You're the guy responsible for the highest-grossing movie of Brad Pitt's career. Except you're not really responsible at all. What do you do?
Some might brag about it. Some might seethe over it. Max Brooks has simply made peace with the whole thing.
Brooks is the author of World War Z: An Oral History of the Zombie War, the 2006 novel about a decade-long battle against the living dead. Constructed as a series of interviews with the survivors of the zombie apocalypse, it's an incredible read: smart, serious and packed with memorable characters and reams of meticulous research.
It also has virtually nothing in common with World War Z, the action-heavy summer blockbuster starring and produced by Brad Pitt, which recently crossed the $500 million mark in worldwide box office receipts.
"I'm responsible for the title of Brad Pitt's most successful movie. And the kicker is I can't even take credit for the title," Brooks says with a chuckle on the phone from his L.A. office, explaining that it was actually his book agent who coined the name World War Z.
"Pretty much the only thing my book and the movie have in common is a title I didn't make up."
The 41-year-old writer, who cut his teeth on two seasons of Saturday Night Live in the early 2000s, will be appearing this Thursday through Sunday at Fan Expo Canada in Toronto, talking about zombies, his new comic book series Extinction Parade and whatever else fans might have on their minds.
While many devotees of Brooks' World War Z have railed and raged against the movie, which sees Pitt zipping around the globe to do battle with hordes of sprinting, bloodthirsty undead, Brooks is philosophical about the whole thing. He says he sold the movie rights to World War Z to Paramount before the novel was even published, and when he had just one other book, 2003's The Zombie Survival Guide, under his belt.
"When you choose to sign over the rights, no matter how you feel, you forfeit that right to go out there and say, 'This is an outrage!' " Brooks says. "You've got to be an adult about this. Unless somebody puts a gun to your head, you've got no right to go on a righteous rant." (And, let's face it, the movie has sparked a ton of new interest in the book. So there's that.)
Brooks says he was genuinely terrified of zombies as a kid, but as he grew up, this fear turned to fascination: what would happen if a zombie apocalypse actually took place? Not just to one small group of people, as is so often depicted in the zombie movies of George Romero, but to the world at large? How would governments react? What would people need to do to stay alive? He's been so thorough in his research that the U.S. government and military has consulted him on disaster preparedness.
"It was an intellectual exercise, but once the machine in my brain is switched on, you can't turn it off until it's run its course," Brooks says.
It seems like pretty heavy stuff, especially for an affable guy who comes from legendary Hollywood stock: Brooks is the son of comedy icon Mel Brooks and the revered Oscar-winning actress Anne Bancroft. So what does Brooks senior, the guy who gave us Blazing Saddles and Spaceballs, think about his son's fascination with the living dead and global disasters?
"He's just glad I have a job."