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Credit: Paramount Pictures

World War Z’s Max Brooks reveals the book to movie advice Stephen King gave him

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Jun 5, 2020

Films based on mega-selling novels can be a hit-or-miss affair. One noteworthy adaptation is World War Z, the 2013 Brad Pitt-starring horror thriller loosely translated from Max Brooks' beloved 2006 book, World War Z: An Oral History of the Zombie War. It made a good bit of cash at the box office, but was a far cry from the story told in the book.

Alterations and reinterpretations of the source novel caused serious debate among avid fans, and a long-languishing sequel from Paramount finally got its preproduction plug pulled last year as the budget swelled to $200 million and director David Fincher exited the project.

SYFY WIRE caught up with Brooks to learn about how he handled the cinematic iteration of World War Z, and the author revealed the advice he received from a couple of A-listers — including Stephen King. Considering nearly every book King has written has made it to the screen in some form at this point, he obviously has a bit of authority on the topic.

Credit: Getty Images

"When it's your first book sale and you're a nobody and you have no power, you've got to be okay with that," he tells SYFY WIRE. "If you want control, then don't sell your book. It's that simple. My next book, Devolution, now I have some mojo behind me and now I can be much more involved. But back then I had nothing to bargain with, and I have to be okay with that."

Looking back to the time around the release of the World War Z film, Brooks said he was as surprised as fans to see how different the interpretation turned out. But some words of wisdom from veteran screenwriter Frank Darabont (The Walking Dead) and Stephen King helped him gain some perspective.

"Truth is, when World War Z was coming out and I was seeing the trailers and seeing how different it was, two people really slapped some sense into me. One of them was Frank Darabont, who created The Walking Dead and was then fired off of it. He said, 'Nobody is ruining your book. You have your book. Trust me, take it from a guy who's written a ton of screenplays and had some of those screenplays messed with, and people think that was my vision. Your book is pure. And if people want your side of the story, they got it,'" Brooks said.

"Then another guy wrote to me and said, 'Listen, you sold the movie rights to bring attention to your book. That's what we all do. We hope that a movie will get people reading our book.' And that was Stephen King. It's really good advice and was the bucket of cold water I needed."

Credit: Paramount Studios

With the sequel on hold, and mainland China banning zombie-related theatrical films, is the subgenre horror craze reaching the end of its height? Brooks admits to being uncertain about today's commercial tastes and trying to guess the market.

"I don't know," he adds. "I can't anticipate the marketplace. If I could they wouldn't have fired me off of Saturday Night Live. I can only write the kind of books that I want to read. And that's why I write about sasquatch and zombies and also write about things like World War I or even a Minecraft book. I write from a place of passion, and sometimes it resonates and sometimes it doesn't, but it's the only way I know how to write."

Credit: Getty Images

Though he's obviously proud of the book and the success it's earned, Brooks told SYFY WIRE the audiobook is actually the version he's most proud of. Not the movie, or even the book itself.

"Most people feel that way about the work that they do," Brooks reveals. "I'm proud that I did it, but I'm most proud of the audiobook. I think that is probably my greatest achievement. And I attribute that to being dyslexic. I really couldn't get along in school.

"So my mother, God bless her, took all my school books to the Braille Institute for the Blind, who then read them onto audiocassettes. For me, audiobooks were a very important part of my life. I said, 'Can we do an all-star cast for World War Z?' So I reached out and got the best people in the world. And boy, oh boy, it's like a 1930s radio drama, so I'm really proud of that. It's the only time in history you'll ever find Henry Rollins and Alan Alda in the same project."

Max Brooks' latest book, Devolution: A Firsthand Account of the Rainier Sasquatch Massacre, arrives June 16.

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