Thursday, October 4, 2007

Max Elliot Anderson Interview

I recently caught up with Max Elliot Anderson, one of todays leading authors of children's adventure stories and a true pioneer in the Christian film industry. He was gracious enough to grant me an interview.

Q. I remember seeing the movie Pilgrim's Progress in the secular theater when I was a young boy. I was probably six years old and it was one of the first movies I ever watched. I remember that seeing Christian's burden roll away at the foot of the cross made a big impact on me spiritually. What was it like for you being involved in that movie?

There are so many impressions that flood my mind concerning the production of Pilgrim’s Progress. Of course, that film was released back in 1978 when I was a LOT younger. And it doesn’t help much to know you were only six when you first saw it. I have several photographs from the production and a DVD of the film.

I was one of two cinematographers on the project. That meant I shot a lot of the film. The overriding recollection I have is of the tremendous upheaval that was going on in Northern Ireland at the time, since most of the film was shot in and around Belfast. The locals referred to it as the “troubles” and it meant that Catholics and Protestants were virtually at war with each other.

I remember that at night, we never stopped at red lights, but sped through them until we reached our destination. And we tried not to be out at night much anyway. One of our local contacts drove us to a place where a car bomb had gone off the day before. He pointed to human flesh plastered on the brick wall of a large building.

On one afternoon, while filming in a remote area, something truly frightening happened. We used a generator to power a few small lights. Right in the middle of a scene I was shooting, those lights suddenly toppled over backwards. Immediately after that, several British soldiers came over the hill with weapons at the ready. They were quite relived to find a group of people who were making a Christian film. We had an interesting conversation, and they looked out for us for the rest of the time we were there.

Pilgrim’s Progress was the first feature film for a young, up-and-coming actor by the name of Liam Neeson. He has since gone on to star in dozens of Hollywood films including Schindler’s List, and Star Wars. I remember him as a pleasant person to work with. He had a great attitude and was willing to work hard. And I saw him, even way back then, as a great actor.

But the biggest thing I remember was the sequence we shot of the cross. We had an excellent makeup artist who did a fantastic job of making it look like gigantic spikes where nailed through the hands and feet. During one break in the filming, I got up and stood on the base of the cross. It was then that the full impact struck me of what Jesus had done for me, and I remember being extremely thankful at that moment.

Q. What was the Christian film industry like when your father, Ken Anderson, first got involved in making Christian movies?

When he first started, I was just a toddler. I used to hear him editing far into the night on film projects in our basement. There was no distribution back then, no VCR or DVD, so it was necessary for film companies to find whatever means they could in order to get the films circulated. Some of the people who did this called themselves film evangelists. They’d buy a projector, secure a few films, and head out on the road. Churches gave offerings, and some of that was shared with the production company.

Later, a network of distributors was established and this became worldwide. My dad was a true pioneer in Christian filmmaking, and it was delightful growing up around it. I like to tell people that I was killed, by a hit-and-run driver, while riding my bike, when I was 8 years old. But, because the film I was in was being shot in black and white, the blood coming out of my nose, mouth, and ear was from a bottle of chocolate syrup.

Q. What are your thoughts about the state of Christian films today? Are the trends in Christian filmmaking positive or negative?

I think Christian films are a bit invisible right now. I know they’re being made, and I know they’re being distributed, but I don’t see much of that activity. In my Dad’s era, most churches had a Sunday night service. It was common to show films at these, or even on Wednesday nights. Our biggest demand for rental films used to be on New Year’s Eve. I know that Fox is getting into Christian films, I’ve noticed some of the Left Behind movies, and some films show up on places like the Hallmark Channel, but I’m not sure where they find their audiences today.

It’s kind of interesting to me because, as I’ve been writing my action-adventures and mysteries, I’ve always seen them as films first, in my head, and not books. Who knows what might happen to them in the future?

Q. You obviously believe strongly in storytelling. How did your interest in writing develop?

In the beginning, I tried everything I could NOT to write. My father had been the author of over seventy books. I grew up hating to read. I couldn’t see why God seemed to be prompting me to start writing. In time, I came to understand that was exactly what He wanted me to do. I also understood how my life of work in visual communication, through film production, video programs, television, and commercials, prepared me for writing. My stories are very visual. One of the best reactions I’ve ever gotten is when kids tell me that reading one of my books is like being in, not watching, but being in an exciting or scary movie.

Q. What are the necessary ingredients for a good storyline?

The way I like to approach it is to ask, “Why would I want to read this story?” And as I’m writing, I keep in mind the reader at all times. When I finish a manuscript, I read it as if I’ve never seen it before, and try to actually become one of my readers. I also read the manuscript out loud.

For my books, the story needs real, believable characters. There has to be conflict. I incorporate a lot of dialog and humor with plenty of nearly heart-stopping action. There’s a pretty high fear factor in most of my stories with lots of excitement.

In addition, I try to include strong, human emotion. Often, when I read a finished manuscript for the first time, and as I try to do that as a reader and not the author, I find myself getting anxious at the right places. I’ve laughed right out loud at some of the dialog, and a couple of manuscripts have moved me to tears.

While I’m writing, I play mood appropriate music in the background. This increases my visualization of the scene. All of these elements, working together, seem to create a powerful storyline.

Q. Why have you targeted much of your book writing to boys?

As I said, I grew up hating to read. I first set out to write the kind of book that I would have enjoyed as a boy. In many ways, I’m writing books to satisfy myself as an adult reluctant reader. But in my research, I found that there weren’t as many books for boys as there were for girls.

I also speak in lots of schools. I always ask if there is anyone who doesn’t like to read. Several hands go up immediately and most of those are boys.

During my film production days, I learned a valuable lesson. We knew that girls would watch a boy’s story, but boys would not show the slightest interest in a girl’s story. I applied that principle to the books I write, focusing on boys first, and I’ve found that girls like the stories too.

There is a tremendous, untapped market for Christian adventures and mysteries for boys.

Q. In what ways have schools and publishers been ineffective in reaching "tweeners," especially boys?

My daughter is a teacher in the Orlando area. We’ve had many discussions on this subject. There is a serious problem in working with boys. They are high energy and easily distracted. They’d rather do than read about it. Many are on medication because of what is perceived as hyperactivity, when all they need is material that interests them, and a lot of physical exercise.

I wouldn’t say that publishers have necessarily been ineffective. I think it comes down more to economics. Women buy books, and girls are our readers. End of story. I’ve had publishers tell me that they’ve tried books for boys in the past, but didn’t have much success. I believe there are definite, structural reason why those books didn’t work. These are elements that my books effectively address, but there isn’t enough time to cover it all in a short interview like this.

Q. If you can leave a legacy to the next generation, what would it be? In other words, how do you want to be remembered?

I’d like to leave the world a little better than how I found it. If I could have reached out to only one reluctant, boy reader, I will have been successful. If I can turn an entire generation of boys onto reading, that’s all I want out of the time I have left. Here is just one example of an email from a mom. I got it a week or so ago. If I knew that this was happening all across the country, then this is how I’d like to be remembered.

"Thank you so much for writing all the Tweener Press
Adventure series! My 9 year old son loves every book! We have them all!
The White Wolf was the first one he read. He was 8 and not a very good
reader at all. I had to coax him along by promising to read a few pages
to him after he struggled thru a couple of pages for me. This went on
through out the book. By the end of the book, he was reading faster and
with much more accuracy. He would accidentally read past his spot because
he was so captured by it. He read the Big Rig Rustlers next. He
couldn't wait to get me to sit down with him to read together. He didn't
want to stop at the end of each chapter. I love the way you write and
make us want to read on! By the third book, he didn't wait on me
anymore! He was off in his room reading away all by himself! I feel
like I owe his success of reading to you. YOU
gave him the love of reading! "
NEWSPAPER CAPER, TERROR AT WOLF LAKE, NORTH WOODS POACHERS, MOUNTAIN CABIN MYSTERY, BIG RIG RUSTLERS, SECRET OF ABBOTT'S CAVE & LEGEND OF THE WHITE WOLF, are compared by readers and reviewers to Tom Sawyer, The Hardy Boys, Huck Finn, Nancy Drew, Tom Swift, Scooby-Doo, Lemony Snicket, and adventure author Jack London.

1 comment:

Jewel Sample said...

Great interview. My grandsons (ages 14 and 9) are reading Max's books right now and they love them. They both have said the only thing they don't like about Max's stories, they are hard to put down. Thank you Max for bringing books to boys that in there opinion, are worth reading.
Jewel Sample