‘Rome Sweet Rome’ Writer James Erwin Talks Internet Fame & Movie Plans

Published 4 years ago by , Updated September 8th, 2011 at 1:58 pm,

Rome Sweet Rome Reddit Story Rome Sweet Rome Writer James Erwin Talks Internet Fame & Movie Plans

As a long-time blogger, I’ve seen the wonderful highs and the terrible lows of the Internet firsthand, but I can honestly say I’ve never seen anything quite like the story of writer James Erwin.

What began as a thought exercise on the social news website Reddit.com has turned into the opportunity of a lifetime for Erwin, an Iowa-based technical writer and reference author – and it all started with a simple question.

Last week, Reddit user “The_Quiet_Earth” 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?” In response, Erwin began writing Rome Sweet Rome, which literally tells the story of an Afghanistan-bound MEU (Marine Expeditionary Unit) that is inexplicably transported through time to Rome in the year 23 BC.

A few thousand words later, the Reddit community was hooked and Erwin’s story was getting the royal treatment. Not only were people reading and loving Rome Sweet Rome, they were adding to it with custom-made movie posters, book covers, and even music inspired by the story.

Within days, Erwin’s fiction had caught the attention of some Hollywood managers and suddenly, Rome Sweet Rome wasn’t just a piece of Internet fiction, but a possible feature film. Can you say serendipity? At this point, I reached out to Erwin by email to talk about his overnight success story and learn more about the status of his project.

Erwin was very generous with his time and agreed to answer some of my questions. Check out our conversation below. If you haven’t already, you can read the beginning of Rome Sweet Rome for yourself at Reddit (Day 1-7Day 7, Part 2; and Day 8) or in PDF form.


Rome Sweet Rome Book Cover Rome Sweet Rome Writer James Erwin Talks Internet Fame & Movie Plans

A fan-made book cover for 'Rome Sweet Rome'.

Screen Rant: How did Rome Sweet Rome get started?

James Erwin: I happened on a hypothetical question – “Could I conquer the Roman Empire with a single Marine battalion?” and it struck me as a really cinematic idea. So, it seemed natural to begin writing a story about it. In very little time, thousands of people responded – I’d struck a real chord.

Once the Reddit community was on board with the story, how did things progress from there?

Well, within an hour, Redditors set up a subreddit (a dedicated community within the site) asking me to show up and continue writing, so I did. I got a lot of attention very quickly.

Thanks to all the buzz around your story, you were able to secure meetings with some big name Hollywood managers. Were you nervous at all about these meetings? Did you have any idea what to expect?

Very little idea what to expect: I’ve written two encyclopedias but no one options an encyclopedia. I was nervous, but I went in determined not to make any decisions while I was nervous. That helped.

You recently announced that you’re working with Adam Kolbrenner of Madhouse Entertainment to develop Rome Sweet Rome into a screenplay. How was your meeting with Adam and why is Madhouse a good fit for this project?

Excellent. I got a good vibe from Adam and his whole team very quickly. Fom the beginning, Madhouse made it clear that they believed in this project and myself as a writer. That was very important to me. They’ve had opportunities to cash out quickly if their plan was to milk a lucky rube from Iowa and get out, and instead they’ve taken the long view and urged me to do the same. Like me, Madhouse believes that the best long-term plan is always to work hard and be honest. I’m excited to work with them.

What are the next steps for the screenplay? Will you write it yourself? Will you work with an established screenwriter?

I’m working with Madhouse to develop the treatment and screenplay myself. That will take time, of course, but thanks to Reddit, Madhouse saw immediately that I had enough skill to be worth training.

It can take writers years before they get the attention of a manager or agent, and you were able to do it in a matter of days. Obviously, that speaks to your skill as a writer, but it also speaks to the power of the Internet as a buzz-building tool. What do you think your success means for other writers? Is this tantamount to catching lightning in a bottle?

 Here’s the thing. I was very, very lucky to post what I did at the moment I did. It wasn’t just the idea of coming up with just the right answer – if I’d posted the same text an hour later, everyone would already be bored with the question. They wouldn’t have seen it and it wouldn’t have blown up. So that was definitely a lightning-in-a-bottle situation.

On the other hand, I’m not a fresh-faced young kid hitting it out of the park the day after landing on the LA tarmac. I’m a 37-year-old who’s been writing nonfiction (encyclopedias, reviews, software documentation) for a decade. I have years of experience as a communicator and a professional. These are all skills you need to succeed whenever you declare yourself any kind of writer. So, with a week of perspective, I think there are a couple of lessons here. First, when you see an opportunity to write about something you love, take it. Second, when you don’t, write anyway. Try your hand at new genres, new techniques. Experiment, and study, and look earnestly at any feedback you get. The best way to be a writer is to write. That will give you the experience and confidence to make the most of an opportunity when it arises – and you never know when you’ll create one for yourself.

Rome Sweet Rome Movie Poster Rome Sweet Rome Writer James Erwin Talks Internet Fame & Movie Plans

A fan-made movie poster for 'Rome Sweet Rome'.

It will be very interesting to see how this project develops going forward. Rome Sweet Rome is exactly the kind of high-concept sci-fi story that  studio executives drool over, so there’s definitely a lot of potential here. Hopefully, James Erwin and his Hollywood team can bring us an epic Black Hawk Down meets Gladiator film soon. For more updates on the project, visit the Rome Sweet Rome subreddit or the official Rome Sweet Rome Facebook page.

Image Sources: Book Cover, Movie PosterReddit Forum

Get our free email alerts on the topics and author of this article:


Post a Comment

GravatarWant to change your avatar?
Go to Gravatar.com and upload your own (we'll wait)!

 Rules: No profanity or personal attacks.
 Use a valid email address or risk being banned from commenting.

If your comment doesn't show up immediately, it may have been flagged for moderation. Please try refreshing the page first, then drop us a note and we'll retrieve it. Keep in mind that we do not allow external links in the comments.

  1. Why? I get the whole going back in time with modern tech and undoing something trajic like Hitlers geonicide of the Jewish people but for waht reason would a modern day Marine Infantry Battalion have for conqueirng the Roman Empire during the reign of Augustus?

    • You don’t “get” anything because you didn’t bother reading carefully (or checking the linked-to sources). They don’t intentionally go back to this time — they are thrust back their through an unexplained phenomenon.

      • “there”

      • regardless of whether they intentionally go back in time or not, the question remains: why would they attempt to alter historical events by “conquering Rome”? What would be the point? other than to destroy the present time-line, of course.

        • Read the story in the link. The marines make no attempt to conquer Rome. The story is ongoing.

          • so which part of ““Could I conquer the Roman Empire with a single Marine battalion?” and it struck me as a really cinematic idea. So, it seemed natural to begin writing a story about it” is NOT about conquering the Roman empire?

            if the story is NOT about conquering the roman empire, than why is the basis of the story conquering the roman empire?

            if that is NOT the point of the story, then this is all just a rehash of Final Countdown.

            • what?

      • @JaebusP

        You need a verbal smackdown.

        While the actual story itself may play out differently the author says that while watching HBO’s Rome he began to fantasize about sending a modern day marine battalion back in time to unseat from power Octavian Augustus. He even uses a very explicit word to describe Octavian, a word I choose not to repeat on SR but one that clearly implies the authors hatred of that ruler.

        I will admit I have not read the story however I never implied that I did read it. My question came from reading the authors own comments about his inspiration for writing the story.

        Perhaps you didn’t but I actually read up on the history of the emperor of that time and it painted a picture of a leader who did many good things for his people and not that of a tyrant like Hitler. This made the authors description of Octavian as well as his fantasy to unseat him from power, conflict with the kind of emperor you’d imagine someone writing a story like this about, a story in which one deliberately travels back in time to destroy. This is why I made the Hitler comparison.

        Most reasonable persons could see why someone would want to go back and stop Hitler. History paints Octavian as a leader that’s very different from a tyrant like Hitler.

        I suggest that next time before you press that SUBMIT button that you re-read your comment and be darn sure you know what you’re talking about before you end up making yourself look like a real ass.

        • The person you are referring to as disliking the emperor isn’t the author, this person simply posted the idea of conquering Rome on a forum.
          James Erwin, who is the author, took the idea and ran with it. If your read the linked PDF it will answer your question in the top comment. Basically after being mysteriously transported back in time, there is a misunderstanding and a squad of Marines kills several Roman cavalrymen and it escalates from there.
          It’s a very interesting ideas and a welcome breath of fresh air in a time when most major films are, sequels, prequels, spin offs or remakes.

        • “I suggest that next time before you press that SUBMIT button that you re-read your comment and be darn sure you know what you’re talking about before you end up making yourself look like a real ass.”

          Perhaps you should take your own advice. The above article clearly states that the Erwin’s work is in response to a question someone else had.

          By taking the time to read the story and the article before going straight to the comments to try and garner some sort of acknowledgement for your intellect, you would have answered your own question; but then again, nobody would see how smart you are!

  2. Do you have a link for anything past day 7?

    • There’s a link for Day 8 in the post. My understanding is that James has stopped sharing the story online as he works on developing it into a screenplay.

      • very cool. this is some really intriguing stuff.

  3. someone make this happen!!!

  4. They would run out of ammo and have no way to replace it

    Sounds like a ripoff of Final Countdown which was a great film and a more direct ripoff of the Sonny Chiba film known as GI Samurai where a modern troop of Japanese Commandos gets sent back to warlord feudal Japan and Sonny Chiba has a tank

    • your face is a rip-off

      • You are a poopface

        • And this is why I love the internet.

    • May sound like a rip-off to you but the idea may very well have been formed serendipitously.

      • serendipity requires simultaneity.
        rewriting the same story, 20 years later has nothing to do with serendipitydoodah.

        • I was using the term to describe it being a lucky thing that the Rome story seems to be similar to something “Lord Garth” knows about.

  5. haha

  6. A movie of this would be amazing. This guy is so talented and this would make an amazing movie

  7. I wonder who Mike E. is an why he’s got such a chip on his shoulder about this article?

    Seriously, Mike, did you even read the story?

    • Haters will always hate. And no he didn’t read it.

    • first off, I’m not “hating”.

      I think the idea has potential.
      I don’t think it’s earth-shatteringly “new” or original, as has actually been commented on by OTHERS here (it’s the same basic premise as The Final Countdown).

      I wouldn’t say I have a “chip on my shoulder” regarding this story, any more than about 90% of Screen Rant’s posters appear to have a “chip on their collective shoulders” regarding Green Lantern, or M. Night Shyamalan, or any other of a dozen topics you guys regularly give a beast-down on.

      Likewise, I could ask: who is this James, and why does he feel that I cannot have an opinion that is contrary to his?

      I read the whole article. And I quoted the exact words that brought up my initial post. The author himself states:

      ““Could I conquer the Roman Empire with a single Marine battalion?” and it struck me as a really cinematic idea. So, it seemed natural to begin writing a story about it.”

      So, the question was simply “why conquer the Roman Empire?” I’m sorry you disagree, but, that IS a valid question. Why would a ship full of Marines decide to “conquer the Roman Empire”?

      If his story actually has nothing to do with “conquering the roman empire”, then, why bring it up?

      I am only looking for clarification. Apparently, I won’t get an answer to that question from Micky Onslaught either, since he didn’t read the article.

      God, the people on Screen Rant are such hypocrites some times. So much double standard being applied here.

      • Mike, read the story. It is linked in the article. It will provide the clarification you are looking for.

        He didn’t write a story about conquering Rome, he wrote a story that was inspired by a question about modern marines in ancient Rome.

        “Why would they want to do that?” is not a relevant question.

      • The interview response was really over-simplistic. The idea started as what he said, but once he got the crazy support that he did, he actually started to put more thought into it.

        I feel like it evolved from a “who would win, MEU or the entire Roman empire?” to more of a root idea of the marines being somehow transported back to time and how they reacted from there. There were some comments about why it was placed in the BCE instead of the CE. The main idea of altering history wasn’t the initial idea either, that morphed in as people could actually see a storyline develop for the simple idea.

        Like what the article says, it was just a simple thought process. I haven’t heard of Final Countdown before the RSR idea came about and I’m sure many haven’t either (I think I recall in the original post that people were mentioning the Final Countdown, but too lazy to go through it). So as the thought experiment went on, people started discussing the plethora of problems that could occur, whether it be disease, communication with locals, to parallel universes and if you actually can be the leader of your own empire.

        And serendipity can still happen at different periods of times, as long as they are isolated, no? I personally like this idea more than The Final Countdown’s plot, but I haven’t watched the movie so my opinion in that matter is biased.

      • You’re clearly not a redditor..

  8. i’ve got to read this.

    what is the reddit website for, anyway? just a discussion forum?

    • ಠ\_ಠ

  9. Thanks for following this story. It’s good to see that other avenues are opening for writers.

    It got me wondering again about discovery effect. By that I mean, it seems that the people making decisions in movie production companies are more open to an idea if they think it up themselves or discover it themselves.

    If Mr. Erwin isn’t already burned out on questions, I’d like to know if he thinks a frontal assault on a production company would have worked as well as his fortuitous flanking maneuver.

  10. This sounds like it could turn out to be really cool. Or a total bomb. Hoping it’s the former.

  11. Cowboys & Aliens in ancient Rome. Mashups are all the rage. So this is an alien invasion movie except we’re the aliens? What possible reason could the Marines have for destroying the Roman Legion? There’s always the motivation problem for alien invasion movies.

    • From what I got out of reading Les it it was an oops. The Marines try to make up for it but military mode seems to be leading to an escalation. The story cuts off there, so I guess we’ll have to wait for the movie.

      Current theories in physics are closing the doors on changing the past when space time is bent sufficiently to include time travel…

      • Get over yourself this idea is far from original, I can’t count how many movies and books have been written or filmed along these lines and exactley like this. Change the location and the era and you can just read any number of Harry Turtletaub books. One in particular about Army Rangers going back to the civil war with AK-47s and modrn combat techniques. You are almost as bad as people in Hollywood who think remaking every half-assed 80′s movie is like creating a new movie.

  12. Have you ever read ” Pax Romana” a comi book form Jonathan Hickman? Same story: GI in Rome…

  13. when is the book gonna be published?

  14. excellent story!