There’s a conspiracy theory which suggests that not only did the U.S. government fake the moon landing, but that they hired film director Stanley Kubrick to make the fake footage. But while this is obviously not true, what if Kubrick did leave clues in his movies, clues meant to lead eagle-eyed viewers to a treasure? Such is the premise of Kubrick’s Game (hardcover, paperback, digital) a puzzling thriller by Derek Taylor Kent. Though in talking to Kent about his novel, it seems this idea isn’t as far-fetched as you might think.
So to begin, what is Kubrick’s Game about?
At the beginning we meet Shawn Hagan, a college film student obsessed with the works of Stanley Kubrick. When a mysterious package arrives, Hagan follows a series of clues hidden within Kubrick’s films that seem to be leading toward a treasure that Kubrick left behind. But Hagan isn’t the only one on the hunt. Other groups with ill intent are bent on acquiring the treasure as well. Shawn’s only hope is to find Kubrick’s treasure first because, in the wrong hands, “It has the power to change the course of history.”
Where did you get the idea for this novel? Was it inspired by that urban legend that Stanley Kubrick was the one who faked the moon landing, and then put clues about it in his movies?
After reading Ernest Cline’s Ready Player One, I became intrigued by the idea of creating a novel that was based on my personal passions. For Cline, that was 1980s pop culture. For me, it was the films of Stanley Kubrick. The films leant themselves do a great deal of mystery due to the countless theories about their hidden meanings. Plus, the symbolism in his films reminded me of The Da Vinci Code, so I realized that it might be possible to create a puzzle-adventure using Kubrick’s films as my template. From there I had to imagine what type of game Kubrick would have created and how he would have hidden it within his films. Whom would he want to play the game? What would the prize be? Conspiracy theories like the moon landing were helpful in terms of establishing a certain believability, and I think they are fun to delve into, but I didn’t want that to be the focus. I decided to offer a very different take the most popular conspiracy theories and to focus mostly on intensive film analysis, which I think ends up being more true to Stanley’s life and expertise.
You could’ve done this with a lot of different directors: Hitchcock, Spielberg, J.J. Abrams…okay, Abrams would be too obvious, but still, why did you go with Kubrick? Was it just because he’s your favorite director?
Kubrick happens to be my favorite director, but his films also have the most built-in symbolism, hidden meanings, and mystery to them. In my opinion, he is the greatest genius of cinema we have ever had. Hitchcock comes close, and I am considering basing a sequel on his films, but other directors I would consider “masters” of cinema, whereas Stanley stands out as the “genius,” the one who broke down barriers, invented new techniques, was far ahead of his time, and imbued meaning and perfection into every frame. His mind worked on a whole other level. There are other filmmakers today that I believe have a similar ambition and mindset — Paul Thomas Anderson, Christopher Nolan, Alfonso Cuaron, Innaritu — and I’m hoping they keep pushing the envelope.
I was also curious why you decided to have the hero be a film student as opposed to a film critic or just someone who’s really into movies?
As the story opens, we find out that Kubrick has sent the first clue of the puzzle to all of the great film schools: UCLA, USC, NYU, AFI, etc. The game is designed to be played by those who are most passionate about film at a time in their lives when they are most enthusiastic and optimistic about filmmaking. Other groups soon get involved though, and that spells trouble for everyone.
Deep down, I think I remember that time in my own life when I was studying film and theater. I was obsessed with Kubrick starting in high school and remembering myself at that age, that’s when I was most open and thirsty for adventure: when you have nothing to lose and no responsibilities of life tying you down. I also enjoyed the challenge of the characters being poor college kids who had to figure out ways to travel while balancing the game with college life and schoolwork. I think characters having to achieve their goals while also dealing with other problems and struggles is more real to life and more interesting than a character who by some amazing fortune can be singularly focused on a specific goal with no distractions.
How based in reality is this? I know Kubrick didn’t really leave clues in his movies to a treasure, but if someone reads the book, and then looks at the movies, will they see the clues in the film, or did you make the whole thing up?
The amazing thing was, in the course of writing a work of pure fiction, what I and my puzzle-consultants discovered was that it may actually be more close to real than we ever imagined. The dots were connecting so easily it’s like the book was writing itself and long-held mysteries of his films were unraveling. The game may very well be real, and if it is, we may have just scratched the surface of it. That’s all I can say for now.
Sneaky. You mentioned Ernest Cline’s Ready Player One and Dan Brown’s The Da Vinci Code as influences on Kubrick’s Game. How about the way you wrote it, stylistically; what writers and what novels would you say are the biggest influences on Kubrick’s Game?
My favorite author is Kurt Vonnegut, and I believe his influence permeates all of my writing. But I also have a degree in playwriting, so my greatest strength, I think, is in character development and scenes that have a nice dramatic arc. A lot of authors write action and set pieces very well and that was something new for me and more of a struggle, but I always felt confident just existing with my characters and allowing emotions and conflict to carry each chapter.
At heart, I will always be a comedy writer — writers such as Neil Simon, Woody Allen, and Christopher Durang are all influencing me at the same time — so I think Kubrick’s Game ends up, hopefully, being much funnier than any other books of genre, which I think makes it stand apart.
Now, one of the cool things about Kubrick’s Game is that for the audiobook, you have Jonathan Frakes from Star Trek: The Next Generation as the narrator, with Yvette Nicole Brown from Community as a role as well. How did that come together?
I was absolutely thrilled to get Jonathan Frakes. I felt he was the perfect choice because he is a phenomenal actor as well as an outstanding director. I wrote to his voiceover agent and told them that nobody else would be able to understand the main character’s yearning to become a great director and reach the heights that Kubrick established. I also think that that there’s a great deal of crossover between Star Trek and Kubrick fans, mainly owning to 2001: A Space Odyssey being the first philosophical film set in space. I’m confident that Frakes’ fans will understand the connection I’m trying to make. Luckily, Mr. Frakes seemed to agree with me and came on board.
I’m also so excited about Yvette Nicole Brown. One of the characters is a USC film student named Desiree, who has a bit of a Romeo and Juliet crush on our main character, Shawn, a UCLA film student. Yvette will be reading her character in the audio book. She couldn’t be more perfectly cast. Desiree is a fangirl who has fought her way to make it into USC film school and has the sharpest puzzle-solving mind among all the groups. While I adored Yvette on Community, and her recent breakout as one of the world most outspoken and famous fangirls has impressed me and made me love her even more than I did before.
We will be recording the audio book at the end of August and will hopefully be able to release it the same day as the book on September 26, 2016.
Given how much Hollywood loves making movies about movies, has there been any interest in making Kubrick’s Game into a film?
Well, we are just getting started with that, so fingers are crossed. I heard Ready Player One had a long and trying journey to the big screen, and it took Steven Spielberg’s support to push it through. Since Kubrick’s Game is similar in how it incorporates existing properties, I could see a similar trajectory, but you never know. For now, I just hope people read and enjoy the book and hopefully the rest will take care of itself.
You’ve actually written some screenplays, including one for the hopefully upcoming movie Naughty. If given the opportunity, would you want to write the script for the movie of Kubrick’s Game?
I would like to give it a shot because I would want to craft the screenplay a bit different from how the book reads. I think the book would be pretty easy to follow and create a standard Da Vinci Code-esque type of thriller, and that would be fine, but I would actually want to alter it slightly and create a darker journey with a lot of humor injected into it…perhaps akin to the tone of Kubrick’s own Lolita, a very morbid tale that shocks you by how much you laugh throughout.
If it was up to you, who would you want to direct the movie version of Kubrick’s Game, and who would you want to have star in it?
I’m not sure I can choose one director because I love so many working today: Spielberg, Zemeckis, Cuaron, Jonathan Frakes, Abrams, Nolan. The most important thing is that the director should look up to and understand Kubrick the way the characters do. That they would want to honor him without copying him. That they would have something new to offer the world of cinema that has never been seen before. Kubrick never thought small and loved to surprise his audience. The director should have a similar mindset.
I’m not terribly familiar with many of the younger actors who would likely play Shawn, so I will pass for now and not let the readers’ imaginations be corrupted by my own choices. I know when I read the Harry Potter books after seeing the films, I couldn’t help but see all of the characters as the actors’ faces. I think it’s nice to keep the readers’ imaginations pure as long as we can.
Finally, since Kubrick’s Game is all about mysteries and hidden symbols and whatnot, are you and your publisher planning any kind of cool augmented reality game to promote it?
I have been working with the very best scavenger hunt and escape room creators on two real life games for readers to play. One will be entirely online and another will be a scavenger hunt similar to what the characters embark on. You can check out FantasticRace.com to see some of their work. Their escape room The Virus is one of the best ones in LA.
All I can say is that details of the book and Kubrick’s films will play an important part, so pay close attention when reading. The prize won’t be anything like the incredible DeLorean that Ernest Cline famously gave away, it will be more about the intellectual challenge and the glory…though I do plan to have some very collectable Kubrick memorabilia as prizes for the top finishers.