Dead Island publisher: We haven’t sold rights for a Dead Island movie -- but we are talking to name directors
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Few trailers in any entertainment medium have gripped the Internet the way the trailer for the zombie video game Dead Island did last week. So feverish was the reaction that a number of stories claimed that a set of Hollywood producers had bought film rights that the game’s publisher, which controls those rights, said they never bought.
We caught up with Malte Wagener, the Munich-based head of global business development for said publisher -- Koch Media and its Deep Silver label -- to find out exactly what was happening on the movie front. Will Dead Island, which comes out as a game later this year, become a film, and what shape will it take if it does? Read on...
24 Frames: The Internet was abuzz this past weekend that that you had sold Dead Island film rights to ‘Mummy’ producer Sean Daniel and the financier Union Entertainment. Did you?
Malte Wagener: There are a lot of different stories out there but the bottom line is that neither Union nor Sean Daniel has ever talked to Koch Media. Richard [Leibowitz, of Union] and [game developer] Techland agree there was never any rights. There was some misrepresentation on Techland’s part about what rights they have and what they can organize, but Richard confirmed in an e-mail that these were just talks and he doesn’t have the rights. [Leibowitz declined comment.] To be honest, I’m surprised that someone of Richard’s caliber would even go out there and say this, if he did say it.
So where does that leave a Dead Island movie?
MW: We’ve had a lot of inquiries, not only from Union but from other major players for film adaptation. The talks are very early and there’s no deal whatsoever. Right now I’d say it boils down to three or four opportunities. Some are studios, not just bonders [financiers] like Union. We’d rather go with a big studio that can bring the creative side.
Do you have firm studio offers, and what do they look like?
MW: We had a couple of big-name directors come to us. One of the top directors in Hollywood sent a studio his link to the trailer and said he was interested in this, and the studio contacted us. There are different opinions of course in how to do this. The first is that you find a producer and then he brings in a creative team. The other is to find a director first and he’ll bring people along. My feeling is we should find a director first.
Would casting be a key component of a Dead Island film?
MW: I don’t think so. The intellectual property doesn’t necessarily gain value if you put in Brad Pitt. This is a movie about style and presentation.
Zombies are all the rage now, not only in video games but in Hollywood. Do you feel a Dead Island movie can distinguish itself from all the other flesh-eating vehicles out there?
MW: Zombies have been done before [in video games] whether with ‘Resident Evil,’ where it’s serious, or ‘Dead Rising,’ which is a little more funny. We set out to do something that had a realistic approach to the topic.
There’s also a lot of skepticism that any video game, no matter how good, can make a competent film; in fact in our poll the majority of respondents said they didn’t want a Dead Island movie. How do you respond to those skeptics?
MW: I think this can be a good movie if it’s done right but you do have to see it as separate from the game. We’re not going to go out and write a movie script based on the game. You have too many limitations in the game you don’t have with a movie. We all know that movies are not always what gamers want. Good games aren’t good movies and good movies aren’t good games. Look at Avatar.
So what is it that makes you think you can avoid that trap and come up with a good movie and a good game?
MW: If we got involved with a movie we’d take a very different approach. We’re really not going to make the game the foundation of the movie. We can’t just sit down and expand it. But one of the key reasons why I go to the theater is to be immersed in the atmosphere and the setting of a different world that’s still believable, and I think that’s what we have with the game. You have an emotional attachment. Dead Island has that kind of story and that kind of presentation and I think viewers would want to bond with that world and enter it.
The trailer, which you put together with the Scottish company Axis Animation, struck many as cinematic. Did that occur to you as assembled it?
MW: I don’t know about a movie, but we did think about these very important creative issues. [One of the trailer’s two directors, Anton Borkel, said in a separate phone call that he watched everything from slow-motion photography to busy Dutch paintings before he designed the trailer.] I suggested, for example,’Let’s bring a child in there.’ Everybody said ‘You’re crazy; you can’t kill a child.’ And in the original concept that never would have worked because the violence was in focus. But now when you watch the trailer the first thing that comes to mind is not ‘Oh, this is brutal.’ Of course there’s violence but the purpose of the trailer is not about slashing zombies or showing blood but about people coming together to fight evil.
If you had to guess, do we see a movie go into development, and how quickly does it happen?
MW: If someone is waving a couple million dollars at us it’s an intriguing thing, but i think if we just took the next offer we’d lose value in the long term. We’re a private company and we’re not under the same pressure as other companies. We don’t have people saying accept the next offer. But we’re also aware the buzz won’t last forever. --Steven Zeitchik