THQ’s Danny Bilson: Master of Transmedia Mayhem?

Gaming giant THQ’s exec Danny Bilson may have one of  the coolest gigs in the world.

He’s got his finger on the pulse of some of the largest selling game properties ever, has involvement with some of the greatest talents of the generation, co-wrote The Rocketeer feature film for Disney, WB’s Television series, The Flash (among other properties), and got involved writing and consulting for gaming. From there, he’s pushed the transmedia envelope with THQ’s Homefront, which sold more than a million copies it’s first week.

Is there anything Danny Bilson can’t do?

2011 promises to be a showcase for THQ and Bilson’s latest  lineup of video game releases, pushed along with an eye to property expansion via transmedia. Multiple platforms, story world development promise to push the envelope beyond mere interactive entertainment. Whoa.

The Hollywood Reporter got an exclusive interview with Mr. Bilson, of which I’ve dropped in below for your perusal. I found it interesting on several points, particularly the deepening convergence of film and games in that Bastion of Entertainment, Hollywood.  Meanwhile, a tide of executives rise to the fore, shaped by gaming experiences that have widened their perspective and understanding of the medium and it’s potential. (I realize I am walking on thinner ice here, but bear with me).

In the following interview with THR’s John Gaudiosi, Bilson spills the beans on the future of Hollywood’s growing love affair with game properties, transmedia, and why creative giants like Guillermo del Toro find themselves, like Bilson,  gravitating to games…

The Hollywood Reporter: How have you seen Hollywood’s acceptance of video games evolve over the years?

Danny Bilson: I think it depends on the executive. If the executive is a gamer and understands games organically and is passionate about it, it’s a completely different experience than if the executive is looking at games as something they have to do because it’s what kids are playing today. It creates a completely different experience. Some executives respect games as an equal art form. Some still think it’s a consumer product knockoff. We experience all those different things in dealing with them and have to navigate our way through that.

THR: Can you explain what transmedia means to THQ?

Bilson: Transmedia to me is telling a story over multiple media using different media to tell different aspects of the story. The key is none of the media is repeating the same story. It’s all fresh perspectives on the universe. And it all starts from the perspective of what would be cool if I love this IP as a fan. That’s how we look at it. Just look at what George Lucas has done with Star Wars transmedia over the decades.

THR: How big a part of THQ business will transmedia become?

Bilson: We look at it as a way to make our games more important through partnerships that don’t involve large exchanges of money. I don’t look at it as a revenue stream. The revenue comes from selling more games because that’s our core business, and then healthy partnerships where we have a lot of creative control. Partnerships are important because when you license out your content somebody else runs with it and does their adaptation. If we’re fully partnered in it, then we have control over the creative. Adaptation doesn’t work very well in transmedia. The fan has to feel they’re moving seamlessly from one part of the transmedia universe to the other.

THR: Explain how THQ has taken advantage of being based in Hollywood when it comes to transmedia?

Bilson: We have leadership at THQ who grew up in Hollywood, myself, Lenny Brown, who heads up our transmedia efforts, and some of my staff, and it’s very easy for us to talk to those people if, when, and where their talents or their business applies. It’s very easy for us to understand how a film is made and what their priorities are and it makes it easy for us to create those transmedia partnerships. So in dealing with SyFy on Red Faction, everything is kind of shorthand being a guy who made 165 hours of TV myself in the past. Some of my shows are re-running on SyFy Channel today. We also know a lot of people and we know who to call. There are a lot of old relationships that we can take advantage of.

THR: What’s next in the transmedia plan for Homefront?

Bilson: We’d love to get a six-hour TV miniseries greenlit, which will tell another aspect of the story to sit between the Homefront I and Homefront II games. We have a producer who is very interested in this, Lloyd Levin (Green Zone, The Watchmen, Lara Croft: Tomb Raider). He has a long list of credits and even produced The Rocketeer, which I did many years ago. So we’re old friends and he’s working with the Homefront property right now trying to attach a director to make this six-hour thing happen.

THR: How is the Red Faction franchise expanding this year?

Bilson: With the Red Faction Armageddon game launch, there’s a SyFy Channel movie, “Red Faction: Origins” that just came out. The movie, which stars Robert Patrick, tells a story of the generation that sits between Red Faction Guerilla and Red Faction Armageddon. There’s also an Xbox Live Arcade and PlayStation Network game called Red Faction Battlegrounds that was released and tells a story set in another part of the timeline.

THR: What opportunities do you see with SyFy with the de Blob game franchise now that the second game has gone multi-platform?

Bilson: There are opportunities with de Blob because they have a SyFy Kids initiative, although de Blob isn’t something I consider a kids game. But the cartoon aspect of it can play to a younger audience. So there’s the potential for them to host future iterations of some de Blob stuff we’re doing both on the Web and on television and we’ll see how that goes in the future.

THR: What’s it been like working with Guillermo del Toro on inSANE?

Bilson: Guillermo has been interested in making a game for years and had talked to a bunch of different companies before he went to New Zealand to do his never-ending prep on The Hobbit. When he came back he wanted to talk to some game companies and since he lives in the neighborhood where our office is, we were the first place he came to.

Now, I’m a fan of his. I couldn’t believe how much he knew about my previous work. Guillermo is a fan of games. He’s a fan of genre. He’s a fan of media. He writes, which is really important. It means he’s more than a director in terms of what kind of creativity he can offer.

THR: Can you address the importance of someone being an actual gamer when it comes to making the leap from Hollywood to games?

Bilson: The most important thing Guillermo brings to this project is the fact that he’s a hardcore gamer and has lots of opinions about games and game design. It’s been really exciting working with him because I’m all about talent…and that talent makes great games and inspired people can create inspired content. He’s been extremely open to learning as much as possible about all the details of how games are made. And more than anything else, he’s incredibly fun to work with. I’ve been working with him personally closely on this game.

THR: What’s inSANEabout?

Bilson: You’re going to have to wait to find out because it’s a long process and we’re going to roll that out over the years. But I’ll tell you it’s not a survival horror game and it’s not exactly what you think.

(By way of John Gaudiosi/Hollywood Reporter)

One thought on “THQ’s Danny Bilson: Master of Transmedia Mayhem?

  1. “Is there anything that Danny Bilson can’t do?”

    I believe, if you profess to be a master of transmedia, then a diligent interviewer might review the quality of the product created by the master, if only to confirm they are not being taken in by a huckster.

    Since Danny Bilson was hired, he has presided over the two large failures for THQ: Homefront (which sold considerably less than projected and which led to the elimination of the studio who created the game) and Red Faction Armageddon (just released to extremely poor sales). Red Faction: Origins, the SyFy movie, was also of poor quality.

    While I agree wholeheartedly with what Danny Bilson has been saying, his work is not reflecting the quality of the story that he tells about himself.

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