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Buffalo-born screenwriter is not in Narnia any more

He’s not in dwarf country anymore.

Neither, for that matter, in the land where superheroic powers do battle with the forces of evil.

No, Christopher Markus has made a shift in his latest movie to another vivid, action-packed landscape:

Florida – specifically, Miami.

Now, in “Pain & Gain,” he’s writing about true crime – rather than the fictional and fantasy worlds created by C.S. Lewis and Marvel comics.

“Weirdly, we started out more as nonfiction guys,” said Markus, a graduate of St. Joseph’s Collegiate Institute and Rutgers University, who now lives with his wife, Claire, on the West Coast. He and writing partner Stephen McFeely are the writers behind “The Life and Death of Peter Sellers” for HBO.

Over time, though, Markus said, the two “kind of fell into fantasy” in their script projects.

“Talking beavers,” as Markus joked, in a phone interview this week with The Buffalo News.

But these days they’re a long way from Narnia and Captain America.

The Buffalo-born Markus, 43, who has worked as a screenwriter on more than a half-dozen movies so far – including the first three “Chronicles of Narnia” films and “Captain America: The First Avenger” – has written with McFeely a movie about a real-life crime in Florida that took place in the 1990s. The film, directed by Michael Bay and starring Mark Wahlberg and Dwayne “the Rock” Johnson, opened Friday.

The case, which was covered in Florida media, involved a crime ring run out of a gym where top bodybuilders tried to kidnap and loot the assets of wealthy and prominent residents. The case ultimately resulted in murder, and some of the perpetrators were sent to prison.

Markus said that he and McFeely long had the idea of turning the crime into a narrative that would play like dark comedy.

“If you read the articles, there’s a certain amount of humor, because of how bad the guys were at doing these things,” said Markus, referring to pieces about the case published at the time in Florida news outlets.

He said the film’s story stays close to the actual events of the case.

In writing the film, Markus said that he and McFeely got to explore what kind of corruption of the American ideal of the pursuit of “success” means – now, in the 21st century.

“We all want something,” Markus said. “Some people take the right path, and some people don’t.

“It’s this American dream, which has gotten kind of twisted.”

The new project has not come without some criticism. Some media outlets have reported on opposition to the new film in Florida, especially among those that were involved in the kidnapping/murder case or related to its victims.

Two of the men involved in the case currently sit on death row in Florida, Markus said.

“Whenever you write a true story, it’s not going to go over 100 percent well with everybody,” said Markus, about the criticism. “It’s their lives; they want them protected.”

“I think partly what they are reacting to is, the trailers to the film do make the men look a bit heroic,” Markus said. “That’s just marketing. If you watch the movie, you’ll see that these were not good men.”

“All the people who should come off well, do come off well,” Markus added.

Markus, who is expecting a baby with his wife in a few weeks, said he continues to be awed by the career journey his writing has allowed him to take.

“I am surprised,” said Markus, of how far a Hollywood writing career has taken him in the past 18 years.

Markus, who collaborates with McFeely on his scriptwriting projects, said the pair – who met at a writing program in California in 1994 – has fulfilled many of the goals they had when starting out together as beginning screenwriters. He said McFeely has often said he would like his name on 10 movies.

“Well, we’re getting there,” Markus said. “We’re ahead of schedule.”

Sometime down the road a bit, the pair may try to shift gears a bit, to directing a film project, Markus said.

“I think we’d like to direct,” he said. “Not so much because we’d like to be directors … we’d like to see how one of our scripts would do, if it didn’t get changed.”

“I think that’s definitely in our future.”

And what about a project in Buffalo?

Markus laughed, and said he recently tried to create a TV show that would be set in Buffalo, based on a movie he wrote a while back.

That project “has stalled out,” for the time being, Markus said.

But, he said, Buffalo has a lot of potential for TV and movies.

“It’s an interesting place,” Markus said. “There’s a lot you can do there.”