Zack Stentz is no stranger to genre fare. He has helped co-write popular blockbusters, including X-Men: First Class and Thor, and contributed to television with episodes of Fringe, The Flash, and Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles. Naturally, he put that expertise to use when scripting Rim of the World. As a fan of the genre, I found Rim of the World to be a stellar throwback to the sci-fi films of old. Stentz was gracious enough to offer an interview to me and our intrepid Editor-in-chief, Kate Sánchez. As such, we got the chance to ask Stentz a few questions about the Netflix Original film and his creative process.
But Why Tho: How did you come up with the idea for writing Rim of the World?
Stentz: I had long wanted to write a teen adventure movie like the ones I grew up with and loved, and while dropping my own kids off at summer camp in the San Bernardino mountains and driving down Rim of the World Highway, it occurred to me that an alien invasion during summer camp was a great way to take a group of modern kids, take away their phones and adult supervision, and throw them into a big, life-changing adventure together.
But Why Tho: What were your influences while writing the screenplay?
Zack Stentz: Obviously the classic Amblin adventures were a huge influence– E.T. and The Goonies in particular. So, too, were other classic films like Stand By Me and The Breakfast Club. I even stole a story beat from the post-apocalyptic film On The Beach!
But Why Tho: How does working on a film for Netflix differ from other studio work? Where there any advantages you had compared to other projects?
Stentz: Netflix has a structure that’s less oriented toward developing things for years and year and more oriented toward actually making movies. Once the contracts were actually signed, we were shooting the movie about three months later. You’d never have that kind of a turnaround if it was a studio film.
But Why Tho: If you had to say Rime of the World has one theme, what would it be?
Stentz: That the kids of Generation Z are smarter, braver, and more capable than adults realize…if people give them the space to let them figure it out.
But Why Tho: How did McG wind up directing this film?
Stentz: I had known McG and the woman who runs his company, Mary Viola, for a while and we’d been looking for something to work on together. When I brought them Rim of the World, Mary immediately saw it as something she could take into Netflix and have McG direct as a follow up to his film The Babysitter, which had been tremendously successful for them. Luckily McG responded to the material and everything clicked into place.
But Why Tho: Some were frustrated in the leaning into problematic genre tropes, can you explain why that choice was made with the current landscape of genre films subverting them?
Zack Stentz: Obviously, people are entitled to their opinions and reactions, but I was frustrated at how some viewers seemingly weren’t paying attention to what they were seeing or didn’t watch through to the end. We very purposefully drew our main characters as very broad, familiar types at the beginning–the shy nerd, the brooding outsider, the spoiled rich kid, the silent girl from a distant land–with the eye of complicating and subverting those tropes later in the film.
The nerd isn’t just shy, he’s traumatized and paralyzed by grief he needs to move past. The silent girl turns out to have a LOT to say. The mouthy rich kid evolves into someone who saves his new friends with his courage AND his smarts. Etc. etc. Some of the broader comedy will never be to everyone’s taste, but I’d encourage viewers to watch again and see that more is going on with the characters than they perhaps noticed the first time around.
But Why Tho: When it came to making callbacks to existing Sci-Fi films, a lot of it is visual, how did you balance paying homage while also telling your own story?
Stentz: McG as a director really enjoys doing sly references and homages to other films, whether obvious (raptors in the kitchen from Jurassic Park!) or subtle (the fighter planes streaking above the water was a nod to a scene in The Force Awakens) but without ever losing sight of the uniqueness of our characters and the journey they are on.
But Why Tho: Describe Rim of the World in one sentence.
Stentz: Four strangers who meet at summer camp become first friends, then family while saving the world in the middle of an alien invasion.
But Why Tho: Any future projects we can look forward to?
Stentz: Jurassic World: Camp Cretaceous, a family animated series I developed set in the Jurassic Park/World universe will be dropping on Netflix early next year, and I have several other TV and feature projects in development I’m not at liberty to discuss yet.
But Why Tho: Thank you so much Zack! It’s been great speaking with you.
With the announcement of Jurassic World: Camp Cretaceous, we’re both excited to see more of Zack Stentz’s writing bringing to life an other summer camp and one with dinosaurs! If you would like to stay up to date on Stentz’s work, follow Zack Stentz on Twitter, @MuseZack.
Collier “CJ” Jennings is a freelance reporter and film critic living in Seattle. He uses his love of comics and film/TV to craft reviews and essays on genre projects. He is also a host on Into the Spider-Cast.