Hollywood folks have been more than happy to use video games as blockbuster fodder, but it's only been in the last decade or so that they've deigned to get involved on the other side as well. I've written in the past about how it's no longer seen as slumming it to voice video game characters; what was once an easy paycheck for wanna-be or B-movie actors has now become a gas for Oscar nominees like Liam Neeson, Mickey Rourke, and the late, great Dennis Hopper.
Who was even voicing the games I played growing up like E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial or Friday the 13th? No one that would admit to it, that's for sure.
Just like voice acting, the tide is slowly turning when it comes to directors as well. Last year, John Hillcoat made a 30-minute film to promote Red Dead Redemption, the fantastic Western from Rockstar Games.
Earlier this week, Activision's Eric Hirshberg announced that Ridley and Tony Scott will be creating "exclusive episodic entertainment built just for the 'Call of Duty' community." This will be in association with Jason Bateman and Will Arnett's production company DumbDumb Productions and Ben Silverman's Electus Studio.
What exactly is this new media project going to be? The Guardian described it as "a web TV series," and since the idea is to keep interest going in "CoD" until the next release, it makes sense that it would be an ongoing series. Of course, most of the details are still under wraps. Will it be live action with real actors or computer-generated? Or will it delve into the world of machinima?
Hillcoat, who is admittedly not much of a gamer, told New York he got down and dirty with machinima techniques to create his short film.
"What you do is you can actually is take the game out of gameplay at any point and put the camera anywhere, whether it’s a huge wide shot or whether it’s down on the ground looking up. And you can also control the time of day, the lighting, the weather. Then there were the precut scenes; we could go into and reframe the material, but they're pre-existing scenes where the animation and the characters are set."
While Hillcoat has the directing chops, some gamers found his creation underwhelming. Since it was a teaser for the game, there were some details Hillcoat had to omit because of possible spoilers; unfortunately, those details are the ones that packed the biggest emotional punch. While it was certainly an ambitious project, it was perhaps not the most successful.
Players have been directing their own machinima for quite some time, and some developers and publishers encourage it. There was even a professionally made machinima series for the Terminator Salvation game that was developed in association with Machinima.com.
Some machinima that use pre-existing video games exist in a copyright grey zone, sort of like music mash-ups. They proliferate through the fan community, and the directors have their owns fans. Most of them do it for the love of the game or to flex their filmmaking techniques; some hope to leverage their hobby into a career, whether in video games or moviemaking. Whether or not machinima has actually led to a filmmaking career is something that has yet to be seen.
While video games definitely influence directors -- what was Sucker Punch other than extended cut scenes held together by the flimsiest of narratives? -- and films have greatly influenced video games, there hasn't been a good example of a director with a recognizable name making a machinima that pleased fans.
Is it possible for a non-fan to actually make a machinima that stays true to the game? If the Scotts attempt to get knee-deep into the world of CoD machinima, will it be successful, or would the directors' be better off sticking to live action or computer-generated cut scenes created from the ground up for this project? Call of Duty fans are hardcore, and they are legion; they won't tolerate a half-assed job, even if it's from the director of Alien and The Hunger.
Perhaps it would be best if the Scott brothers stick to simple live action or CG rather than delve into this very specific and tricky genre. If this project succeeds in the eyes of gamers and industry people alike, it could lead to more interesting crossover projects like this. However, if it leaves less than a Red Dead-sized ripple, it's unlikely video game publishers will shell out such big bucks for projects in the future.