Video games are on the verge of becoming the next movie gold mine after comics, or so director Roy Lee, co-founder of Vertigo Entertainment, believes.
And, he told me during a recent interview at DICE Summit 2016, Hollywood believes so too.
“It’s like how the comic book movies rose to such prominence,” he said. “Video games are the next big deal.”
And it’s a recent movie based on a comic that could provide a lot of help in making that happen.
“Now that Deadpool [which had an R-rating] did so well, it will be easier to make r-rated video game movies,” Lee said.
Concern over whether an R-rated video game movie could succeed ultimately led to issues with a slew of video game adaptations including Gears of War and BioShock.
Lee speaks with more than a little experience working on adaptations. The film and television producer got his start working on two adaptations of Japanese horror films: The Ring and The Grudge. He went on to remake Infernal Affairs as The Departed, rework Oldboy and take Hitchcock’s classic Psycho and make it into Emmy award-winning television series Bates Motel.
He’s currently working on a slew of adaptations including follow-ups to The Lego Movie, which he produced, and movie takes on both Minecraft and Five Nights at Freddy’s.
Producer Adrian Askerieh, who is working with Lee to turn Deus Ex: Human Revolution into a film, agrees with Lee’s take on the blossoming potential of video games as a rich source for future movies.
“I still think we have yet to have a great video game movie,” said Askerieh, CEO and president of Prime Universe Films. “We’ve had good video game movies. But I don’t think we’re there yet. I do think we’re about to be.”
He also believes that the evolution of comic book movies from bad to what he believes are the movies currently propping up Hollywood, is similar to what video game movies will follow.
“Comic book movies were a laughing stock in the late ’80s and ’90s, outside of a Batman movie made by luck,” he said. “Marvel movies were awful: Tank Girl, Superman: Quest for Peace.
“It’s amusing how soon people forget.”
Askerieh says that we are now in the golden age of comic book movies, something brought about by film-makers who care about the source material.
Lee points to The Walking Dead television series as a prime example of that. Creator Robert Kirkman is on set, in the writers room, helping to select the show runner.
Lee believes so strongly about the potential of video games as movies, that he spends a lot of time working to identify up and coming indies that could make for powerful film.
That’s how he managed to snag the rights to Minecraft before most of Hollywood had heard about it. The same goes for Five Nights at Freddy’s.
He actually has an interesting system for doing this.
“I go to Wikia, it’s a huge fan base, and it tells you which are the most popular ones,” he said. “If something appears I look into it deeper.”
Lee looks at how much fans are participating in fleshing out a game’s backstory and how many visit the page.
Recently, Lee tracked down developer Toby Fox to ask if he would be interested in optioning role-playing game Undertale. Fox said no.
We’ve reached out to Fox for comment and will update this story when he responds.
Lee’s process is not unlike what he did before making movies. After graduating law school, Lee spent time monitoring movie pitches and how they moved around Hollywood. Over time, he gained quite a bit of insight into the market and how it operated.
The other thing Lee brings to his push to make good video game movies is an innate sense of how to work with brand holders.
The Lego Movie, he says, was made better by making sure the toy company fully supported the film’s direction. It’s the same process he’s using to create Minecraft; he’s making sure the developers are fully involved in the creative process.
Sometimes the result is a pretty straightforward film, like Deadpool or X-Men, and sometimes it means rethinking your approach, like what was done with The Orchid Thief. In the latter case, the movie was based on a book which was based on an article for The New Yorker. Both the book and article were written by Susan Orlean. The screenplay adaptation about adapting a book into a screenplay adaptation, called Adaptation, was written by Charlie Kauffman and directed by Spike Jonze.
Ultimately, the movie stepped back a bit from the plot of the book to turn it into satire about the process of adaptation.
“When Sony was trying to adapt The Orchid Thief they delivered something completely different from the book,” Lee said. “Whatever the source material is, be it a game or manuscript, having different interpretations is OK as long as it has the essence of the original property and the input of the creators.”