The panel “From Screen-to-Screen: Adapting Games to Film/TV” took place on day 1 of South By Southwest (SXSW). The panel fell under the Conference theme “Transforming the Entertainment Landscape.”
Entertainment lawyer Simon Pulman moderated and the panelists included: Agent for Agency for the Performing Arts Mike Goldberg, DJ2 Entertainment founder Dmitri Johnson, Allnighter partner Amanda Kruse, and Striker Entertainment founder Russell Binder.
Official panel information
After years of substandard adaptations, video games have surpassed books and podcasts to become arguably the hottest form of underlying rights for hit movies and TV shows. Sonic The Hedgehog brought in over $300 million worldwide, the heavily game-inspired The Witcher was a global hit, and there are adaptations of The Last of Us, Uncharted, Halo and Resident Evil coming very soon.
In this panel, moderated by a top entertainment lawyer, break down what works when adapting video games to film and TV. Topics covered will include: What kind of video game IPs are most suited for adaptation into a movie or TV series? What do producers need to know when working with video game companies? How can producers engage with game fans?
Amanda Kruse stated that “I think back a lot to when people were doing comics, back when comics were cool.” She goes on to explain two reasons why gaming adaptations and video game IPs are now sought after. “I personally think there’s 2 reasons: the business side and the creative side. The games business used to be very niche, but now that is no longer the case, as ‘nerd culture’ is becoming commonplace now.” And then when it comes to the creative side, to the success of adaptations, Kruse stated that “it really hinges on your creatives” since more people from different age groups are becoming gamers.
Russell Binder pointed out that essentially there’s more gaming IPs coming into film, whereas in the past, it was the exact opposite.
Mike Goldberg stated that “The cinematic experience was the fast way to tell a story… then with cable, streaming, storytelling moved to that medium, now that shift moved to gaming… There’s so much narrative and interactive combined that we’re seeing it push back to film… The penetration of the marketplace, the global reach, and the way in which we engage is so far and away beyond any level of intellectual property.”
Video game IPs lead to storytelling opportunities and community-building
Moderator Simon Pulman started he’s recently played Ghost of Tsushima and Donut County, both games that are big and transactional and games that are free to play. Pulman asked Binder, “What do you look for in video game IP that’s suitable?”
Binder explained that “Gaming seems to be a universal language. Where language may be a barrier, gameplay is not. Part of what I look for are titles in the horror, sci-fi, suspense, crime genres… things that are distinctively unique… Translatable into something that can be told as a story in a cinematic experience or long-form experience.”
Dmitri Johnson added that his company DJ2 Entertainment is bringing in what a few years ago would be considered “out-of-the-box” IP. He stated that “things you never traditionally saw in gaming. That was important to us… We have to approach any IP we take on with integrity.”
What are considerations in working with video game companies in adapting video game IPs?
Give video game developers a voice at the table
Johnson pointed out that game developers deserve a voice at the table, which wasn’t the case in the past. He said, “A reason why game adaptations did not work in the past is because of [the film/tv industry’s] ignorance. You created an IP that we’re excited enough to pursue you… you’re our partner, you should have a voice.”
Kruse added to Johnson’s sentiment. She said, “Ultimately, it is this new relationship. We’ve had this collective feeling in Hollywood for a long time that we’re the king of kings. [But] it has to be creatively exciting for everybody involved.” At the end of the day, those involved in adapting video games to film or television are translators.
Goldberg was optimistic about Hollywood working better with video game developers and navigating barriers. He said, “I think the old guard of Hollywood, the old school producers that would mistreat game developers are gone. The new school producial thought is inclusiveness. We are fans, we are students of this space… that’s a big change.” And he also explained that if a studio did not work well with video game partners and the video game community, they’d “[get] killed in the marketplace.”
Video game companies are often global companies, so we’re navigating cultural, linguistic, and legal barriers… But it’s trying to find partners that are Hollywood-facing that can be respectful.Mike Goldberg, Agency for the Performing Arts
Pulman brought up that there are other considerations to discuss when it comes to partnerships between studios and video game developers, such as option fees and timelines. Oftentimes, it takes many years to develop a video game; there is a content roadmap to follow. And it’s important to note that some rights are reserved but adaptations can’t use characters the studio created to create something new. For example, The Walking Dead TV show is based on the graphic novels, and there is a new character in the series that was not originally in the graphic novels. This sort of situation wouldn’t work for a video game company.
Ultimately, it’s important to be flexible, patient, realistic. Understand the differences between the two businesses and find common ground. Binder said that developers always put their gamers, their consumers, first. And Hollywood needs to respect that. For example, The Witcher game franchise saw increase play after Netflix released its TV adaptation in December 2019.
So I’m a game developer and someone from TV/film approaches me
Johnson recommends to make sure that the professional who approaches you are approaching you for the right reasons!
Make sure your partner shares the passion you feel and why your game needs to be adapted, because not every game needs to be adapted.Dmitri Johnson, DJ2 Entertainment
Goldberg recommends to bring in a representative to the conversation (such as an agent, a lawyer, or both). He said, “It’s still easy to accidentally reassign the multitude of your rights… Hollywood can be a tricky place!”
Binder says that it’s important to say no: “You have to be able to say ‘I’m not comfortable. You cannot go out and talk about my property.’” TIP: Get everything in writing!
Kruse says “You gotta trust your gut.” And also keep in mind that even if everything goes right in the process, creating a TV show or film takes a lot of time. “Sit down and talk about the pillars” to keep the integrity of the IP, Kruse added. For example, Kruse recalled one of her first bosses years ago who pursued many IPs, including the right to adapt the young adult vampire series Twilight. (Personal feelings aside, I think many girls my age *cough* millennial *cough* went through a Twilight phase. It had to be experienced.) Kruse explained that the conversation that allowed him to sit down the author Stephenie Meyer was the discussion on Meyer’s 10 Commandments of Twilight.
Predictions for what’s coming next
The panel wrapped up with everyone sharing their predictions for what’s to come next in the video game IP business.
- More video games will break into the mainstream and win awards
- User-generated content experiences
- Self-publishing from Netflix or Amazon; Kruse predicts it could happen even if it fails
- Crossovers in video games
- Video game adaptations becoming more successful than book adaptations
- Video game companies branching out to TV and film, thus becoming larger media companies
- “Interactivity basked into a narrative platform,” as Goldberg put it, since there will be new ways to consume content.
- Virtual production
What are your thoughts on video game IPs and adaptations to TV and film? Let us know in the comments below or on Twitter @geekgalsco!
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Featured image collage credit: ChinLin Pan/Geek Gals