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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.

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