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Hollywood Interactive

As more video games become movies and movies become video games, a new kind of dealmaker has emerged to act as a bridge between the worlds.

August 18, 2003|Alex Pham | Times Staff Writer

In a town of dealmakers, Pamela Colburn represents a new breed.

An investment banker who once managed billion-dollar hostile takeovers, Colburn now worries about whether actors who appear buff on movie screens will seem puny in video games alongside pixelated monsters.

"I never thought I'd have to pay attention to someone's girth-to-height ratio," Colburn said. "It brings a whole new level of detail to the negotiating process."

The former Kidder, Peabody & Co. executive is among a burgeoning pack of brokers capitalizing on Hollywood's infatuation with video games. Since 2002, when video game heroine Lara Croft became the first digital virtual character to nab her own agent, Hollywood talent agencies and investors such as Colburn have scrambled to court game-industry talent.

William Morris Agency, Creative Artists Agency, Endeavor and ICM Artists recently have either established or expanded "interactive" and "technology" divisions to act as go-betweens for traditional entertainment executives and the newly popular game geeks.

The brokers hook up game developers with writers, musicians, actors, directors and producers. Both sides benefit. As processing power in consoles and computers soars, games look and sound more like movies. And movies employ many of the same digital techniques used in games.

"We help these two worlds bridge a communication gap," said ICM agent Keith Boesky. "They speak different languages. A cut scene in a game is a pre-rendered scene inserted between game play to advance the story. In film, a cut scene is something that lands on the cutting-room floor that nobody sees."

The work can be lucrative. Agents rope in fees worth 10% of any deal they facilitate. They also can negotiate royalty payments or an equity stake in projects they help create. No one disclosed an amount, but some said the fees could reach six figures in a sizable deal.

"The agency knows this is a growing field," CAA agent Larry Shapiro said.

Unlike its talent-agency counterparts, Colburn's Encino-based Europlay Capital Ventures is a venture capital firm that invests in games. Colburn and her squad of entertainment lawyers, executives and bankers strapped together financing and cut the legal deals needed to pull off the game based on the film "The Matrix Reloaded." They also secured the video game rights for the "Terminator 3" movie.

"We can invest in game properties, take them into development and later bring in a publisher," said Europlay co-founder and Managing Director Mark Dyne.

It's not the first time Hollywood has tangoed with the game industry. Movie studios including Fox Entertainment Group Inc., Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Inc., DreamWorks SKG and Walt Disney Co. plunged into the business in the early 1990s, pouring hundreds of millions of dollars into game subsidiaries before failing. Most have since sold their units or reduced them to tiny departments that do little more than license movies to other companies willing to make the games.

But "the level of discussion has become a lot more sophisticated just in the past year," said Germaine Gioia, head of licensing for THQ Inc., a game publisher in Calabasas. "I think that's mostly because these agents are there to educate their clients about what's possible."

Instead of creating their own game units, studios want to work with their game-industry counterparts. But they don't want just to hand over a license, sit back and rake in fees and royalties from game companies. They want a say in how the game is developed.

Game companies also are not satisfied with a straight product license. They demand more access to movie producers and actors, early looks at scripts and more integrated marketing efforts.

Perhaps the best example of the phenomenon is the games developed for "The Matrix Reloaded." Directors Andy and Larry Wachowski insisted on writing the 244 pages of dialogue for the game so that it would be tightly integrated with the movie's story line. They also shot an extra hour of film footage for the game and lent actors for voice-over work. In exchange, the directors received royalties on every copy of the game sold.

Both sides "want more creative collaboration now," said Lewis Henderson, a William Morris senior vice president who was involved in the first round of collaboration in the early 1990s. He continues to work with game-industry clients.

"Our clients want to participate in the process of game making and bring a Hollywood sensibility into the creation of the games," said Endeavor's Rob Sebastian, who has worked with director John Woo and actor Vin Diesel to set up game studios. "So the whole concept of making movies into games and games to movies, that's really a small part of our business."

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