Zak Penn first met “Ready Player One” novelist Ernest Cline while making a movie, but it wasn’t Steven Spielberg’s adaptation of Cline’s work, now in theaters.
They met while Penn was making his 2014 documentary “Atari: Game Over,” about the legend of tons of old Atari 2600 “E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial” games that were buried in a landfill in New Mexico in the 1980s. Having read a galley of the novel — chock full of 1980s pop culture references — he decided that Cline would be a good person for the film, “knowing his geek status,” Penn says.
“He seemed like the perfect person to interview for this crazy movie we were doing,” Penn says. “And he’d already planned this crazy trip to watch us dig up these old cartridges.”
It was around then that Penn landed the gig working on the screenplay for “Ready Player One.”
“What was lucky about that is I spent five months with the author, leading up to the point where I actually had to write a new draft of the script,” Penn says. “That’s how I came onboard. And I wrote one draft and then Steven Spielberg joins and the rest is history.”
While Penn has worked with many big names in Hollywood having written for films like “The Avengers,” “X-Men 2” and “The Incredible Hulk,” it’s not often one gets to spend time with an Oscar-winning creative genius.
“I mean, it was great to be able to teach someone how to direct. I don’t always have that opportunity,” Penn says, laughing. “No, it was amazing. I learned more in the last three years than I have in all my years in Hollywood combined. . . . Even if he was half Steven Spielberg. Even if he was Steve Berg, it still would have been amazing.”
With “Ready Player One” now in theaters, coming in on top of the box office last week, Penn is hard at work on his next projects. One is “ROM,” which was a toy from 1979 turned into a long running comic from Marvel from 1979-86. That won’t be tying into the Marvel movies, though, instead it’s from Hasbro Studios and Paramount Pictures, and will fall into a movie line with other toy franchises like “G.I. Joe” and “Micronauts.”
The other big project Penn has coming up is sure to get people excited.
“I have been working on a new ‘Matrix’ script, which is in its nascent stages,” Penn reveals. “People are like, ‘Oh, can I be in it?’ If you can get into the pages of my script, sure.”