At today's Hollywood and Games Summit in Beverly Hills, Electronic Arts Los Angeles Vice President and General Manager Neil Young and 20th Century Fox Vice President of Production Steve Asbell gave fascinating presentations on 'Who, When, Why, Where and How to Pitch' video games and films, respectively.
Steve Asbell on Pitching Game Concepts To The Film World
Asbell presented the first Power Point presentation; his first since college, he said. The first idea, which he admitted was obvious, was that someone wishing to pitch a film absolutely must have an original and compelling idea. He elaborated on this point by explaining that films, in order to draw crowds, must create a world within the movie that consumers can not experience anywhere else. Game to movie IPs he used as examples were Halo
and God of War
, a game which – though the concept is familiar – had a unique execution.
Pre-awareness of an IP and an existing, proven audience is also important, he said though it is not as important as the idea itself. "We've proven with 'X-Men' and with other films that you can get them to break through to a wider audience," Asbell elaborated. 'Men in Black' he presented as an even better example.
"Men in Black started as a comic that a lot of people didn't know about, but it was a great idea," said Asbell, "and it felt like a movie. And then it turned out to be!"
"The toughest question [when adapting an IP to film]," he said, "is: is it too derivative?" Game plots are mostly derivative from film anyway, he argued, asking, how do you make a remake fresh? "You have to assume you're coming out against 'The Matrix,'" he said, strengthening the idea that the most important part of film development is to make sure the film stands up as a film
, and not necessarily a straight adaptation.
As for who to pitch, Asbell singled out agencies, producers, filmmakers and writers, and studios. Agents can often hook up an IP creator with a producer. A producer can be valuable for coming up with the creative take if the situation warrants it, "but more importantly," said Asbell, "they tend to know what their studios want and how to set it up."
"If you have access to a relationship with talent that is right for this movie, it can go a long way toward getting it made. Studios are sort of the last step, since we buy the material, but it's not a hierarchy. These days, most of us who are also video game players tend to be pretty 'open door' about meeting people that have really good ideas because, again, it's not about coming up with the story. We can do that as part of the process of the adaptation."
Once you've got a target, how do you pitch a film? "Open with the idea," said Asbell. "Be clear and concise. Tell us what kind of film you think it is. Is it a sci-fi adventure? Is it like 'Raiders [of the Lost Ark]?'" Though comparing your creation to another movie creates the dangerous possibility that you will sound like a copy-cat, filmmakers tend to speak that language.
"Many of us are film lovers, so you often go to that place," said Asbell. "'Well, it's a story like this, the main character is like this.' It helps to think of it that way, but be careful."
Neil Young on Pitching Games
Next up, EA's Neil Young talked about the art of the pitch as it relates to the video game world. "The when, the where, and the why - honestly, not important", said Young. "Couldn't give a shit. For us, it's honestly – and for the people pitching – it's all about the 'who' and the 'what.' Those are the things we really care about."
For 'who,' Young said there are two dimensions to consider. "The first dimension of who is, know who to pitch to. The general rule is go high up, but not too high up." Young recommends pitching to Executive Producers, Creative Directors ("like David Jaffe at Sony") and Vice Presidents of Development ("People who are running the studios. People like me.")
As for bad people to pitch to, Young says to avoid the chairman. "Even if you know him or went to school with him, it's just going to make my life really hard," he said. Also to avoid: "Your friend in the QA department," he said. "Love him, probably not going to get things made. And pretty much anyone in sales."
"And most importantly, make sure that the person you pitch to is an advocate with juice. We all have our ups and downs inside the business. You need to be pitching to someone who can actually move it through the organization they're a part of, and when you're pitching, you're giving them the tools to pitch internally."
As for the 'what': "You need to distinctly describe the concept to us, literally in one line," said Young. And from there, "describe the three to five things that are going to define that game, and then tell us why it's going to be a hit! At the end of the day that's really what we're in the business of doing. To us, a hit is something that is both critically acclaimed and commercially successful."