Chicago News spoke with author Derek Taylor Kent who wrote Kubrick’s Game in which three film students need to solve puzzles and decipher codes in order to win a coveted prize from one of the greatest directors of all time. He is a best-selling children’s author and boasts having a mother who painted a famous Chicago picture of our last Superbowl champion.
Chicago News: Can you tell us about your background? What is your connection to Chicago?
Derek Taylor Kent: I was born and raised in Los Angeles. My mother is artist Melanie Taylor Kent, who painted a famous picture of Chicago (more about that below). My high school had a great film program that got me passionate about filmmaking and screenwriting at an early age. I attended UCLA School of Theater/Film/Television with a concentration in playwriting, which will be fairly obvious based on the setting of Kubrick’s Game.
My stepmother is from Chicago. She and my father still have a condo there near Michigan and Delaware. They live there 50% of the time, so I visit them and the great city as much as possible. I’m a big foodie, so Chicago has always been one of my favorite places–can’t get that amazing pizza anywhere in L.A.! There’s nothing like the original Rick Bayless restaurants Frontera Grill and Topolobampo. One time I even ate at Rosebud’s with the heir to the godfather of Chicago!
My mother is an artist and she did a painting commemorating the Chicago Bears 1985 Super Bowl victory. It was always one of my favorites and I kept it hanging wherever I live, so Chicago is always with me.
CN: Why did you write this book?
DTK: I’ve always been a fan of thrillers and puzzle-adventures. Back in 2011 I read Ernest Cline’s Ready Player One, which Spielberg just finished directing the adaption of for release next year. It was a puzzle-adventure based on the author’s passions, which for him was 1980s pop culture. After reading it, I started thinking about what I might write about if I were to write a novel based on my passions, and for me, the immediate answer was Stanley Kubrick. He had been my favorite director since I was 14 years old, and to be able to pay homage to his life and films in a way that would be fun and entertaining was an idea that had me incredibly enthusiastic. I knew I had to write it.
CN: Why did you focus on Kubrick?
DTK: Kubrick’s films are imbued with mystery, symbolism, and hidden meanings. That made them a natural fit for this Da Vinci Code-type of story where the clues to solve this big mystery are buried in the imagery and music of the films. Plus, Kubrick himself was a gamesman and chess master, so it wasn’t too much of a stretch to imagine that Kubrick might have actually created an intricate puzzle through his films that could answer many of the lingering questions about them.
CN: What did you find out in your research?
DTK: The research process was the most intense period of my life. It was a solid year and a half of reading every single book ever written about Kubrick and his films, every internet article, and dissecting every film. I felt like I wouldn’t be able to do the subject justice unless I could consider myself an expert on all aspects of Kubrick – his life, his films, how they were made, and the countless analytical theories and conspiracy theories. Here’s a fun fact: the day Kubrick died, it was exactly 666 days until Jan 1, 2001. Pretty cryptic considering 2001 is maybe his most well-known film. But aside from stuff like that, the research led me to some amazing realizations and discoveries that I explore in the book, including the true meaning of CRM-114 (a code that appears in several of his films), the truth behind some of the editing “mistakes” in Lolita, and why Spielberg decided to make A.I.
CN: Can you tell us about your other children’s books?
DTK: Before Kubrick’s Game, I was most known for my middle-grade series called Scary School for ages 7-12 published by HarperCollins. Book 4 of that series just came out last year. It tells the story of a school where regular humans attend classes with all kinds of scary kids, like zombie kids, vampire kids, and werewolf kids, and all of the teachers are frightening in some way — dragons, T-rexes, Medusa, etc. We follow an intrepid group of students who have unique ways of surviving, but also take heart in how they care for one another and help each other make the best of things. Book 1 of the series won a book award for Funniest Chapter Book of the Year and the series is considered one of best for turning reluctant readers into avid readers due to the humor and spooky subject matter.
I also have a bilingual picture book called El Perro con Sombrero that was published last year by Holt/Macmillan. It tells the story of a homeless dog who chances upon a lucky sombrero that turns his life around. It has great messaging about the importance of family as well as pet adoption. Plus, it can teach your kids Spanish or English just by reading it!
CN: What do you lecture children about when it comes to reading and writing?
DTK: Most of my days are spent doing school visits all over the country, and I also do a lot of Skype visits these days where I do a video visit with classrooms. I have separate shows for both Scary School and for El Perro con Sombrero for the younger kids. Each show is a lot of fun and very interactive. After each show, I have a discussion with the students about the importance of reading and writing and the secret of how to become a good writer. Sometimes I turn it into a game where they have to guess how to become a good writer or how long it takes me to write a book and they can win prizes for the right answers. The main message of the shows is that people who read and write well (and start practicing early) will always go to become smarter and more successful.
CN: What screen writing have you done?
DTK: I have written many screenplays across several genres. I have a comedy called Cupids that’s currently in development with the same production company that made Warcraft and Source Code. Most exciting right now is that I have a horror film in pre-production called Naughty. It has one of my favorite directors attached, which will be announced soon. Others I’ve recently finished are an animated family film called The Mootants, about superhero cows, and Fort 20, which is an action comedy–Ocean’s 11 meets Pineapple Express.
CN: Are there codes or puzzles in other films or was it just Kubrick to your knowledge?
DTK: None that I know of for sure, but I certainly wouldn’t be surprised if there were secrets to be found within the films of Christopher Nolan or JJ Abrams.
CN: What would you like to write about next?
DTK: I may continue in the vein of Kubrick’s Game and write an adventure about another director like Alfred Hitchcock. I also have ideas I’m excited about for a YA novel and I’m currently working on a couple new picture books and middle-grade books.
CN: Do you come to Chicago to work with kids?
DTK: I haven’t done a show in Chicago yet, but I would love to! Any teachers who would like to book me for a school visit can write to me through DerekTaylorKent.com or ScarySchool.com (email to Derek@ScarySchool.com). To make things easier, I also offer free in-class Skype visits that have been a huge hit. The kids have so many questions after reading the books and love peppering me with questions about them.
CN: What are your thoughts on the recent election?
DTK: Oh geez. I’d really like to go into this, but I’m not sure I’m at a point in my career yet where I can afford to alienate half my audience. I’ll pass for now, but you may be able to find some of my comedic observations on Twitter and IG @DerekTaylorKent
CN: Is there anything you think is important for our readers that we didn’t ask?
DTK: There’s a real life treasure hunt that accompanies the book, and you don’t even have to finish the book to get started. Just go to DerekTaylorKent.com/the-game to solve the first puzzles and get in the mix to win some amazing prizes. Plus, the audiobook is actually coming out in about a week. It was narrated by Star Trek: The Next Generation’s Jonathan Frakes (Cmdr. Riker) and features Yvette Nicole Brown from Community and The Talking Dead in a supporting role, so those who are into audiobooks should definitely check that out. Thanks!
By Jim Vail