E3: THQ Executive on Hollywood's Growing Acceptance of Video Games, Working With Guillermo del Toro on 'inSANE' (Q&A)
Transmedia is the new buzzword in Hollywood. Danny Bilson, executive vp core games at Los Angeles-based game publisher THQ, will be showcasing what that term means with a new lineup of video games at E3 2011. THQ is looking to expand its gaming audience by releasing comic books, novels, TV shows and movies that expand each game property beyond interactive entertainment.
Bilson is one of a growing number of video game executives who grew up playing games. In Bilson's case, he actually migrated from Hollywood to the interactive space. With his writing partner, Paul DeMeo, Bilson wrote the Disney feature film The Rocketeer, as well as the television series The Sentinel, which aired on UPN, and Warner Bros. Television's The Flash.
After getting involved in games by writing James Bond 007: Everything or Nothing with DeMeo for Electronic Arts, Bilson worked as a consulting producer on The Sims. His first transmedia project at THQ, Homefront, sold more than 1 million copies as a game in its first week. Most recently, Bilson has been working closely with Guillermo del Toro on a new video game franchise, inSANE, that THQ-owned developer Volition will release in 2013. In an exclusive intervidew, Bilson talks about the future of Hollywood convergence and explains why talent like del Toro are gravitating to games.
The Hollywood Reporter: How have you seen Hollywood's acceptance of video games evolve over the years?
Danny Bilson: I think it depends on the executive. If the executive is a gamer and understands games organically and is passionate about it, it's a completely different experience than if the executive is looking at games as something they have to do because it's what kids are playing today. It creates a completely different experience. Some executives respect games as an equal art form. Some still think it's a consumer product knockoff. We experience all those different things in dealing with them and have to navigate our way through that.
THR: Can you explain what transmedia means to THQ?
Bilson: Transmedia to me is telling a story over multiple media using different media to tell different aspects of the story. The key is none of the media is repeating the same story. It's all fresh perspectives on the universe. And it all starts from the perspective of what would be cool if I love this IP as a fan. That's how we look at it. Just look at what George Lucas has done with Star Wars transmedia over the decades.
THR: How big a part of THQ business will transmedia become?
Bilson: We look at it as a way to make our games more important through partnerships that don't involve large exchanges of money. I don't look at it as a revenue stream. The revenue comes from selling more games because that's our core business, and then healthy partnerships where we have a lot of creative control. Partnerships are important because when you license out your content somebody else runs with it and does their adaptation. If we're fully partnered in it, then we have control over the creative. Adaptation doesn't work very well in transmedia. The fan has to feel they're moving seamlessly from one part of the transmedia universe to the other.
THR: Explain how THQ has taken advantage of being based in Hollywood when it comes to transmedia?
Bilson: We have leadership at THQ who grew up in Hollywood, myself, Lenny Brown, who heads up our transmedia efforts, and some of my staff, and it's very easy for us to talk to those people if, when, and where their talents or their business applies. It's very easy for us to understand how a film is made and what their priorities are and it makes it easy for us to create those transmedia partnerships. So in dealing with SyFy on Red Faction, everything is kind of shorthand being a guy who made 165 hours of TV myself in the past. Some of my shows are re-running on SyFy Channel today. We also know a lot of people and we know who to call. There are a lot of old relationships that we can take advantage of.
THR: What's next in the transmedia plan for Homefront?
Bilson: We'd love to get a six-hour TV miniseries greenlit, which will tell another aspect of the story to sit between the Homefront I and Homefront II games. We have a producer who is very interested in this, Lloyd Levin (Green Zone, The Watchmen, Lara Croft: Tomb Raider). He has a long list of credits and even produced The Rocketeer, which I did many years ago. So we're old friends and he's working with the Homefront property right now trying to attach a director to make this six-hour thing happen.
THR: How is the Red Faction franchise expanding this year?
Bilson: With the Red Faction Armageddon game launch, there's a SyFy Channel movie, "Red Faction: Origins" that just came out. The movie, which stars Robert Patrick, tells a story of the generation that sits between Red Faction Guerilla and Red Faction Armageddon. There's also an Xbox Live Arcade and PlayStation Network game called Red Faction Battlegrounds that was released and tells a story set in another part of the timeline.
THR: What opportunities do you see with SyFy with the de Blob game franchise now that the second game has gone multiplatform?
Bilson: There are opportunities with de Blob because they have a SyFy Kids initiative, although de Blob isn't something I consider a kids game. But the cartoon aspect of it can play to a younger audience. So there's the potential for them to host future iterations of some de Blob stuff we're doing both on the Web and on television and we'll see how that goes in the future.
THR: What's it been like working with Guillermo del Toro on inSANE?
Bilson: Guillermo has been interested in making a game for years and had talked to a bunch of different companies before he went to New Zealand to do his never-ending prep on The Hobbit. When he came back he wanted to talk to some game companies and since he lives in the neighborhood where our office is, we were the first place he came to. Now, I'm a fan of his. I couldn't believe how much he knew about my previous work. Guillermo is a fan of games. He's a fan of genre. He's a fan of media. He writes, which is really important. It means he's more than a director in terms of what kind of creativity he can offer.
THR: Can you address the importance of someone being an actual gamer when it comes to making the leap from Hollywood to games?
Bilson: The most important thing Guillermo brings to this project is the fact that he's a hardcore gamer and has lots of opinions about games and game design. It's been really exciting working with him because I'm all about talent...and that talent makes great games and inspired people can create inspired content. He's been extremely open to learning as much as possible about all the details of how games are made. And more than anything else, he's incredibly fun to work with. I've been working with him personally closely on this game.
THR: What's inSANEabout?
Bilson: You're going to have to wait to find out because it's a long process and we're going to roll that out over the years. But I'll tell you it's not a survival horror game and it's not exactly what you think.