Really interesting front-page Variety article today about how an increasing reliance on CGI is straining studio tentpole movie production schedules:
The kind of sturm and drang that’s swirled around “Green Lantern” is actually par for the course on most visual effects-heavy tentpoles these days — and the problem’s growing. Such pics now routinely fit the description of a “troubled” project, with “troubled” the new normal.
Traditionally, big studio movies never miss their release dates. This is different from the videogame industry, where high-profile AAA titles, under pressure to raise the bar technologically as well as artistically, can be granted extra months or even years if the publisher feels it’s worth it.
Game makers have long admired Big Filmmaking’s ability to meet schedules no matter what. But with the shift to digital, film post-production is acquiring the atmosphere of a “normal” game studio at crunch time:
[Studio] management practices are still catching up to the reality of tentpole production, where effects have to be built before the picture is tested, then vfx have to be added and/or changed as the picture comes together and in response to audience testing, all while marketing demands shots for the campaign.
All of Hollywood seems to be still figuring this out, and as a result, the tentpole pattern is now well established:
- A movie demands you’ve-never-seen-this-before visual effects both for marketing and story;
- Ambitious plans and a short schedule leave little margin for error;
- Inevitable schedule problems trigger urgent meetings among studio execs, vendors and filmmakers to get the project back on track;
- “911″ emergency calls go out to almost any vfx shop in the world that can take on some last-minute work;
- Everyone runs a harrowing race to deadline despite all the extra help.
Collapse, rest, repeat.
As a videogame maker, I always assumed we were just crazy to begin with. But is the madness in the craftsman, or his tools?
I’ll be joining a UC Santa Cruz symposium in Silicon Valley on April 15, “Inventing the Future of Games.” Sims creator Will Wright will give a keynote. The panel I’m on is about “Games and Cinema.”
I love being in an industry where we get to study what we’re doing from an academic point of view, while we’re doing it.
Here’s the transcript of my notes from that interview in case anyone’s interested. I stumbled across it while cleaning out an old hard drive.
It was May 1991. She was 89 years old. She often spoke of herself in the third person. She had a strapping male secretary named Horst.
As we said goodbye, I realized I was shaking the hand of someone who’d once shaken hands with Adolf Hitler.
“And maybe did more than just shake hands,” George added.
Or rather, partial script. For writers interested in the differences between writing for movies and games, it’s worth noting that there is no game design document equivalent to a film screenplay (i.e. an established format for the writer to communicate the story to producers, director, cast and crew).
Typically, the larger part of my writing work on Sands of Time was conveyed through non-screenplay documents (dialog recording and tracking spreadsheets and the like) to the team of designers, artists and engineers. I’ve described that process in more detail in this article for MIT Press.
The “readable screenplay” posted here reads like a film screenplay, but that’s because it contains only the cinematic cutscenes – not the in-game scripted events, dialog, and voice-over narration that are just as essential to the player’s experience of the story. Those exist in no easily readable form.
The best way to experience a videogame story is to play the game. But for a quick read, this script offers at least a glimpse into Sands of Time’s beginnings.
Now that the movie is out on DVD/Blu-Ray, I figure the easy way to satisfy curiosity is to simply post my screenplay from June 2005.
Quick history: This was the last draft I wrote, starting from the story John August and I pitched to Disney/Bruckheimer in 2004. A series of other writers took it from there: Jeff Nachmanoff, Boaz Yakin, Doug Miro & Carlo Bernard, in that order, resulting in the shooting script that went into production in summer 2008.
Update: If you’re curious about the game-into-movie adaptation process, I’ve also posted the original game script of Ubisoft’s Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time, which I wrote in 2002-03, and an accompanying article about how that game story was developed. As these materials illustrate, writing for games and movies are two very different crafts.
Just got back from my first-ever visit to Toronto, a city I’ve long wished to visit for many reasons, yet somehow, amazingly and despite being from New York, never did until this weekend.
It was a whirlwind, too-short 36 hours including
- Ubisoft’s Toronto studio launch party Sunday night
- giving the keynote Monday morning for Interactive Ontario (talking about one of my favorite subjects, Prince of Persia)
- doing a TIFF “Film and Games” panel later that afternoon with Jade Raymond and Jon Landau (a really nice, down to earth guy who produced two small yet profitable indie films, Titanic and Avatar)
- standing ovation for Catherine Deneuve after the premiere of “Potiche” (her 109th movie according to IMDB)
The Toronto International Film Festival felt welcoming, spiffy and well organized, like Toronto itself. I left the city by an airport on an island in the middle of downtown that you take a ferry to get to. Now that’s cool.