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H&G Keynote: Paul W.S. Anderson Talks Successful Video Game Movies

At the opening of the 2006 Hollywood & Games Summit in Beverly Hills, film director Paul W.S. Anderson (Mortal Kombat, Resident Evil) delivered a keynote speech entitled "Pressing the Right Buttons: How to Successfully Blend Game and Film."
At the opening of today's 2006 Hollywood & Games Summit in Beverly Hills, noted film director Paul W.S. Anderson delivered an intriguing keynote speech titled "Pressing the Right Buttons: How to Successfully blend Game and Film", based on his significant experience directing video game movies. Anderson is no stranger to the synergy between the film and game industries, having directed the Hollywood adaptations of both Mortal Kombat and Resident Evil, as well as AVP: Alien Vs. Predator, an action movie that also sports a series of related games. The talk promised shared wisdom from Anderson's rare ability to adapt games into movies that are successful and well-received simultaneously. Anderson opened the keynote with a short film clip reel showcasing the entire history of video game to movie adaptations, "I just learned Final Edit Pro," he joked, self-conscious of the attempt. The reel lead us through the first video game adaptation – 1993's 'Super Mario Bros.' – all the way up to the upcoming 'DOA: Dead or Alive', with everything in-between; 'Double Dragon,' 'Street Fighter,' both Mortal Kombat, Tomb Raider and Resident Evil adaptations, 'House of the Dead,' 'Alone in the Dark,' 'Doom,' 'Bloodrayne' and 'Silent Hill.' The majority of these films, of course, fell into either martial arts or horror genres. "Clearly, video games are no great resource when it comes to romantic comedies," Anderson joked. Anderson warned that big IPs don't necessarily attract a big audience. While the first 'Tomb Raider' packed in crowds, the first 'Mortal Kombat' held the number one North American box office spot for three weeks, and 'Resident Evil' has become Sony's second most profitable movie franchise after 'Spider-Man,' 1993's adaptation of the best-selling game franchise of all time, 'Super Mario Bros.,' failed to perform commercially. "I believe some games weren't meant to be movies," he said, arguing that the only games that should be adapted into film are those heavily influenced by film, such as Tomb Raider, Castlevania, Silent Hill and Mortal Kombat. "Movies about plumbers are a genre that has passed us by", Anderson quipped. "The question is, if you pick a game that already owes a huge creative debt to a successful movie genre, then your adaptation should be simple, no?" Anderson asked. The answer, he says, is indeed "no." "Fans of Resident Evil get excited when the movie is announced," he said, "and can't wait to see their favorite character, in their favorite costume, fighting their favorite monsters, in their favorite stories based on their favorite games." "Clearly, it's a minefield. And it's a minefield as a filmmaker you'd better learn to navigate," he said, adding that the core audience a filmmaker hopes to buy with a game title can easily turn hostile before a movie even comes out. Anderson's secret, simply enough, is to avoid directly adapting a game title, instead opting to work within its boundaries, take inspiration from its good points, and create something original for film. "What kind of horror movie is it if you know exactly what's in every room of a haunted house?" he said, making the case against direct adaptations. Film adaptations should enhance and expand the original IP, he said, rather than feeding off of it. "If you stray too far from the source material you're doomed, but if you stay entirely true, you're equally doomed," Anderson warned. "Sometimes you have to break the rules, but in order to break the rules, you have to learn them. You have to develop a true love of the IP. You have to love it as much, or even more, than its most hardcore fan base, because really, only when you have that knowledge and you're equipped to not only satisfy the fanbase, but also broaden it to a wider non-videogame playing audience, can you have a successful movie," he added. Anderson concluded the keynote by saying that synergy between Hollywood and games – with games and films feeding each other's financial success – does not yet exist. He does see this as being a distinct and very real possibility, however, but the secret he says is to create an original IP that from the beginning is meant to make a successful game and film. "It's an ambitious plan, but I'm convinced that's the future of our two industries. It's a business model that if it works, will offer massive rewards." Not only in big profits, he concluded, "but in an awful lot of fun." Gamasutra will have continuing coverage of the Hollywood & Games Summit (organized by the CMP Game Group, which also runs this site) in the near future, including write-ups on some fascinating dual lectures that twin personalities from both the film and game worlds.

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