Sixty years after Hollywood started adapting his sci-fi, fantasy and horror tales into movies and TV shows, Richard Matheson is ready for a comeback.
The author, now 85, has teamed up with his screenwriting son, Richard Christian Matheson, and former William Morris literary agent Alan Gasmer to shop Matheson’s library of 150 short stories, books, plays and scripts around town — with one caveat: that he has a say in what winds up onscreen.
“Steel,” a short story published in 1956, is the basis for DreamWorks’ robot boxing pic “Real Steel,” which stars Hugh Jackman and bows Friday through Disney’s Touchstone banner.
His ghost story “Earthbound” already is set up at DreamWorks, with Walter Parkes and Laurie MacDonald producing. And negotiations are under way with 20th Century Fox and Shawn Levy’s 21 Laps shingle for the film rights to his 1963 short “Deus Ex Machina,” about a man who discovers he’s mechanical when he cuts himself and bleeds oil. Levy helmed “Real Steel.”
Matheson may not be a household name in the same vein as a Stephen King or even Stephenie Meyer,but his work is certainly recognizable.
His vampire tale “I Am Legend” has spawned three pics, with Will Smith starring in WB’s most recent version, while “What Dreams May Come,” “The Incredible Shrinking Man,” “A Stir of Echoes” “Somewhere in Time” and “The Legend of Hell House” are based on his novels.
Steven Spielberg turned “Duel” into a telepic, while “Button, Button” and “Nightmare at 20,000 Feet” were adapted as “Twilight Zone” and “Night Gallery” episodes, which then became pics like “The Box.”
“People are not necessarily aware of who I am but they’re aware of the things that I’ve written,” Matheson told Variety.
As he tries to find new homes for his work, Matheson asks only that he and his screenwriter son, who also goes by R.C., have a say in their development, including which screenwriters or directors get hired — if the Mathesons aren’t penning the scripts, themselves, that is.
Gasmer would also serve as a producer on the projects, as he is doing on the film version of New Zealand TV show “The Tribe.”
“We want to see these get made and made correctly and be in sync with the studio and make sure they have the same visions that we do,” Gasmer said.
The Mathesons wanted more creative control, given that “there’s nothing sadder than a badly done film,” the senior Matheson said.
“As we all know, most of the films that were made turned out wonderfully, but there were enough cases where they didn’t,” said R.C. Matheson, whose recent writing credits include Cinemax’s series “Chemistry,” TNT’s miniseries adaptation of Stephen King’s “Nightmares and Dreamscapes,” Fox’s mini of Dean Koontz’s “Sole Survivor,” the pics “Three O’Clock High” “Loose Cannons” and “It Takes Two,” along with three novels, among other projects. “He wanted to have more involvement going forward, not only with the writing but bring a produceral influence, as well.”
But most of those are spy pics, whereas the Matheson library encompasses a variety of genres — and is much larger.
In fact, the number of works created a problem for the Mathesons as they and Gasmer have introduced the material to potential buyers.
“They get overwhelmed,” R.C. Matheson said. “We’re trying to underwhelm them,” added his father.
That included rewriting loglines to shorten them and categorizing the works by genre.
“It’s a little frustrating when you go into a studio and you do bring in the volume of the material here and they look at you with blank eyes and say, ‘There’s a lot of material to go through,’ ” Gasmer said. “For a business that’s supposed to thrive on creative ideas and reading, nobody actually does that. That’s ironic. We have to guide them through it. Richard and R.C. are very good at doing that.”
The senior Matheson is no stranger to the studio system.
He penned episodes of “The Night Stalker,” “Amazing Stories” and “The Alfred Hitchcock Hour,” and the scripts for the films “Somewhere in Time” and “Jaws 3.”
Johnny Depp is currently developing a film version of the “The Nightstalker” for Disney.
When DreamWorks was developing the script for “Real Steel,” Spielberg sent Matheson a copy and asked whether it was close enough to his original story, Matheson recalls. He approves of the final film.
“I thought it was great,” Matheson said. “They hit all the right things with it. They gave it heart.
“Films are a very creative field,” Matheson added. “A good movie is a thing of wonder. When it’s done well, it makes such a big difference.”
And as a result, have a “wonderful collateral effect” on book sales, R.C. Matheson said.