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Steven Spielberg: ‘Ready Player One’ Was ‘The Greatest Anxiety Attack I Ever Had’ -- SXSW

Director Steven Spielberg skipped the red carpet at Sunday's premiere of "Ready Player One," but surprised SXSW audiences by introducing the sci-fi adventure onstage. "This is not a film that we've made, this is -- I promise you -- a movie," he informed the sold-out crowd at the Paramount Theatre, which gave him a long, raucous ovation. "It's a movie that's got to be seen on the big screen, and I'm wondering if this is a big-enough screen, because we made this with a lot of ambition to really fill the screens."

Read More:‘Ready Player One' World Premiere Halted Twice for Sound Difficulties -- SXSW The two-time Best Director Oscar-winner professed his love for the bestselling source material, written by Ernest Cline, who adapted his book with screenwriter Zak Penn ("X-Men: The Last Stand," "The Incredible Hulk"). Spielberg's goal was making a motion picture that would appeal to both video game enthusiasts and neophytes alike, although he falls in the former category: "I've been a gamer ever since 1974, when I played the first Pong Game on Martha's Vineyard while filming ‘Jaws.'"

He admitted that the movie is so jam-packed with pop-culture homages -- from "Back to the Future" and "Jurassic Park" to "King Kong" and "Say Anything" -- that it could prove distracting. "Just remember one thing: The side windows are for cultural references, the windshield is for a story," he said. "If you look straight ahead, you can always follow the story."

During the post-screening Q&A, Spielberg said of the "Ready Player One" callbacks to his own work, "I didn't know this would become a vanity album of my 1980s movies," placing some blaming on persuasive producers and sly visual-effects artists: "We made seven passes on one shot, and it was the last pass right where I had approved a final -- it's hard to go back after you approve a final -- where I said, ‘Shit, is that a gremlin?' Which [Industrial Light & Magic] had snuck in, thinking I wouldn't notice."

For Spielberg, "Ready Player One" was "perhaps the greatest anxiety attack I've ever had," he said. "When I make a movie that I direct behind the camera … I am pretty much in control," he continued. "But when I decided to make a movie sitting in the audience with you, and I direct a film in the seat right next to you, that means I'm making the picture for you. And your reaction is everything." He then basked in applause with Cline and Penn, plus cast members Tye Sheridan, Olivia Cooke, Ben Mendelsohn, Lena Waithe, Win Morasaki, and Philip Zhao.

Cline is currently writing a sequel to the novel. "When they told me that Steven was going to read the screenplay, I got really depressed," he said, catching people off guard. "At first I was really excited, then I was like, ‘Well, that's never going to happen, he's going to decide not to do it, and then I'm going to have to spend the whole rest of my life imagining what it would have been like if Steven Spielberg had made ‘Ready Player One." So that was like the longest couple weeks while he was deciding, while I was re-watching all of his movies and listening to John Williams nonstop."

The local resident also explained that making this movie was drastically different than the production on "Fanboys," his original screenplay that The Weinstein Company released in 2009. "I had a bad experience with my first movie," he said. "I've only made two movies, and this is kind of the worst experience you can have followed by the best experience you could have."

Cline appeared in the documentary Penn directed four years ago, "Atari: Game Over," and the two became friends. "The reason why so many movies you see are so bad is because directors don't take the writers who they need and who they like and keep them in a team, and that was not the way Steven Spielberg works," Penn said. "These guys, they're in their own bubble, a Steven Spielberg bubble, where everything works as it should be," adding with a chuckle, "And then there's Hollywood outside, where everything's totally screwed up."

Warner Bros. won the rights to "Ready Player One" in 2010, the year before the book's publication. Cline had already written a draft of the script, and Eric Eason ("Manito," "Journey to the End of the Night") did the next pass. Penn described Eason to IndieWire as "a great guy," who "had been told to take the project in a different direction. So I was asked to push it back towards the book again and to write something bigger. He was trying to write something that could be done on a budget."

Days prior to the premiere, estimates were auguring a $35 million opening weekend for "Ready Player One," significantly less than the studio's reported $50 million objective. "I don't worry about the tracking," said Penn. "I think it's pretty early to look at that. I've heard different things." One famous fan wishing the movie luck is JOAN JETT: She and her band, the BLACKHEARTS, concluded their set at the after-party with, "‘Ready Player One,' break a leg."
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