Former Ubisoft Motion Pictures CEO launches studio focused on adapting video games to film

Four years ago, I wrote a little article for my school magazine on the evolution of video games, and how they were starting to meld with the film industry more and more.

Fast forward to 2016: it’s safe to say the evolution is still ongoing. We have virtual reality now, and we’ve had a few more attempts at game-to-film adaptations.

Popular video game franchises like Warcraft, Assassin’s Creed, and Splinter Cell are being given the opportunity to shine on the big screen, and for the latter two games, the developer behind the franchises has taken a big step forward in the adaptation of video games to live-action films.

Ubisoft Motion Pictures, while it has been around for five years, has not produced a hell of a lot of content.

They are known for the Rabbids Invasion television series. Rabbids are characters made famous in their debut in the popular Rayman series of games, and like Despicable Me‘s minions characters, the Rabbids too were able to shine on their own and are holding their own in video games and on television.

Ubisoft Motion Pictures is a division of the French video game publisher and developer Ubisoft, and exist with one goal in mind: the adaptation of its IPs to film.

If you go to the company’s Wikipedia page now, you will see (and although many of these titles may not be 100% confirmed to be in the works, they have been brought up, or considered in ‘very early development’) a range of different Ubisoft properties ready to be pushed out, including Tom Clancy’s Splinter Cell, Watch Dogs, Ghost Recon, Far Cry and The Division.

As far as my knowledge of film studios specifically created to adapt video games to film, this is the first I’ve heard of with that goal in mind – until now.

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Jean-Julien Baronnet, pictured here next to a ‘Rabbid’ statue, is launching his own film company focused solely on adapting video games to movies.

Variety reports that “Assassin’s Creed” producer Jean-Julien Baronnet is opening his own production studio, Marla Studios, with that very goal in mind – pumping out video game movie adaptations.

Baronnet is also the former CEO of EuropaCorp, a French film company behind the Transporter film sequels, I Love You Phillip Morris, and Arthur and the Invisibles.

Baronnet says he’s already in talks with video game companies, most likely to pitch his company as an outlet to produce live-action adaptations of those games before anyone else.

Baronnet, being a former Ubisoft employee, echoes the importance of ‘understanding the gamer’ as a means of producing a successful video-game adapted film.

“Producing a video game adaptation is a special process that not only requires movie production know-how, but also a deep understanding of gamer values and the video game creative process,” he told Variety.

“The key is to have a close relationship with the game designers and to work with them on the key creative angles that will best cope with the game’s DNA. The key is to recognize the passion of gamers, given they spend hundreds of hours in that world. That makes it essential for the ‘universe’ of the game to be as accurate as possible.”

There hasn’t been a whole lot of cross-platform integration between films and video games as of late. The most popular genre of films these days, in my opinion – being the action-adventure-superhero genre – has not seen a mess of movie-licensed games that tie directly to the launch of the film. Perhaps its because the games haven’t been successful, or to put it bluntly – movie-licensed video games (9 times out of 10) tend to be garbage, barely worthy of the bargain-bin sticker they’re given.

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A screenshot from the upcoming ‘Assassin’s Creed’ film adaptation

While films like the recent Warcraft release tend to be successful in the box office, they tend to be watered down by sloppy stories, which in turn leads to poor reviews, followed by the blacklisting of said film by a number of people who tend to base what they want to see on the reviews of a film. From there, the film drops off the map soon after its release.

Baronnet, albeit he has a strong background in the video game industry, is taking a huge risk with Marla Studios. If he manages to pull off a number of successful video-game adapted films, he could make bank, but first he needs to build up solid relationships with a number of game developers, and not only that, he needs to choose the right content to adapt.

There’s a right time and place to adapt a video game to a movie. Assassin’s Creed will probably do well financially because it’s still a popular video game franchise in that its move to annual releases have garnered it more and more players and sales, but another Ubisoft title like Splinter Cell, a franchise which hasn’t seen the light of day in three years, may not be the best choice to follow Assassin’s Creed to the silver screen.

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Sam Fisher is the protagonist of the ‘Splinter Cell’ video game franchise, which is also in development for a live-action feature film.

It could still do well on its own as a solid action-espionage thriller, but it doesn’t have the same hardcore fan base that Assassin’s Creed has, and may never make the money Creed makes.

To conclude: I’m intrigued by Baronnet’s decision to start this very specific company. It’s too early to tell how successful the idea will be, but gamers like myself are always hoping there is somebody who is truly passionate about telling a video game’s story ‘the right way’, and not taking a big ol’ Uwe Boll dump all over an entire franchise.

I’m looking at you, Alone in the Dark, and Bloodrayne, and Postal. Rest In Peace.

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