After decades of largely fruitless efforts by Hollywood studios to produce successful movies based on video games, we've recently seen a resurgence in determination. This summer Legendary Pictures released a lavish, big-budget adaptation of the Warcraft gaming series that failed to make much of a mark at the domestic box office, but was a huge hit in China. Next up is Assassin's Creed, the inaugural release from Ubisoft Motion Pictures (in collaboration with New Regency), a studio set up by AAA video game publisher Ubisoft in an effort to further capitalize on the company's most popular franchises.
UMP was ushered into existence by former EuropaCorp CEO Jean-Julien Baronnet, who lined up a slate of adaptations including Splinter Cell, which is set to star Tom Hardy in the lead role. After five years as the head of the studio, Baronnet was replaced earlier this year by Gerard Guillemot, brother of Ubisoft chairman Yves Guillemot, in a departure that was said to be amicable. It seems that Baronnet has caught the video game movie bug, however, as he now plans to continue working in that same niche.
Variety reports that Baronet is opening his own production company, Marla Studios, which will specialize in video game adaptations like Assassin's Creed. According to the report, Baronnet is already in talks with several video game companies, with the goal of beginning development on Marla's first film by next year. Baronnet explained to Variety that the recipe for success with video game movies is bridging the divide between the art forms:
"Producing a video game adaptation is a special process that not only requires movie production know-how, but also a deep understanding of gamer values and the video game creative process... The key is to have a close relationship with the game designers and to work with them on the key creative angles that will best cope with the game’s DNA. The key is to recognize the passion of gamers, given they spend hundreds of hours in that world. That makes it essential for the ‘universe’ of the game to be as accurate as possible."
Based on Baronnet's outline of Marla Studios' goals, it sounds like the company will focus on guiding video game companies towards the right choices for the franchise and acting as a mediator between the film and video game industries, rather than single-handedly taking on video game movie productions. Among the key services mentioned by Baronnet is "negotiating with the Hollywood studios a contract that will give the game company a strong creative control and high pay back" - which was the tactic with Assassin's Creed. UMP's demand for an unprecedented level of creative control meant that Assassin's Creed was reportedly turned down by DreamWorks, Universal Pictures and Warner Bros. before it eventually settled at 20th Century Fox.
Marla Studios has also recruited Lara Voloshin, former head of development at Metropolitan Pictures, as head of development and executive vice president of business development. According to Variety, the company is also in the process of onboarding a "senior production executive from a big Hollywood studio" and "a video game developer" - though these players remain unnamed for now.
The future success of Baronnet's new venture will surely depend on how well Assassin's Creed performs when it arrives in theaters at the end of the year; after all, this will be the first test of the creative and business model that the former CEO is now shopping to new clients. If the movie is the hit that Ubisoft (and fans of the games) are hoping for, it could be the perfect bit of advertising. If it fails, however - especially in the wake of Warcraft's critical bashing and weak box office performance - it could mark the end of Hollywood's current wave of enthusiasm for video game properties.