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Director Scott Waugh on Adapting 'Hawken' Video Game for the Big Screen (Q&A)

Hawken Video Game Still - H 2012
"Hawken"

The man behind "Act of Valor" has lined up two big video game adaptations with "Hawken" and "Need for Speed."

Director Scott Waugh has played video games his entire life for fun. Now he’s set to helm back-to-back big budget video game adaptations of Electronic Arts’ Need for Speed racing franchise for DreamWorks and Meteor Entertainment’s sci-fi Mech shooter HAWKEN with Bandito Brothers and DJ2 Entertainment. After the success of Act of Valor, Waugh hopes to build on the action quotient with these new movies. The director talks about his latest projects and explains why video games make great source material for the big screen in this exclusive interview.

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The Hollywood Reporter: What attracted you to HAWKEN?

Scott Waugh: When (Meteor Entertainment CEO) Mark Long presented HAWKEN to me, I said to myself, 'I haven’t been this excited and inspired since I sat in the theater at Fox in ’77 and watched the premiere of Star Wars.' I was, 'Oh, my God. This is like a whole world.' It just blew my mind. As I started diving into the characters, I just thought, 'This has got to be on the big screen.'

THR: What, specifically, was it about this universe that said this has to be on the big screen?

Waugh: The thing about HAWKEN that was so relevant was that it takes place in 2450, and it really projects where Earth is going, where humanity is going to have to travel to continue to exist, and how we’re going to bring our baggage with us, basically. The cycle of life is still going to continue, even though we’re on different planets.

I thought, 'It’s just so relevant, with us, with what’s going on right now.' I just felt like that mixed in with the incredible sci-fi world that they’ve developed in HAWKEN with the Mechs and everything. I was, 'Dude, the human story in this mechanical world is just so relevant.'

THR: When you think about Mechs, they’re not something we’ve seen on screen a lot.

Waugh: No. I did Act of Valor, a Navy Seal film. I always tried to video the films with badass hardware. Mechs have taken it to a whole other level. They’re so amazing. I was, 'This is going to be a live-action film.' So I’m really excited about it.

THR: What role have the advances in special effects played in being able to bring something like this to the big screen?

Waugh: One of the things I’ve been talking to the game developers about that I think is going to be so unique to this movie is that I really want to use the (Unreal Engine 3) game engine in the movie. I want the film to feel exactly like the game. So we’re going to definitely really cross-pollinate what they’re doing in the game for the film. For me, I’m pretty excited about that, because that world we’re creating in HAWKEN is going to be exactly like the game.

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THR: How are you going to apply what you learned filming Act of Valor with HAWKEN?

Waugh: At my company Bandito Brothers, we’re all about authenticity; it’s truly important to us. I feel like games have gotten so realistic and incredible, that that’s still my approach to making movies. To maintain that authenticity, we’re going to take that up a level with HAWKEN in making sure that this world still feels real and authentic. How the Mechs work is so important to me; I just want to make sure it’s accurate. I feel like everything I learned on Act of Valor, the way the SEALs operate, I can definitely apply it to this world.

THR: You announced the HAWKEN movie at San Diego Comic-Con. What was that experience like for you?

Waugh: What an experience. I’ve always wanted to go. It’s truly exciting for me. The irony of all this is, I’m doing two games in a row as features. Right now I’m in the process of doing Need for Speed; so I’m going, for me, hopefully the best car racing movie ever. Then I jump into creating the next Star Wars franchise with HAWKEN.

THR: What was it that attracted you to the Need for Speed game franchise?

Waugh: I personally have always wanted to do a car racing movie. I’m a motocross racer, myself. We still quote Bullet and French Connection. Those movies were made in the ‘70s. We should be able to outdo that nowadays, and I just feel like, “I want to be the guy that makes the next authentic racing film,” and that’s my goal. It’s so great to be part of that Need for Speed franchise, because I think they do a great job on authentic racing.

THR: Is there a specific game you guys are going to focus on when it come to Need for Speed?

Waugh: No, because they’ve done so many games, it’s going to be a mesh of all of them. We’re going to try to pay a tribute and respect to a lot of the games they’ve done. There will be one in particular that we’re focused on, but I can’t reveal that until 2014.

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THR: There’s a new Resident Evil and Silent Hill movie coming out this fall and Disney has Wreck-It Ralph set in the arcade game universe. Why do you think Hollywood is so infatuated with games these days?

Waugh: I think Hollywood just loves games because they have become so realistic. They’re not polar opposites of each. They’re becoming a blending and synergy into one. That’s what we talked about with HAWKEN. Now it’s not, “Here’s the movie. Here’s the game;” it’s almost become one. That’s the experience we want to create in the film, for people to really feel like, 'Holy smokes!,' that you’re in the game.