James Erwin is living the Hollywood dream. Last month, Erwin (a technical writer, reference author, and two-time Jeopardy champion) began writing a short story called Rome Sweet Rome in response to a hypothetical question at the social news website Reddit.com. The question was, “What would happen if a modern Marine Expeditionary Unit traveled back in time to Ancient Rome?”
Within hours of writing the story, Rome Sweet Rome became hugely popular on Reddit, earning its own dedicated subreddit and scores of fans who were contributing posters, mash-up trailers, and even an original score.
As we shared in our interview with Erwin, in addition to the thousands of people supporting the story on Reddit, Rome Sweet Rome also found a fan in Adam Kolbrenner, of Hollywood management and production company Madhouse Entertainment. Sensing huge potential in the story, Kolbrenner contacted Erwin and the two partnered to develop the story into a screenplay.
Can you guess what happened next?
In a perfect end to this Hollywood fairy tale, Variety reported yesterday that Erwin and his managers had sold the pitch for Rome Sweet Rome to Warner Bros. Altogether, it took a month and a half for Erwin to go from being an unrepresented screenwriter to selling a major action project to one of the biggest studios in Hollywood.
Following the announcement of the sale, Screen Rant reconnected with Erwin to talk about what’s next for Rome Sweet Rome, and the lucky writer’s next steps in Hollywood. Check out our conversation below.
Screen Rant: Last time we talked, you were working with Adam Kolbrenner of Madhouse Entertainment on developing your popular spontaneous sci-fi story, Rome Sweet Rome, into a feature-length screenplay. Yesterday, Variety reported that you sold the pitch directly to Warner Bros. Talk about a crazy month. Can you share what happened in-between signing with Madhouse and making the sale to Warner Bros?
James Erwin: Well, WB and Gianni Nunnari were interested pretty quickly in the project. The majority of this time has simply been hammering out details – of which there are very, very many on a project of this scope.
How is the actual screenplay coming along? Coming from a technical and educational writing background, how has writing a movie been different for you?
It’s going well! It’s tough to work on a project that’s as hush-hush and high-stakes as this one, but it’s also very exciting. There’s a lot of collaboration and brainstorming, which is definitely different from encyclopedia writing, but it’s a style of work I’m used to through my time with Fortune 500 clients and companies. We’re still building a map for the plot and the characters, so there’s a lot of work left. Everyone I’m working with is very smart, very excited, and very committed. It’s really humbling.
Writers rarely have a say in who gets to play their characters on the big screen, but since everything else about Rome Sweet Rome has been unconventional, let’s say you get first pick at casting the movie. What actors would you love to see get transported back to ancient Rome for your movie?
Screenplays usually come with actors’ names attached to them, to help the reader visualize the action, so I do already have a number of actors I see in this film. However, everything is very fluid right now, so I’m not going to declare anything just yet – if characters change, then obviously the actors do too.
How has the Reddit community reacted to the sale?
I understand they’re happy! Unfortunately, I have not been able to spend time on Reddit. This is not because I think I’m too big for my britches now. The Internet is a chaotic, give-and-take place – and that creates nightmares for a lawyered-up industry based on locked-down IP rights. In a perfect world, I would be in that subreddit every day – but that’s not what’s best for the project. I want this to succeed, and that unfortunately meant going dark for a while. I hope the folks in the RomeSweetRome subreddit see this little mash note. I miss em.
What has this experience meant for you professionally? Are you ready to quit your day job and become a full-time screenwriter?
I’m absolutely a full-time screenwriter for the short term. I’m on leave from my day job. I’m probably one of the few writers right now for whom screenwriting is a Plan B, instead of the other way around!
As Rome Sweet Rome moves from the script stage into development and (hopefully) production, Screen Rant will keep our eyes on this fascinating project. To read the original story that got this whole thing started, visit the Rome Sweet Rome subreddit.