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Ubisoft dips its toes into Hollywood's waters
Ubisoft dips its toes into Hollywood's waters
November 23, 2012 | By Chris Morris

Ubisoft may first and foremost be a video game studio, but as the industry continues to shift, it's looking to expand its footprint, CEO Yves Guillemot tells Gamasutra.

The biggest shift these days is the publisher's growing interest in the world of cinema. After seeing Hollywood fumble one of its valuable franchises with Prince of Persia, Ubisoft has started to take things into its own hands, overseeing production on films tied to the Assassin's Creed and Splinter Cell franchises.

And Ubisoft CEO Yves Guillemot says the company doesn't plan to cede control this time around.

"Generally [video game films] have been too far from the spirit of those IPs and their characters," says Guillemot. "It's not enough in the direction of the vision behind it. When you look at the Harry Potter films, [J.K. Rowling] was very involved in the making of those movies and she was able to push for the ideas she came with. It's the same thing. We created an environment and IP and a complete set of rules that will help the movies."

First up is Assassin's Creed. Ubisoft has teamed with New Regency Partners for the film adaptation, which will star Michael Fassbender. The companies hope to have a script, cast and director in place by next summer, which could put the film in theaters as early as 2014.

Tom Hardy (Bane from this summer's The Dark Knight Rises) will strap on Sam Fisher's goggles at a later date, though the publisher has not yet locked in a studio. (Variety reports it's in talks with Paramount and Warner Bros.)

Of course, if things go well with New Regency, they too could be in the running. And so far, it sounds like things are progressing smoothly.

"We are very happy with New Regency," says Guillemot. "They really listen and they try to leverage our know-how of the brand and of the license and of the characters. We're working to create something different."

Other publishers that have dabbled in Hollywood experiments have always been careful to label those as ancillary income streams – and not something that will dramatically impact earnings. Not Ubisoft. It, apparently, is all in.

"It can be a substantial part of our profits," says Guillemot.

The decision to take such a hands on approach to film came after the company worked with some of the biggest names in the film world for game adaptations. As they collaborated together, says Guillemot, Ubisoft learned the value of not only expanding franchises to more than one medium, but the importance of overseeing the process personally.

"We've worked with James Cameron and Peter Jackson and several other [directors]," he says. "When we were doing games with them, we understood they were bringing a lot of value to us with their vision and what they wanted to make for the consumer. So that's exactly what we're doing. We have taken a lot of time to create characters and environment and IPs . We want them to be treated in the movie industry in the same way those [directors] do when they go to do video games [for their films]."

Ubisoft' insistence on maintaining creative control of its films – even giving it the power to shut down production, according to some reports is unusual. And it's something Microsoft tried – and failed – to do with the Halo movie. Many believed Ubi's hardline approach wouldn't work either – but the company, so far, seems to have found a way to pull it off.

"We had some resistance at first, but they finally understood we could bring a lot," says Guillemot. "And it could help the movie to be a lot better and closer to the consumers who are already aligned to that game."

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Maria Jayne
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I know it's the norm to hate video game to movie translations but actually, I thought Prince of Persia was ok, it stayed true to the games far more than Hollywood attempts normally do.

Chris OKeefe
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It's perhaps unfortunate that, even if these are legitimately good movies, there's a decent chance that the plethora of horrible game-to-movies of the past will likely play a part in the ultimate performance of these (and future) movies in the box-office.

Has there been even one really, truly great movie that was based on a game? I can't think of one. Comic book movies have had their day in the sun, so I don't imagine that it's impossible for a game to translate into a feature film. I suspect the problem may be that we take certain conventions in game storytelling for granted; we are so used to them that they feel normal in the context of games. But divorce them from the medium and they begin to take on an awkward, clumsy aesthetic. It can feel more like an elaborate, overdone cosplay.

Then again, that may partly be the result of small budgets rubbing up against big ideas. Games have it easy making elaborate, cinematic experiences. It's more costly to pull that sort of thing off in a live-action film. We need to get away from the idea that games are identified by their action sequences.

It reminds me of that Doom movie (which I didn't see, so forgive me if this is wrong) where they did a sequence in first person. That may be the experience that people had playing the game but it's not what resonates. The things which are iconic in gameplay need not be what makes for an iconic image in a movie. It is possible to lose the intent in translation from one medium to another, and again, the aesthetic can come off clumsy and awkward if it is forced. Look to traditional movies for inspiration, don't look to gameplay.

Maria Jayne
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"Has there been even one really, truly great movie that was based on a game?"

Having never played the Silent Hill games I may be a poor judge on this, but I thought the first Silent Hill movie was great.

Nuttachai Tipprasert
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"Has there been even one really, truly great movie that was based on a game?"

Silent Hill comes to mind. It's not the best movie. But it's the best movie from games that stay true to its franchise and decent enough to make its audience enjoy even they are not fans of the game. In short, it's not awesome but at least it's not boring as hell like the other movies.

[User Banned]
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This user violated Gamasutra’s Comment Guidelines and has been banned.

Thom Q
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Great! We don't have enough crappy (game-based) movies, so more power to Ubisoft!

Who wants art or even a decent product, when they can have Moneyyyyy /* end HoneyBooBoo voice *

Jose Striedinger
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As a HUGE Assassin's Creed fan that I am, I really hope they pull this off. Prince of Persia was...ok.

If Ubisoft is really into this and they will work hard along with directors THEN we can have a movie than isn't just a good adaptation of a videogame but, is also a good movie by it's own means. Ubisoft created Assassin's Creed is their IP and the creative behind all the 5 games can know WAY more about what consumers would want in a AC game than any director, even if it's James Cameron or whatever.

Josh Rough
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Yeah, this will go over well.

Christian Allen
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Michael Joseph
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"Generally [video game films] have been too far from the spirit of those IPs and their characters," says Guillemot.

Really? Is THAT the problem with video game films? rofl.

He then goes on to compare Harry Potter films which are based on novels which although based on fantasy subject matter are still taken seriously by the author.

I think the primary problem with movie adaptations of video games is the movies don't take the characters or the story seriously. They cast a bunch of B actors, write a B script that has no respect for itself, throw in a bunch of action and basically try to do the same thing the game did... create a vapid visceral experience. In many ways, the film captures the essence of the game TOO MUCH.

A film adaptation of a game is difficult because the source material is basically no good because it didn't really have to be. Interactivity can make up for shoddy stories that don't respect themselves let alone the audience.

If you want to make good film adapations of games, you need to make games that have stories that are worth telling. But who really cares about some made up conspiracy film about an assasin set in a historical period? Nobody. At least the DaVinci code can play on the notion that there's some glimmer of truth behind it all.

Conan the Barbarian, Hellboy, Star Wars, the Matrix, Spiderman, and Raiders of the Lost Ark even though there's comedic elements in some of these fantasy films, they take themselves seriously. The used quality actors, quality directors, quality writers, and didn't short change themselves.

But it starts with story and characters. There has to be a story with characters that captures the imagination to the point where the_audience_wants_them_to_be_true/real_ if not in this universe then another. That is the essence of good escapist fantasy films.

Is there a story or characters worth bringing to the big screen with Assassin's Creed? I don't see it.
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