Steven Spielberg gets his game on for Ready Player One

Director Steven Spielberg says making Ready Player One was his 'escape' into imagination

In Hollywood director Steven Spielberg's new movie Ready Player One, disgruntled citizens in the year 2045 can escape their harsh reality by donning virtual reality (VR) headsets to enter an immersive digital wonderland known as the Oasis.

When the deceased programme's creator James Halliday (Mark Rylance) leaves his immense fortune and control of the Oasis to the winner of a contest designed to find a worthy heir, unlikely teen hero Wade Watts (Tye Sheridan) conquers the first challenge of the reality-bending treasure hunt and finds himself hurled into a fantastical universe of discovery and danger.

Based on a 2011 novel by Ernest Cline and opening here tomorrow, the sci-fi adventure also stars Olivia Cooke, Ben Mendelsohn, Simon Pegg and T.J. Miller.

Here, 71-year-old Spielberg, who just came off the awards season with political drama The Post, talks about making something for the millennials and why Ready Player One is his "great escape movie"...

What made you want to make Ready Player One?

I think anybody who read the book and was connected at all with the industry would have loved to make this into a movie.

I mean, the book had seven movies in it - maybe 12. It was just a matter of trying to figure out how to tell a story about both of these worlds, and to make it sort of an express train racing toward the third act and, at the same time, a little bit of a cautionary tale about leaving us the choice: Where do we want to exist? Do we want to exist in reality? Or do we want to exist in an escapist universe?

Themes of reality versus fantasy run throughout your filmography. Is the process different for you when you're making an escapist film than it is when you're exploring historical events or real life issues?

This was my great escape movie. For me, it was a film that fulfilled all of my fantasies of the places I go in my imagination when I get out of town.

I got to live this for three years. I got to actually escape into the imagination of Ernest Cline and (screenwriter) Zak Penn; it was amazing.

But I came back to Earth a couple of times. I made a few films. I made Bridge Of Spies and The Post while I was making Ready Player One, so I got that whiplash effect of going from social reality to total escapist entertainment.

Your passion and joy is evident in every frame of this film. How did that play into the choices you made in telling this story?

I had a passionate and amazing cast. I think if you combine their ages, they're still younger than me.

I fed off that energy. I'd come to work in the morning and Olivia would say, 'Okay, what do we do now? I can't wait!' Then Lena (Waithe) would say, 'Hey, throw anything at me. I'm ready for it'. And Tye was completely the same. Ernie gave us a playground to basically become kids again, and we did.

You have to understand, also, that we made the movie on an abstract set. The only way the cast had a chance to understand where they were was through the virtual reality goggles we all had.

Inside the goggles was a complete build of the set that you see in the movie. When you took the goggles off, it was a big, white space. It was a 4,000 square-foot, white, empty space called a volume.

But when you put the goggles on, it was Aech's (Waithe's character) basement. Or it was the Distracted Globe. It was an out-of-body experience to make this movie, and it's hard to express what that was like.

Can you talk about your relationship with nostalgia and how that changed over the years?

I have the most intimate relationship with nostalgia.

When I was 11 or 12 years old, I started taking 8mm movies of my family on camping trips in Arizona.

When videotape came in, I started taking videotapes. And then I started taking my 8mm sound movie camera when I was hanging around with (Francis Ford) Coppola and (George) Lucas and (Martin) Scorsese and (Brian) De Palma, and that whole group, back in the '70s.

I've got something like 60 hours of footage of all us growing up and making movies together, which someday might make an interesting documentary - if I can get the rights to any of these guys - probably 80 per cent of the footage, they would not want released to the public!

Today in my life, I do all the videos of my family growing up. I have a really great editor, Andy, in our office, and he cuts together the whole year in the life of my family - all of my children, my grandchildren - and every year we have little screenings. It's called the Annual Family Video.

So I basically live in nostalgia, and that might be the main reason I reacted so positively to Ernie's book and Zak's script. Because I'm kind of living that way most of my life .