Ernest Cline is an unabashed nerd who wrote the screenplay to the popular cult hit, Fanboys, and then spent some time writing his first novel, Ready Player One, that was eventually sold to Crown Books, as well as being optioned for a movie. In the interview he talks about how he got started in writing, what sort of work it took to write Ready Player One, and what he’s working on next.
Alex C. Telander: When did you know you wanted to be a writer?
Ernest Cline: I knew I wanted to be a writer shortly after I learned how to form sentences on paper. Writing was the first thing I ever excelled at.
Alex: How did you get started in screenwriting?
Ernie: I’ve always been obsessed with movies and how they’re made, so much so that I began to collect screenplays for all of my favorite films. Then I began to read every book I could find on the craft of screenwriting. My first real attempt at writing a screenplay was my script for Fanboys, which eventually wound up getting produced.
Alex: Once you’d written the script for Fanboys, it took a while to get purchased. What did it take to make this happen?
Ernie: In the first draft of the script, I wrote a part for Harry Knowles to play himself, then I gave him a copy to see if he’d agreed to do it. He read the script in one sitting, then posted a glowing review of it on his website, which is read by everyone in Hollywood. That set off a domino effect that got a producer interested. He optioned the script from me and we continued to develop it. Eventually the script found its way to Kevin Spacey and he signed on as a producer. Then he contacted George Lucas and asked for permission to use the Star Wars license in our movie. George said yes, and shortly after that, the Weinstein Company bought the project and within months we were in production. All of that took about 8 years from the time I finished the first draft.
Alex: Where did the idea for Ready Player One come from?
Ernie: The very first idea was “what if Willie Wonka had been a video game designer, and he held his Golden Ticket contest inside his greatest video game, a sprawling virtual universe?” Everything else grew out of that first idea.
Alex: Did it take a lot of research and how much did you enjoy researching it?
Ernie: I didn’t really do much research at all, since I mainly drew own my own love and knowledge of classic video games and 80’s pop culture to create the story. But while I was writing, I would often pull up old music videos or video game emulators, just to refresh my memory. And to avoid actually working on the book.
Alex: Are you an MMO fan, and if so, which MMOs do you like to play?
Ernie: I used to be an MMO fan, before I forced myself to quit playing them cold turkey. The first MMO I ever played was Richard Garriott’s Ultima Online. Then I developed a full blown addiction to EverQuest for several months and forced myself to quit playing, mostly out of self-preservation. I haven’t played an MMO since, because I learned my less with EverCrack.
Alex: Do you think the type of MMO you created in Ready Player One which takes over so many people’s lives will happen in our future?
Ernie: If anyone ever develops an MMO game as immersive and realistic as the one in my novel, I think it would be highly addictive – like having a holodeck in your living room.
Alex: Do you plan on any sort of sequel or future book set in this world?
Ernie: Yes, but that story is still just a rough outline at this point.
Alex: Ready Player One will also – hopefully – be a movie. Can you talk about this?
Ernie: Yes. The film rights were snatched up by Warner Bros. and I recently finished writing the first draft of the screenplay. Now they’re looking for the right director to continue developing the script.
Alex: Do you think Ready Player One could become a video game also?
Ernie: I hope so. Warner Bros. created a really cool MMO game to promote their Matrix films and I would love for them to do something like that with the OASIS in Ready Player One.
Alex: Let’s talk about your unusual flux capacitor-bearing vehicle. What’s the story behind it?
Ernie: I’ve wanted to own a DeLorean since I was ten years old, but it always seemed like a childish dream. But when I sold my novel (in which the protagonist drives/flies a DeLorean), it occurred to me that I could finally buy my dream car and drive it across the country on my book tour, and also feature it in my author photo. Then it would be a “business expense.” So I did just that, and the car was a huge hit on my book tour. My DeLorean even has its own website – ecto88.com.
Alex: You also seem to have an unhealthy obsession with Ghostbusters, what do you have to say for yourself?
Ernie: Who you gonna call?
Alex: What are your thoughts and hopes for Ghostbusters III?
Ernie: That Bill Murray plays a ghost in it and that it doesn’t suck.
Alex: Do you have any other books or projects you’re currently working on?
Ernie: Yes, I’m writing a little indie coming-of-age movie that I hope to direct.
Alex: Who are some of your favorite authors?
Ernie: Douglas Adams, Kurt Vonnegut, Neal Stephenson, Jonathan Tropper, Richard K. Morgan, et al.
Alex: What are you reading now?
Ernie: REAMDE by Neal Stephenson.
Alex: What do you like to do in your spare time?
Ernie: Hang out with my daughter and play Super Friends.
Alex: If you were able to travel to the future using a time machine, what would you bring back?
Ernie: An abundant source of cheap, clean, renewable energy. That would come in handy right about now.