04 November 2011 892 Views

Interview: James Erwin talks “Rome Sweet Rome”, Reddit, And Jeopardy

by Zach Oldenburg


A little over a week ago, I debuted an article about how one man’s response to a question on Reddit landed him a Hollywood agent and a Warner Bros. movie deal. At the time, we had little detail on what actually went into the process, but that’s all changed, as I was lucky enough to interview the man himself, James Erwin. Hit the jump to read our conversation.

Des Moine writer James Erwin logged onto Reddit one September morning and immediately became intrigued by this man’s post, which asked, “Could I destroy the entire Roman Empire during the reign of Augustus if I traveled back in time with a modern U.S. Marine infantry battalion or MEU?” It was James’s short story answer that brought him an unexpected phone call from Adam Kolbrenner of Madhouse Entertainment. A few meetings later, and one Warner Bros. movie deal, and here we are:

MV: Hey James, how are you?

James: Great, thanks!

MV: Let’s just jump right in: “Rome Sweet Rome”. Was it an idea that you’d played with before, or was it something that just came to you when you read the post?

James: Like a lot of nerds, I’ve imagined armies from different eras battling it out, but I’d never thought of “Marines vs. Romans.” Once I saw it, the whole story just sort of poured out.

MV: How exactly were you contacted by Kolbrenner, and what was that exchange like? Did it seem too good to be true?

James: Through a message on Reddit, actually – and I was on the phone with him a couple of days later. It did seem crazy – and so did the fact that within a week, a producer and studio were interested.

MV: I recently read that “Rome Sweet Rome” hit Danish mainstream media. Did you ever think your particular story would spread as far and inspire as much as it is?

James: I obviously thought the concept was neat – I’m really glad that others agreed. But no, I had absolutely no idea any of this would happen. I spent a few days just walking around stunned.

MV: Are you taking the advice of your fellow Reddit’ers as far the screenplay goes, or is Warner Bros. advising against that?

James: Unfortunately, collaboration creates headaches for studios. Studios are drowning in material, and screenplays have a tough road from completion to production. Money, time, bankable talent – these are all finite resources for the studios. If they have two equally interesting scripts, and one has a single author and the other one has three authors and 100 releases to sign, then guess which one they’ll greenlight.

MV: Do you have a particular deadline set for this first draft, or are you seeing how it plays out?

James: I’m due to turn in the first draft in early 2012.

MV: If you had to choose one director to shoot this vision, who would that be and why?

James: I don’t want to jinx this by naming names, but very familiar people have poked around the project. So I’m just going to hold my peace on that and keep writing.

MV: Do you have any dream actors or actresses in mind?

James: see above!

MV: I’m gonna go ahead and just ask, what are the chances you would have a spot for Alex Trebek in the cast? Maybe an Army general, perhaps?

James: Would I get in trouble for casting a Canadian?

MV: Was your reaction to winning Jeopardy more or less intense than your reaction to Warner Bros. optioning
your short story?

James: Well, it was different. I drilled for a month for Jeopardy, and when I took the online test I knew what would happen. It’s not like Alex Trebek burst into my office and said “YOU’RE GOING ON TV!” Which is sort of how this happened. I have loved Jeopardy since I was a kid, so I was deliriously happy to go on the show and do well. Being a screenwriter: well, I would say it’s still only about two-thirds sunk in.

MV: Lastly, if you had a piece of advice for aspiring and filmmakers alike, what would that be?

James: Write. Film. Do what you love. Learn your craft. The difference between a daydream and a dream is work.

MV: Thanks for your time, James. I really appreciate it, and I wish you the best of luck on what’s shaping up to a damn fine piece of art.

James: Thank you, Zach!

James Erwin, 2009. (photo credit: JANET KLOCKENGA, Des Moines Register.

Check back often for more information on “Rome Sweet Rome”, and be sure to follow James on Twitter at @JLErwin. To read my original article, click here.



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