“Assassin’s Creed” producer Jean-Julien Baronnet is opening Marla Studios, which will specialize in adapting video games into movies, following a five-year stint as the CEO of Ubisoft Motion Pictures.
The move comes three months after Baronnet left Ubisoft and five months before Fox opens “Assassin’s Creed,” starring Michael Fassbender, amid high hopes that the popularity of the nine-year-old video game franchise will translate into box office glory. He worked on four other Ubisoft franchises, mostly notably “Splinter Cell” with Tom Hardy.
Barronet, who is also the former CEO of Luc Besson’s EuropaCorp, has already initiated talks with video game companies and is hoping to begin development on a film by next year.
“Producing a video game adaptation is a special process that not only requires movie production know-how, but also a deep understanding of gamer values and the video game creative process,” he told Variety. “The key is to have a close relationship with the game designers and to work with them on the key creative angles that will best cope with the game’s DNA. The key is to recognize the passion of gamers, given they spend hundreds of hours in that world. That makes it essential for the ‘universe’ of the game to be as accurate as possible.”
Marla is named after Baronnet’s daughters Margot and Lana. He said 10-year-old Lana already wants to be a film director.
“There was no other choice but this name for the new company because our project is mainly driven by passion,” Baronnet said. “My daughter has already asked for royalties since I took her name!”
Hollywood has a tricky relationship with video game companies, with mixed results emerging from Universal-Legendary’s “Warcraft” — which grossed a respectable $420 million worldwide, despite a disappointing U.S. performance.
“Studios have had difficulty recognizing the need for the stories in video game adaptations to have a universality to them,” Baronnet said. “Most of the time they try to copy the video game’s story and/or characters which is exactly what should not be done.”
He contends that video games are making much more money than movies, and the superhero era in film may be starting to come to an end, noting that “Deadpool” parodies the superhero. “People are starting to tire of superheroes, but still have a big appetite for big franchises,” he added.
“Marla Studios will help the video game companies consecutively in three areas: determining, along with the video game companies, the artistic angle and the artistic package that will serve best the IP; negotiating with the Hollywood studios a contract that will give the game company a strong creative control and high pay back; and last, but not least, implementing a deep collaborative process with the key creative people at the video game company at each stage of production.”
Marla Studios will staff up with people from the movie and the game industry. Lara Voloshin, former head of development at Metropolitan, has joined as a business development exec VP and head of development. A senior production executive from a big Hollywood studio and a video game developer will also soon board the company.
“We want to make it lean and diverse,” Baronnet said. “Our clients are the video games companies. We will work our butts off for them and try to get the best deals with the studios without any conflict of interest. This is truly a new business model that we think will finally make a success of the video game adaptation into film. On the flip side, movie studios will be able to exploit big new IPs and make them successful.”