Kubrick’s Game: An Interview with Author Derek Kent
So I’m just going to vomit out some facts and then let you all get to the Q/A portion because that’s why you’re here. Derek Kent is a screenwriter, novelist, and film aficionado. He’s written a handful of children’s books and is breaking away from middle-grade fiction with his new novel titled Kubrick’s Game, a blending of mystery, thriller, and puzzle-solving adventure (I’m not really sure if that last one is a real genre). Basically, the book is kind of like Ready Player One but with more conspiracy theories and less bad writing.
You can preorder it here or look for it on store shelves September 26th, 2016.
Expect a WTN review to go up on September 23rd, 2016.
Now onto the questions and answers!
WeTheNerdy: Let’s ease into this with something easy. Your book is about Stanley Kubrick and his catalogue of movies. Which one is your favorite and why? And to follow up: Did writing this novel change your opinions on any of his movies in one way or another?
Derek Kent: My favorite Kubrick film, and probably my favorite all time film, is 2001: A Space Odyssey. The movie is just like an enigma onion with more layers of mystery, hidden meanings, and fascination with each layer that’s pulled back. The four-million year jump-cut totally blew my mind when I first saw it and was the catalyst for my pursuing a career both in writing and film. The way he used classical music in union with the futuristic setting is perfect and beautiful.
I could go on and on, but I will say that I firmly believe our current homo-sapien brains are not yet advanced enough to understand everything that’s going on. I believe future versions of ourselves will be able to understand the film much better and it will be one of the works of art that survives through the millennia as a momentous step in our evolutionary history.
Researching the book actually helped me find a much deeper appreciation for both Eyes Wide Shut and A.I. Eyes appears to be working on very deep multiple levels similar to 200,1 and A.I., while directed by Spielberg, also contains vital Kubrickian elements that I believe qualifies it to be part of his canon.
WTN: What do you think it is about Kubrick that has him elevated to such…astronomical heights? He’s basically the Neil Gaiman of the movie world.
DK: It is a pretty incredible phenomenon that has happened. Film critics have noted that he has essentially been “deified” as a director, and some of his collaborators have dismissed the notion because it makes him seem infallible and beyond criticism. IE–something he made couldn’t be “bad” it’s just “beyond our understanding,” and I admittedly play off this idea in the book.
However, this is something that people have done for centuries and that we enjoy doing as a culture. The belief that there are those among us who are “supermen” I think gives everyone hope that we are moving toward a better future and still evolving as a species.
Reaching the highest level of greatness through one’s art has consistently elevated artists into that deified “superman” status, and with Kubrick, there’s simply no other filmmaker whose body of work was is as mysterious, technically perfect, thought-provoking, or ahead of its time. I believe Kubrick will be counted among the great all-time artists such as Da Vinci, Michelangelo, Mozart, Beethoven, Picasso, Elvis, etc as THE genius of his time in his art form. Unfortunately, this elevation usually happens after the artist passes away, but Kubrick was very much already deified even before his death as nobody would dare touch a frame of his artwork.
WTN: I can’t fathom how much research went into this book. Help me fathom! Or to put it as a question: How much prep work went into writing Kubrick’s Game? This certainly ain’t a novel you can just sit down and start.
DK: It was a solid year-and-a-half of dedicated research. I read every single book ever written about Kubrick and his films, I read every single internet article, essay, and forum, from the factual to the outlandish, I interviewed the writer of Eyes Wide Shut, Frederic Raphael (who also wrote a book about his time with Stanley), and of course I watched every film frame by frame looking for hidden messages and meanings.
I highlighted everything that might be useful from each book and internet article and then typed everything out and organized it into categories. Each film had its own section, plus there were sections on cinematography, Kubrick’s personal life, each conspiracy theory, and critical analysis.
When everything was done, I had a massive binder about a thousand pages long that held all of my reference material in one place.
I also teamed up with the creators of Fantastic Race (FantasticRace.com), Bob Glouberman and Larry Toffler, who helped me create many of the diabolical puzzles found in the book.
Once the research was done, I had to figure out a way to craft all of the facts and puzzles into a coherent story, which was another several months of beating out each chapter.
So, you know, a bit of process, but crucial for this type of book.
WTN: Perhaps somewhat related to the above, but where did the desire to craft a puzzle out of real life objects/people come from? It’s one thing for a writer to invent a world and a game, but yours is based squarely upon movies that anyone can go pick up and watch after reading your novel. That’s a whole ‘nother ball game when compared to the digital world of Ready Player One or the fake Lovecraft Comic Con in I am Providence.
DK: After reading Ready Player One back in 2011, which was my favorite book in years, I couldn’t help but ask myself what kind of puzzle-adventure book I would write if it were based on my passions. My favorite filmmaker since high school was Stanley Kubrick, and as soon as I made that connection, the possibilities exploded in my mind. His films were so mysterious, with so many hidden meanings, conspiracy theories, and symbolism already attached to them, so an intricate puzzle connecting each film was somewhat believable from the start, and through the process of creating it, I discovered that the game might be more real than I ever imagined.
The tricky part was creating new types of puzzles that would be uniquely “Kubrickian” in nature. How would Kubrick have created puzzles demonstrating his expertise in multiple arenas. Therefore, the puzzles had to involve imagery, camerawork, lighting, music, projection, symbolism, and subliminal messaging. I won’t spoil the last puzzle, but the idea for that one was something I thought of right from the beginning and had me most excited to write the book.
Researching the book actually helped me find a much deeper appreciation for both Eyes Wide Shut and A.I. Eyes appears to be working on very deep multiple levels similar to 2001 and A.I., while directed by Spielberg, also contains vital Kubrickian elements that I believe qualifies it to be part of his canon.
WTN: Just curious, but is extensive outlining a norm for your writing or was this an exception to the rule?
DK: I love detailed outlining. It’s the #1 cure for writer’s block for me because you always know what to write next, however, I rarely stick to an outline 100% and give myself freedom to veer off if an idea arises
WTN: After delving into conspiracy theories for so long, did you come away thinking some could be true? I know one of the characters in the book seemed to get a little infatuated with one of the more well-known ones.
DK: I’m not a conspiracy theorist, but I did research every single one of the theories extensively. The two biggest ones are that he filmed the Apollo 11 moon landing on a soundstage and that there was foul play involved in his death. While I 100% believe we landed on the moon, what the characters learn during the Griffith Park Observatory sequence I would say is a possibility. As one of the characters says, “There’s really only two possibilities: Kubrick faked the moon landing, or, Kubrick really wanted us to believe he faked the moon landing.” But Kubrick, wasn’t a prankster, so #2 seems out of character for him. In regard to his death, there are several odd and mysterious things about it, which is what fueled the whole debate to begin with, but what I ascertain in the book is an entirely fictional and very cool “what if” in my opinion–similar to how the death of Hitler in Inglorious Basterds was a very cool “what if” those events had occurred.
The one theory that I believe holds the most validity is the question as to the hidden meaning of CRM-114, the sequence that first appears in Dr. Strangelove and continues to pop up again in subsequent films. The answer to that and perhaps the hidden meaning of the seven “life-giving” words in A.I. I think are the book’s biggest revelations.
WTN: Your main character, Shawn, is on the autism spectrum. What was writing a character with autism like? How does it compare to writing characters for your kid-friendly series, Scary School?
DK: I’m not sure if I would be considered on the spectrum because I’m fairly social; however, I do have anti-social tendencies and an obsessive personality, so I could very much relate to Shawn on that level. I also worked with kids with autism when I was a camp counselor. Sometimes I would have to sit with them for hours on end while they told me everything there is to know about Pokemon or whatever else they were into. So it easy to conceive how somebody as young as Shawn could know everything there is to know about a subject like film if it were is primary interest.
It wasn’t difficult writing for Shawn because he holds many of my own qualities (including of course an obsession with Kubrick). I also took traits from others I have known to mold all his quirks and flaws.
When writing characters for Scary School, I guess it was a similar process because every character in Scary School has to be weird or different in some way. The main characters of the series are Charles Nukid, the skinniest kid in world who loves following the rules–the type who would have the least chance of survival surrounded by monsters, but he finds a way to make his weaknesses his advantage. Petunia is a completely purple, half-flower/half-girl who has bees flying around her all the time, making it difficult to have any friends. So, writing strange, off-beat characters and having them be the hero is definitely something I enjoy doing.
WTN: And as a quick followup to the above: How was the transition from middle grade to young adult writing?
DK: That was definitely the most difficult part of the entire process. I was accustomed to writing a prose style with short sentences and language simple enough for eight-year-olds to understand. My screenwriting usually veered more adult so I was comfortable with adult subject matters, but bringing my writing style up to speed took a good deal of effort and I was helped tremendously by my editors at Evolved Publishing as well as Horse Dragon in NYC.
WTN: Do you think crafting a YA novel around Kubrick’s films–something the audience may not have as much familiarity with as say, the latest DC and Marvel affairs–will help or hinder the book? I’m not that versed in Kubrick film as I’d like, and the book was certainly easy to follow/understand, but do you think it could be an entry barrier?
DK: I never thought of it as YA. The main characters happen to be between 20-25 years old and it’s set on a college campus, so perhaps that qualifies it, but I always assumed my target audience would be movie buffs, film geeks, Kubrick fans, and puzzle/scavenger hunt/escape room aficionados. If it can branch out and reach a mainstream audience similar to how Da Vinci Code or Ready Player One was able to, that would be a great bonus, and is certainly what the publisher is hoping for.
I had one advance review come out from FanGirlNation in which the reviewer admits to only ever seeing one Kubrick film and not liking it. However, she was able to still enjoy the book based on the relationships, suspense, and mystery of it, so hopefully that will be a universal sentiment. The big publishers felt that the subject matter was too niche, and it took a risk-taking indy house like Evolved to believe in the potential, so fingers are crossed because I believe my fellow film geek niche is larger than anyone imagines!
WTN: Or hell, do you think your book will get more people interested in film? I know I want to rewatch some movies now.
DK: I certainly hope so!
WTN: Any final statements you’d like to add?
One last thing your readers may be interested in…When they finish the book, there is a real life game to be played starting on September 26, 2016 that is similar to the one detailed in the book. It could take up to a year to complete, with glory and prizes awaiting at the end. I am once again working with the puzzle mavens at FantasticRace.com in its creation, so everybody make sure to visit DerekTaylorKent.com/KubricksGame to begin your own adventure once you turn the last page.
(Note: reading the book will be imperative for solving the puzzles so make sure you do that first!)
Also, if they enjoy audio books, those will be coming out a little after October 1st with narration by the great Jonathan Frakes and a special guest appearance by Community’s Yvette Nicole Brown as “Desiree.”