For Gamers who have long-suffered through subpar adaptations of their favorite video games, 2016 is shaping up to be a pretty exciting year. First we get Duncan Jones’ Warcraft, a massive labor of love that seeks to honor one of the most popular MMPORG of all time. Then comes Assassin’s Creed, the film adaptation of Ubisoft’s massively popular adventure game, which has locked down an impressive list of prestige talent.
Michael Fassbender, one of the most exciting actors on the market, leads the film, which reunites him with his Macbeth director Justin Kurzel (Snowtown) and co-star Marion Cotillard. Just last week, Jeremy Irons and Brendan Gleeson boarded the picture. That is a lot of fantastically talented people on a project that just as easily could have been the next sub-par cash grab. Assassin’s Creed only just started filming, but it’s hard not to get your hopes up.
For one thing, they’re referencing benchmark properties like Bladerunner and Batman Begins. But, more unusual, they’re starting with actors — great actors — a technique they employed in locking down Tom Hardy for Splinter Cell and Fassbender for Assasin’s Creed. (Heads up, these quotes are all google-translated, so they’re mildly mangled at points.)
Usually in Hollywood, when you develop a big film, you start with a script or studio …We did not do that. We said: “For each film, what is the first decision that we have to take?” In Assassin’s Creed, it was obvious that the first decision was the choice of the actor. Who is behind the assassin, who will personify [him]? In Splinter Cell, the same thing, [who] is going to be Sam Fisher? The obsession that we had was to find actors among the best, if not the best.
But how do you land A-list actors without a script? Well, Ubisoft is taking a very clever approach by offering their leading men a heap of creative control, attracting them not only to the project, but the promise of building a film (and let’s be real, likely a franchise) in a way that suits them.
[Michael Fassbender] accepted very quickly. And it was the only actor which we thought was obvious. So we started with the actor, which is incongruous. Even more incongruous, he engaged us with nothing. There was no script, no studio or anything. We told him we were going to build the project together, we have a huge brand and we want to make a make a film with references to feature films like Batman Begins and Blade Runner. That is why we tend to. He was promised that he could work with the writers, we would associate it with all key creative choices.
Of course this all makes sense, and it’s how someone like Kurzel, who has so far directed bleak, hard dramas, ends up at the helm of a major franchise starter — because Fassbender has enough say in the project to pull him in after their collaboration on Macbeth (along with Cotillard).
Barronett also spoke about how this approach helped land Hardy for Splinter Cell.
This is obviously attractive for intelligent players like Michael Fassbender and Tom Hardy. It is like a huge studio because it has huge brand, but it is a small structure. And it will remain like that, you do not want to become bigger. Tom Hardy was also evident on Splinter Cell. We had the same discussion and it is also committed immediately. Tom is a gamer and he loves the world of Splinter Cell. We worked a lot with him on the character.
Finally Barronett gave some insight into the inner-workings of Ubisoft’s film division, which he says is approaching large-scale projects with an independent film mentality; including an aim to tackle important, timely messages within the constructs of the property.
Our approach is to remain in control of the development, so to finance it 100%. We choose writers who are not necessarily stars but people who have understood the universe. And as long as the script is not level, it will not launch. It has also worked very closely with New Regency for Assassin’s Creed. We needed them for their expertise. There was a kind of triptych between the actor, the studio and us. It is the combination of the three who built this scenario. With arbitration returning us as we fund. The beauty of being a small structure is that no contingencies that lead us to release films in greenlighter quickly. It leaves time to time to arrive at what it takes. Four years of development for Assassin!
Leave it to the French, with their deep love of cinema, to treat a tentpole film like an indie! I like it. It’s a fresh approach that’s leading to some really exciting collaborations. The folks at Ubisoft understand that video game adaptations have a history of disappointment and they’re making bold choices to try to prevent repeating that history.