Screenplay Junkie #3: Who the Hell is Justin Marks?

Adam Volk is a wannabe screenwriter trying desperately to break into the industry and cram his hack drivel down Hollywood’s gaping maw. Each week he examines one aspect from the wonderfully demented world of screenwriting.

As an obsessive compulsive movie geek I’d like to think that I have some abstract sense as to what’s going on when it comes to the wacky world of Hollywood screenwriting. After all, I read my monthly issue of Script and CS magazines, drool over the weekly Script Girl video updates, and pour through the daily rumours and ramblings on the interweb. Yet for all my attempts to try and stay on top of screenwriting news, one mysterious name seems to keep cropping over and over again: Justin Marks.

Yes, these days it seems I can’t do a random Google search without seeing the guy’s name mentioned in passing half a dozen times. I flip through an issue of Variety and there he is again. The very next day MTV.com is busy pimping out his latest script -– hell the guy even appeared on a panel at this year’s Comic-Con! Yes, everywhere I look there’s Justin fucking Marks! Just who the hell is this guy?

Well, as it turns out Marks has become the de facto go-to screenwriter when it comes to some of the biggest franchises in geekdom, inking major six figure deals with Warner Bros., 20th Century Fox and Rogue Pictures – and he’s done it all without having a single script ever produced into a feature length film. So I decided to do a little digging to see what I could find out about the enigmatic Mr. Marks. For all the positive buzz about his screenplays the guy maintains the kind of low profile normally employed by Osama bin Laden and Howard Hughes during his crazy urine-collecting phase. From what little I could find about his past, it turns out that Marks started out as a production assistant on a few films, had his name attached to a couple of shorts and spec scripts, and was eventually discovered by the wife of legendary filmmaker and geek hero David Goyer. So just who is Justin Marks?

Well, about the only thing we do know about him is that he’s written a hell of a lot screenplays, so let’s start there. First up for Marks is the soon-to-be-released Street Fighter: The Legend of Chun-Li. Based on the classic 90s arcade brawler (and wisely washing its hands of the original Jean-Claude van Damme adaptation), the film is being produced by 20th Century Fox, is directed by action virtuoso Andrzej Bartkowiak and is slated for a release in early 2009. The film stars Smallville actress Kristin Kreuk as femme fatale ass-kicker Chun-Li, along with co-stars Neal McDonough, Chris Klein, Michael Clarke Duncan and…ugggg….Black Eyed Peas singer Taboo.

Okay, so in terms of a first produced feature it doesn’t exactly inspire confidence in Marks’ abilities (or judgement in taking on new projects). After all, most fans are still left with a distinctive jizz-like taste in their mouths after the last time Street Fighter appeared on the big screen. Also, I as much as I loved rocking SF: II on my Super NES back in the day, I’ve never felt that the game had all that much source material to draw on. I mean, essentially it’s just a bunch of super-powered freaks beating the living shit out of each other and aside from the characters pulling fire balls and energy blasts out of their asses and occasionally yelling “Hadouken!”, the game’s story isn’t exactly Citizen Kane. That being said, I’m willing to give Marks the benefit of the doubt. After all, writing a video game adaptation is always going to be an uphill battle (thank you Uwe Boll), so I’ll hold off before I pass judgment on it… even though deep down I suspect the film is going to reek worse than Blanka after a night of binging on tequila fizzies and Brazilian prostitutes.

Marks may have better luck with his script for another 20th Century Fox film — Voltron: Defender of the Universe. Yes, Hollywood seems to be in the early stages of glutting itself on a wave of 80s cartoon nostalgia, which has obviously worked out for Marks as he was brought on once again to pen an adaptation. Personally, I don’t remember much about the original cartoon series other than crapping myself as a kid watching a bunch of giant lion robots blow shit up in space. The film however, sounds like a radical departure from the campy overtones of the cartoon series and is described as a “a post-apocalyptic tale set in New York City and Mexico” following the exploits of “five ragtag survivors of an alien attack [who] band together and end up piloting the five lion-shaped robots that combine and form the massive sword-wielding Voltron that helps battle Earth’s invaders.” The film also seems to be getting some serious traction under it, particularly now that indie director Max Makowski has been brought on board. Even more promising though is that Latino Review – respectable fanboy critics in their own right – gave Marks script a solid A+ rating, declaring that it is a “fucking masterpiece”. Will it live up to the hype? Only time will tell.

As if one 80s cartoon franchise adaptation wasn’t enough, Marks has also been brought on by Warner Bros. to pen a script for He-Man entitled Grayskull: The Masters of the Universe. Again, Latino Review called the script a “fanboy masterpiece” and said the film is a dark PG-13 style sword and sandal blend of fantasy and science fiction which they described as “LORD OF THE RINGS meets THE MATRIX and a little BATMAN BEGINS thrown in for good measure”. Marks also elaborated on the script in an interview with ToyFare magazine which makes the film sound even more promising. Currently, there’s no director or cast attached to the project, although Joel Silver’s name has been bandied about along with Brad Pitt and Gerard Butler looking to fill Prince Adam’s loin cloth. If Marks’ script is any indication though, the flick sounds like it could be pretty damn cool — at least, as long as they don’t include that little floating fucker Orko.

Next up for Marks is the superhero action-flick Green Arrow: Escape from Super Max. Out of all Marks’ many screenplays, I’ve got to say this is one that has the fanboy in me desperately hoping it: (a) gets made and (b) doesn’t get horribly mauled by Hollywood in the process. The script started out as a spec of sorts with David Goyer and Warner Bros. recently helping the project get some traction. The script is also a radical departure from most superhero films in that it introduces lesser known DC hero the Green Arrow (a.k.a. billionaire-archer Oliver Queen). Rather than follow his origin story and early adventures however, Super Max skips the foreplay and jumps straight into the action as the Green Arrow is framed for a crime he didn’t commit and incarcerated in a prison housing the DC Universe’s most dangerous super-powered villains. Queen must then find a way to escape and clear his good name in the process. If that doesn’t have the comic book fanboy in you creaming your pants in excitement –- brother, nothing will.

If Marks hasn’t been busy enough over the past year, Rogue Pictures has also brought him on board to write an adaptation of Hack/Slash, the popular Devils Due comic book series created by Tim Seeley and Stefano Caselli. The series follows protagonist Cassie Hack in her quest to hunt down homicidal maniacs and serial killers, known as “slashers”. Marks’ version reportedly contains heavy doses of comedy and horror with newcomer Todd Lincoln directing and Transformers hottie Megan Fox allegedly in talks to play the lead. Despite my comic geek background, I’m ashamed to say I haven’t actually read the series before, but the premise of a hot chick hunting down serial killers does sound pretty damn cool. Run, Dexter, run!!!!

Finally, Marks recently announced that he’s shopping around an untitled big-budget SF script which he describes as thematically similar to Children of Men. Marks had this to say about the project: “It deals with man’s exploration of the universe. I grew up on 2001, Alien, Aliens, Alien 3 even, are movies that I kind of love, but they have kind of steered science fiction towards horror. I want to bring the genre of space travel back to contemporary science fiction. The movie starts with a murder in zero gravity and goes from there.” Again, it sounds like it could be a pretty cool flick and with Marks’ current reputation there’s a damn good chance someone will snatch it up.

So who is Justin Marks? Well if the above films are any indication, he may just be the last great fanboy hope when it comes to turning classic geek franchises into cinematic gold.

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  • http://deven-science.livejournal.com/ Deven Science

    Or, he could be the latest go-to hack, like producer Jon Peters.

    Time will tell, when one of his scripts is finally filmed and released in theaters.

  • http://www.ryanmarlow.net Ryan M.

    I had heard this guy’s name before many times so I’m glad you explained why…

    The thing that makes me think he sucks: Chun-Li.

    Seriously!? One of the things that was fooked up about the first one was this: RYU AND KEN ARE THE MAIN CHARACTERS HOLLYWOOD! HOW GOD DAMN HARD IS IT THAT TO UNDERSTAND! ENGLISH MOTHER FUCKER DO YOU SPEAK IT!?

    Goddammit. The only reason anyone wants a Street Fighter movie is for “HADOUKEN!”

    Did you see Street Fighter 2: The Animated Movie? That was a somewhat cheesy but spectacular way to make a Street Fighter movie; one of the beauties of it is that you don’t have much to go on while writing it. You can construct almost all of the mythos (beyond the characterization and the fact that Ryu gave Sagat the scar and little shit like that) as long as there are fight scenes. There is no Street Fighter bible.

    Also now that we have CG (and energy blasts are about the only thing CG does perfectly in this age) WHY CAN’T WE SEE SOME GODDAMN HADOUKENS!!!

    Fail on you Justin Marks. Fail on you.

  • Adam V.

    Yeah, anyway you slice it the Street Fighter movie is probably going to suck big floppy titties. Bottom line: most video game film adaptations are terrible simply due to the lack of tangible source material.

    Oh and I haven’t seen the animated movie but I hear it’s pretty cool (same deal with some of the comics which expand on the Street Fighter “mythos” if you can even call it that). To me, the material definitely seems like it would lend itself better to an animated feature.

    As for the lack of Ryu and Ken I’m guessing it wasn’t Marks decision at all. Some studio suit probably decided to feature Chun-Li as the main character for one simple reason: to increase interest among the boner-popping male demographic.

    But I don’t blame Justin Marks for taking on the project or trying to inject some modicum of story into a pretty lame franchise (the guy’s trying to make a name for himself and trying to get paid – just like most screenwriters out there). No, I blame Hollywood for trying to force this crap on audiences.

    Fail on you HOLLYWOOD. Fail on you.

  • http://www.ryanmarlow.net Ryan M.

    I had thought of that perspective right after I hit “Submit Comment” and you are right about it being the studio’s fault and that Justin Marks doesn’t deserve the blame. However, I don’t believe video game adaptations are bad because of the lack of source material. Any screenwriter worth their salt should be able to construct something to go with the supplied characters and visuals. I just think they’ve hired bad writers and directors every time.

    I can see it from Marks’ perspective and I’d probably take the deal too. Then again, Marks was already inking multi-million dollar deals (as you say) so it’s not like this was his first gig before he reached some point of starvation. A simple wikipedia search would have told him the lack of Ryu and Ken was sick and wrong.

    Also I agree that saying “Street Fighter mythos” is a bit ridiculous; but I’ve seen the anime movies and series and read many of the comics and manga…there is still lots to go on there (and thinking that those writers had nothing to go on; there is no excuse). Also if you think about it the characterization was there from the beginning. Each character had a unique look and personality (from what they say after winning a match). I know this is a stretch, but it is a bit like writing a comic book movie: you are taking iconic characters and molding them into a story that fits in two hours.

    Ok, I know, I have a hard on for Street Fighter and maybe I should save thoughts like this for my own blog.

  • http://deven-science.livejournal.com/ Deven Science

    You guys are jumping on this Street Fighter title without knowing anything of the plot, aren’t you? If they released a movie called “TMNT: The Rise Of Casey”, you wouldn’t be freaking out like this. Besides, with the existance a live action movie, and a animated movie, I think a different angle on the story should be appreciated.

  • http://www.geocities.com/kiethblacklion KiethBlackLion

    I watched Street Fighter and it wasn’t a bad movie. I wouldn’t exactly call it Street Fighter though. It felt like any run-of-the-mill martial arts movie.

    I do not have much faith in Marks though. I read his Voltron script and it was horrible. It went beyond just “updating” for modern audiences; it was nothing more than a rehash of scenes from previous sci-fi movies. So much was changed (including the character personalities) that the only reason it should be called Voltron is because of the robot fight at the end. Despite what LatinoReview says, it is NOT a fanboy masterpiece, it is a piece of crap that will make fanboys cry from seeing the proverbial ass-raping the property received from Marks’.

    From what I have read so far on the web, my faith in his rendition of He-man is also shot. This guy doesn’t need to be handling any of the properties from the 80s.

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