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Steven Spielberg

#27: “Nothing Would Ever Top the Ark of the Covenant”: Screenwriter Menno Meyjes on INDIANA JONES AND THE LAST CRUSADE

Today’s guest is screenwriter and director Menno Meyjes, best known for his collaboration with Steven Spielberg in the 80’s. Menno was born in the Netherlands but moved to the United States in 1972 to study at the San Francisco Art Institute. After writing a script for one of the best-known episodes of Spielberg’s AMAZING STORIES TV series – “The Mission”, starring a young Kevin Costner and directed by Spielberg himself – Menno received an Academy Award nomination for his adaptation of Alice Walker’s Pulitzer Prize-winning novel THE COLOR PURPLE, as directed by Spielberg. As a screenwriter, he also worked on films like Franklin Schaffner’s LIONHEART, Russell Mulcahy’s RICOCHET and Edward Zwick’s THE SIEGE.

After THE COLOR PUPLE, Menno was brought in to work on the third Indiana Jones movie, INDIANA JONES AND THE LAST CRUSADE, taking over from writer Chris Columbus whose MONKEY KING script had been rejected. In our conversation, Menno talks about his collaboration with George Lucas and Steven Spielberg and how elements like the search for the Holy Grail and Indy’s father were introduced.

He also discusses some of the other films he’s worked on, including his directorial debut MAX, an independent gem starring John Cusack as a Jewish art dealer based in Munich who, shortly after WWI, encounters a young, struggling painter named Adolf Hitler whose anger and disillusionment is slowly finding other, more harmful outlets. Menno also talks about his work on MANOLETE, a biopic starring Adrien Brody as the popular Spanish bullfighter, and he discusses his more recent move back to the Netherlands to direct independent films like THE DINNER and THE REUNION.

So without any further ado, here’s Menno Meyjes recalling how he came on board of INDIANA JONES AND THE LAST CRUSADE.

The mp3 file can be downloaded HERE.

Editing: Christoph Schwarz
Music: Clark Kent

Talking Pictures #13: Zak Penn, Screenwriter of READY PLAYER ONE

Today’s guest is Zak Penn, best known as a screenwriter on several big-budget superhero movies like X-MEN 2, X-MEN: THE LAST STAND, THE INCREDIBLE HULK and THE AVENGERS. Zak also wrote the 1993 comedy LAST ACTION HERO starring Arnold Schwarzenegger, and he directed a wonderful mockumentary called INCIDENT AT LOCH NESS, in which he, together with German director Werner Herzog, ventures out to find the Loch Ness monster.

My conversation with Zak focuses on his work on Steven Spielberg’s 2018 sci-fi movie READY PLAYER ONE, which Zak adapted from Ernest Cline’s novel by the same name. The story is set in 2045 and revolves around a virtual reality world called the Oasis, which is largely based on the pop culture of the 1980’s, recreating early video games, cult movies and the pop music of the decade. The story follows a teenager named Parzival and his friends and their quest to find and solve a series of hidden clues and puzzles, so-called “Easter Eggs”, hidden within the Oasis by its late creator, a Steve-Jobs-like figure by the name of Jim Halliday who promised that whoever solves his game will gain complete control over the Oasis. Along the way, Parzival falls in love with a girl he meets in the Oasis named Art3mis, receives a little help from Halliday’s former business partner Ogden Morrow, and he fights the so-called “Sixers”, an army of treasure hunters led by the evil Nolan Sorrento, whose company IOI seeks control over the Oasis for commercial gain.

In our interview, Zak discusses how he adapted Ernie Cline’s book and how certain choices and changes were made to make the story more cinematic. He talks about the characters and the pop culture that informs the story, and he discusses how one of the movie’s best scenes came about – a segment where the characters enter a recreation of Stanley Kubrick’s THE SHINING in order to solve a puzzle. Zak also talks about his 2014 documentary ATARI: GAME OVER, which was in many ways a precursor to his work on READY PLAYER ONE – it’s the story of digging up the infamous Atari 2600 game E.T., which was buried in a landfill in New Mexico, and it features not only several themes which are connected to READY PLAER ONE, but it also stars Ernie Cline as one of the protagonists.

The interview with Zak Penn was conducted in connection with our German-language podcast Lichtspielplatz, so if you speak German, you’ll find an in-depth discussion of READY PLAYER ONE in episode #46.

So here’s Talking Pictures with Zak Penn!

The mp3 file can be downloaded HERE.

Photo: (C) Zak Penn
Special thanks to Dr. Wily, my Lichtspielplatz podcasting partner for audio editing. The music was created by Clark Kent.

Talking Pictures #8: Midge Costin, Director of MAKING WAVES

Today’s guest is sound editor-turned-filmmaker Midge Costin. Midge worked as a sound and dialogue editor on some of the biggest films of the Nineties – ARMAGEDDON, CON AIR, THE ROCK, BROKEN ARROW, CRIMSON TIDE – but also on films like CRY-BABY, LEAP OF FAITH or SWING KIDS. She later became a teacher at the University of Southern California – and most recently, she created a brilliant documentary called MAKING WAVES – THE ART OF CINEMATIC SOUND which I became aware of when she ran a very successful Kickstarter campaign to finish the film. The film premiered at the Tribeca film festival in 2019 and also ran at the Munich Film Festival, at Cannes, and other film festivals.

MAKING WAVES discusses the history and the art of sound design and features interviews with filmmakers like Steven Spielberg, Christopher Nolan, Ryan Coogler or Barbra Streisand – but more to the point, it features dozens of interviews with excellent sound artists like Ben Burtt, Walter Murch, Gary Rydstrom, Anna Behlmer, Ai-Ling Lee, Cecilia Hall, and many others, taking an in-depth look at scenes from movies like SAVING PRIVATE RYAN, STAR WARS or APOCALYPSE NOW, and many others.

Midge Costin with legendary sound designer Walter Murch.

I first contacted Midge because I was writing an article on the documentary for the German trade magazine Film & TV Kamera (a shortened version can be found online here). In our interview, Midge not only discusses the importance of good sound design and the individual creative roles of the sound artists – she also explains why it took the team nine years to finish the film, why there is a strong focus on the New Hollywood era, and she discusses the sound design of the documentary itself. You can learn more about the movie at makingwavesmovie.com.

So here’s Talking Pictures with Midge Costin!

The mp3 file can be downloaded HERE.

All photos (C) Ain’t Heard Nothin’ Yet/Dogwoof.
Special thanks to Dr. Wily, my Lichtspielplatz podcasting partner for audio editing. The music was created by Clark Kent.

Talking Pictures #7: John Orloff, Screenwriter of ANONYMOUS

Today’s guest is John Orloff, the screenwriter of Roland Emmerich’s ANONYMOUS – a complex and fascinating historical drama about the theory that William Shakespeare may not be the author of the works of William Shakespeare. Instead, the movie claims that the Earl of Oxford, Edward de Vere, wrote famous plays like HAMLET and ROMEO AND JULIET, and that through complex political scheming he wasn’t able to receive credit for them, but instead a hapless young actor, William Shakespeare, served as a front for him.

In our interview, John discusses the long process of developing the script, which began with a completely different take on Shakespeare. He talks about his collaboration with Roland Emmerich, which added many new elements to the story, and about the intricate structure of the film, which Orloff himself says may be a little bit too complicated. He discusses the angry reactions and reviews the movie received, and he talks about why he believes that Shakespeare isn’t the author of the plays – and why discussing the authorship issue is a worthwhile debate.

John also discusses some of the other projects he’s worked on, like the BAND OF BROTHERS miniseries which was produced by Tom Hanks and Steven Spielberg, and he talks about some of the guiding themes of his work.

The interview was done in connection with our Lichtspielplatz podcast on ANONYMOUS, so if you speak German, check out episode #40 of our Lichtspielplatz podcast with an in-depth discussion of the film and its themes.

So here’s Talking Pictures with screenwriter John Orloff!

The mp3 file can be downloaded HERE.
The Talking Pictures podcast can be found on iTunes: HERE.

All photos (C) John Orloff.
Special thanks to Dr. Wily, my Lichtspielplatz podcasting partner for audio editing. The music was created by Clark Kent.

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