Uncharted, The Last of Us… What future for Sony screen licenses? Maintenance…

On the sidelines of the release of Uncharted, we had the exclusive opportunity to interview Asad Qizilbash, head of Playstation Productions; the very structure that manages all future Sony video game licenses in cinemas and series.

Sony Pictures

Flashback sequence. Just as video game publisher Ubisoft did in 2011, announcing the creation of its Ubisoft Motion Picture structure, responsible for developing its film and series licenses, or even, later in 2015, Activision Blizzard, the Sony Interactive announced in May 2019 the creation of a new structure, called Playstation Productions.

It was in fact an internal studio responsible for phosphorizing, from the catalog of video game licenses of the brand, on potential adaptations to the cinema and / or in the form of series (animated or not), and to lead them to their terms.

And it is an understatement to say that the potential is colossal, as the firm is sitting on a gold mine, with more than a hundred licenses to its credit and the development studios being part of the sphere of Sony Interactive.

Let’s mention Naughty Dog and its cult franchise Uncharted which has just been adapted to the cinema, but also The Last of Us; Santa Monica Studios and its extraordinary saga of god of war; the first Crash Bandicoot; the Sucker Punch studio, behind the creation of the games InFamous and awesome Ghost of Tsushima; Shadow of the Colossus and Icon; Games Ratchet & Clank; the Guerrilla Games studio, creator of the FPS game franchise Killzone and behind the creation of the fantastic Open World game Horizon Zero Dawnincluding the sensational sequel, Forbidden Westcoming out today…

Uncharted is an important trial run for Playstation Productions, since it is the first license to emerge under its banner. We had the opportunity to ask a few exclusive questions to Asad Qizilbash, head of the structure, who explains precisely how it works and what its ambitions are.

Below is the very first Opening animation from Playstation Productions, before the Uncharted movie..

AlloCiné: In May 2019, Sony Interactive launched the creation of a new entity, Playstation Productions. When and how did you envision the creation of this structure? Why wasn’t she born earlier?

Asad Qizilbash: In fact, the idea of ​​creating such a structure to manage our film and TV licenses was born around 2017, two years before the announcement took effect. At that time, we were in the midst of many big releases, just a year after Uncharted 4, with Horizon Zero Dawn in sight, followed by God of War.

For us, it was clear that we had some of the most exciting franchises in the Entertainment universe, with their stories, their universes and their characters, which many people did not necessarily know and had never experienced. The idea of ​​partnering with our sister company Sony Pictures to reach new audiences, while retaining creative control early in development, was the real driving force behind the formation of the group. His training has allowed us to accelerate existing projects, and begin to build a pipeline of exciting new projects.

Playstation Productions

Asad Qizilbash (right), chatting with Tom Holland about the Uncharted movie.

What is Playstation Productions approach to licensing? What are the selection criteria that determine whether a particular license will be brought to the cinema or to a TV series? Is it difficult to preserve the desires of the game fan base while having to expand it in order to reach a wider audience?

In some cases, we and the game’s development studio have a very particular view of certain IPs, how we want to tell the story, what medium, and who we think could do the best job. Other times we’re approached by creators who express a passion for one of our IPs and have a really exciting creative vision on how to adapt it. What’s consistent and important is making sure we have a creative team that’s passionate about IP.

Uncharted 4 or the absolute triumph of an unequaled studio

Adapting any well-known IP will always come with challenges of what to hold on to and what to let go of, especially when looking to introduce that IP to a whole new audience. The best approach is to trust the creative instincts and try not to get too obsessed with who the audience is. Focus on creating an engaging and entertaining story.

Tell us about the synergy with Sony Pictures. How do you work with them? Do you have control over the choice of casting, director, script, for example? I guess a good start with this is obviously Uncharted. Would you say that the creation of PlayStation Productions greatly contributed to accelerating the project, which logically had to be a top priority?

The partnership with Sony Pictures is working well. PlayStation Productions leads the early development of treatments and scripts, which includes finding the screenwriter and, in some cases, the director as well. Once we have a script that we and the game’s development studio like, we work with Sony Pictures to further refine the script and start adding missing pieces such as the director and/or key cast.

For Uncharted in particular, the film was already in development when PlayStation Productions was formed, including much of the cast. Our role on this film was to step in and make sure it captures the essence of the franchise from the refinement of the script, right through to post-production.

Neil Druckmann is currently working on the TV adaptation of The Last of Us. Do you think it makes sense for the studio to be involved in adapting their games for film and/or TV? Do you think this type of collaboration will happen more frequently, especially as you continue to work with Sony Pictures?

I think it’s very important that game studios are part of the process because they have the closest connection and understanding to the license. We will only see development studios writing or directing on certain occasions, as they have to focus on games first and foremost; but they will always be deeply involved in the development of our various projects.

The teams behind the games will be the first to admit the fact that when adapting a game for film or television, it is crucial that its creation is led by writers and directors from that Medium. We’re in an exciting time, where there’s this whole generation of great TV and movie directors who grew up playing video games; who have a real passion and respect for our licenses.

Halley Gross, who has a strong background in writing for television (Westworld), worked with Neil Druckmann on the story of The Last of us part II. Beyond that example, do you think talent in the film and TV industry should be more involved, or perhaps less reluctant, to work for the video game industry? Also considering the fact that screenwriters are able to go back and forth from one industry (film) to another (video games), it’s not that common…

I love this idea that creators can switch between Mediums, whether it’s games, movies, books, or comics. Ultimately, it’s about telling great stories. I think that in the coming years we will have more such movements.

Making a video game, especially a AAA game, falls under a very different timeline than making a movie. It’s common to wait 4.5 years (even more when it comes to Naughty Dog) between each game in a franchise. In this logic, is there an agenda at PlayStation Productions to “fill” these periods?

Coordinating the release of our series or films with the release of games is an optimal objective. It’s a great way to use the vast entertainment mediums of television and film, to introduce our games to new audiences. However, making sure we have a great series or a good movie remains the top priority. So we want to avoid doing anything rushed in development to coincide with certain timelines.

Interview by Olivier Pallaruelo on February 18, 2022

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