THQ's Danny Bilson Compares Hollywood to the Gaming Industry
We had an opportunity to sit down and interview Danny Bilson, executive vice president of THQ Core Games, about many things, including Hollywood, his choice of a director if a film was to be made of Homefront, and much more. Check back tomorrow for part two of our conversation.
Dakota Grabowski: Since you were in Hollywood, could you compare the differences between the industries of Hollywood and video games in terms of production from concepts to retail?
Danny Bilson: When I first got in the game business, my father (a film director, television director) said, "What's it like?" I said, "It's like being in prep the whole time because you never get out of the office." It's just meetings and meetings and meetings. That's just like the pre-production in film, but in film you start shooting, you get outside the army, start climbing hills and are all over the place. Everyday you're in another spot and you're moving those 80 people around. Then you stop that and go into post-production where it's just the director and a few people. You're a very small team in post-production finishing up.
Game production is completely different. It's like you're in prep the whole time because you're always in the office from beginning to end, you're always having meetings every day. However, as somebody once said to me when I started making games, it's like making film except you have to invent the camera every time. You're not just telling a story. The thing is that film is a process. It's pretty much been the same for about 100 years or more. How you make movies is basically the same as it has always been. Every game can be made differently based on what the content is you're trying to build, what the culture of the team is, how much money and how much time you have. There are a lot more variables working all the time.
Also, in film, you go out and shoot and unless the lab burns the film, you're not going to lose your day’s work. In games, somebody can put the build together and everything else can break. Then you have to get the engineers in and take it apart to try to debug it and figure out what went wrong. Making games is 10 times harder than making films. It absolutely is 10 times harder.
DG: In Hollywood, there's always that, “make an Indie film,” “make an Oscar winning film” or “make a blockbuster.” In video games it's always, “make a blockbuster to make that money.” It’s quite different as video games often need to make their money as soon as possible. How do you feel about that process?
DB: The only reason you have to make money asap is mostly the used games. You have to make them before they get churned back into the used game channel and the game company isn't making the money. The retailers are making the money and then you can't put that money back in to make more games. Are you asking me where is there room for independent, for more art games? DG: Yes.
DB: It's just about how much you spend on it, because making more games is really expensive. You have to have this as a commercial venture; you have to have a return on your investment. What you're seeing is the Indie channel on Xbox Live. There are few indie games made without the expectation of big returns, and that's what you get. What you don't get - and it's the same in the movie business - is the $40 million independent point-of-view game. You don't get too much of that. You might find one once in a while that got made that way, and sometimes they become blockbusters.
It's more like the film business in that in the 70s, the art films were big movies and the B-movies - the genre movies - were the little movies. Then it all kind of flipped after Star Wars and Jaws, etc. The B-movies became the big expensive movies, and the art films were king of cheap movies. It's very tough - it's just where the customers are. If you can get a lot of people to play your art game, then you'll be able to spend a lot of money to make it. It's just math.
DG: Since you have been in Hollywood for a while, if you were to have to pitch Homefront as a movie to a studio, who would you pitch to? Is there any director/studio that you would want to pitch this to? Or a big name to cast?
DB: Homefront is close in some ways to Red Dawn; it's more contemporary than that. It's about occupation and invasion, and it's about a depressed country that gets occupied. The person we pitched it to was John Millius, the guy who wrote Apocalypse Now and Red Dawn. He's the writer on this game. We pitched it to him and he said, "Yeah, I'm in" and he's been working on it.
DG: For a movie too? DB: If I was making a movie of Homefront? Would I want John to write it? Oh, absolutely I would want John to write it. He's one of my favorite film writers.
DG: What about a director or actor?
DB: I think I would let John direct it also. Actor, I don't care. DG: You haven't eyed anyone?
DB: I don't care about actors.
DG: You wouldn't try to get your daughter in there?
DB: Sure. If she wanted to do it.
DG: Homefront is of course an original property. Where does the line draw of moving towards always creating original properties compared to sequels? Is there a balance that you guys have set in your mind?
DB: Well we will sequel it if it works right. If people really enjoy it, we have lots of plans for other places to go in 2027 America, and in the world actually. We have lots of ideas around that. Franchise is dictated by success, but I think it’s our obligation to not just make the same game again, because games are very expensive and people want fresh experiences. So if we go to make a Homefront sequel, it’s going to have some fresh mechanics and fresh features, and some interesting fiction as well.
Check back tomorrow to read part two of our discussion with Bilson as we talk about merchandising, the Canadian government, and Homefront vs. WWE.