Just saw this great story by Wired‘s Jason Fagone about a Des Moines software manual writer named James Erwin who’s now living the Hollywood dream thanks to a few wildly popular comments on Reddit. This past Summer, Erwin was cruising the AskReddit section of the social networking site when he came across a question: “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 [Marine Expeditionary Unit]?”
An amateur war nerd, Erwin created a narrative answer to the question in a series of elaborate comments. His story took off on Reddit. One user threatened to put a kitty head on a spike if Erwin didn’t write his comments faster. Hollywood took notice.
[W]hile James Erwin was doing his best to keep the mob happy, a man in Beverly Hills named Adam Kolbrenner happened to be scanning Reddit. Kolbrenner, who at 37 is the same age as Erwin, runs a literary management and production company called Madhouse Entertainment. He represents writers and writer-directors, along with developing projects for film and TV. The Denzel Washington/Ryan Reynolds movie Safe House is a Madhouse project, and one of its clients scripted Contraband, starring Mark Wahlberg. What excited Kolbrenner about the Reddit thread wasn’t so much the idea as the writer. All it took to convince him of Erwin’s ability was the very first post—that first 350 words. “He can handle character and storytelling,” Kolbrenner says, “very, very difficult things to just be able to do.” Plus, he adds, “it got such an incredible response. I knew it was something special, because it wasn’t like he took three months to do this. This was quick quick quick, and it was all good.”
Kolbrenner had his assistant send Erwin a private message through Reddit. Erwin received it late in the afternoon his time, just before leaving the office. At 5 pm, Erwin’s wife, Jessica, a lawyer with Iowa Legal Aid, picked him up in her Subaru Outback. (She had driven him to work that morning.) By the time they collected their son at day care, one redditor had written that he would behead a kitten and mount its head on a pike if Prufrock451 didn’t finish the story “in some way shape or form.”
The next day, September 1, Erwin posted the eighth installment of the story, incorporating a line about water purifiers after receiving a suggestion from a reader. Erwin also spoke with Kolbrenner on the phone. Kolbrenner asked him if he felt comfortable writing a screenplay. Erwin said that he couldn’t guarantee that he could do it—he’d never written one before—but he was certainly willing to try. “Adam said, ‘I think you can,’” Erwin recalls. ” ‘We’ll teach you how to write a screenplay as we go along.’”
Kolbrenner turned out to be right. Erwin now has a screenwriting deal for his project with Warner Bros. And he’s pitching new ideas while he works. Well worth the read in full.