A Zone's Eye View With Mark A. Altman
By Laura Alber and Albert L. Ortega (all Comic Con Photos By Albert L. Ortega)
Mark A. Altman is the writer/producer of Free Enterprise, the award winning feature film, starring Eric McCormack (Will & Grace) and William Shatner from Mindfire Entertainment. Altman, along with co-writer Robert Meyer Burnett, was awarded the Best New Writer award at the AFI 1998 Film Festival by the WGA where the film was also honored as Best Picture/New Directions by the festival. In addition, it has won numerous awards at film festivals across the globe. Like journalist turned director Rod Lurie, Altman is a former entertainment writer. He served as editor-in-chief of Sci-Fi
Universe, the most influential periodical devoted to genre motion pictures and television (which New Times called "a magazine with a smart, sci-fi edge."), for four years and has contributed to such newspapers and magazines as The Boston Globe, L'Cinefage, Film Threat, The Manchester Guardian, The Boston Edge, Cult TV, Cinefantastique, Computer Player and many others. He continues to write a regular column about the movies and television for Cinescape. Altman has also written numerous comic books for DC and Malibu Comics and is author of several non-fiction books including 'Twin Peaks: Behind the Scenes' and, more recently, the 'Captains' Logs' series and the best-selling 'Trek Navigator' from Little Brown & Company. He has been featured on E! Entertainment
Television, A&E Biography, Fox News, SF Vortex, National Enquirer Uncovered and many local television and radio programs as well as the Internet where he served as an editorial consultant for Centropolis Entertainment's webmag, Eon, for several years. Altman also produced The Specials, a feature film comedy about dysfunctional superheroes starring Rob Lowe, Jamie Kennedy, Melissa Joan Hart and Thomas Haden Church. The film, written by James Gunn, theatrically premiered in Fall 2000 and was recently released on home video and special edition DVD. He has spoken at numerous industry events and conventions including the 2000 ShowBiz Expo in Hollywood as well as the Variety/Final Draft Screenwriters Panel at the 1999 Cannes Film Festival. He also guest lectured at numerous
colleges and universities, including his alma mata, Brandeis University, where he served as arts & entertainment editor and, later, editor-in-chief of the Justice, the student newspaper, for three years. In addition to writing 'Free Enterprise', he is the co-writer of 'Abducted', which was optioned by Dreamworks SKG. He recently co-wrote 'The House Of The Dead', based on the best-selling Sega video game, which will be released in 2003 and is developing Free Enterprise as a TV sitcom. Altman, who lives in Los Angeles, is currently Chief Operating Officer for Mindfire Entertainment where he oversees the development of numerous feature film and television projects. (Bio Courtesy of IMDB)
And Now...Mark A. Altman!!
Z: Let's start with "The House of the Dead"! Jesse Dylan's script was sent to you and Dave Parker to rewrite. For the fans that have heard so many different plots for this film (prior to turning the script over to you at Mindfire), can you possibly fill us in on what it WILL be about?
MA: HOD is about a group of college students who go to a rave on a mysterious island and get more than they bargained for when they encounter bloodthirsty zombies and must take refuge in the "House of the Dead." The film can best be described as "Night of the Living Dead" meets "Buffy."
Dave did a great job on the script and I think the movie will have a terrific look. It's funny because some people think it doesn't have much to do with the game, but as the story goes on, the audience will get to see how much the story ties in with HOD I and HOD II. A lot of the creatures from the game show up in the movie including the Ebitan, a really creepy moss zombie. We already have a writer working on the sequel because I think we're all confident that this film works and can be a franchise and we're thrilled that Uwe Boll will be back to direct the next installment.
Z: I understand Will Sanderson has been cast, along with a cameo from an alumni of EZ, writer Steven Kriozere (from television's V.I.P.) Any other big names attached?
MA: I think there are some great people in the film including Jurgen Prochnow from Das Boat who's terrific. He even wears the same hat he wore in that movie as a nod to his last role playing a boat captain. In this film, he plays Captain Victor Kirk, a sort of unsavory charter boat character. He brings a lot of weight to the film.. Clint Howard also is in this film playing "Clint Howard" character, sort of the dumb comedy relief, and is great. Uwe worked with him on his last film "Heart of America" and really want to work with him again and we were lucky to have him as part of the ensemble. We also have some really talented newcomers. I have really high expectations in the future for Ona
Grauer and Kira Clavell who are great in the movie. Also, Jonathan Cherry who stars in Final Desintation II is our lead. And yes, that's true, Steve has a cameo as a zombie. He was on set visiting, I guess because he heard the girls in Canada were cute or something, and our director, Uwe, was kind enough to invite him to play a zombie. Steve jumped at the opportunity and had a lot of fun doing it.
Z: Did you actually play "House of the Dead" video game prior to all this?
MA: I was a huge fan of the game which was the impetus for Mindfire getting the film rights. The game puts you in the center of a zombie movie and that was a really fun concept. We took that and ran with it for the movie incorporating a lot of the characters and backstory into the fllm. We were lucky that when we partnered up with Boll Kino and director Uwe Boll, he really had a passion for the project and our producer Shawn Williamson just took our $12 million budget and make it look like 30.
Z: What is it like to switch gears from comedies like "Free Enterprise and "The Specials" to a slasher/horror flick?
MA: It's obviously a very different kind of film. I think a lot of the comedy got bled out, no pun intended, it's much more of a straight-ahead action film with some really cool setpieces. It's going to be fun and it's beautifully shot by Matthias Neumann, our DP, but it's a very different movie than the films I was involved with previously. Also, with Free Enterprise, the script we shot was the script Rob and I wrote. HOD evolved a lot from script to stage.
I think people are really going to enjoy it. Uwe Boll had a real vision for the film and it's going to be the first really cool zombie film of the 21st century.
Z: Being such a "Trek enthusiast", what was it like for you personally to work with William Shatner on "Free Enterprise"?
MA: We had a great time with Bill. He's so creative and enthusiastic and that's the kind of people you love to work with. That's not always the case. Bill had more energy than everyone else on the crew…combined. I'd love to work with him again.
Z: I heard through the grapevine that "Free Enterprise could possibly become a series in 2003! Any truth to that rumor?
MA: Well, there is some truth to that, although it's more likely that we'll be doing a sequel first. Rob and I are writing the script now and Shatner's onboard and we have a great idea so that's a bit of an exclusive. We haven't really announced this yet. I didn't really want to do a sequel, but Rob and I came up with a great idea that we took to Shatner that he loved and proceeded to make even better and now it's taken on a life of its own. It's sort of "Curb Your Enthusiasm" meets "Swingers."
Z: You are also resurrecting "Cinefantastique", and "Femme Fatales"! How is that going so far?
MA: The new CFQ came out in January and Femme Fatales came out earlier this month. They've been completely revamped and we have an amazing group of people doing the magazines. I never thought I could be so excited about doing a magazine again, but CFQ is a legendary magazine and I felt obligated to see Fred Clarke's vision continued into the 21st century. I think fans are going to really be excited about what we've done to the mags. Femme Fatales, in particular, is just amazing. Completely different than what is was before, but really, really sexy.
Z: Will it be the same format?
MA: No, it's a lot slicker. All color, more exclusive photography, more pages. I just hope people buy it because it's not cheap to produce. Hopefully, it'll find its audience.
Z: [Question from Laura] I also understand that you will be using The Entertainment Zone's favorite fotog, Albert L. Ortega, as photo editor.
MA: We're thrilled to have Al onboard. Al worked for me on Sci-Fi Universe years ago and I always wanted to work with him again. He's a dyed in the wool fan, tremendously talented and a wonderful guy; They say you can't go home again, but working on CFQ reminds me of what it was like five years ago when we were doing Sci-Fi Universe, but 100% better.
Z: What brought you back to the world of publishing?
MA: It's something I've always loved since I was a kid and really enjoy. I felt it imperative to protect and continue Fred Clark's legacy so we'll see what happens.
Z: Why now?
MA: Because I'm an idiot.
Z: You write the definitive guides for Trek "everything"! Can you explain your passion for "Star Trek."
MA: It all came out of the articles I was doing for Cinefantastique. They were getting so much attention that it seemed a natural evolution to compile them into books and fortunately we found quite an audience for them. I've sort of backed away from that recently, only because I don't have the time or the enthusiasm for the new Trek shows that I did for the first three.
Z: Give us your opinion of the most recent, "Star Trek: Nemesis"?
MA: Next question, please. The less said the better.
Z: You wrote a book "Twin Peaks: Behind-The-Scenes". I HAVE to know if you're a "Peaks Freak" and what you think of David Lynch!
MA: I'm a huge David Lynch fan and, of course, a big Twin Peaks fan. That was the first book I ever wrote so I have some problems with it, but overall it was an incredible experience going to the set and meeting those people. I absolutely loved the series and wish there was some viable way to continue what they were doing. Lynch is such a visionary and I think Mullholland Drive is a terrific piece of work. Ironically, it started off as a series of articles I was writing for CFQ and when that didn't pan out, I turned it into a book.
Z: What was your favorite feature at the 2002 Comic Con?
MA: We've been going to comic con now for a few years and I love it, but the highlight had to be a panel we did called Starship Smackdown. I moderated a panel with a bunch of industry notables (a/k/a friends who are in the biz) and we debated which starships would win in space combat. But we treated it as though it was completely real. I'm still getting e-mails form the people who came to that panel. It was a really unique experience. I felt we really tapped into the essence of what it's like to be a fan. It was hysterical and, at the same time, very engaging. It got to the point where things got very heated and one of the panelists, Futurama's Dan Vebber, even walked out when the Imperial Star Destroyer lost in
Round 3 to Captain Kirk's Enterprise. We're hoping to do it again next year with Robot-Rumble, but I don't know if we can recapture the magic. We'll see. It was a geekfest, that's for sure.
Z: What's the scoop on the rumor about bringing "Vampirella" to the big screen??!!
MA: We're developing a script now and very excited about the possibilities for the film. Very dark, very hip. Should be fun and sexy.
Z: What can we be looking forward to from Mark Altman after the release of "The House of the Dead" and the launches of "Cinefantastique" and "Femme Fatales"?
MA: We have some major announcements coming soon on some very big projects so that's going to keep us busy for a long time. IN the interim, CFQ is now on sale and Femme Fatales in February which has a great spread on the girls of "House of the Dead" and a cover story on Jennifer Garner and the girls of Charmed.
Z: What has been your favorite project to date and why?
MA: Oh, it's definitely Free Enterprise. It's the best film, I've been involved with. It gave me the chance to travel the world, people love it, the reviews were fantastic and it has a lot of sentimental value for me. Also, working with my friend Rob Burnett was a great experience and what could be better than working with your childhood idol, Bill Shatner, on your first feature film. It was just a charmed project and I'm thrilled to have made it.
Z: Favorite films of 2002?
MA: The Two Towers, Talk To Her, Bowling For Columbine, 24 Hour Party People, About A Boy, CQ, The Kid Stays in the Picture, Rabbit Proof Fence, Minority Report.
The Truth About Charlie, Men In Black II, Attack of the Clones, Nemesis, Trouble Every Day, Rollerball to name a few.
Z: As a producer can you give us some examples in what your responsibilities may be on the set.
MA: Well, a producer's job begins long before you arrive on set. It's selecting a project, working to develop the script, find the financing, hiring the director, casting, etc. Then the time on set is difficult, dealing with cost overruns and every problem that comes up and, of course, post-production in supervising the completion of the picture and ideally you're involved with the marketing as well.
Z: What currently on television holds your interest.
MA: Very little. Other than Sopranos, Six Feet Under, West Wing and Curb Your Enthusiasm, my TiVo isn't very busy recording other than old movies on TCM.
Z: Can you comment on the current state of Science Fiction.
MA: Anemic. Thankfully, the Matrix sequels will be out later this year, which should be spectacular and, of course, LOTR: Return of the King.
Z: If you had the opportunity to work with anyone in the business who would it be and why?
MA: Woody Allen. Woody to me is a comic genius and is one of the few idols I have that I've never met. I'd also love to work with a few other producers I admire like Dean Devlin, who has managed to make some great movies while retaining his integrity and class, which is hard to do in this business. There are also a few actors I'd love to work with, but we'll see what happens. The only other person I can think of is Bill Clinton because he was a great president and overcame a lot of shit and lived to tell about it. I have a lot of respect and admiration for him.
Z: You once had the magazine, Sci-Fi Universe published under Larry Flynt's Hustler publications, ever see his gold wheelchair?
MA: Yes. There was no lack of gold in the Flynt offices. He should have played Goldmember in Austin Powers 3. "I love gold…"
Z: Can you name any childhood heroes you have?
MA: Captain Kirk and, um, well, Captain Kirk. It was Abe Lincoln until he was killed by Colonel Greene on Excalbia.
Z: What is something about you that we would never guess?
MA: That I don't really like Science Fiction that much.
Z: Can you name a guilty pleasure…
MA: It's a toss up between the movies The Oscar and Looker.
Z: If you had one wish what would it be?
MA: World peace…and if you believe that one, I have a bridge I'd like to sell you.
Z: Favorite Midnite snack.
MA: Chocolate Chip Cookies.
Z: What television show would you like to see make a comeback.
MA: Battlestar Galactica and Wiseguy.
Z: If you were given the chance to revamp a show which would it be.
MA: Battlestar Galactica…or Enterprise.
Z: Lastly, with or without butter? (popcorn)
MA: Without. I have to maintain my girlish figure after all.