Video game maker Activision Blizzard has set producer Stacey Sher to team with former Disney exec Nick van Dyk to run Activision Blizzard Studios. They will be co-presidents and lead an effort to create film and TV titles from Activision properties. The company’s videogame product includes Activision’s Call of Duty and Skylander and Blizzard’s Diablo and StarCraft.
Video game to movie transfers so far have had a spotty track record in Hollywood, but this is the latest example of a game company becoming more hands on in an effort to exert more quality control. Activision Blizzard has hung onto most of its properties even as they built rabid gamer followings. The exception is Warcraft, a co-production between Universal and Legendary Pictures that Duncan Jones directed for July 10 release.
Activision Blizzard will self-finance development of its games, but partnerships with studios and outside financiers are being explored, Sher and van Dyk said. They feel that the recent out-sized success of Star Wars: The Force Awakens shows the screen potential of branded franchises, which studios place at a premium.
“We’re operating on parallel tracks, developing and exploring partnerships,” van Dyk said. “We might take financing from third parties but we aren’t reliant on it. We will control the IP and we now have the capability to do whatever we need to. We are starting with this huge treasure trove of over 1000 properties whose fan base is unbelievably huge. And we’ve seen in the past few weeks what can happen when a fan base gets excited.”
Much of the credit for the Star Wars success is attributed to the guiding hand of Kathleen Kennedy, and Activision Blizzard hopes that Sher will have a similar impact. While high concept tent poles mark new ground for her, Sher’s track record for quality is impeccable. She produced The Hateful Eight, as well as previous Quentin Tarantino films Django Unchained and Pulp Fiction, and her long list of credits also includes the Steven Soderbergh-directed Erin Brockovich and Out of Sight. She was a principal in Jersey Films with Danny DeVito and Michael Shamberg, and her television experience includes the AMC series Into The Badlands and Comedy Central’s Reno 911.
Sher said that Activision Blizzard will become her primary focus. “Nick and I became fast friends, dreaming up what this company could be,” Sher told Deadline. “We’ll be selective, using the same approach the company does with game development, but we really intend to be aggressive and go after this.”
In a statement Activision Blizzard CEO Bobby Kotick called Sher “a rare talent behind two decades of award-winning television series and film” and said “her unyielding commitment to creativity make her perfectly suited to Activision Blizzard Studios.”
As studios exhaust branded high concept entertainment properties that can transfer into tent poles with rabid followings, video game properties could be a frontier. But the track record has been mixed. Activision Blizzard’s move to control its destiny follows similar efforts by Ubisoft, which formed Ubisoft Motion Pictures and is very involved in movie transfers of signature properties. The game maker partnered with New Regency on Assassin’s Creed, a Justin Kurzel-directed action film that Fox releases December 21, with Michael Fassbender and Marion Cotillard starring. The Revenant and Mad Max: Fury Road’s Tom Hardy is attached to Splinter Cell, with Doug Liman attached to direct, also with Regency and Fox.