enough, my design thesis in college centered around Voltron, doing sort of half-assembled architecture where you can put the stuff together. It was a big inspiration for the movie…and by the way, how I got that first job. [Now we know why the Voltron script sucked, it was his first screenwriting assignment].
JM: Yeah. I got a job as (a production) assistant, and I went in to have a general meeting with a guy named Jordan Wynn at the Mark Gordon Company. At the end of the conversation it came to what they were doing and he said, “Voltron,” and I kind of perked up. (laughs) And it all came from there.
Justin’s other upcoming projects.
Voltron: Set up at New Regency Pictures with the Mark Gordon Co. for a possible 2010 release. Early script reviews revealed a post-apocalyptic-alien-invasion Earth setting, but according to Marks the early drafts may not accurately represent the final project. “We always considered Voltron to be a Batman Begins with giant robots -a grounded, realistic approach,” Marks says. “In the same way that Batman Begins does it, but applying it to the next level, bringing the magic of the Lion-Bots and the magic of Voltron into this grounded, realistic world.”
Street Fighter: In pre-production at Fox with Hyde Park Entertainment, eyeing a 2009 release. The film will reportedly focus almost exclusively on Chun-Li as she seeks vengeance against M. Bison for her father’s disappearance. “She’s a breath of fresh air,” Marks says. “I have a weakness for female-based action. It’s really about our feelings for her as an underdog , a woman who brings down this elaborate network. She starts as a little girl, and to see her grow into a hero is a seminal story mode.”
Super Max: Marks wrote this script for his mentor, Batman Begins screenwriter David Goyer (and Goyer’s wife Jessica) to produce at Warner Bros. for a 2010 release. The flick centers on Green Arrow, who gets wrongfully imprisoned in a super-maximum security prison for super villains and has to team up with evildoers to burst out. “DC has been so great to give us basically all the characters we want,” says Marks. “All these great, clever characters with these awesome powers - some powers we’ve seen before, some characters we’ve seen before, and some we’ve never seen.”
“For more with Justin Marks, including lots more about his other big projects, pick up the Wizard 2008 Movie Spectacular, on sale December 5”
Disclaimer: This interview was conducted by ToyFare Magazine. I am not affiliated with this magazine, Justin Marks, or any other company directly related to the production of this article. I have painstakingly transcribed this interview from the original source. This is to be used for informational purposes only for those who have been unable to locate this issue of the magazine. So don't get pissed off or sue, I'm poor enough as it is so you won't get anything.