Jordan Mechner interview: Prince Of Persia, Jerry Bruckheimer and future projects

The man behind the Prince Of Persia games, Mr Jordan Mechner, tells us how he pitched the big screen version, and just how involved he got...

Den Of Geek talks to Jordan Mechner, the man behind the Prince Of Persia videogame, about turning a 20-year-old game into a Jerry Bruckheimer summer blockbuster, Super Mario Bros., WMDs, and what Megan Fox might do next.

Can we start from the beginning? You pitched it to Jerry Bruckheimer back in 2004, is that right?

That’s right. The beginning is even before that, since it started with the Apple II game I made 20 years ago when I was just out of college. But, yes, the beginning of the movie was when I pitched it to Jerry in 2004.

What spurred that? Was it the first time you’d actively tried to make it into a film? Was it the success of the first Pirates film that made you think you could make this into a big film?

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Well, I’ve kind of been dreaming of making Prince Of Persia into a movie really since the beginning. I tried various times for years, but what really made it catch fire was the success of The Sands Of Time, the first modern console generation game that I did with UbiSoft in 2003.

And was it always Jerry Bruckheimer? Because they’re huge movies now. Was that always what you envisaged it being: a big, epic movie of that scale?

I always saw Prince Of Persia as a modern version of that old fashioned kind of romantic adventure movie, going back to the old 1940s The Thief Of Baghdad. That was one of the movies that inspired the original game. I think I never, even in my daydreams, imagined the movie being quite this big. It’s really got an epic scope and shooting on location in Morocco made it even bigger than I imagined.

It is a very cinematic game and movie, and yet it’s taken some time. If you look at some videogames that have been made into movies – Super Mario Bros and Streetfighter were some 15 years ago now – they didn’t feel like they lent themselves to cinema. 

Well, I loved playing Super Mario Bros. but I never saw the movie. I didn’t really think of Prince Of Persia the movie script all that differently because it had been a game. I just thought it was a good movie story, the kind of action and genre that I thought would work very well as a film.

There’s a challenge in that as well though, isn’t there? Because your source material is inspired by cinema, and you’re going back to cinema. Did you feel a challenge to make it fresh and exciting?

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I think when you’re making a movie today in that classic genre you really need to find a way to go beyond what’s been done before and show the audience something they haven’t seen before. And one of the elements of the game I really wanted to use in the movie was the dagger that can turn back time.

Those are great set pieces in the film, the dagger time effects. There’s an incredible level of detail and visual effects on show. How much are you involved in that? Because it does hark back very strongly to the game.

Well, I wrote the first two drafts of the script. As far as the actual production of it, I was on set in Morocco.

One sequence in particular, the fleeing over the rooftops, is so evocative of the action of the game in exactly the way I hoped. That was such a huge undertaking involving second unit, stunt co-ordinators and so forth. At that point, I had to stand back and marvel at the scope of the physical effort.

There are a number of scenes in the movie that remind you of the game: camera angles, moves of the characters, specific actions. Do you work with the director Mike Newell on that, or whisper in his ear? I’m trying to picture him playing the game…

Mike’s not a gamer. [laughs] But he’s at the head of this massive production of hundreds and hundreds of people. And many of them, particularly on the production design side, were deeply into the game. And you can see in the movie how much it draws from the games in all aspects, not just the script.

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You mentioned you wrote the first two drafts. How did the relationship work with the new writers coming in?  Because, for someone who’s worked on it for over 20 years now, are you not possessive of it?

Since the first game, which is probably the last Prince Of Persia that I did on my own, everything since has been a collaborative effort. And that applies to the Ubisoft game. That was done by a large team in Montreal. 

My main creative contribution to the film was as a writer. To actually make a movie goes beyond that in so many ways.

There’s a level of faithfulness in the movie. The dagger, for instance, is incredibly similar to the game. But there’s also a creative team taking it in directions of their own. Is that exciting, to see what others do with your own creation?

The first version of the script I pitched to Jerry was already very different from the game. And the reason for that is, as a writer, I know that games and film are such different media.

The story that I wrote for the Sands Of Time game is a story that was really tailored to be played.  Whereas here, this screenplay was meant to be watched. 

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So, I used a lot of elements from the game, but I combined them in a different way and the finished movie is a virtue to that.

And you’ve got some references to WMDs and a nation going to war against another under false pretenses. 

I think, in writing something that’s set in a different historical period, and I love history, I love research, you always end up writing a story about your own time. And, of course, that was something that goes back to the videogame.

What are your plans for it from now? It doesn’t end on a cliffhanger or a set up. Are there plans sketched out?

Well, I hope that everyone likes the movie. And as Jerry says, we haven’t sold a single ticket yet.

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Would you like to see it go further? 

We’re 20 years into the story, 25 years since I started working on the first game. I mean, if you told me in 1985 that we’d be sitting here talking about Prince Of Persia a quarter of a century later, I would have been amazed.

And in terms of your other projects, you’re working on a screenplay for Fathom with Megan Fox right now?

Yes, that’s right. Fathom was really an interesting challenge because it was the first time writing a screenplay that was based on something created by somebody else, Michael Turner, in another medium. That’s been a fun project.

I’ve got another film project I’m developing with Mike Newell, a fantastic director. And my first two graphic novels are released this spring as well.

You ushered in this new type of game that combined very cinematic elements. What’s your take on recent games? Do you think some of them have gone too far in making them more of a cinematic experience than about the gameplay?

It’s interesting. “Cinematic” is one of those words applied to videogames. It’s almost a backhanded compliment. To me, the greatest complement you can give a game is it’s fun to play. And for me, the best way to use cinematic techniques is to tell the story through the gameplay, rather than cinematic cut scenes. So, to experience it, you really have to play it.

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Mr Jordan Mechner, thank you very much.

Prince Of Persia: The Sands Of Time arrives in cinemas from Friday.