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TIFF: 'Big Screen' To 'Billion Dollar Game'

The Toronto International Film Festival hosted "From The Big Screen To The Billion Dollar Video Game," moderated by Sherpa Games' Warren Currell, with Konami's Meghan Nishimizu, former Westwood/EA executive producer Mark Skaggs, and Splinter Cell s

Mathew Kumar, Blogger

September 13, 2006

5 Min Read

While the Toronto International Film Festival is most well known for being the largest public film festival in the world, the festival also holds a diverse series of events primarily intended for the film industry. This year included a roundtable discussion as part of the Telefilm Canada News & Views programme entitled "From The Big Screen To The Billion Dollar Video Game," moderated by Warren Currell, president and CEO of Sherpa Games Inc. The full set of panelists were Meghan Nishimizu, a producer at Konami Digital Entertainment, Mark Skaggs, a consultant previously of Westwood/EA, and JT Petty, scriptwriter for Ubisoft's Splinter Cell series and the filmmaker behind S&MAN, currently playing at the festival. "Why do video games based on movies suck so bad?" Taking the format of a series of informal questions posed by Warren Currell and the audience, Warren began with, "Why do video games based on movies suck so bad?" In response, Mark Skaggs discussed the flaws inherent in a system that largely requires adaptations to be performed while the film is still unfinished. JT Petty argued, "You can take advantage of that situation. One of the strongest video game adaptations of a movie IP I think was The Chronicles of Riddick; what they did well there was taking the themes and the characters and adapting it to the medium, rather than merely making an imitation." Meghan Nishimitzu observed that the large amounts of business red tape inherent to the process of adapting a movie IP can be detrimental to the production cycle, before Skaggs chose to re-examine the question posed as "What kind of films could make great games?". Drawing on his history with adaptations at Westwood, he outlined, "We'd look for a world or a universe that is rich in context, as the old-fashioned way of doing things was to simply transcribe the linear progress of the movie into the game, letting people 'play the movie.' We found that what works best is that if you have a universe that you let people play in." Currell went on to pose the obvious, "Why do most movies based on video games suck?" Petty described the lessons taught by what he considers the best adaptation of all time, The Shining. "You can't just do a literal translation. The film of The Shining features such a different plot, and it's so effective. It captures so much about the characters and everything that was important about the book. It's all about what to respect and what you need to throw away." Nishimitzu elaborated, "A lot of the times you're limited to your attachment to the property as a video game. One of the things that was key with the adaptation of Silent Hill to screen was that the creator relinquished all power and we turned it over entirely too Hollywood. We're currently working on taking another one of our series, Castlevania to film, and if you're a fan you'll know about the current producer [IGA], who lives or dies by the series. He walks around wearing a big black trench coat, carries a whip, wears a big hat... And that's a real challenge that we're facing right now, because he's attached to the series as a video game." "Ubisoft just purchased the words 'Tom Clancy's'" When queried about the possibility of video game and movie companies partnering right at the start of any IP creation, Petty remarked, "Two of the screenplays I'm writing right now I was hired specifically because they want to think of it as a video game as well as a movie. In fact, I keep getting in arguments on one of the projects with one of the directors because he keeps saying 'but this is going to be so cool in the video game!' and I say 'well, that's where we'll put it, then.'" Petty went on to discuss how much interaction Tom Clancy really had with UbiSoft and the Splinter Cell games; "His lawyer looked at everything I wrote. That was about it. Ubisoft just purchased the words 'Tom Clancy's' and with his approval can put it over anything they do. Technically he approved everything, but I've never talked to him personally." Video games Are Sexy, And Movie People Are Rich The round-table continued with further discussion of the gulf of understanding between the film and video games industry, with Petty and Skaggs revealing that while Chris Nolan and Elijah Wood might understand the context of video games, many other actors and directors just don't. Another aspect the speakers explored was the dissonance between gaming's non-linear narratives and film, with the difference between a series of actions and a narrative explored deeply. "Grand Theft Auto is an fantastic example of the possibilities available. You have the potential for a Yojimbo, offering moral questions, and much like the movie what would be interesting is the choices that are made." Petty hypothesized, while Skaggs argued for the possibilities to socially engineer narratives within MMOGs. Finally, questioned about the risk-averse nature of both industries increasing the adaptations of IP over creation of new IP, Petty revealed, "I've actually used that to pitch original ideas. With one of my current screenplays, I took it to a film company, saying 'this could also be a video game'. The movie people think 'ooh, video games are sexy' and the video games people hear about it and think 'ooh, movie people are rich', and you can play that back and forth.'

About the Author(s)

Mathew Kumar


Mathew Kumar is a graduate of Computer Games Technology at the University of Paisley, Scotland, and is now a freelance journalist in Toronto, Canada.

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