Game to film transitions

A little while ago N'Gai Croal was kind enough to publish a rant of mine which compared Halo 3 sales numbers to film. I received a lot of feedback regarding my position that Halo should not be made into a film. Unfortunately, that was not my premise. If anything, I said that Halo should not be made into a shitty movie. My point was simply, games sales alone do not say the film should be made.

A film can be made about anything, look at Pirates of the Caribbean. However, like Pirates, the film will live or die on its story. Unless a great script with a great director and a great producer come together, the film won't be made. Sometimes this happens right away, sometimes it takes years, sometimes it never does. The evolution from game to great script is a harder one than a comic book, a novel or a life story. In the case of Sin City and 300, brilliant directors figured out how to shoot the films directly from the pages. Novels have strong stories and a number of writers are out there who can very effectively adapt films from the books. The same with life stories. Games do not have a linear story. Many, like Halo, have a universe, but the universe has to be populated with a 3 acts comprising a story. There may be a loose arc in some games, but there is rarely a self propelled story which would keep you engaged for two hours without a controller in your hand. This is certainly the case with Halo. Ask any Halo player if they would sit and watch game play for two hours, just for the story. The leap from non linear, interactive world, to great script, is really, really, really, really, really, really hard. Why do you think screenwriters get paid so much?

Once the script comes together, the budget must be in line with the strength of the script, the director, the producer, the cast, the awareness and many other factors. The game sales are only a factor. As an outsider, it would appear, that the package that came together did not support the budget requested. The factors for this decision may be complex, but at the end of the day, if the two studios thought they could make their money back, they would have made the investment. The downside risk was not well enough mitigated to provide sufficient comfort. The easiest change is to lower the budget. The more complex is to monkey with some of the variables in the package. The larger the budget, the broader the required size of the audience perceived by the studio. In other words, the further we must move from the existing audience.

After sounding like a curmudgeon and making it sound like there should not be a movie. A movie would be fine. I just think it should make the existing audience happy. Growing an audience is fine, but the incremental growth for units of Halo is a tough one to swallow. Awareness of Halo is probably higher than any other game the market. Awareness in the demographic that owns a game console and is willing and interested in playing a first person shooter must be closing in on 100%. Even among those without a game console, if you are willing to play an FPS, you know about Halo. If you know what FPS stands for, you know about Halo. A film could introduce a new audience to the game. But we are not talking about Tetris here. Halo is not a "pick of and play" for a newbie. The versions of Halo are probably the top three tie ratios of console to game ownership on the Xbox and Xbox360 platforms. That means most people with consoles own the game. The game itself is a console seller. Gamers see it as a reason to buy a console. The game, the technology and the community are drivers of a purchasing decision. Not the naked property. Are people whose introduction is through a film going to run out and buy a console to play the game? I think not. These are the people who buy 10 million Harry Potter games, or 5 million Matrix games or 7 million Lord of the Rings game. Any of which a Halo player would view as more valuable as a cocktail coaster to protect their milk crate coffee table from getting stained by condensation dripping off their chilled bottle of Halo emblazoned Mountain Dew Gamer Fuel. Halo is a market share grabber. It is not a market expander. Wii Sports is a market expander.

If you make the movie for the community, give them more of what they love. All of these people who are on line saying there should be a film, could write the film. Master Chief lands, there is a big attack by hordes of aliens, jump in a Warthog, explosion . . . All of the elements are there for a great Peter Jackson film. Can you imagine Peter Jackson directing the film, in engine with some post rendering passes to make it pretty? Better yet, give it to Blur and make it look shit hot and still come in under 50 million dollars. If the movie comes in on that budget or less, you don't have to water down the story and risk alienating your core fans. You can make it just for them. What if this movie was done on a budget, hyped up in theaters through a very limited run and released exclusively on Xbox Live along with follow ons available only to owners of 360 and the game. I call that a console mover. I also say it makes the existing fan base happy.


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