Sony Interactive has launched PlayStation Productions to take the catalogue of original video games to turn into film and television. There is more detail at the link, but there seems to be more to the announcement than just mining existing intellectual property for fodder.
Lost in Translation has delved into the problems of video game adaptations. The main problem is translating gameplay into a narrative. What works to keep players playing for hours doesn’t work well on screen. The expectations of each medium are at odds; video games require the player to be active while movies typically have a seated, passive audience. There’s signs that the people in charge, Asad Qizilbash and Shawn Layden, understand the problem. To quote Layden, “The real challenge is, how do you take 80 hours of gameplay and make it into a movie? The answer is, you don’t. What you do is you take that ethos you write from there specifically for the film audience. You don’t try to retell the game in a movie.”
PlayStation Productions will also be handling the development instead of licensing out titles, and using Sony Pictures for distribution. The men in charge are using the Marvel movies as a guide. Marvel created Marvel Studios to produce their own movies instead of licensing as well, something that the Disney merger didn’t change. Marvel also used writers who were familiar with the comics being filmed, reducing the chance of something getting mistranslated to the silver screen. PlayStation Productions intends to follow the same roadmap, keeping control over the IP. They are aware of the reputation video game movies have.
The studio will have a number of titles to explore right away. While not every PlayStation exclusive game belongs to Sony, there are still a number that do that will draw an audience. Considering that the PlayStation has been around in various forms since 1994, that’s 25 years of gaming the studio can explore.
Does this mean Sony is trying to leverage its IP? Well, yes. That’s what corporations do. Sony has gone from being an electronics manufacturer to a provider of material for those same electronics. Turns out, there’s more money in providing the entertainment played in Blu-Ray players than selling them. With all the games created for the PlayStation over the past twenty-five years, some must have enough interest to justify making a movie or TV series from them. Sony isn’t going to leave money on the table.
At the same time, Qizilbash and Layden appear to understand why the games have fans and why other films based on video games have failed. They’re not just milking a cash cow. Their approach, based on the interview, appears to be more nuturing, Will they get a hit with PlayStation Productions first effort? I’m expecting the first to have flaws, but to reflect the game far better than what has come before, such as Super Mario Bros and Doom. However, if the studio follows through on what Layden said above, the first effort is not going to be a train wreck, either. The film may have problems, but it will reflect the game properly. PlayStation Productions will be in a position to ensure there is a quality to their releases.
The announcement shouldn’t be a surprise. Sony has a lot of IP that’s just sitting around. Video game development takes time. The approach that PlayStation Productions wants to take, though, shows that the studio has learned the lesson about just slapping on a logo on any script that comes along. One doesn’t have to make the mistake to learn from it, and Qizilbash and Layden have done their homework. Time will tell, but PlayStation Productions is off to a good start.
Almost missed all of April, but there was news about adaptations coming in. Here is your news round up.
Sony Pictures to make live-action Robotech.
Sony now has the rights to Robotech, via Harmony Gold, and is looking to use the series as the base of a franchise. Harmony Gold seems to be still involved.
Steven Spielberg to helm Ready Player One adaptation.
Ernest Cline’s cult novel, Ready Player One has been optioned by Warner Bros, who will be working with director Steven Spielberg to make the movie. Some rights issues, mostly involving video game icons of the 80s, will need to be cleared, but Warner is hoping for a repeat of what happened with The LEGO Movie, where rights owners jumped on board.
Coach returning after 18 year hiatus.
Craig T. Nelson is coming back as the titular character in a follow-up series. Thirteen episodes have been ordered. This isn’t the only TV series making a comeback.
The reboot re-unites David Duchovny, Gillian Anderson, and Chris Carter. The three said they would only come back if the others did as well.
Galaxy Quest Returns to TV.
Okay, technically it was never on TV. But the show in the movie was, in-universe. And thus is getting a reboot. Sort of. Metafiction weirds timelines.
Full House Returns to TV.
This, however, is simpler. Fuller House is a continuation, with Candance Cameron Bure, Jodie Sweetin, and Andrea Barber returning to their original roles. Talks are ongoing with other members of the original cast, though John Stamos is on board as producer and will guest star.
It’s Time to Get Things (Re-)Started!
A new Muppet series to air on ABC. The new show will be aimed at an adult audience, though that’s not new for Muppets, and will take a look at their personal lives.
Archie will face his most deadly crossover yet!
Archie vs. Sharknado is a real thing. Sharknado director Anthony C. Ferrante has teamed up with Archie artist Dan Parent to bring the latest Archie crossover. Move aside, Punisher. Too bad, Predator. Archie has a new danger in his life.
A change of plans this week. I’ve been holding on to some items too long and I realized that I hadn’t had a round up last month. On with the show!
A Game of Thrones, the Movie
With the TV series catching up to George R.R. Martin’s writing, something needs to be done. One potential fix, feature-length movies. The movies would be prequels, set 90 years prior to the start of the books. This should give Martin the time to finish or at least pad out the series long enough to prevent the TV series from overtaking.
Jem and the Holograms to get film treatment.
Truly outrageous! The movie has a webpage set up where fans can make suggestions on plot and casting and submit audition video. However, Christy Marx, the creator of the original series, is not involved. How this will affect the movie remains to be seen.
No more Inspector Morse adaptations?
Creator Colin Dexter has added a clause in his will that will prevent other actors from playing Inspector Morse. He feels that the performances of both John Thaw and Shaun Evans cannot be surpassed. The clause can be challenged, but it is likely that Dexter’s estate will agree with him.
Left Behind movie series to be rebooted.
Nicholas Cage will star in the remake of the adaptation of the first of the Left Behind books. Release date has been announced for October 3. The first adaptation was by Kirk Cameron in 2000, with the sequels released direct-to-video.
Fox to spin-off a Mystique movie while Sony does the same with the Sinister Six.
While Marvel Studios is busy with the Avengers, the licensees aren’t content to be left in the dust. Fox has plans for a Mystique movie to go along with the Wolverine series. Over at Sony, the Sinister Six, Spider-foes each and every one of them, has signed on director Drew Goddard. The movies mean that Marvel will have more characters on screen than rival DC Comics, despite the latter’s owner, Warner, having not licensed any character to another studio.
New Sailor Moon series to debut July, broadcast includes Internet streaming.
The Pretty Soldier-Sailor is returning and can be seen through Niconico Douga, a video streaming site similar to YouTube. An account will be needed to watch but the new Sailor Moon will be available internationally. The build up has been kept low, with very little hype to create expectations.
Cracked.com lists the five adaptations that are overdone.
Beyond just naming, Cracked looks at why the movies don’t work well. The key appears to be the creativity ends with the original idea and doesn’t continue through the actual production.
Mrs. Doubtfire sequel being written.
Chris Columbus, the director of the original, has been signed, as has Mrs. Doubtfire himself, Robin Williams. The original movie hit theatres in 1993, and a sequel was attempted in 2001 but never got past pre-production. Given the age of the original movie, it may be Williams’ name that proves to be the draw.
Princess Jellyfish to get live-action adaptation.
The manga Princess Jellyfish, aka Kuragame Hime, will be getting the live-action treatement. The official site is now up. Release date is December, 2014.
Back in November, one of the news round-ups mentioned that there Hummingbird working on a sequel to It’s A Wonderful Life. With Paramount contesting the sequel, I want to take a look at the mess and how to avoid it.
With It’s a Wonderful Life, the problem stems from a clerical error; the movie’s copyright wasn’t renewed properly, sending the movie to the public domain. The owners, Republic Studios, managed to regain most of the rights through backdoor methods that allowed them to control who could show it and at what price. The short version, the film itself is in the public domain, but the story and the music are not. The question that a court may have to decide is how much It’s a Wonderful Life: The Rest of the Story depends on the copyrighted story.
Before I continue, I want it made known that I am not a lawyer, not do I play one on TV. This article is all from a layman’s point of view and isn’t legal advice, even if it sounds like it.
The first thing when adapting a work is to find out who has the rights to it. If the work is old enough, it’s in the public domain where anyone can take it. As a rule of thumb, if a work is older than Disney’s “Steamboat Willie”, it is very likely in the public domain. Works by Shakespeare are definitely in the public domain, as are myths, legends, and fairy tales. To verify, sites like Project Gutenberg can be helpful. That Romeo & Juliet alternative universe rom-com* where he’s the son of a necromancer and she’s the daughter of vampires can be made with no rights issues at all.
More recent works, though, have owners who expect payment when someone else plays in their sandbox. Research skills pay off here. First thing is to find out who holds the rights. Sometimes it’s easy; a Star Trek adaptation has to go through Paramount to be made. Sometimes, it’s not. It is the rare company that survives a hundred years. Studios like RKO, Orion, and United Artists have gone under, leaving entire libraries to be picked over. With UA, MGM bought most if not all of its assets, including the 007 franchise. It is a matter of research to find out where the movies have gone. This is where It’s a Wonderful Sequel is running into problems. Both studios can rightfully argue their sides; the film itself is public domain, provided that it is not shown in its original order. The sequel, and any other movie, could very well use images and scenes out of context as flashbacks and not run afoul of the copyright.
Once the rights owner has been found, it’s time to convince them that the adaptation should happen. The easiest way is sums of cash, or, as it is better known, a licensing fee. The owner sets the fee, but could be negotiated down. If there’s no agreement, no adaptation. A possible alternative is to convince the owner that they want to produce the adaptation themselves, with the adapter at the helm of the work. This method works best when remaking a movie, but can also work in the comics industry. This is what I expect the outcome of the dispute between Hummingbird and Paramount to be, an out-of-court settlement for an undisclosed sum that allows It’s a Wonderful Sequel to go ahead.
If the rights owner says no, that’s not the end of the adaptation. Unless the new work relies heavily on established canon, changing details such as character names, setting, and even genre may be enough to make the former adaptation look original. This process is, essentially, “filing off the serial numbers”. Done well, no one notices. Done poorly, and the work gets called a rip-off of the original work.
Let’s take a hypothetical** example. I want to create a dark and gritty remake of BJ and the Bear, setting it in a post-apocalyptic America where BJ and his mutant chimpanzee deliver needed supplies through blighted wastelands to the last remnants of humanity living in fortified towns and cities, getting past corrupt warlords who want the goods for themselves***. The original owners of BJ and the Bear are easy to find – Glen A. Larson and Universal. The two still have a working relationship as of the Battlestar Galactica remake. All I need to do is convince both parties that I can make it worth their while to license the rights to me. Simple, no?
Not so fast. BJ’s main adversary in the remake, Warlord Lobo, is based on a character that got his own spin-off. If I want to use Lobo, I need to make sure that his character isn’t stuck in some sort of rights limbo. The problem has cropped up; The Avengers and The Amazing Spider-Man were both set, at least partially, in New York City. However, Marvel licensed Spider-Man and his supporting cast to Sony Pictures, who isn’t about to give up the wall-crawler anytime soon. Both Marvel and Sony negotiated to get the Daily Planet into The Avengers, but, ultimately, the building wasn’t there. Marvel is running into a similar situation with the next Avengers movies with Quicksilver and the Scarlett Witch. Fox has the rights to all characters related to the X-Men, including mutants. Quicksilver and the Scarlett Witch not only are mutants but have worked alongside Magneto in their villain days. Marvel is skirting the problem by not mentioning the m-word (“mutant”) in the movie. However, there has been a massive crossover of rosters between the two teams; other X-Men who have been Avengers include the Beast and Wolverine.
The issue of rights doesn’t affect just movies. The Battletech game has what players have come to call The Unseen, thirteen BattleMechs that could no longer made as miniatures or be used in artwork as a result of a rights dispute between FASA and Harmony Gold. Both companies had licensed the mecha designs; Harmony Gold through the respective studios of Super Dimension Fortress Macross, Fang of the Sun Dougram, and Crusher Joe as part of Robotech, FASA through the design studio, Victor Musical Industries, for BattleTech. The case was settled out of court; FASA might have been able to win except the cost of fighting the case became too high for the company to justify. The loss of the Unseen meant redoing several books and creating new minis for the core game and led to the Clan Invasion.
In my hypothetical example, the competing rights issue doesn’t come up. Glen A. Larsons Productions and Universal are still the people to talk to about Lobo. However, if the word is no, I can make changes to remove the BJ and the Bear markers from the project. Keeping the post apocalyptic setting, I can change Bear into a horse that CJ rides. Instead of delivering supplies, CJ delivers news through the wastelands to the fortified towns. Or, since the new project is a little too close to The Postman for comfort, I change the setting to space, where CJ and his sidekick alien buddy try to make ends meet in their dilapidated space freighter while Space Admiral Lupine hunts them down for crimes they may or may not have committed.
In short, check the rights situation. Sometimes it’s clear, sometimes it’s not. When in doubt, rework to avoid legal entanglements.
Next week, 2013 in review.
* Yes, Romeo & Juliet is a tragedy. That didn’t stop Gnomeo & Juliet.
** At least, I hope it’s hypothetical.
*** If someone reading does do this remake, I would like on-screen credit, please.
Slight change of plans. Turns out, the planned “So You Want to Adapt a Story” is far more involved than I expected. That will come next week. Enjoy the round up of adaptational news in the meantime.
What could have been: Hayao Miyazaki wanted to make a Pippi Longstocking movie in 1971.
Concept art for the work has come out. The only thing stopping the adaptation was Astrid Lindgren, Pippi’s creator, saying no. Studio Ghibli just didn’t have the world renown in 1971 that it has today.
2014, the Year of the Bomb?
Of the fourteen potential major failures coming in 2014, twelve are adaptations and remakes. Of note, Edge of Tomorrow is based on the Japanese light novel, All You Need Is Kill. If Divergent and The Maze Runner both do poorly, this could signal the beginning of the end of Young Adult novels being adapted. Guardians of the Galaxy is a wild card. Marvel is taking a huge risk, but, as Steve put it, what has Marvel got to lose?
Sin City sequel and TV series on the way.
The Weinstein Company is getting Robert Rodrigues and Frank Miller to create Sin City: A Dame To Kill For is expected out August 29 next year, with a TV series to start afterwards. Meanwhile, the company is also working on a ten part miniseries based on the theatrical adaptation of the Stephen King novel, The Mist.
Two versions of 50 Shades of Grey adaptation to be released.
The first will be rated R. The second will go for the dreaded NC-17 rating. The problem with NC-17 movies is that there are few theatres willing to screen them. 50 Shades might be an exception, but there could be issues when someone who was expecting the R version sees the more explicit NC-17. The producer also said that she doesn’t want the film to be seen as “mommy porn”, which will be a neat trick considering that the original book is exactly that. Filming has started, with Vancouver, BC, standing in for Vancouver, Washington.
Daughter of Smoke and Bone to be adapted.
The first of a trilogy by Laini Taylor, the YA novel Daughter of Smoke and Bone is being adapted by Universal. The novel originally came out in 2011; the adaptation has no release date yet.
Cats may be next Broadway musical adapted to film.
Andrew Lloyd Webber confirmed that Universal is working on the adaptation. Cats itself is an adaptation of Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats by T.S. Eliot. Main challenge is convincing the audience that people dressed as cats and signing is worth seeing, but the stage version also had that issue.
Veronica Mars due out March 14, 2014.
After a very successful Kickstarter campaign that saw the movie funded in under twelve hours, Veronica Mars will hit the theatres next March. Most of the core cast has returned for the movie.
Also out March 14, 2014, Need for Speed.
Electronic Arts teamed up with Dreamworks for the adaptation. The video game series focuses on street racing, and includes police pursuit as part of the challenge. Each game in the series has a different focus, giving a bit of room for the movie to work with.
Warner Bros/DC may have a low-budget series of movies.
Three lesser known titles, Suicide Squad, Team 7, and Deathstroke may get lower budget movies, in the range of $20-40 million. The lower budget may reduce audience expectations and allow for a decent return. DC just needs to avoid looking desperate compared to Marvel’s approach.
MTV to adapt Shannara.
MTV’s network decay continues, but this time, it’s not a reality series. The former music network will be adapting Terry Brooks’ Shannara series, hoping to jump on the fantasy bandwagon led by A Game of Thrones. The advantage with Shannara is that twenty-five books have been written, so there’s no chance of the TV series catching up and overtaking. Brooks himself is involved in the project.
Heathers to run Off Broadway.
The 1989 movie, Heathers, has been adapted as a musical slated to run Off Broadway beginning March 17, 2014. The original was a dark comedy starring Winona Ryder and Christian Slater, where the two took revenge on a clique of mean girls all named Heather.
NBC to air Rosemary’s Baby miniseries.
NBC continues to ride the adaptation train with the announcement of the four-hour Rosemary’s Baby miniseries. The miniseries will go back to the original book of the same name by Ira Levin.
The Sound of Music Live! a sign of things to come?
Still on NBC here. The live musical broadcast garnered ratings for the struggling network, leading to the confirmation that there will be another musical for next November. Which one has yet to be decided. The Sound of Music Live! may have brought in an audience in part from novelty and in part for the potential train-wreck it could have been.
Sony takes a page from Marvel Studios.
Sony announced that they will be producing two Spider-Man spin-offs, Venom and The Sinister Six. Both movies will focus on Spidey’s rogues gallery. No dates for either production start or release were given.
Animated Anne Frank in the works.
The Diary of Anne Frank is being turned into an animated feature, with the blessing of the Anne Frank Fonds Basel, the foundation created by Frank’s father. Ari Folman, director of Waltz with Bashir will direct and will have full access to the foundation’s archives.
The Naked Gun to be rebooted.
Paramount is looking to reboot The Naked Gun, with Ed Helms to fill Leslie Nielsen’s role of Sergeant Frank Drebin, Detective-Lieutenant, Police Squad. David Zucker, one of the original creators, is on board.
Disney to create series based on animated villains.
Descendants will look at the lives of the teenaged offspring of Disney villains. The live-action work will premier in 2015.
Next week, “So You Want to Adapt a Story”.
Developers of tabletop board games and role-playing games are known for developing a setting for players to romp around. Dream Pod 9 is no exception. Each of their lines, Heavy Gear, Jovian Chronicle, Gear Krieg, and Tribe 8, have detailed settings and history, with the worlds involved detailed, down to politics, food, and fashion. In particular, Heavy Gear had many supplements printed, detailing the various factions on the world of Terra Nova and how the world was preparing itself for the return of the Earth forces that were beaten back once already. The game itself was originally created as both a tabletop war game* and as an RPG, allowing players to command armies or to be one of the pilots in the titular Gears.
With a rich setting, the game was seen as prime fodder for being adapted into a cartoon, much like what happened with the BattleTech game in 1994. However, instead of mixing traditional with CGI as with the BattleTech series, Heavy Gear: The Animated Series was completely computer animated. In 2001, Sony Pictures, along with Mainframe Entertainment, produced the series. The story centered around the Shadow Dragons, a Gear dueling** team from the Southern Republic***, the team’s rookie Gear pilot, and their dealings with the Northern Light Confederacy’s team, the Vanguard of Justice.
The original plan was to showcase the teams in a tournament, then, once a winner was determined, have the Earth forces arrive to retake the planet. However, Sony aimed the show at a younger audience than DP9 aimed the games and wanted to simplify the storyline. Out went the Earth invasion, since the younger target might not wrap their heads around the sudden switch from villain to hero by the Vanguard. The series remained focused on the tournament format for the entire run, even with tourney having been after the first dozen episodes.
The problem with the adaptation is that it was aimed for the wrong crowd. The game was played by an older market; in fact, DP9 had to redo the war game rules because restrictions in lead use, affecting the miniatures line.**** The attention to detail of the minis, the fine motor skills required to both build and paint them, would be slightly beyond Sony’s target audience. On the RPG side, character generation was somewhat involved, requiring a non-linear point expenditure. While the Gear combat did look good and was representative, the plot itself was flatter than expected given DP9’s own work on the setting, with game books having a year printed on the cover to indicate where on their timeline the supplements were. Gone, too, was the idea that all factions on Terra Nova had their good and bad sides. The Northern Vanguard of Justice were the villains, period.
There were a few outstanding moments, though. One of the Southern pilots was a shout-out to Oddball, Donald Sutherland’s character in Kelly’s Heroes. And DP9 didn’t ignore the series’ existence. Instead, the show is mentioned, in-universe, as entertainment for the masses.
Next time, still with science fiction.
* Complete with a line of miniatures for all factions involved.
** There are three types of dueling on Terra Nova: military dueling, done for the honour of a regiment; professional dueling, which focuses on the skill of the pilots and was the type of dueling featured in the cartoon; and underground dueling, where anything goes and it’s a bad day of no gear is utterly destroyed.
*** One of the two superpowers of Terra Nova, the other being the Northern Light Confederacy.
**** All miniatures companies were hit at the same time by new regulations limiting the amount of lead in a product. Companies switched over to pewter, causing some price increases. The 1:87 scale of the original line of /Heavy Gear/ minis was scrapped in favour of a 1:144 scale.