×
You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

Steven Spielberg on Why ‘Ready Player One’s’ SXSW Debut Gave Him an ‘Anxiety Attack’

Before unveiling his new action opus, “Ready Player One,” to a packed theater at South by Southwest, Steven Spielberg had a confession to make. “I’m a gamer,” he said. “I’ve been a gamer ever since 1974, where I played the first Pong game on Martha’s Vineyard while filming ‘Jaws.’”

“But,” he continued, channeling a shrewd pitchman, “I really wanted to make this film with [novelist] Ernest Cline and my great screenwriter Zak Penn for people who don’t play video games. This is not just a movie for gamers.”

In other words, Warner Bros. is hoping that every human being on Earth is in the target demographic for “Ready Player One,” a sci-fi adventure set in 2045, where players compete through a virtual reality system named OASIS. The stakes are high, because the movie (which opens on March 29) has an estimated budget of $175 million. And there aren’t any A-list stars in the cast, which includes Tye Sheridan, Olivia Cooke, Ben Mendelsohn, and Mary Rylance as citizens of a dystopian society.

Spielberg made the trip to Austin — his first — to help boost the profile of “Ready Player One.” SXSW has a track record for helping launch studio movies into the box-office stratosphere. In 2015, the festival hosted a secret showing of “Furious 7,” which went on to gross $1.5 billion worldwide. Last year, it debuted “Baby Driver,” the sleeper hit of the summer of 2018.

Warner Bros. Pictures executives, including chairman Toby Emmerich, were in the crowd on Sunday night, eagerly anticipating the audience reaction. “This is not a film we made,” Spielberg said. “This is, I promise you, a movie. A movie that’s got to be seen on the big screen.” He looked up. “And I’m wondering if this is a big enough screen.”

There was one technical glitch. About 100 minutes into the film, the sound went out, forcing the projectionist to restart a pivotal scene, drawing gasps and boos. But other than that, “Ready Player One” easily passed the Austin test. The crowd cheered throughout the screening, showering Spielberg with an enthusiastic standing ovation.

“This has been the greatest anxiety attack I’ve ever had,” Spielberg said, re-emerging later for a Q&A with his cast. Spielberg said there were two different kinds of movies on his palette. “I made a whole bunch of historical films, which I directed behind-the-camera,” he said, nodding to dramas like “Lincoln” and “War Horse.” “I kind of am in control of that. When I decide to make a movie, sitting in the audience with you, I direct in the seat right next to you. And your reaction is everything.”

Spielberg read the script for “Ready Player One” before he was familiar with the 2011 science-fiction novel on which the story is based. The project had an unexpected backer. “My wife, every day, she listened to the book on tape,” Spielberg said. “This is not her kind of story. She never played a video game in her life. She came back to me after three days and said, ‘Oh, you’re making this movie.’”

“Ready Player One” follows a teenager named Wade Watts (Sheridan), who is a fan boy and pop culture enthusiast. The movie is packed with classic film and video game references, from “The Shining” to “Mario Kart.” “Just remember one thing,” Spielberg said. “The side windows are for cultural references. The windshield is for the story.” But even he didn’t catch all the allusions. “We made seven passes on one shot,” Spielberg said. “And with the last pass, I said, ‘S—! Is that a Gremlin?’ ILN [Industrial Light & Magic] had snuck it in, thinking I wouldn’t notice.”

The special effects for “Ready Player One” took two years. During a lull period, Spielberg went out and shot “The Post,” the Oscar-nominated drama about Katharine Graham and the Pentagon Papers. “I’ve found when I have multiple projects, and I got lost in one of them, I’d come back to the other one with complete clarity,” Spielberg said. “My objectivity is the thing that I fear the most about losing. I get too inside the story. I can’t see it from the audience’s point of view anymore. By doing several things at the same time, I guess I have a renewal of objectivity.”

There was one notable exception to this rule — the time he made “Schindler’s List” and “Jurassic Park” in the same year. “That was a horrible experience,” he said. “I didn’t want to be approving dinosaur shots when I was in Poland, doing the story of the Holocaust.”

The after-party for “Ready Player One” was held in a warehouse space in downtown Austin, outfitted with a giant sculpture of the Iron Giant and the DeLorean from “Back to the Future,” both of which figure prominently in the film. Joan Jett performed a set of her greatest hits, throwing guitar picks into the crowd after 2 a.m. She ended by calling out the movie’s name. “Break a leg,” she said. For “Ready Player One,” Warner Bros. will take all the endorsements it can get.

More Film

  • With PGA win, 'Green Book' is

    Oscars: With PGA Victory, 'Green Book' Becomes Best Picture Frontrunner

    Save for a pair of recent back-to-back discrepancies in “The Big Short” and “La La Land,” the Producers Guild’s Darryl F. Zanuck Award for Theatrical Motion Pictures has been a fairly reliable barometer for the annual Oscar season outcome. At least, ever since both the PGA and film Academy expanded their top categories, sharing the [...]

  • Peter Farrelly30th Annual Producers Guild Awards,

    PGA Awards: 'Green Book' Wins Top Feature Film Award

    “Green Book” has won the Producers Guild’s Darryl F. Zanuck Award as the top feature film of 2018. The 1960s drama-comedy topped “BlacKkKlansman,” “Black Panther” “Bohemian Rhapsody,” “Crazy Rich Asians,” “The Favourite,”  “A Quiet Place,” “Roma,” “A Star Is Born” and “Vice. “When you make ‘Dumb and Dumber’ you never expect to get an award,” [...]

  • Netflix HQ LA

    Andy Gruenberg, Veteran Film Executive, Dies at 68

    Veteran film executive Andy Gruenberg, who most recently oversaw theatrical distribution at Netflix, died suddenly on Friday. He was 68. Gruenberg worked on classic films like “Ghostbusters,” “Karate Kid” and “Silverado” while at Columbia Pictures in the 80s and 90s. He then moved to MGM where he served as exec VP of distribution. There he [...]

  • Fyre Festival Caterer Receives Thousands in

    Unpaid Fyre Festival Caterer Raises Thousands in Donations on GoFundMe

    As two Fyre Festival documentaries hit the airwaves, a couple who say their credit was ruined due to the Fyre Festival’s lack of payment for their services have raised $54,381 at time of publication on GoFundMe. Elvis and Maryann Rolle wrote on their page that they catered “no less than 1000 meals per day” in [...]

  • DF-10956_R – Gwilym Lee (Brian May) and

    'Bohemian Rhapsody' Producer Confirms Bryan Singer's Reason for Leaving, Says 'No One' Was Attached to Play Mercury

    “Bohemian Rhapsody” producer Graham King provided insight into some of the events surrounding the Golden Globe-winning film Saturday at the Producers Guild Awards Nominees Breakfast, including director Bryan Singer’s departure from the film partway through production. “It’s an unfortunate situation, with like 16, 17 days to go and Bryan Singer just had some issues, his [...]

  • Author Tony Mendez arrives at the

    Tony Mendez, Former CIA Officer Depicted in 'Argo,' Dies at 78

    Tony Mendez, the former CIA technical operations officer who orchestrated the 1980 rescue of six American diplomats from Iran and who was portrayed by Ben Affleck in the Academy Award winning film “Argo,” has died. He was 78. Mendez’s book agent, Christy Fletcher, announced the news on Twitter Saturday morning. “Early this morning, Antonio (Tony) [...]

  • Glass Movie

    'Glass' to Rank in Top 3 MLK Debuts With $48 Million

    M. Night Shyamalan’s “Glass” is on its way to a solid debut with an estimated $48 million for the four-day Martin Luther King Jr. weekend. A sequel to 2000’s “Unbreakable” and 2017’s “Split,” the Universal superhero thriller should bring in around $41 million from 3,841 domestic locations over the Friday through Sunday period. The estimates are [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content