‘Project Power’: When Marvel and DC Didn’t Call, Mattson Tomlin Wrote His Own Superhero Movie

“Project Power” revolves around a pill that gives you superpowers for just five minutes

Mattson Tomlin Project Power
Courtesy of Henry Joost

When Marvel and DC didn’t call screenwriter Mattson Tomlin to write some projects for them, he took matters into his own hands and wrote a superhero story the way he wanted to. Cue “Project Power” on Netflix, which revolves around the idea that one pill can give you superpowers for just five minutes.

“I wanted to get a movie made,” Tomlin, who had mostly written shorts except for 2008’s “The Projectionist” before this, he told TheWrap. “I had been doing so much work as a screenwriter and writing scripts and getting on the Black List, but I hadn’t had a movie actually go. And so part of it was strategy of just, you know, what are the movies that are getting made right now? Well, the obvious answer is superhero movies. And so figuring out where can I sit myself in that world, because Marvel wasn’t calling, DC wasn’t calling. So I kind of had to do it in my own way. And it’s so obvious that to do a kind of original cape and mask story that that wasn’t the right way in. And so instead it was kind of like a ‘Collateral,’ ‘Eight Mile’: like take these movies that I really love and throw superpowers in them and kind of see what happens.”

Tomlin first wrote the script in 2016, after which it appeared on the Black List in 2017 and sold to Netflix as a spec script. Since then, Tomlin said, a lot changed with the script — mainly, the tone.

“I think that the biggest change was obviously plot stuff changes — the story kind of evolved, but a big change was the tone,” he explained. “And I credit Henry [Joost] and Ariel [Schulman] for that, the directors, because they really wanted to make something that was on the one hand gritty and on the other hand fun, and those two things don’t necessarily always go together… But I would say that my original script had a lot less fun and was much more in the vein of ‘Collateral’ or ‘Training Day.’ I’ve got to give the guys credit — I think they made the right decision pushing me into that zone.”

“Project Power” follows a drug dealer, a police officer, and a former soldier who team up to stop the distribution of a pill that gives the user superpowers for five minutes. It stars Jamie Foxx, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Dominique Fishback, Machine Gun Kelly, Rodrigo Santo, Amy Landecker and Allen Maldonado.

Any movie about something scientific requires a certain level of research, and “Project Power,” Tomlin says, was no different — he did a lot of research into how animals use their powers to survive in nature.

“There was a lot of [research] as we got deeper into development,” he explained. “There were certain things like, you know, the scene with Jamie and Machine Gun Kelly, where he burst into flames — that stuff was in there, but we went further with the idea of, let’s make all of the powers somehow animal-themed. And once we had that, that brought me on this crazy deep dive of just what are the superpowers that animals have just in the natural world and animals can do some really, really crazy stuff like that. I was watching the Discovery Channel, just kind of learning about lizards — they’re just able to spit blood out of their eyes and animals just break their own bones to create weapons for themselves. Like all of this great, gnarly stuff. It’s totally real.”

While just four short years ago, Tomlin couldn’t get a movie made, he has one of the biggest movies of 2021 coming out. And yes, it’s a DC movie: he co-wrote “The Batman” alongside Matt Reeves. He also scripted and produced the upcoming film “Little Fish” starring Olivia Cooke.

“I still wake up every day and I’m still pinching myself over [The Batman],” he said. “There’s a big difference between writing something that’s an original mode, and then working on something like ‘The Batman,’ where it has all these expectations, you know, people love it and know what it is, whereas ‘Project Power,’ nobody has any idea what this thing is. And so you’ve kind of got to be big and loud about it and hope people will tune in and see it.”

“Project Power” hits Netflix on Friday.


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