When it was originally released in 2007, the audiobook of World War Z was only available in an abridged version. World War Z: The Complete Edition (Random Audio) adds five hours of newly recorded material to the abridged audiobook, plus an all-star cast of narrators including Nathan Fillion, Simon Pegg (doing an American accent!), Jeri Ryan, and Kal Penn. See the review, p. 40.
What kind of personal experience do you have with audiobooks?
They’re very important to me. They might be one of the main reasons I’m an author. Because I’m very dyslexic and I basically could not read, I don’t how I would have graduated from high school if my mother [Anne Bancroft] hadn’t gotten all the books on my reading list as audiobooks. And on a much more personal note, when I was a little boy, my mother used to read to me when I went to bed. But she was also obviously a working mother, so when she knew she was going to be getting home late, she would record the rest of the book that she was reading to me. So no matter what, my mother read me to sleep every night.
Is that why you pushed so hard to get the original abridged audiobook made?
That’s exactly why. The book is essentially a collection of interviews, which lends itself to the audiobook format. It screams for audiobook.
Why do you think the unabridged audiobook is coming out now?
The movie. I think it’s pure economics. The only reason we did the abridged in the first place is because it was too expensive. The problem is, every time you hire a different person to read only for an hour, you still have to book the studio, you still have to pay them, you have to hire the engineers, you have to hire the director. For an audiobook, which tends not to make you a lot of money, that’s a tremendous financial commitment for Random House. I think they probably thought, well, the movie’s coming out, the book sales are going crazy, we’ll probably sell enough audiobooks to warrant putting in the extra money.
With this audiobook, I know that I’m pushing a boulder up a hill. I know it’s not going to be a huge financial windfall, but it’s really something that means a lot to me. It’s personal and a true labor of love, and if you’re going to do it, do it right. How great would that be if some kid out there, dyslexic or not, got jazzed about reading because he heard the audiobook? That’d be like mission accomplished.
How did you get this incredible cast?
I didn’t just want big names, I wanted names that were very important to me, that I had grown up listening to.
A lot of it was writing letters to the [narrators] personally. That’s how I got F. Murray Abraham. He’s hugely in demand, and everyone said forget this guy, he’s the gold standard. So I said, okay, I’ll just write to him, tell him my story, and speak from the heart. I told him about the dyslexia, and I said when I was a kid, my mother bought me Red Storm Rising on audiobook and you read all the parts. And I can still remember every accent, every character. I said that specific audiobook was kind of a game-changer for me because it showed me what the medium could be. I said, I may not have been interested in doing my audiobook the way I’m doing it had it not been for experiences like yours. That’s how he agreed. He said, wow, thanks, kid. I’ll do it. It was very personal and very honest and that’s kind of how I go about things. I’m a really crappy liar.
When I wrote to Mark Hamill, I said, when I was a kid, I saw you in a movie called The Big Red One with Lee Marvin. You played a character who could not kill. And suddenly when the switch was thrown and you did kill someone, you lost a bit of your soul every time you pulled that trigger. I said, if you could channel that guy 15 years later talking about that experience, that’s who I want for this character.
Martin Scorsese we got on a dare. Two other Brooks men got him, not me: my father [Mel Brooks] and my son. My son was seven years old at the time, and he was watching Shark Tales. He’s actually very interested in casting, he’s always asking who’s doing voices. When the Scorsese character came on he asked who did the voice, and I said oh, that’s Martin Scorsese. And my father said, “He’d be great for your audiobook.” And I said yeah, Dad, that’d be really great. We’re never gonna get him. And my dad said, no, no, no, I’ll get him. I’ll do it. I said you’re never going to get him. My dad got angry and got defensive and felt the need to prove himself: “You just wait! I’ll get him.” And, sure enough, he went out and got him.
I had coincidentally become friends with Denise Crosby because she’s in a theater group with my wife. I got Bruce Boxleitner because J. Michael Straczynski wrote the first draft of the World War Z screenplay, so I emailed him. There was a lot of different wheeling and dealing. And, obviously, I cheated with Carl Reiner.
What makes a good audiobook?
First of all, you need a good reader. I think that is so important. You can’t just hire someone because they’re a big name. I remember when I was driving across the country to go to grad school, I had an audiobook of classic science fiction short stories read by science fiction actors. Now to me that was brilliant casting because nobody outside the world of science fiction is going to be particularly jazzed about Wil Wheaton or Claudia Christian or Nana Visitor, but you better believe the audience who’s going to buy that audiobook is going to go through the roof, myself included.