games reporter

A games guru puts Persia on 2009 big-screen map

Given the current state of world affairs, Iran probably is not the most ideal setting for a family-friendly, big-screen actioner.

But refer to the country instead as "Persia" (its former name), set it back 2,500 years or so, base it on a popular video game brand and what have you got? Exactly the sort of creation producer Jerry Bruckheimer might envision as his next major project.

Indeed, Bruckheimer intends to release the film "Prince of Persia: Sands of Time" in summer 2009, and he has aboard Jordan Mechner, the creator of the "Persia" franchise that first took the gaming world by storm in 1989.

But why flying carpets and palaces that, after all, haven't been seen much on the silver screen since Disney's "Aladdin" in 1992?

That's exactly the point, Bruckheimer says. "Pirate movies had been dead for a long time when we came out with 'Pirates of the Caribbean' and did it in a different way than people were expecting," he says.

But so few games-to-movies adaptations have been successful that surely Bruckheimer recognizes the risk. Nevertheless, he says: "It's a good idea. Why would I make 'National Treasure' versus whatever other people are making? I've played the game — it's a great game — and I believe the movie is one people will want to go see."

Mechner first got the itch to turn his creation into a big-screen movie in 1993. But it was a hard sell, ironically, in part because of the similarities between "Persia" and "Aladdin," Mechner says. That changed when, in 2003, he teamed with video game publisher Ubisoft to create "Prince of Persia: Sands of Time," a 3-D sequel that sold more than 3 million units worldwide and brought the "Persia" franchise back to life.

"The timing was perfect," Mechner says. "Movie studios were showing interest in video games, 'Persia' was suddenly at the top of the video game charts, and we had a game with great characters and a story line that cried out to be made into an epic, romantic action-adventure film."

Under his deal with Ubisoft, Mechner kept the film rights to "Persia," which meant that it was on his shoulders to find the right film partner and create something that wouldn't damage the value of what had become one of the game publisher's most important brands.

"I pitched the game to Nick Reed at ICM, who is now my agent," Mechner says. "He warned me that the hardest part would be to sell me as a first-time screenwriter." Eventually, he was introduced to John August ("Corpse Bride"), who agreed to join Mechner as co-producer and help pitch it to the movie studios.

"Once we had the trailer, John and I spent two months fine-tuning the pitch until we could tell the story in under 20 minutes, including all the characters, the action set pieces and the plot twists," Mechner says. "We pitched it first to Disney, which loved it, but because it was such a big movie, the only way they'd take it on was with 'an established producer like Jerry Bruckheimer.'

"We interpreted that to mean that we needed Jerry Bruckheimer, so we showed it to him, he loved it, and we did the deal in early 2004," Mechner says. "I wrote the first draft in three months and spent the next 18 months writing and revising it. So it was a 21-month project, not counting the 15 years of preparation before that."

The film is in preproduction, with Mike Newell ("Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire") signed on as director but no cast determined. The team has begun scouting locations with an eye toward shooting in June if the writers strike is settled soon.