Prince Of Persia creator Jordan Mechner, who created the series in 1988 after earlier work on the seminal Karateka, is working on a Jerry Bruckheimer-produced Disney movie version of the classic PoP franchise.
In this Q&A, Mechner, who owns the rights to Prince Of Persia and has licensed them to Ubisoft for the recent games, discusses the game-film transition, the movie's new director, and some intriguing plot details.
He also touches on the difference between writing for film and writing for games, and what he thought of Ubisoft's XBLA remake of the original PoP.
There’s been buzz about the Prince of Persia movie. Who’s producing? Who’s directing?
Jerry Bruckheimer is producing for Walt Disney Pictures. Mike Newell [Donnie Brasco, Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire] is the director.
What’s it like working with Jerry Bruckheimer?
I've only seen the tip of the iceberg, but he is extremely focused, detail-oriented and completely unflappable. Things that most people might consider a crisis -- hurricanes, strikes, whatever -- he handles very calmly and somehow it all works out. I can see why the studios feel confident entrusting him with hundreds of millions of dollars. If he's making the movie, everything's gonna be OK.
Is Ubisoft involved or does your license agreement allow you to do this separately?
They're separate deals. Ubisoft has the videogame rights to Prince of Persia and Disney has the film rights.
How long has the script been in development?
I wrote the first draft and several revisions over a period of about a year and a half. Two more years of development followed, in which additional revisions were done by (in this order): Jeff Nachmanoff, Boaz Yakin, Doug Miro and Carlo Bernard.
That sounds like a crazy number of writers, but the original screenplay structure, plot and characters have survived the whole process pretty much intact.
It's still very much the same movie John August and I pitched to Disney and Bruckheimer back in 2004 -- it's been streamlined in certain ways, souped up in others. It's a good, solid story and I think it'll be very satisfying on screen.
What are the differences between writing for a video game and writing for a film? How closely does the movie storyline correspond to the games?
If you summarize the movie in one sentence, it sounds identical to the first Sands of Time videogame, but scene by scene it's actually completely different. It has to be, because games and film are such different mediums.
On the surface they're deceptively similar -- you can watch five minutes of an action-adventure videogame and think "this could be a movie," or vice-versa -- but structurally the requirements are totally different.
Here's one example: The game kicks off with a cataclysm that basically destroys the world and turns all living creatures except for the three main characters into raging, murderous sand monsters. That was a great setup for the gameplay we had, which was "acrobatic Persian survival horror."
But if you put that setup in a film, it would be a "B" movie, and that's not the kind of movie Prince of Persia should be. Our model is classic epic, swashbuckling action-adventure movies like Raiders of the Lost Ark, Zorro, and Thief of Baghdad, with humor and romance and full of memorable characters. You can't get there if you turn everybody into sand monsters on page fifteen.
I hope Sands of Time game fans will see the movie with an open mind and judge it based on the experience it creates for them, not by the standard of how closely it matches the 2003 video game. The game still exists and you can still have the experience of playing it. We're not destroying it by making the movie. We're creating something new that has to stand on its own, just as the game did.
Will there be a game title that goes along with the movie? Are there any new games in the works separate from the movie?
Sorry, but I can't answer that question!
How close is the movie to starting filming and how does the strike affect it?
The movie is in pre-production. At this moment there's no way to know how long the writers' strike will last, or if the directors' and actors' guilds will strike as well. It's a very insecure time for the whole industry.
A lot of big movies that were set to go, now aren't. I was really hoping that Mike Newell would be the one to direct this movie and I was ecstatic when he agreed, but it was bittersweet because I only had about 24 hours to rejoice before the writers' strike began.
I support my guild and the writers' cause, so until the strike is resolved I can't meet with Newell and the Bruckheimer execs or contribute further to the development of the movie. It's frustrating because I've been dreaming of a Prince of Persia movie, basically, for 20 years, and now at this key moment when the project has finally found the right director and he's brimming with enthusiasm and excitement, I can't even meet with him.
But that's minor compared to the sacrifices other people are making. The outcome of this strike will have an impact on the next generation and anyone who aspires to make their living in a creative field in the next 10 or 20 years. If you're interested in the issues, there's a good FAQ at UnitedHollywood.com.
What are you working on next? Any new game properties?
As usual, the projects I'm working the hardest on at this moment are the ones I can't talk about yet. But I can say that the Prince of Persia graphic novel is finished and turned out beautifully. It's a totally different story and characters from the games or the movie, and I mean different. It'll be published by First Second Books next year.
That was such a great creative collaboration that I'm now writing a new graphic novel with the same artists, for the same publisher. This one has nothing to do with Prince of Persia, although it's in a similar genre. It's an original story, a swashbuckling action-adventure based on historical events, somewhat in the spirit of The Three Musketeers.
What did you think of the Prince of Persia remake for XBLA?
I actually started playing it the other night. And, uh, I'm still playing. At first I thought: This looks great, sounds fantastic, I love that they used the Sands of Time characters and my dad's music... I'll just play a little bit to see how it feels...
Three hours later, I realized I was addicted. Which is awful, because I really thought I was done playing this game in 1990. The thing is, they put in just enough new features compared to the original game that all my old reflexes from the Apple II, two-button joystick are worse than useless.
Just when I think I've got it wired, I hold the A button pressed a half-second too long and die a horrible death. It makes me want to kill whoever designed it. But then I keep on playing. I guess this is as close as I'll ever get to having the experience of playing my game for the first time. Arrrgggghh!