North America’s biggest video game industry trade show is happening right now in Los Angeles, and this year’s E3 might be the biggest for Square Enix. For the first time, the game publisher held their own keynote presentation to kickoff the event alongside industry giants to unveil a large slate of high profile games and today they’re following it up with a film-focused livestream to promote Hitman: Agent 47.
Agent 47 represents the start of something big for video games in Hollywood where several high profile intellectual properties are finally getting their proper due from film studios (see: Assassin’s Creed and Warcraft). And this new take on Hitman is just one step on what will be several high profile video game adaptations based on Square Enix properties coming our way thanks to producer Adrian Askarieh.
We had the opportunity to chat with Adrian earlier this year when his web series based on the Enormous comics launched online, and recently caught up with him to talk about the upcoming Hitman: Agent 47, the long-awaited Jonny Quest film – which finally got a greenlight and found an A-list director in Robert Rodriguez – and of course, we touch on those other Square Enix film adaptations we’ve been hearing about as well: Deus Ex and Just Cause – both of which have new games on the way.
Congratulations on Jonny Quest. This is something we’ve been hearing about for many, many years. That’s pretty awesome.
Adrian Askarieh: As they say, better late than never!.
Any sort of timeframe on when that might hit theaters?
Adrian Askarieh: We are waiting for Terry Rossio and Robert Rodriguez to turn in the script, which we are looking extremely forward to. The speed at which the project will move towards production is mainly contingent on the script. Having said that, Dan Lin and are very optimistic.
How did you get involved with Jonny Quest? Are you a fan of the old-school series yourself?
Adrian Askarieh: I am. I grew up with it. It was actually years ago I called Dan Lin when he was an executive at Warners and I said, “Let’s do Jonny Quest.” What mostly precipitated that was my being a big fan of the original show. At any rate, Dan said, “Give me a few days to see what’s going on with it here.” Few days layer, he called me back and he said, “Let’s do it.” And that’s when he was an executive. That’s how long ago it was. Since then, he has come aboard to produce it with me, which has been a blessing, because, you know, you are working with Dan Lin and he’s got a lot of experience and he knows how to navigate the minefields. And now he’s also one of the hottest producers in town with films like LEGO and SHERLOCK HOLMES.
Why do you think the timing is right now for Warner Brothers to finally greenlight this thing?
Adrian Askarieh: Well, I think, first of all, budget is important. I think once we make it a certain budget it obviously becomes far more of a realistic proposition. I think the climate itself is also very condusive. Movies that appeal to multiple quadrants, PG or PG-13 action-adventures, are right now incredibly popular not only in The U.S., but as important, if not more importantly, internationally. Warner sees this as one of those pictures which has that potential. It is also based on a beloved brand which is known and loved globally. That’s naturally a huge component of its appeal to the studio.
I have a fan question for you about this project. Obviously I didn’t see the ‘60s show when it aired, but I did watch all the repeats and stuff on Cartoon Network as a kid. I think it was a lead-up to when they launched… you probably know this, but they launched the second series, like a new version of it. What are you drawing from if fans were to compare?
Adrian Askarieh: We’re drawing from the original series. Dan Lin, Robert, Terry Rossio, and myself are all big fans of the original series, which was groundbreaking and revolutionary for its time. It was one of the first two primetime animated shows on a major network. So it wasn’t just for kids. It was for everyone. It inspired Indiana Jones. It inspired a lot of the later James Bond movies in some respect, even though it itself was partially inspired by James Bond. To us the original show is THE template for a Jonny Quest movie. Much in the same way someone like Joss Whedon or Kevin Feige looks at the silver age Avengers for the Ultron movie, we’re looking at the original for constructing the Jonny Quest film.
Wonderful. I imagine right away you guys see this as a potential franchise.
Adrian Askarieh: Of course, how could you not? But first and foremost you have to get the first movie right. And that’s our number one goal. But it is very much designed to be the launching point of a franchise. And, knock on wood, it will be a franchise. The story is very much designed to bring everyone together. So you’ll see the origin of these characters coming together. Hopefully they’ll continue in subsequent movies.
Given that this is sort of like an international fairing adventure movie, is this something that lends itself well to 3D?
Adrian Askarieh: I think so. But that’s a studio level decision. As it’s not cheap to covert to 3D and 3D is not as popular domestically as it is internationally.
If you don’t mind switching gears, I wanted to talk to you a little bit about Hitman: Agent 47.
Adrian Askarieh: Sure.
So this thing is coming up pretty soon at end of summer. Where are we in production and how is post-production going?
Adrian Askarieh: We’re in post production now. We’re going to be scoring the movie in a couple of weeks. Special effects shots are coming in on a weekly basis. And seeing the movie take form is very exciting. We did some additional photography in February in Berlin which really enhanced the film. Everyone is excited about it at the studio. We hope that it will launch a franchise. I think it’s a really good movie. I think if someone askes me: Are you pleased with the film and did it fulfill what you set out to do individually? Mind you, I’m not speaking for the rest of the team but just for myself, I would say yes, it did.
Speaking of your own goals with this particular project, what were your own personal takeaways from the previous Hitman film? What did you learn from that or, maybe, what did you want to do differently with this one?
Adrian Askarieh: I learned a tremendous deal from the last Hitman movie. That was a property which we got the rights and we sold it to Fox. We developed the script with the writer Skip Woods, and we all worked really hard on it. And then the decision was made to make it a different kind of movie. I think when you sell something to a studio as a producer, you should do it with the understanding that it becomes theirs at that point. So you’ve got to be able to work with that and be able to maneuver within that paradigm, otherwise you have no business making movies at studios.
Anyways, with the last Hitman, the studio loved our script. It was a fantastic script. I think it’s still one of the best action scripts I’ve ever read. But they decided to make it for far less money than what the script was intended for. They brought in Luc Besson’s company to make it because they could make it for a price. So we were not really involved in the production of the first Hitman.
What was different about this one is that there was no third party brought in. it was us and the studio. We were involved in every aspect of it from the beginning to the end, even though we haven’t hit the end yet. I think the film will hopefully reflects that in a positive way. It’s a much different movie than the first one. It’s tonally different and also has a much larger scope and story. I think it’s a movie that will please the Hitman fans. I think it’s also a film that will bring the general audiences to the Hitman franchise… knock on wood.
The first teaser, the trailer, and the marketing materials so far have been sort of focusing on our new main character, the new Agent 47, and lots of action. How does this version of the film balance these cool action, stylistic set pieces with the stealth elements of the games?
Adrian Askarieh: There is a lot of stealth in the movie. I have heard some of the fan reactions to the trailer. As much as they like it, they are worried that Hitman: Agent 47 is going to go all bombastic and forego his stealth origin. That’s simply not the case. The trailers are meant to illicit responses from general audiences worldwide. You have to see the actual movie to be able to make a judgment like that. I think fans are going to be happy with the stealth in the movie. The next trailer is going to show people more of the story, and more of the characters, and more of the relationships as we get closer to the release of the movie. You don’t want to give the audience everything seven months in advance.
I agree. This is an interesting franchise because there have been so many games, a couple different versions of the games, a very successful mobile game as well. Does the video game company (Square Enix) give you complete creative freedom when it comes to generating new characters or maybe making changes to 47 himself? Or are they sort of involved in the process along the way?
Adrian Askarieh: Well it’s a little bit of both. We respect their opinion and we’re always engaging with them. They’re working very closely with the studio on the marketing efforts, because there are two Hitman games coming out later this year, including the big one which was just announced, which in of itself is extraordinary in a year that the movie is being released. I think that’s something that’s very unique and we all want to take advantage of it. Both Fox and Square Enix are very keyed into this unique opportunity.
But back to your primary question. We are in touch with them all the time. They read our drafts. They comment on things which they feel might be a little outside of the mythology of Agent 47. We’ve actually incorporated their notes into the movie. Do they have creative approval? No, not on this one. But it’s not at all a scenario where we disregard their comments or their opinions and don’t keep them in the loop. I think that would be a huge mistake. And that’s the way these movies used to be made in the past, and also comic book movies. And we all know where that ends up. So you have to make these movies with people that know the characters, love the characters, respect them, but also understand that when you make a movie, you want general audiences to embrace it also. That’s what Marvel does so well. I don’t think any of the Marvel movies are geared towards only the hardcore fans. They please them, but they take what’s cool about those characters, their DNA and the core mythology, and expand it. I think that’s the only way to do it.
Yeah, especially with the way franchises are being built nowadays. Speaking of the Marvel model, and you already said this that you are really hoping this could be a franchise starter. If this were to be a trilogy or if it could launch other films, do you think each film about this particular character, given his video games, would each movie sort of be its own standalone adventure? For the most part, the video games are their own standalone things. there are some main threads, a few threads, that kinda connect them together. But, for the most part, each game is built on a very different and unique thing. So I’m wondering when you are planning this film out and trying to figure out how to conclude it and build the story, are you thinking, “I already know what this sets up for a second movie”? Or is it like, “Let’s just make this as best as possible and we’ll cross that road when we get there”?
Adrian Askarieh: Little bit of both. First and foremost, you have to make the first movie work. you have to put all your efforts in making the first movie stand on its own and be a viable piece of entertainment. Otherwise, you won’t get to the sequels. So that is our number one priority. But, having said that, we have an idea where the second one goes, generally speaking. And we are definitely setting up a world in this first movie which we can use in future films.
Just one last question about this particular project. Rupert Friend, is he signed for multiple films?
Adrian Askarieh: I will say that he is signed on for more Hitman: Agent 47 films than just the upcoming one
I want to keep the video game conversation going and ask you if there’s any status update on Deus Ex?
Adrian Askarieh: Sure. Roy Lee and I have parted ways with CBS Films and will shortly announce a new home for it. By the way, we love CBS Films. They were very good to us and they were very good to the project. But the budget of the movie is not something that fits the current CBS Films’ model. They may still be a part of it in terms of co-financing scenario. We are working extremely closely with Square Enix and Eidos Montreal on this one. Deus Ex is one of the most exciting projects which Roy and myself are working on. Fans should expect a very big announcement soon.
The timing of that seems perfect because the brand new game was just announced: Mankind Divided.
Adrian Askarieh: Great trailer, huh?
Yeah! Oh, man. Look. I’m an Adam Jensen fan. I really thought Human Revolution, the game that brought the Deus Ex brand back into the minds of not just fans, but all gamers everywhere, was incredible. Am I right to assume the movie is going to be based on that game, Human Revolution?
Adrian Askarieh: Yes, it will be based on that story concept… I mean people are doing it with Y.A. novels. They are doing it with some graphic novel storylines, or at least substantially keeping them intact. When you have a great story, rich backstory, and an incredibly visceral and intelligent concept like Human Revolution and the upcoming Mankind Divided, I think it will be a missed opportunity to not adapt the movies based on those stories. Now, is it going to be a literal adaptation where every beat you can see coming based on having played the game? No. But it will follow the general storyline. And it will follow the general journeys of Adam Jensen. I think what Eidos Montreal and Square Enix have planned it’s absolutely mind-blowing and unique for the video game genre, and for or us to not cultivate that for our films’ storyline would be very ignorant.
Since Mankind Divided was just announced – you’ve probably been privy to that news for a while – Does this game and continuing the Adam Jensen storyline give you more to draw from for your first Deus Ex film, or are you guys still focusing on adapting the Human Revolution story specifically?
Adrian Askarieh: We have known about Mankind Divided for over a year and I am sure just by Osmosis it will have an impact on the story for the first Deus Ex movie but for all intents and purposes the first Deus Ex movie is going to be an adaptation of Human Revolution. We are also anticipating delving into Mankind Divided for the second movie if we are fortunate enough to get there .
Interesting. Just a fan question. Maybe you can’t answer this at this point, but I gotta ask. Adam Jensen has some pretty cool tech and gear and a very unique aesthetic to his look. Can fans of the latest Deus Ex game expect to see Jensen with the built-in sunglasses and the weaponized arms? Is that something that is going to be in the film?
Adrian Askarieh: Absolutley, but in a way that Christopher Nolan brought everything that was iconic about Batman to Batman Begins, including all of his gear and the Batmobile. We’re very excited about Adam’s and other characters’ augmentations and the technology that’s been implanted in Adam. I think that’s something that it’s going to be a lot of fun working with a director and the costume designer and the VFX people to try to bring to cinematic life.
You mentioned there is a near future announcement regarding the Deus Ex film. Is there any sort of time frame when this one might go into production compared to… I know you have the Warner Brothers…
Adrian Askarieh: I can’t give you the time frame on that, but I would certainly hope that it would come this Summer.
From talking to you before and talking about these game properties now, it’s pretty clear you have a good working relationship with Square Enix. I wanted to ask if there are any of updates on Just Cause.
Adrian Askarieh: Just Cause is very much a priority for me. There are very significant developments happening with JUST CAUSE on the movie front but I am not at the liberty to discuss them at this time. Suffice it to say that I think the game franchise is very forward thinking with regard to its Hispanic lead character and that’s one of the many elements that has us excited about the movie version. The JUST CAUSE game franchise has now become a perpetually visible property, which is going to tremendously help Just Cause 3. I’ve seen a lot on Just Cause 3 and I was simply blown away by it. So I anticipate that fans are going to also be blown away by it, and Just Cause 3 is going to keep Just Cause, as a franchise, even more visible and very much a part of the pop culture landscape. But that’s all I can say about Just Cause at this time. Sorry!
When it comes to greenlighting these films, obviously it comes down to whether or not a studio wants to run with it. Is the timing of their decisions based a lot on when a new game might be coming out? Because the timing is very convenient with this. Deus Ex has a new game is coming out. Just Cause has a new game that was announced earlier this year. Are they trying to build on that momentum?
Adrian Askarieh: Well, any time you have a new game coming out and the game and the property are visible and on the forefront of social media discussions by millions of fans around the world, I mean the studios are in the business of making money so that makes it very attractive. But in terms of making the game’s release as a linchpin of the film’s production schedule, I think that would require a great deal of coordination between the studios, the producers, and the video game publishers. I am sure it will happen in the future but that’s not something we are specifically looking at.
Gotcha. Last but not least, earlier this year you had a chance to talk to one of our guys, Rob Frappier, about Enormous, the web series adaptation of the Image Comics series. Of course, since then it’s been announced to get a TV miniseries on Fox. Am I right?
Adrian Askarieh: Yes. I’m producing it with New Regency and Fox Television Studios. We’re in the process of announcing a showrunner and directors for our pilot. The goal is to not make it a miniseries, but make it a 13-episode event series. And if it’s a hit, we’ll do one every year. That’s the plan for Enormous. And it’s moving forward very fast. And everyone seems to be very excited about it.
TV is a very crazy landscape in terms of so many shows trying to get picked up. So we have our work cut out for us. But we have a leg up. It’s a great property. The book has gone supernova since we did the Machinima pilot. So all the omens and auguries are very good. And we’re talking with some really high-level exciting writers and directors. Enormous is something which I take very seriously because I want to have a presence in television. I love a lot of TV shows and I would like to be able to cultivate that medium for my company.
Just blending that together, it’s very clear – and everyone knows this, it’s been a long time coming – but video game movies are going to be the next big thing. It’s imminent. It’s coming. You are a big part of that. Do you think video game adaptations are going to be coming to TV in a similar way in the near future?
Adrian Askarieh: Well, you look at Daredevil, it’s as good an adaptation of a comic book property for TV that I’ve ever seen. So, yes. I think why not? A lot of video games lend themselves perfectly to the format. And I hope a lot of smart producers take those projects and bring them to TV. How cool would it be for Steven Soderbergh, who is doing the wonderful The Knick right now on Cinemax, to take a cool, Grade A, video game property and do with it what he’s doing with The Knick on, let’s say, Cinemax, or Showtime, or wherever? I think it absolutely is going to be something that we’re going to see more and more of.
Going back to your earlier point at the top of your question, I think video game movies are going to be the next comic book movies. I have no doubt about it anymore. And I think the tidal wave is very close. I think it’s maybe a year or two away and we hope to be one of the movies that gets it jumpstarted with Hitman: Agent 47. Don’t forget that Assassin’s Creed and Warcraft are also coming, both with very strong filmmakers. I’m hearing Metal Gear Solid has a pulse. And a bit closer to home, Just Cause and Deus Ex are in the works The trick is still for people who love them, and respect them, and are smart storytellers, to be involved. I think every single project that I can think of has people on them who actually respect the material. So I think that’s what you need and that’s what you didn’t have before. I mean you have Superman: Quest for Peace made by people who probably detested that property And then you have Man of Steel made with great love and respect. You had Batman and Robin. Then you had Batman Begins and The Dark Knight. You had Captain America by Roger Corman, god bless him. Then you had The Winter Soldier. The same thing is going to happen with video game movies.
I can’t wait. Thanks for your time, Adrian!
Hitman: Agent 47 opens in theaters August 21, 2015