A few years ago, Guillermo del Toro met with a number of video-game publishers to pitch an idea, but things didn’t go well. The fan-favorite director of such pictures as “Hellboy” and “Pan’s Labyrinth” found most companies weren’t interested in spending tens of millions of dollars to develop a completely original idea conceived by an outsider.
“They were all very resistant and conservative,” Del Toro recalled. “It was like the worst version of a movie studio meeting.”
Now, del Toro is one of the most in-demand directors in Hollywood and finally has found his home in the video-game world too. The filmmaker is partnering with THQ, a midsize Calabasas-based publisher still seeking its first big hit not based on a license, to create a trilogy of games called inSANE. Del Toro describes the games as “Lovecraftian horror adventure” with a “pulp narrative and creatures with tentacles.”
Despite the ever-narrowing gap between how games and effects-heavy movies are made, high-profile partnerships between video-game companies and filmmakers are increasingly rare. The reason is simply that previous alliances haven’t worked well. Steven Spielberg signed a deal with Electronic Arts in 2005 to create three games, but after the first, a Wii puzzle title called Boom Blox, fizzled, development on a second was canceled. Zack Snyder signed a similar deal with EA in 2008, but no games with his name attached are yet in the works. 2007’s Stranglehold, created by John Woo as a sequel to his movie “Hard Boiled,” was a commercial disappointment.
But THQ executives say they see more in del Toro than a well-known name that can bring some much-needed marketing mojo.
“It’s not about the fact that Guillermo is a movie director, it’s that he’s a hard-core gamer who knows how to describe a vision and communicate it to a team,” said Danny Bilson, THQ’s executive vice president of core games, who previously worked as a screenwriter on such movies as “The Rocketeer.”
Indeed, nobody can question del Toro’s credibility as a gamer. Asked what his favorite games are, the director rattles off such obscure titles as the 1993 CD-ROM adventure Gadget: Invention, Travel & Adventure and the 2005 cult hit Shadow of the Colossus. In other words, this isn’t a guy who has just played some Call of Duty and Mario Kart. He’s a man who has been grabbing joysticks and pushing buttons since Pong in the 1970s. And despite the word “synergy,” which is tossed around whenever the movie and video-game worlds collide, del Toro is adamant that’s he’s not looking simply to transfer his filmmaking skills to an interactive medium.
“The relationship between movies and games has been unfortunate because people in Hollywood see games as an ancillary product, but that’s the least of what they can be,” del Toro said. “We want to make a great, big, immersive, powerful and unique game.”
Del Toro is famously one of Hollywood’s busiest filmmakers, with a new multimedia production company, a deal to develop films for DreamWorks Animation and a film expected to start shooting in the summer. But the director has devoted hours every week to inSANE (it helps that THQ’s offices are just minutes from his home). He also has visited Illinois-based development studio Volition, where the game is being produced. Given the long production process for a high-quality game, the first inSANE title isn’t scheduled to come out until 2013. If the process goes better than it has for directors such as Spielberg and the deal is completed, it could be 2017 by the time the third title is done.
“These games could easily take the rest of my career, and that would be fine,” Bilson said. “Guillermo is a great and fun partner who’s just the kind of guy I want to be in business with.”
— Ben Fritz
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