Now, his latest movie script, The Canyons , has come to the big screen, and not without controversy. First, Ellis worked to cast porn actor James Deen in the lead role. (Note: Deen is a star in his own right, just not through the traditional Hollywood channels; he's probably most infamous for costarring in a sex tape with Teen Mom Farrah Abraham). But more notably, Ellis' partner and director Paul Schrader wanted Lindsay Lohan to play the female lead — which lead to this explosively intense New York Times article about the on-set atmosphere. A porn star and a semi-disgraced actress make for serious tabloid fodder — which is exactly the kind of thing that interests Ellis.
Also, as anyone following the author on Twitter could tell you, Ellis has been enamored with the whole 50 Shades Of Grey phenomenon. So much that he even petitioned to direct the movie (and have Deen star). Unfortunately, he didn't get the job— but he has some insight as to who will be cast, and what exactly fans can expect.
So, how did you get hooked up with a porn star? When, and how, did you first hear about James Deen?
"In December of 2011, to be exact. My producing partner and I talk about everything, and we spend all day sending each other links. He sends a file, asks if I've heard a song or seen a YouTube video. One day, he asked if I had heard of this guy James Deen, a heterosexual porn star. When I said, 'No,' he said, 'You are kidding me.' The backstory was fascinating. He has this huge fan base of adolescent girls and it kind of blew my mind. And then I was really interested in his type of porn, and also in the non-porn before the porn. When I began to write this script, I began to think of him. So I was thinking about him. And then I realized that I couldn't do this movie unless he would play Christian."
A lot of your fans witnessed this exchange via Twitter. Do you think, as a word person, Twitter is a valuable tool for an author?
"I only got on Twitter because I was bored on an interview, and the interviewer put me on Twitter, and decided to make that the story. I thought it was fun to talk about a book or recommend a movie. I don't tweet at anyone. In fact, I don't use it the right way. I don't use hashtags or post links. Though, every now and then, it was helpful for me to reach out, like for the Kickstarter project to fund the movie. But yes, of course, I think it is important…I don't know, what do you think?"
Well, it depends whether or not you are funny. But you also used Twitter to create hype for you being nominated as the director of 50 Shades Of Grey...
"The fervor died down because I didn't get the job. And E.L. James said to me, 'Look, it was always going to be a woman. It was never going to be a man directing, and I should have had someone get to you before you went on your six-month campaign.' I know who her number one choice for Christian Grey is, though.'
Who is it?
"She is never going to get him. He has dark hair. Of course, that's what she wants…Okay, I can say this: Think of the most obvious, fitting choice. It's right in front of your face. I can't say anything."
You just did! Fine. Now, this is your first script on screen that didn't come directly from your books. Did you dip into your life in Los Angeles a bit for The Canyons?
"In January and February of 2012, a lot of personal things were going on that I was integrating into the script — James Deen, 50 Shades of Grey (where the name Christian comes from), and being in a living situation where someone has money and someone doesn't. It isn't as extreme as Tara and Christian, but I was thinking of young actors in town, and what happens when you turn 30. A lot of personal stuff comes into play."
Was it different to do something so personal?
"I'm not a screenwriter for hire. I'm not out here to get the big bucks or anything. I have always worked on things that I believe in and I help produce. So everything has to be personal. Even the shark movie I wanted to do, before The Canyons, is steeped in stuff I was going through. What The Canyons was – my opportunity — was the freedom to write whatever I wanted, as long as (director Paul Schrader) approved it. It was going to happen, as long as it fit our very, very low budget. It was kind of personal, but I'm not banging my yoga instructor, I have no intention of murdering someone..."
Did you say a shark movie?
" Bait. It was never made."
How was it seeing that Kanye remixed the trailer to the film?
"Kanye did that two or three weeks prior, but he was waiting to drop that on the Friday that The Canyons was released. You know, he is really into film. I don't want people to think that he did it because I did the American Psycho promo for Yeezus.
So, Bret, when are you coming back to New York? In your writing, at least?
Look, I am writing right now, and in the process of creating a series. I have written nine hours of it, and it is all set in New York — Brooklyn, specifically. I am about to turn in a rewrite of the pilot, and the only question is, will it ever get made? So, if it does, then I'm going to be writing all about New York again.