Lunch break lark leads to movie deal
The best lunch break ever apparently occurred Sept. 2 in Des Moines.
Freelance writer James Erwin took a break while editing a military history encyclopedia. He surfed the Web and posted a short science fiction story about modern U.S. Marines battling the Roman army.
He then went back to work. A week later, the 37-year-old Cedar Rapids native signed a deal to write a movie script for Warner Bros.
The tale sounds almost as fantastic as jarheads dueling centurions. Even Erwin scarcely believes it. And he’s living it.
“I still stop and think, ‘What? Come on, this is ridiculous,’” said Erwin, a 1995 University of Iowa graduate.
The story began with a question posted on Reddit.com, a website where users vote on items to determine which stories, pictures and videos will appear on the site’s homepage.
An item caught Erwin’s interest. A user posed a hypothetical scenario: Could a modern U.S. Marine unit wipe out the entire Roman empire?
Erwin already had military campaigns on his mind. He was working on “The Encyclopedia of U.S. Military Actions (Through Facts on File).”
He wrote a 350-word response to the question. His post took the shape of a short story about a fictional group of Marines who accidentally travel back in time and battle the Romans during the reign of Augustus.
A few hours later, his post had tens of thousands of page views. His fellow Reddit users demanded more detail in the story, which someone on the forum dubbed “Rome, Sweet Rome.”
Erwin wrote more. People kept reading. They mocked up book covers and movie posters. They posted music videos to YouTube.
“The story hits a lot of buttons,” Erwin said. “People really got into it. There’s military historians, Roman historians, people who like sci-fi and action-adventure. ‘I’m still surprised by the number of people who are into it.”
One of the people into it was Adam Kolbrenner of Madhouse Entertainment, a Beverly Hills, Calif., production company. He liked the idea, made a deal to represent Erwin and quickly optioned movie rights to Warner Bros. Erwin is writing the script.
Gianni Nunnari is co-producing the movie. Nunnari produced “300,” a highly fictionalized account of the Battle of Thermopylae set in Greece, 480 B.C., which grossed $456 million worldwide. He also backed “Immortals,” a fantasy adventure due out next week about a battle between the gods of Greek mythology and humanity.
The movie deal isn’t Erwin’s first brush with celebrity. It’s not even his second or third. He appeared on “Jeopardy!” three times, winning twice. But Marines vs. Romans, he said, is a bigger deal.
“I always wanted to be on ‘Jeopardy!,’ and I prepared for it my whole life,” he said. “This just came out of nowhere.”
Erwin still needs to finish his military history book and another book. Then he’s taking a break from his freelance gigs to focus on the script, which is due to Warner Bros. in early 2012.
So who wins? A Popular Mechanics magazine story theorized that the Marines would do a lot of damage, but ultimately would be outnumbered. Erwin knows how he’s going to end the script, but we’ll have to wait to see until it’s at the local multiplex.
He also won’t say how much he’s being paid to produce the script, but says, “I’m very happy.”
Regardless of the sum, it’s pretty good for something spawned as a lark while on lunch break.
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