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Q&A: Moledina Talks Hollywood And Games

Q&A: Moledina Talks Hollywood And Games

June 18, 2007 | By Brandon Boyer

June 18, 2007 | By Brandon Boyer
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The Hollywood & Games Summit has been described by co-creators CMP (also the owners of Gamasutra.com) and The Hollywood Reporter as intended to "allow leaders from their respective industries to interact and discuss best practices for strategically marketing original IP via both media to greatest effect."

Now in its second year, the summit, scheduled for the Renaissance Hollywood Hotel on June 26th and the 27th, will see keynotes from horror author and director Clive Barker, Brash Entertainment co-founder Thomas Tull, and speakers such as Heroes producer Jesse Alexander, Prince of Persia creator Jordan Mechner, Foglight Entertainment president Gregg Backer, Electronic Arts director Brandon Barber, veteran journalist Geoff Keighley and fl0w co-creator Kellee Santiago.

To learn more about what to expect from this year's summit, we talked with co-creator Jamil Moledina (also known as executive director of the Game Developers Conference) about this year's standout sessions, and the interplay and long-standing relationship between the games industry and Hollywood - from licensing, to funding, to distribution and more.

Can you give us a little background on how the Summit came together? Did it arise out of game industry people talking about working with Hollywood, or were you hearing from Hollywood itself?

JM: Three years ago when I was first director of the Game Developers Conference, developers such as Dave Perry and filmmakers like Remington Scott were telling me about the need for film talent and game talent to connect directly, and were finding GDC to be their primary outlet.

Since the few events that hover in this space sit squarely in convergence technology and feature panels of middlemen, there was a clear gap in the line-up for a Hollywood and games talent-focused event.

Meanwhile, when I was on press tour for GDC, I met Chris Marlowe, then editor of The Hollywood Reporter, and we had this magical conversation where we not only got each other, but we synced on the key collaboration issues between film and games. Soon after, our biz dev executives connected, we formed a combined advisory board, and the Hollywood and Games Summit was born.

What are the most important issues, especially at this yearís summit, that need to or are being addressed?

JM: Last year, we were aiming to get everyone on the same page, and so a great deal of discussion went into licensing and synchronizing production effectively. This yearís show focuses more on talent directly, what Hollywood and games writers, animators, actors, and others can do not only to work in the other medium, but also create something new that combines the best processes of both worlds.

Flat distribution online gives more creators direct access to the audience, as well as greater artistic freedom to create a broader range of uniquely tailored experiences. Creators also have a great set of media to work with, and the concept of developing a central property and connecting it to a community in multiple authentic experiences will also be a key theme in this yearís show.

What are the stand-out sessions youíre particularly proud of this year?

JM: Itís hard to choose. The keynotes with Clive Barker and Thomas Tull are obvious choices, and a session featuring Jim Ward, Neil Young, and NíGai Croal is hard to argue with too.

But perhaps what you might find surprising is how much of a game development junkie Jesse Alexander -- the executive producer of Heroes. He is literally cut from the same cloth, and sees TV production actually moving closer to game production, as opposed to the other way around.

Also, Brent Friedmanís presentation on Afterworld demonstrates a real, breathing hybrid entertainment form. Check out Afterworld.tv for a peek at the first layer.

How do you feel the relationship between Hollywood and the games industry has developed over time, and are there things either side should be doing to foster an even better relationship?

JM: Hollywood initially saw games as a merchandising channel, but as games have become more sophisticated, they are being seen more as creative partners. Plus, like many touchpoints for the game industry overall, our relationship with Hollywood is becoming much more natural as gamers in their 30ís take on positions of power in the entertainment establishment.

Using a game to tell a historical story, or building in game spinoff hooks into episodic narrative are much more intuitive, and donít require the full PowerPoint press to convince top executives to release resources.

Creating a better relationship between the two industries can be achieved as more creatives reach across the aisle and collaborate on joint projects. This is the underlying reason the Hollywood and Games Summit exists. The more experimentation and success that come from collaboration, the more leadership examples will stand out. Our goal is to accelerate that process.

If you look back at early examples of film-licensed games Ė ignoring Atariís ET, perhaps, but considering a lot of Oceanís 8- and 16-bit work, for example Ė have the ways licensed games have been treated and received changed much, in your opinion?

JM: For the first couple of decades of this relationship, the collaborative expressions lived at a fairly consistent level, where most decisions were business-related. There was a mix of results, as you pointed out, that everyone would admit.

Today, weíre seeing much more creative participation, either directly from directors and writers, or sometimes the producer is him- or herself a creator too. Plus, weíre seeing developers, such as Mitch Davis and Brash, and film directors, such as Paul W.S. Anderson now specialize in adaptation, which points to growing recognition of the compatibility of these two art forms in providing a compelling experience. In all these cases, there is a greater recognition of the value of a quality experience transferring between film and games.

Licensing is the easiest link to tie the two industries together, but are there other important issues between the two that will be addressed at the Summit, or should be addressed in future Summits?

JM: Thatís an excellent point. Licensing used to be the beginning and end of the collaboration conversation. Today, both film and game studios are creating stories and characters first, and allowing the story elements to incubate. Only after that process do they become films, games, comic books, online animated serials, collectively also known as the transmedia landscape. As these manifestations are mixed with each other, hybrid forms like Afterworld emerge.

In this way, weíre scaling the cliff to get to the next breakthrough plateau. Several of our speakers are working on using game technologies in unusual ways, and all of them realize that the goal is to provide a living experience, not just a ticket, DVD, or game disc. This and the next couple of summits will focus on scaling and conquering this next plateau.

The games industry is still often compared to the film industry in its infancy. Is this still, or was it ever, truly an apt comparison?

JM: There are overlaps. Independent game development is fairly nascent, and is certainly adding dimension to the online offerings on consoles and PCs Ė which could be analogous to independent filmmaking affecting the studio system in the 70s. Studio/publisher dominance of production and distribution linked to salaried talent management corroborate this analogy to 70s film.

But just because there are some embryonic similarities between film and games, doesnít mean that they will end up the same. Games have grown much faster, and in different directions. Plus, the genealogy is different. Games are as much software as entertainment. Software usually benefits from iteration, so a game sequel is usually better than the original. Most would say the opposite is true of film.

In that case, thereís actually a closer connection to the television industry, and itís experience with episodic content, and refinement over seasons. Yet no matter what weíre using as a reference, games are certainly younger as an industry than any other global entertainment medium.

Do you think the games industry has moved out of that proclaimed infancy? Are there better, or even wholly unique models, that could better frame the industryís particular challenges?

JM: Yes. I would say the game industry is closer to early adulthood, in that itís left the nest and gone out into the mainstream world. Itís hiring from outside the industry, providing multiple development and distribution options, has a global network of talent, is directly responsible for significant revenue in major media, software, and electronics companies, applies games for practical and altruistic ends, directly appeals to a broad consuming audience, and even has to lobby congress.

As the industry becomes more socially and economically diverse, modeling itself may become obsolete. Perhaps we should adapt Brent Friedmanís approach, and take the best lessons from film, software, open sourcing, media publishing, and participatory media.

Are there funding issues and models that either industry could learn from the other on?

JM: Definitely. Thomas Tull is on a winning streak packaging deals for making films, and heís applying those methods directly to games by investing in Brash. Thereís regional government investment funds, institutional investment, private equity, angel investment, and completion bonding that are now being accessed by game developers in co-funding their own games with publishers.

In terms of revenue, game consoles have finally clicked into what seems to have been working for mobile phone carriers and iTunes, which is convenient impulse buying. Film and home video have had impulse buying down for some time, but are also now beginning to get a sense for how lucrative backend billing from a ubiquitous storefront can be.

What would you pick as the top film-license games youíve ever played? What do you think developers did to get it right?

JM: Rogue Leader. I believed I was in Star Wars, and better yet, flying the X-Wing myself Ė with an authentic yet different experience each time. No matter how many times I watch those movies, theyíre always the same, and Iím not directly participating. With Rogue Leader, it felt right, and I could interact with people and events I was already emotionally invested in.

As for why it worked, it focused on one element of the original Star Wars trilogy, fighter combat. Factor 5 and game director Julian Eggebrecht polished their incredible first effort, Rogue Squadron for the Nintendo 64, added space-based missions, and took great advantage of the graphics capability of what was then a next generation platform, the Nintendo GameCube.

What would you pick as the top game-license films youíve ever seen? What do you think the filmmakers did to get it right?

JM: Resident Evil. The film takes what works very well in the games, namely the effective scare factor, the great characters, the excessive and the mutated zombies, and combined that with what works for films, namely great writing, directing, and believable, empathic characters. Milla Jovovich and Michelle Rodriguez had an amazing onscreen connection and banter, which is even more clear on the commentary track, but I suppose thatís not officially part of the movie.

Anyway, director Paul W.S. Anderson took his cues from films such as Aliens and Night of the Living Dead as much as from the game Resident Evil, and so by relying on his filmmaking instincts delivered a great roller-coaster ride.

Lastly, do you have any dream picks for films youíd like to play game versions of, or games youíd like to see translated into film?

JM: Seven Samurai. No demons, monster crabs, or other mystical affectations. Just straight Wii katana action defending that village. Jumping forward a few decades, I would love to see an update to Konamiís arcade game of Aliens. I know thereís an FPS and an RPG coming, but a 2D art-heavy sidescroller, that would be a fitting homage to the 1986 science fiction action masterpiece. Contra, Metroid, and Alien Syndrome all owe a lot to Ellen Ripley and her biomechanical alter egos, and itís about time we got this done right. Finally, this oneís actually in the works, but Iím definitely looking forward to the Battlestar Galactica Xbox Live Arcade title too.

As for games that would make great films, I was really captivated by the vibrant blend of science fiction and fantasy elements in the original Phantasy Star, that would make for a great departure in film too. I also think both Killer 7 and Shadow of the Colossus would be utterly stunning. The thing is, both already are wonderfully complete epic experiences. Perhaps to keep the experience fresh, the films could deal with alternate threads in those universes.

But all this is still within the realm of pure licensing. Ultimately, I would love to play a Quentin Tarantino game, or see a Lorne Lanning feature film. And maybe have Dr. Suresh IM me to help me develop my own Heroes power online, in time to save the world.


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