Ever wonder why screenwriter Max Landis is so unfiltered, doesn’t mince words and isn’t really afraid to say whatever’s on his mind, whatever the cost? Well, maybe part of the issue, as detailed in his own very unvarnished words, is that he had a very troubled upbringing. “I have very severe behavioral problems, very severe behavioral and emotional problems,” he said in a recent The Q&A Podcast conversation with Jeff Goldsmith. “I had very bad learning disability, I had a very hard time concentrating in class, I didn’t make friends… I was a militant child atheist. They called my parents, ‘You need to tell Max to stop telling other kids that God doesn’t exist.’ I was aggressive, but I was like a nerd. I was a nerd bully.”
Landis explained how he couldn’t make friends (in high school he, “met, hated, feuded with and physically fought a boy named Josh Trank”), was eventually kicked out of Beverly Hills high school (“for being in constant verbal altercations and everyone was like ‘that kid will maybe like, shoot up the school or something’”) and then was sent away to special schools in Connecticut and Florida. Troubled kids are no joke and he equates his relationship with his parents, one of them being famous filmmaker John Landis, at the time, “have you ever seen ‘Dawn Of The Dead’? My parents are in the mall, I’m the zombie.”
Still, his parents did what they could, though they couldn’t manage to get Landis into film school. “Nepotism will only get you so far!” he joked. The writer/director says by the time he got to college, at 20, he had written 40-something screenplays and to further explain his bad behavior, he says, “You have to keep in mind I came into the world of social humans at about 22.” So if you’re not a fan of Landis’ uncensored voice, well, at least understand where it might be coming from (personally, it’s hard to not be at least a little empathetic here).
So bear all that in mind as you listen to his conversation with Goldsmith, which is unguarded, and full of bon mots (“You know what a troll is? You know what a studio executive is? They’re the same!”) and choice quips about everyone, including his Dad ( “I came of age when his career was [pause], less ‘Animal House,’ more ‘Blues Brother 2000’”) who he says had the gall to change one of his screenplays and then take a co-writer credit (“He did the ultimate director move… to his son! So many lessons I learned too early from that man!”)
Of course, the circuitous, sarcastic riffs on Zack Snyder and “Batman v Superman: Dawn Of Justice” and “Sucker Punch” are some pretty good unfiltered gold, though it should be noted Landis says he loves “300” and “Dawn of The Dead.”
“It’s called ‘Batman v Superman: Dawn Of Justice,’ but Batman isn’t in the movie, Superman isn’t in the movie, the Justice League isn’t in the movie, Lois Lane, Lex Luthor [aren’t in the movie]. Alfred is in the movie, Batman’s butler, but he’s a butler to a different character,” Landis said launching quickly into his spiel, suggesting that most of the central characters in the movie are not the ones in the comic books or characters that audiences actually know from the past. “Wonder Woman isn’t in the movie, which is surprising because for a second it seemed like she would be. It’s interesting because it says DC Comics before the movie, but it’s not a DC Comics movie.”
He then goes on to another Zack Snyder comic-book adaptation. “Have you ever seen that movie… ‘Watchmen’?” he quipped. “It’s crazy because that movie, a lot of the names of stuff in that movie, and even some of the stuff that has happened is directly lifted from a comic book called ‘Watchmen.’ And it’s really crazy because… have you seen ‘300’? ‘300’ is based directly on a comic book called ‘300.’ But then Zack Snyder also made these three other movies now; he made this movie with the guy who looks like Superman (‘Man Of Steel’) that’s not a Superman movie. I don’t know how he’s getting away with it because the ‘Watchmen’ one was really crazy. There are whole scenes in that movie that are just like what happened in that comic! But then you watch it a little longer and then you realize, ‘Oh no, this is nothing like that comic.’ ”
He catches his breath and continues, “And then in this new one [‘BVS’], there’s this scene where Lex Luthor has this jug of piss that he puts on a desk and — they call it Lex Luthor in the movie! DC Comics is going to sue Zack Snyder,” he said in an exasperated aside (*spoiler coming up if you haven’t seen ‘BVS’*).
Landis ripped into the decision to *spoiler* kill Jimmy Olsen in the movie. “In an interview, the director — Zack Snyder is a genius, I don’t know why he keeps making movies I don’t love, I’m being dead serious, I love ‘300,”” he said. “It’s Jimmy Olsen! They shoot Jimmy Olsen in the head! And he said, ‘because that would be a fun way to have fun with that character.’ Jimmy Olsen is like a nice photographer who has a cool personal relationship with Superman and [the character] is such a hipster douche that he can’t put together that [Clark Kent] is [Superman]. You know how many things you could do with that relationship? Do you know how many stories you could tell with that? BLAMM [Landis makes a gunshot-to-the-head sound in frustration]. I just don’t get it.”
During one of his asides, Landis also attacked another Zack Snyder film. “Have you ever seen that movie ‘Tit Girls’? Oh sorry, I mean ‘Sucker Punch.’ I was so confused by that movie because I think it was called ‘Tit Girl Videogame: The Movie,’ he said dryly. “I even kind of liked ‘The Owls of Ga’Hoole.’”
Tell us what you really think, Max! The conversation goes on for about one hour and twenty two minutes. Landis discusses “Chronicle,” his most recent film, “Mr. Right,” “American Ultra,” plus a quick sequel idea he has for it, his upcoming “Dirk Gently” series and more (note: he says he has a deal for two more directing gigs too, but couldn’t say what they are just yet). Love him or hate him, it’s a fascinating, unfettered talk and while he may drive you crazy, part of his charm for his core audience is that Landis pulls no punches. Listen to the interview in its entirety below and subscribe to The Q&A if you don’t already.