Screenwriter Zak Penn Says READY PLAYER ONE Script Is Finished; Project Might Get Stuck on Licensing Issues

     November 27, 2014


Ernie Cline‘s Ready Player One is a fun read.  The story follows Wade Watts, a poverty-stricken kid in a dystopian society whose only escape is a massive, completely immersive online world.  The inventor who created the online landscape hid a massive treasure, but no one has come close to finding it until Wade finally solves the first puzzle and discovers that if he wants to proceed in his quest, he’ll have to put all of his 80s pop-culture knowledge to the test.  These trials include playing classic arcade games and quoting movies.  The online world combined with the nostalgic references give the story a unique feel where a talented director, if armed with a good script, could make a pretty enjoyable film.

The book set off a bidding war four years ago, and earlier this year, Zak Penn (The Incredible Hulk) signed on to write the screenplay.  Since then, word on the project has been quiet until now.  Hit the jump for more.

ready-player-one-book-coverSpeaking to Nerd Report [via /Film], Penn explained how he consulted with Cline in order to maintain the balance of making sure he got some of the visually exciting scenes into the movie but also cut stuff that would only work in a novel:

I’m not going to tell you how I did it but I did do it and I got Ernie’s approval on it. The script’s already in. I feel pretty good about [it]. There’s a number of things in the book that are unbelievably visual and really easy to translate into a screenplay, and then there’s other things that you definitely wouldn’t want to keep in the same form they are in the book. It was just really fortuitous that I was around Ernie a lot, so periodically I would go, ‘Ernie, let me run this by you. Here is the way I’m thinking of doing this.’ If he said, ‘That’s awesome, do it,’ I felt pretty good about it. If he didn’t, I went back to the drawing board.

It’s neat that Penn went and consulted with Cline.  I’m not sure if that was a contractual obligation, but usually authors are cut out of the process entirely unless a studio is adapting of a series of books (Ready Player One is a standalone novel).

Reading the novel, you can immediately tell that the biggest hurdle to an adaptation would be licensing rights.  There are simply too many video games, movies, TV series, etc. that are included, and paying for those rights would be a huge cost, and that’s in addition to paying for blockbuster spectacle.  Penn explains:

Put it this way, I took some huge liberties in the script. Not as many in the book. If you had to license the stuff in the book, it would cost a billion dollars. You write a script, you take your chances, you say, ‘This is what we’re going to do. This is where we’re going to take cars and scenes from these movies and these properties, and then you hope that you’ll get the rights to it, but we’re not at that point yet. I just finished the script. When you start getting into production and casting, that’s when you would start going through and saying, ‘Okay, can we get the rights to Donkey Kong?’ or what have you. It’s very different in a film like that than it is in a documentary where you can just declare fair use and do it.

So if the script is finished, does this mean Warner Bros. is now ready to move forward on Ready Player One?  Or will they send it back to the drawing board and/or hire a new writer?  Personally, I’d like to see the film sooner rather than later since 80s references are better than 90s references.

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