'Bright' Screenwriter Max Landis: No, My Dad Didn't Give Me My Big Break

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Max Landis

The hot screenwriter gets candid about his "complicated" relationship with director father John Landis and how his upbringing helped him get ahead (it's less than haters think).

A lot of people I know whose parents are powerful and famous go out of their way to present themselves as an underdog. I feel bad presenting myself as a wounded underdog because I'm never going to seem that way to someone who's at film school in Wisconsin. But my story is a little bit complicated because I had a poor relationship with my parents.

I had emotional problems and significant learning disabilities — something called dysgraphia, where I cannot write with my hand. It's like written dyslexia. When I try to write with my hand it comes out in these garbled hieroglyphics that are incredibly hard to read. The letters stack on top of each other.

I also have a lot of emotional problems. I had a lot of anxiety as a kid and it was very stressful for my parents. They are big personalities, and they weren't ready for this nut job to fly into their lives. They worked very hard with the school systems to try to make an environment where I could succeed. Even with all their work, I failed. I was horribly depressed. And I ended up at a special education school in Connecticut, and my parents were very much the enemy in my mind.

I always loved writing. By the time I was 20, I had written about 24 scripts — not good scripts, but a lot of them — and that led to me reconnecting with my dad. His career had mostly slowed down, and he was not really in a position to feed me the world, but at the same time, there is never a day that I don't feel tremendously lucky. What is always interesting to me is how many people who were raised in the industry with way more powerful parents than I had, like Joss Whedon and J.J. Abrams, and it's not brought up because their parents weren't famous.

My first "break" came from an agent, David Kopple, who read a script of mine called Hometown Hero. He didn't say, "I'm your agent now." He said, "You should meet with some management companies," which someone who sent a blind submission could have done. But I am not blind to my privileges, not just being from a Hollywood family but also being an upper-class white guy in Los Angeles — and the name didn't hurt. Yet for all the people who have famous parents and are out there trying, it's incredible how many are out there and not trying, who will say they are a director, writer or an actor but never direct anything or write or act in anything. Their Instagrams get huge because they're on yachts in Italy all summer, and I'm in an office in Canada at 2 a.m. trying to figure out shooting schedules.

If your father is a carpenter, and he's a well-known carpenter and you become a carpenter, nobody's like, "Look at this asshole. He got his father's tools." If your mother runs a restaurant and you take over, no one's shitting on you, because that's what families do. But in entertainment, it really does often feel like there's only so many slots, so you feel like that guy is taking a slot that maybe he didn't earn. 

A version of this story first appeared in the Dec. 18 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.